John Brown’s Body – Fireflies
1.) Who Paid Them Off?
2.) Hard Man Fe Dead ft. Karim Israel
3.) High Grade
5.) New Fashion
6.) Like A Queen
9.) Pure Fire
10.) Mash Them Down
The Pier Album Rating:
Release Date: Sept. 9th, 2016
Record Label: Easy Star Records
Official Website: John Brown’s Body Website
John Brown’s Body formed in Ithaca, NY back in 1996. 20 years later and JBB continues to push the boundaries of reggae music. 2008’s full-length album Amplify landed the band on top of the Billboard Reggae Chart, which they repeated in 2013 with Kings And Queens. JBB has experienced a few lineup changes over the years, notably the passing of bassist Scott Palmer and departure of singer Kevin Kinsella, but founding members Elliot Martin (vocals) and Tom Benedetti (drums) have guided the band to incredible success. They are joined by Jay Spaker (guitar/vocals), Jon Petronzio (keys), Dan Africano (bass), and a renowned horn section comprised of Sam Dechenne (trumpet), TJ Sharper (trombone), and Mike Vitale (tenor sax). JBB has perfected and patented a sound they label as “Future Roots.”
With JBB’s scorching 2013 release Kings & Queens still feeling fresh and growing finer with age, Fireflies continues in stride, only further solidifying JBB’s position among the upper echelon of reggae acts. Fireflies may be a peg below Kings & Queens, but the album is not a signal of a downturn. Rather, it’s a testament to JBB’s factory-like ability to pump out impressive modern roots tracks and continuously innovate their sound.
Fireflies leans on JBB’s bread and butter: Elliot Martin’s masterful vocals and a world-class three-piece horn section. However, there are plenty of moments on the album where a thumping bass line or powerful drum fill takes center stage. In fact, the majority of songs on Fireflies kick off with a pounding drum intro before the rest of the instruments join in. The album’s first single “New Fashion” is a prime example of this lead in. The singing and songwriting presence of Jay Spaker is a notable addition on Fireflies, especially on tracks like “High Grade” and “Badman.” Spaker brings an added element to an already dynamic sound.
Intro track “Who Paid Them Off?” charges out of the gate with high energy. “Hard Man Fe Dead” follows up with a retro rhythm and a standout guest verse from Karim Israel, vocalist of Arise Roots. Fireflies really heats up in the middle. “High Grade” has a quick-paced chorus that hooks you right in. “Badman,” a song written collaboratively by Martin and Spaker, is a personal favorite on the album. The extremely catchy chorus rings out, “Badman, let selector play another scorcher, for the righteous worker.” The scorcher Elliot Martin is referring to in the chorus could easily be the same one he’s singing on.
“New Fashion” and “Like A Queen” fill out the middle section of the album nicely, leading to another top track, “Fireflies.” The title track highlights Martin’s unique vocal ability. He gets the most out of each word, stretching them out to create a soothing effect. The album is capped off by “Mash Them Down,” a slow skanking reward for those who play Fireflies all the way through. The song is driven by an inching bass line and the weaving in-and-out horns.
Fireflies is an excellent follow up to Kings & Queens, which in my eyes was one of the best albums of the decade, thus far. Though I don’t think Fireflies quite packs the same punch as its predecessor, it continuously grew on me, containing some of the best songs released so far this year. Fireflies is well-produced, and thankfully not over-produced. JBB impressively accomplishes their goal of a futuristic roots sound without needing to add any unnecessary bells and whistles. A full range of sounds and texture are simply standard issue when it comes to JBB. Fireflies is no different.
Written & Reviewed By: Brian Winters
[Editors Note: All reviews are reflective of the album in it’s entirety, from start to finish. These reviews are the honest opinion of each writer/reviewer expressing their feedback as a genuine fan of the music. Each star rating reflects their review of the album, NOT the band. Music is subjective. Regardless of the review or star rating, we encourage you to listen to the music yourself & form your own opinion. Spread the awareness of all music in its art & contribution]
Watch: John Brown’s Body – “New Fashion”