Spirits All Around Us – John Brown’s Body
Shanachie Records 45052
As a citizen of Lawrence, Kansas, I hear a lot about John Brown. He
was the abolitionist powerhouse who felt that he was a soldier of God in the
fight against the injustice of slavery. Brown murdered slave holders. He
fought guerrilla battles and he was ultimately hanged for his part in the
botched revolution at Harper's Ferry.
An old folk tune called "John Brown's Body" is a march that hails
him as a martyr and good Christian on the path to heaven.
With all of that previous knowledge, my expectations were that any
band named after the tune would be an acoustic-friendly outfit. Expectations
made to be destroyed.
The music of JBB is so different from that conception that I have no idea
they decided on the name. Frankly, it isn't nearly as important as the fact
that they are one of the best bands I have heard in a long time because they
play authentic, soulful roots-reggae that has an addictive rhythm and
There is no way to describe the "feel" of JBB but the nine-piece
ensemble grooves perfectly together. Each member is a multi-instrumentalist
that shifts between clav, organ, drums, cowbell, trombone, bass, rhythm and
lead guitars, world beat drums, and tenor sax. The vocals are subtle and
mellow and beautifully harmonized over the background of that
ooop-chick-ooop-chick of sound of perfected reggae.
My favorite tune is called "Eyes of the Maker". It speaks volumes
about the message JBB is trying to put forth. One line states, "Everything
that has an end/Is spoken in the beginning." The magic of JBB is that they
are able to create the head-bopping sound of the islands without sounding
pretentious or losing the authenticity. The first track tells listeners to
"Keep it real". JBB keeps track of their own advice and grooves their way
through a solid repertoire of tunes that have noticeably different melodies
played stylistically over different tempos and colors.
Live, JBB would be a certain vacation to the land of Red Stripe, and
at this point, no drive seems too far. Spirits All Around Us could
become a classic in the underground world of roots music. Those who hear its
hypnotic pulse will surely become as entranced by the as people were
influenced by the band's abolitionist namesake.