Joseph Israel and the Jerusalem Band
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Joseph Israel and the Jerusalem Band


Band World Reggae


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The best kept secret in music


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"Gone Are Days" 2007 - New Door/Universal
Released digitally in Nov 2006 -- Top 20 Reggae iTunes
Impacting at radio across the US in 2007


Feeling a bit camera shy


Through its simple, sweet reflections of love, its headline-torn news reports, its tales of spiritual awakening and calls for unity, there is a thread running through the songs on Joseph Israel’s debut disc, Gone are the Days. Combined, they quite simply point to a better way to live, to a better world.

Conscious and idealistic, they are songs that compose an album whose release marks the impressive and thoroughly independent rise of the white, Christian-born American, whose utter devotion to the music and culture of Jamaica and the messages of roots reggae can be felt throughout. If the album marks the 28-year-old, self-made musician’s coming of age as an artist, it does so through songs that, among other things, mark his coming of age as a man.

In the album’s title-track, Israel preaches the need to question authority and what’s been served up to us on the evening news or in the history books of our youth. It’s a song in which he recalls his own awakening, intellectually and spiritually: “So many paths, only one to choose/If you live for yourself, you will lose/In your heart, let true love rule.”

Laced with Biblical imagery and featuring everything from a tender dedication to his wife (“Perfect Love”) to an angry, rage-riddled lambasting of third-world oppression (“Hotta Fiyah”), the disc’s 13 tracks represent the realization of a life-long dream for the Arkansas–based Israel. And they also mark him as a bona fide member of the roots reggae community, despite his skin color or country of origin.

Recorded over several months in Kingston, Jamaica—at the fabled Tuff Gong studio (Bob Marley and the Marley family’s studio), Shaggy’s Big Yard studio, and others—Gone are the Days carries the endorsement of a cast of reggae vets. It finds Israel backed by a litany of such players, including saxophonist Dean Fraser, bassist Chris Meredith, lead guitarist Earl “Chinna” Smith, rhythm guitarist Ian “Beezy” Coleman, drummer Wilburn “Squidley” Cole, keyboardist Paul “Scooby” Smith, pianists Franklyn “Bubbler” Waul and Paul “Wrong Move” Crossdale, and percussionist Uzziah “Sticky” Thompson.

Israel duets with second-generation roots reggae star Luciano on “Ruff Times” and Luciano’s fellow VP Records artist Mikey General on “Universal Love,” while Erica Newell and Rochelle Bradshaw—backing vocalists for Ziggy Marley and Luciano, respectively—add backing vocals throughout. A devoted family man, Israel also features his wife, Kristy, on backing vocals, and their daughters, Rebekah and Chavah (they also have a boy, Cypress), add a sweet touch to the end of “Mankind,” urging listeners to “Stop fighting/Love one another/Feed the mommies of little children.”

“To have been able to make this record, it’s very humbling to me,” says Israel. “I just feel so blessed. To have been in a room with all these guys, I felt like there was angels in the room. The vibe was so high that I would just teach them the song and—boom!—in one take they had ‘em.”

Israel self-financed Gone are the Days, recording and independently releasing the disc in 2005. Just as Israel’s songs caught the attention of everyone from Luciano to Mikey General, the disc in the months after its release caught the attention of Universal Music Enterprises, who is releasing the disc nationwide through their label New Door Records.

It’s the next step in a career that has been building since Israel—born Joseph Montgomery Fennel in Tulsa, Oklahoma—was just two years old. It was then, while still a toddler, that he became smitten with Bob Marley and the Wailers’ Babylon by Bus album, especially the track “Positive Vibration,” his favorite song as a young child.

With his father both a reggae fan and the owner of a Fayetteville, Arkansas, club and restaurant called Jose’s, and his uncle a big roots fan also favoring the likes of Burning Spear, young Joseph was surrounded by reggae. As a teen, he started delving deep into the music himself (the Marley cannon, Spear’s classic Marcus Garvey, Bunny Wailer’s Blackheart Man, Peter Tosh’s Legalize It), and the inspirations behind it, from thinker-activist Garvey to Malcom X. At 14, his parents took him on the first of what would become regular trips to Jamaica. At the same time, he was getting into the likes of younger roots artists like Luciano, as well as genre-blending American artist Ben Harper.

As a teen, his interest in the Rastafarian religion—whose followers abstain from eating meat, put little value in material goods and view marijuana as a sacrament—began to grow. A member of the varsity basketball team in high school, he quit sports, and during trips to Jamaica, began studying with Rasta elders such as Ras Bee-Bow of Negril and Bongo Hu-I, the great teacher and herbalist of Montego Bay. As the Rasta culture took root in Joseph, so did long dreadlocks. Israel felt a mystical identity to Jamaica, its people and music.

Back home in Arkansas, Israel began writing and performing. In 2000, he form