10-piece reggae band to play in Skowhegan

Posted Jan. 08, 2009, at 5:02 p.m.

When asked what I’m currently listening to, I tend to get some funny looks when I say something like Bikini Kill, Marvin Gaye and Erik Satie.

The same goes for John Brown’s Body drummer Tommy Benedetti. He may play in a reggae band, but he’s not shy when he tells people that he’s a metalhead.

“People freak out when I tell them I love death metal,” said Benedetti, speaking from his home in Boston. “I grew up in the ’80s. I’m a big fan of Slayer and Napalm Death. People are like, ‘Really?!’ No one in the band listens to just reggae, though we all love and appreciate reggae, of course. I just love music of all kinds.”

John Brown’s Body, which is set to play with Maine heroes Rustic Overtones at the Skowhegan Opera House this Saturday night, play deep, diverse reggae. The 10-piece ensemble has toured the United States and beyond for over a decade, throughout six albums, lineup changes too numerous to list here, and a couple of tragic events.

The band’s newest album, “Amplify,” came out last fall, debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard reggae charts. It documents the band at what Benedetti feels as its peak — and that’s after the departure of longtime member and co-founder of the band Kevin Kinsella, and the untimely death from gall bladder cancer of bassist Scott Palmer.

“All of that made us realize that it was more important than ever to keep going and get back on our feet, and get stronger and better. I think we’re better now than ever,” said Benedetti. “We’ve been through so many changes, but fortunately, we’ve been able to roll with it. We’ve always had the right people.”

Singer Elliott Martin wrote most of the songs for “Amplify,” which finds John Brown’s Body at a creative turning point. While the band has always traded in a style of reggae that runs the gamut from upbeat, horn-driven rocksteady to a more roots reggae kind of sound, the new album explores new sonic frontiers. Dark, experi-mental dub rhythms rub up against sly, funky horn lines. Hip-hop beats are found all over the place, as are drum n’ bass.

“I think of us as progressive reggae. We’re not trying to be some kind of fun-in-the-sun reggae band. We do something a little more edgy,” said Benedetti. “We’ve been lucky enough to back up many of Jamaica’s greatest artists, and one of the best compliments we’ve ever gotten is someone saying ‘You guys remind me of the soul and the original intent of what we were trying to do back in the ’60s. We’re not trying to front. We just want to be honest and play great music.”

John Brown’s Body tours consistently; this Saturday’s show is its third in Maine in the past year. Other than the obvious perks of traveling and playing music, Benedetti said that one of the best parts of touring lies in the sense of family that the band has, as they criss-cross the country.

“I love the camaraderie of rolling ten deep,” he said. “You almost get this cocky vibe, like you’re just rolling into town to do your thing, and you’ll be gone the next day. Ten people spending that much time together, and putting hundreds of thousands of miles on the body and soul — it makes for a really cool experience. It’s a gang mentality. It’s a road family.”

John Brown’s Body will play with Rustic Overtones at the Skowhegan Opera House on Saturday, Jan. 10. Tickets are $20, $25 day of show, and doors open at 7:30 p.m. For more information, visit www.johnbrownsbody.com.

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