Joseph Israel is one of those unique individuals whose natural talents and spiritual calling have merged into a music that is as thought provoking as it is inspiring. “What I share with my audience is to draw everyone closer to the source of truth–that we are all brothers and sisters and that division and lies cannot stand.” The name “Israel” is a reflection that defines Joseph’s striving for the blessings of the Almighty Yahweh. This is the name intended for all peoples, tribes and tongues that love the Most High and love their neighbor. These are the teachings of Yahshua the messiah. We are all one family.”
In 2006 Joseph Israel was signed to the New Door Records division of Universal Music Group. Joseph was the sole reggae artist to be signed to Universal Music in recent history, which is an impressive accomplishment with the record label that is home to Bob Marley and the Wailers’ Island Records catalog.
Joseph Israel’s debut album GONE ARE THE DAYS was recorded at Tuff Gong Studios in the heart of Kingston, Jamaica. Its lyrics are of headline-torn news reports, and are a call for spiritual awakening. The album 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 “Scubi” 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 Mikey General on “Universal Love,” while Erica Newell and Rochelle Bradshaw—backing vocalists for Stephen Marley add backing vocals throughout.
Two of the main themes of the record are unity and kindness. Another is the need to live well, to do the right thing, to act righteously. Still another is overcoming adversity. “We’re living in, the most intense time ever, as far as I can see,” says Israel. “But I think that one day very soon, the strongholds that are holding the people today that are keeping the people down, are going to be toppled-not by force, but by love and truth.” Says Joseph: “This CD, what it’s really all about to me, is bringing things out that haven’t been said, and preserving the musical tradition that Bob Marley started, adding to the foundation that he laid, with original rhythms and real songwriting. This is not a religious album. I’m just trying to promote the truth, and hopefully other people will want to hear it.”
In 2007 GONE ARE THE DAYS, reached #11 on the iTunes Reggae album chart and received considerable attention at radio and retail and led to a series of festival and club performances throughout the United States.
In 2008 Joseph released the download-only EP TEACH YOUR CHILDREN, for the non-profit organization Restore Humanity a 501(c)3 non-profit charitable organization founded by Israel’s sister Sarah Fennel to aid and launch programs that assist the world’s less fortunate. On Teach Your Children: Restore Humanity, Israel interprets the works of Graham Nash (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s “Teach Your Children”), folk singer Malvina Reynolds (“Little Boxes,” the theme to the Showtime series Weeds), Peter Tosh (“Equal Rights”), and the Marleys – mother Rita (Bob Marley & The Wailers’ “Johnny Was”) and son Ziggy (“World So Corrupt” in a medley with Bob & Lee Perry’s “Jah Live”) – recorded with his voice and acoustic guitar at the focus. “The Teach Your Children Restore Humanity EP was a lot of fun to make,” Israel said of the sessions. “To record some great songs, that I loved growing up, in a very simple acoustic setting, and to be able to release these songs while helping to bring awareness to the Restore Humanity organization is a real blessing.”
In 2014 Joseph released the highly-anticipated KINGDOM ROAD which features 14 tracks that chronicle Joseph’s personal journey in his spiritual beliefs and his musical evolution as a recording and performing artist. The songs on the album have decidedly rock-driven themes punctuated by sophisticated guitar lines, complex harmony arrangements with song structures that mirror his reggae origins as they reinvent his sound in a modern roots style. Kingdom Road includes appearances by Earl “Chinna” Smith, Chris Meredith and Toussaint the Liberator with select tracks recorded at Tuff Gong studios in Jamaica and at Crisp Studios in Fayetteville. Accustomed to performing in an acoustic style over the past several years, several songs are performed in this manner lending an organic, singer-songwriter vibe to the release. The album also includes studio recording contributions from members of his current band – The Jerusalem Band. A music video has been released for the song Kingdom Road that features Joseph Israel in outdoor scenes in the Bay Area of California.
Released in Fall 2014 was the TAKE ACTION EP with songs produced with Chris Meredith, long time collaborator with Joseph and bassist with the Jerusalem band as well as several other reggae bands (Stephen Marley, Melody Makers, Bunny Wailer). There are six tracks on the EP they include dub and acoustic versions of two songs “Take Action” and “Overcome”.
