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Kevin Kinsella gets back to his reggae roots with OG JBB

Kevin Kinsella
Kevin Kinsella

For more than a decade, Ithaca native Kevin Kinsella performed and recorded with John Brown’s Body, the reggae band he co-founded in 1995. Kinsella wrote and sang many of the songs on the group’s first five studio albums, from 1996’s “All Time” through 2005’s “Pressure Points,” before leaving JBB in 2006.

Since then, Kinsella has gone on to release four solo albums, including his latest, “At Imperial Sound, Volume 1,” which came out in February, and he also put out several more with 10 ft. Ganja Plant. But he has also frequently returned to his John Brown’s Body songbook, performing his most popular JBB songs with a variety of backing bands over the past decade.

This weekend, Kinsella will perform a pair of “OG JBB” shows: Friday night at Deep Dive, followed by a Saturday set at the Great Blue Heron Music Festival in Sherman, New York.

He’ll be joined by several former JBB members, including drummer Tommy Benedetti, keyboardist Jon Petronzio (whose Roadman solo project will open Friday’s show), trombonist Alicia Aubin, and saxman Lee Hamilton, Guitarist Van Martin and bassist Timo Shanko, who play with Benedetti in the Boston-based Dub Apocalypse, will round out the band.

“We played an OG JBB set at the Big Mean BBQ last summer, and one of the promoters from the Great Blue Heron Festival was there and asked ‘Can we get you next year?’” So we’d figure we’d play an Ithaca gig on the way out to Sherman,” Kinsella said in a recent interview.

Kevin Kinsella's latest album is "At Imperial Sound, Volume 1"
Kevin Kinsella's latest album is "At Imperial Sound, Volume 1"

Kinsella’s latest album, “At Imperial Sound, Volume 1,” takes its name from the San Diego studio in which it was recorded. He worked with the band Raiz Muzik and producer E.N. Young to track six of his songs, which recall his early JBB material.

“When I would go out to San Diego in the post-JBB years, Raiz Music was my backing band,” Kinsella said. “And this last time I went out there to tour, about a year ago, I said ‘Hey, at the end of this run, why don’t we record our set?’ So we did. It’s got a couple of new songs, but also some remakes of older songs I've done, just because that was kind of a set we were playing. And I chose the ones that I thought were worthy of a revisit.”

Young’s dub versions of the first six songs round out the album.

“It’s kind of our homage to early 80s reggae records where you'd have a song and then its dub version,” Kinsella said. “In the past, I had done some hybrid albums with Americana and soul influences, and I’ve also done folky singer-songwriter records. But this new one is a return to the raw roots reggae, which a lot of people were encouraging me to do since leaving JBB. I hadn't really done an unadulterated reggae record with horns. So that's kind of what this was – that kind of classic JBB-era songwriting.”

Kinsella has already recorded the follow-up album at Imperial Sound, which may come out at the end of 2023 or early 2024. “After doing the first volume, I set my mind to putting a whole new set of songs together,” he said. “When I returned last winter, we recorded those. That album is really cool because I do duets with Quino from Big Mountain and Josh Swain of The Movement.”

Kevin Kinsella

On July 21, Kinsella will perform at the annual Finger Lakes GrassRoots Festival of Music and Dance in Trumansburg, where he’ll be backed by Rochester-based reggae favorites Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad.

“Kevin is one of our favorites, if not the favorite, songwriters,” said Giant Panda bassist James Searle. “It's completely surreal to know him, be friendly with him, and have him have the confidence that we can make the music that he wants represented for him. So we’re really excited about that.”

“They're like my brothers,” Kinsella said of Panda. “People say, ‘Oh, we're family.’ But we really are family because they used to come to see John Brown’s Body at (Rochester club) Milestones when they were 15. They're a little younger than me, so it’s kind of like passing on the torch of inspiration.”

If you go

Who: Kevin Kinsella OG JBB, with Roadman opening

When: 9 p.m. Friday

Where: Deep Dive

Cost: $14 in advance, available online here; $20 day of show

Event Info

Kevin Kinsella performs at the debut Ithaca Reggae Fest in 2017

Jim Catalano covers the Finger Lakes music scene for WITH (90.1 FM in Ithaca, WITHradio.org) and its affiliates.