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Body and soul, rebuilt

The Baltimore Sun

Last June, the members of reggae group John Brown's Body paused for a period of serious reflection.

Bassist Scott Palmer had just passed away from cancer, and the other musicians wanted to take a good look at their personal and musical lives. Three decided to leave the band and start fresh. Kevin Kinsella, one of the group's lead singers and a founding member, was one of them.

"We all sort of saw the signs of this being a big crossroads in our career," said singer Elliot Martin. "It was definitely the end of something."

It was also a beginning. Martin, who was already writing more and more songs, became JBB's front man and main songwriter. Other musicians joined the group to fill the empty spots, and the act resumed touring. Saturday, it plays the outdoor music festival Starscape in Fort Armistead Park.

"It felt like there was still some life left in the band," Martin said. "We decided to keep on going."

Creatively, Martin started to hit his stride with Pressure Points, the group's last album with the former lineup. Released in 2005, it featured nine songs by Martin and only three by Kinsella. It was a sign of the band's new direction.

After Kinsella left, Martin stepped up and began composing all the songs for the next JBB album. Since he can't play drums or bass, he takes pre-recorded drum and bass tracks, chops them up and puts them back together using the computer recording program Pro Tools. This way, he can put together a demo track - complete with nearly every part - without touching an instrument.

Martin presents the demos to the band the same way a director would give a script to actors. The band then records the track in the studio. Consider it a benevolent dictatorship.

"It's a delicate balance with trying to keep everybody's input into the song," Martin said. "That's the one challenge: Trying to leave space for other people."

But the other band members don't seem to mind.

"If we didn't like the stuff, we wouldn't play it," said drummer Tommy Benedetti. "He knows me so well and my style so well. ... I'm totally cool with that."

Martin is a big fan of dub artists like King Tubby and newer electronica as well, and he tries to bring the two genres together in his music.

"I try to bridge the gap a little bit between the old and the new," Martin said. "I'm a huge fan of roots reggae. I sort of have it in my blood to be a little bit progressive with what I do."

Though they have no set release date for the new album, several labels are interested in releasing it, Benedetti said. Fans should look for it later this year.

"We have things in place, and we're trying to do it right," Benedetti said.

John Brown's Body plays Starscape on Saturday. The Disco Biscuits, RJD2 and others will perform. Doors open at 2 p.m. All ages. The festival is at Fort Armistead Park, 3999 Fort Armistead Road. Tickets are $45 in advance and $50 at the door. For more information, call 410-327-8333 or go to

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