A return to reggae’s roots

By By Jesse Peterson

By Jesse Peterson

Joseph IsraelGone Are the DaysUniversal Music Enterprises/UMGThree out of five stars

Joseph Israel’s debut album, Gone Are the Days, serves as another testament that reggae is not dead, but on an uphill climb in popularity and locality.

Although Israel has been immersed in reggae since he was a child, this relative newcomer orchestrates a compelling, heart-felt album that exemplifies the best traits of reggae-the traits that made this style such an important movement in music history.

Of course, this doesn’t mean Gone Are the Days is without flaws.

Given Israel’s stage name, the obvious discussion of Jewish culture, religion and politics gets the green light for much of the content of Gone Are the Days. This can get a little trying for the casual listener, because Israel seems to sing incessantly about such topics, but thankfully, as the album progresses, topics, as well as the music, open up and give the listener more to contemplate and enjoy. Plus, at times, his marriage of Rastafarianism to Judaism sparks some interesting lyrical content, including “for Jah so loved the world?”

Musically, the album stands out as stellar. Groovy bass lines and solid drumbeats keep things coherent and allow the guitar, organ and piano to run free and keep things fresh. At times, these instruments and their inflections become almost jazzy; it’s beautiful when it does.

Backing female vocals add an extra depth of vitality, life and tenderness to Gone Are the Days. Israel himself does mightily well; however, much of the imperfections in the album come when his singing becomes lackluster (highly visible on the title track).

Much of the reason Gone Are the Days works is the collaboration Israel makes with some iconic reggae musicians who lend their talents to back him. What the listener gets is a delicate homage to the legends of the past, plus some nicely crafted tracks–making for a good debut album, especially from someone born in Oklahoma and residing in, of all places, Arkansas.