In September 2015, a live version of the album KINGDOM ROAD was released as KINGDOM ROAD LIVE with variations from the track listing on the studio recording release. The album shipped as a CD and DVD set with footage from select live performances included on the video companion disc to the album.
Joseph Israel released the single “People Need Hope” in February 2016. The single is part of the planned June 2016 full length album PARADISE. This is the first song he’s ever recorded in combination with two other artists. He’s joined by Gentleman from Germany and Tarrus Riley from Jamaica on this uplifting single flavored with live horns recorded in Jamaica from legendary players, trombonist Nambo Robinson and saxophonist Dean Fraser. The one-drop style reggae groove with its playful horn line fortifies the universal message of hope in the compelling chorus “people need hope today, so they can work it out”, the latter portion enhanced with call and response style support vocals.
A prolific songwriter Joseph makes music that reflects his own life experience and inspiration from his environment. “For songwriting, I really just let it come to me, so I’ll go through a time period where maybe I will write a bunch of songs and then go through maybe just write one song a week or a month and then write ten songs in one day or something. I may get ideas for several songs in a couple days. So I just vibe it,whenever the spirit moves me. A lot of times it starts with the guitar riff, I will play something on the guitar and it moves my heart and then there is something I have thought about or something I have seen in the world, or something I have experienced in my life, I will start to sing about and next thing you know, its a tune. That’s really how ‘Take Action” came about. It just came like a natural thing so that is how I feel good songs are written, when they are not forced not even thought about too much.”
After so many years of working in the music business, touring and recording, Joseph has adapted quite well to the different aspects of life as a musician. He illustrates the essence of his life as a touring musician stating: “The difference between being on tour and being at home its like two different worlds. You just enter a different mode. I love being on the road and meeting new people every day and being in that new town, it keeps everything fresh. You never know what to expect so you just live in the moment, and I love to live in the moment to be really focused on what I am doing. I just make sure I get the healthy food and have healthy thoughts and love my neighbor and be good to everybody and the main thing is just to connect with new people all over.”
In the live setting, Joseph plays guitar and shares the stage with The Jerusalem Band. These musicians include Arkansas-based Marlon “Cat” Davis who started playing drums when he was three years old, born into a rich heritage of gospel tradition and along with Michael Walker, they formed the Gospel Sons. In 2001 Marlon became a member of the Lions of Israel Band and has been working with Joseph Israel ever since. Michael Walker of Little Rock performs soulful harmonies in the band. Rounding out the rhythm section is Rupert McKenzie, a New York-based Jamaican bass player who is well-regarded both as a stage performer and session musician. Matt Smith from Fayeteville played guitar on the Kingdom Road recordings as well and performs with the band. Carl Blackmon adds his talents on keyboards and hails from Wilmington, North Carolina.
After over a decade in the business, Joseph has worked with many musicians, artists, engineers and producers and has learned many things from them all but there is one common element; “I have worked with so many great people, they have all taught me something unique each one of them, one thing that I can say that all of them have taught me is that you just have to keep working. Never stop working. As soon as you finish working on one project or songs, every day maybe try to write a song or keep working on the music and stay in it. It’s a long haul and you want to be in it for the long term so. All these people that I have been able to work with, many of them are elders now and that’s what they have shown me, to be dedicated to the quality of the music and that you don’t have to put out a lot of music, you have to keep working at it,” Joseph explains.
A truly unique reggae artist, Joseph Israel was born Joseph Fennel in Oklahoma and grew up in Arkansas. Joseph has shared the stage, performing his songs of peace and righteousness with the likes of Michael Franti, Earl “Chinna” Smith, SOJA, Toussaint the Liberator, Luciano and Matisyahu with whom he wrote the song “Away With This” which they performed together on the “Youth” tour in 2006.
Past performance venues have included, Nine Mile Music Festival, Ravenna Festival, SXSW, Sundance Festival, Reggae On The River, Sierra Nevada World Music Festival, New Parish (Oakland), The Flamingo Cantina (Austin), The Fox Theatre (Boulder), The Wild Hare (Chicago) The Echoplex (Los Angeles)