Higher ground

I've always judged religious music the same way as political music or anything else: Does the music work? I've never much cared about lyrics generally, and so the music is paramount. By that measure, Joseph Israel is remarkable.

Joseph Israel
(Lions of Israel)

In fact, if THIS were the way Christianity (whatever stripe Israel is peddling, and that distinction is not exactly clear) was promulgated, I might be a re-convert. The sound is classic 70s reggae, that sunsplashed mishmash of ska, soul, rock and mild cognitive dissonance. Perhaps there might be a complaint that Israel has listened to The Harder They Come as few hundred too many times, but I'm not entirely sure that such is thing is possible.

After reading the press release and the notes on the CD, I was sure I would not like this. Israel is pretty much Yeshua this, Yeshua that and all with every breath. And the title track is straight up Jesus reggae--though maybe the best Jesus reggae song I've heard in a long time.

Unlike his influences, though, Israel veers a bit from a monolithic reggae sound. He often slips into a basic ska groove ("People Need Hope" sounds like a lost Slackers song, and it is notable that Israel drops his overt religiosity for most of this song), and there are forays into 70s soft-rock as well ("Feel at Home").

Despite his almost single-minded lyrical approach, Israel proves to be a musical adventurer. His supple arrangements and creative approach to songwriting are, indeed, remarkable. If the future of reggae is a white guy originally from Tulsa, the world is getting smaller every day.

Jon Worley

return to A&A home page