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Chattanooga reggae-lovers The Iscariots release their debut album Act of Treason.
Chattanooga-based reggae band the Iscariots dropped their debut album, Act of Treason, on July 11. Maybe you missed it. It was a low-key affair, after all, with the band opening Nightfall that evening before jamming over to JJ’s for the official release party. (That, gentle reader, is sarcasm.)
There’s nothing low-key about the Iscariots and the music they make; they are a perpetual party looking for a place to happen. If this were the ’70s, they would be starring in a succession of made-for-TV movies in which the band travels the world battling injustice with infectiously rump-shaking party anthems. Also, superpowers (probably.)
What I’m trying to say in a mildly tongue-in-cheek fashion is that they are marvelously good at what they do and why shouldn’t they be? They certainly have the résumé. Even if you don’t recognize the band’s name, you can’t help but recognize the fellows themselves (provided you’ve been around the local music scene anytime in the last 10 or 15 years.)
Jesse James Jungkurth, Adrian Lajas, Brett Nolan and Ivan Garcia are highly skilled and respected musicians. They are all alumni of the near-legendary Milele Roots. They all eventually moved on to pursue other interests and successful solo projects. Now they’ve come together to cook up their own special recipe of reggae with Jungkurth’s songwriting as the secret sauce.
A word on that: I’ve been a musician for a quarter-century now. In that time I *may* have written a dozen songs or so and of those there are only five or so I’m not ashamed for people to hear. Of those, there are two that I think might actually be pretty decent. This is why I a) have tremendous respect for talented songwriters and b) am convinced they must be wizards. Making a difficult task look easy is the mark of true talent, and that’s Jesse, through and through.
That being said, songwriting alone doesn’t make a band. A well-written tune falls flat if the band isn’t up to the task. The Iscariots are more than up to the task. In fact, I’ve just coined a phrase to describe their playing: organic precision. It is an atypical dichotomy. They are tight without sounding clinical; they are natural without being raw or sloppy. It is the kind of sound that only comes from the combination of a great deal of individual skill and an almost intuitive rapport between the players. Most bands have one or the other; the Iscariots have both.
The album consists of 12 tracks. There are a few familiar tunes (“Fantasy World” and “Outlaw” being two of my personal favorites) along with a great deal of new material, all of it masterfully arranged and recorded. If it doesn’t make you want to get up and dance, you might want to check your pulse.
I’ve been to Jamaica a handful of times (going back again in the spring) and besides the scenery, there are three things Jamaica does better than most any place I’ve been: Food, music and…a third thing I can’t seem to recall for some reason. The reggae the Iscariots play is not entirely like the reggae you hear in Jamaica, but then I don’t think it was ever meant to be. The Iscariots have a distinctly American flavor that comes from using a wider palette of sounds and styles, but I will say this: I believe completely that the culture that birthed reggae music would embrace with open arms what these guys are doing—and that is saying a lot.
The boys are ramping up to tour so it may be a while before you can see them live again around town. In the meantime, Act of Treason is available now so buy it, listen to it, love it and then legalize it.