Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Duff Guide to Ska NYC Winter 2015 Ska Calendar #1

Saturday, January 31, 2015 @ 9:00 pm

Brown Rice Family Band

Cumbe
558 Fulton Street
Brooklyn, NY
$10-$20 (sliding scale!)

+ + + +

Saturday, February 14, 2015 @ 7:00 pm

Valentine's Day Bash w/Inspecter 7, The Mugs, The Ladrones, HARM, plus DJ Agent J

The Grand Victory
245 Grand Street
Brooklyn, NY
$15

+ + + +

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Rude Boy George

Two Boots of Bridgeport
281 Fairfield Avenue
Bridgeport, CT
No Cover!

+ + + +

Saturday, March 14, 2015 @ 7:00 pm

The Pilfers Record Release Party w/Leaving Lifted, Fear Nuttin Band, The Rudie Crew, Sweet Lucy, Rude Boy George, The Native Alien Tribe, plus special guests and DJs!

The Wick
260 Meserole Street
Brooklyn, NY
$15 in advance/$25 at door
18+

+ + + +

Tuesday, March 17, 2015 @ 6:00 pm

St. Patrick's Day Bash w/Straight to Hell, Bonus Pump, Badfish

BB King Blues Club
237 West 42nd Street
New York, NY
$20/All ages

+ + + +

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Rude Boy George

Seaside Tavern
981 Cove Road
Stamford, CT

+ + + +

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Rude Boy George

The Stanhope House
45 Main Street
Stanhope, NJ

+ + + +

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Rude Boy George

Fontana's Bar
105 Eldridge Street
New York, NY

+ + + +

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Rude Boy George

Toshi's Living Room
1141 Broadway
New York, NY


Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Specials: This Year's Model

There was a minor freak out in the ska and new wave circles on the internet yesterday when it was announced that on March 30, 2015, 2 Tone Records/Warners Catalogue would be re-releasing remastered versions of The Specials' three albums proper with new, alternative covers; liner notes by Lois Wilson (music writer for Mojo Magazine and Record Collector); unseen photos of the band by punk/new wave-era NME photographer Chalkie Davies (who shot the original cover photos for all three albums); and bonus material (on the second CD of each release), some of it appearing on compact disc for the first time. All of this has Jerry Dammers' blessing. Both Uncut and Slicing Up Eyeballs have all the details.

As for the bonus material, I (and probably most long-time Specials' fans) have all of it on various releases/formats--with the exception of the recording of The Specials performing for the BBC in concert at the Paris Theatre on December 15, 1979. Still, these versions will be tempting for completists. A commenter on the Mojo website noted how nice it would have been to include the (amazing!) videos that comprised The Special AKA's "On Film" on the new In the Studio re-release, since this video collection was only released on VHS in the UK and Laserdisc in Japan way back in 1984.

For fans in North America, the more momentous news may be that The Specials are booked to perform their first concert in Mexico--in Mexico City's El Plaza Condesa on March 12, 2015 (without Jerry, Roddy, or Neville, I think). Hopefully, this means that dates in the U.S. are in the works, too (come back to NYC--your last show here on a pier on the Hudson River in 2013 was so good and so much fun!).

[Updated to reflect the fact that all of the material on these reissued CDs has been previously released. Thanks to Duff Guide to Ska reader Jon for pointing this out.]

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

"Be Stiff: The Stiff Records Story"

As someone who worked at a pretty unconventional indie record label in the 1990s and is completely obsessed with 1980s new wave music, I gleefully devoured Richard Balls' (how's that for a punk rock name, intentional or not?) terrific "Be Stiff: The Stiff Records Story."  This book recounts the rise and fall (1976-1985) of this boldly unorthodox label founded by pub act managers Jake Rivera and Dave Robinson, both of whom were motivated to start Stiff by their frustration at the majors' maddening refusal/inability to recognize and develop some of the amazing talent in the nascent punk and new wave scenes. Stiff's roster included The Damned ("New Rose" is considered to be the first punk single ever released), Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, Ian Dury and the Blockheads, Wreckless Eric, Lene Lovich, Richard Hell and the Voidoids, The Adverts, The Belle Stars, Tenpole Tudor, Tracey Ullman, The Pogues, Devo, Kirsty MacColl, Dave Edmunds, Graham Parker and the Rumor, The Members, Motorhead, Dirty Looks (power pop from Staten Island, NY!), Rachel Sweet, the Plasmatics, Yello, and many more. And the label was celebrated for its innovative and cheeky marketing campaigns for releases and package tours; releases aimed at collectors (several versions of a single issued on different colored wax; the use of picture sleeves; and limited-edition runs of 45s); pre-MTV music videos; as well as often extraordinary graphic design, the bar set very high by the incredible Barney Bubbles (who also has a big ska connection--he directed video for The Specials' "Ghost Town").

What should be of great interest to ska fans is that Stiff was also home to Madness (whose incredible string of fourteen UK top ten singles helped keep the label afloat in some lean times), Desmond Dekker, The Equators, and The Untouchables. While there's some great info about Madness' and Desmond Dekker's experience with Stiff in these pages, The Equators and The Untouchables, in particular, get disappointingly short shrift here (not much more than a mention that The Untouchables' Stiff releases came out just as the label was failing). Admittedly, "Be Stiff" has a lot of territory to cover--the label released hundreds of singles, mostly one-off deals, and a little over a hundred albums, including the brilliant The Wit and Wisdom of Ronald Reagan (released just before the Gipper's election in 1980), which consisted of 40 minutes of complete silence and sold 40,000 copies--but The Untouchables hit it big in both the UK and Europe and I would have loved to learn more about how their classic Wild Child album came about...

Here are some choice bits and pieces from "Be Stiff" for the ska crowd:

Dave Robinson hired Madness to perform at his wedding essentially as an audition for the label, since he had heard a lot of great things about the band--who had only played their first gig a few months earlier--but had been unable to arrange to see them live. What helped seal the deal--according to Madness bassist Mark "Bedders" Bedford--was Elvis Costello's reaction to Madness' set: "...Dave [Robinson] said, 'I couldn't believe it. If Elvis Costello is dancing then you must be doing something right.'" Madness' dressing room at Robinson's wedding featured black and white square carpeting--something they noted at the time and returned to for the "Bed and Breakfast Man" video shoot after they had signed to Stiff.

The Equators--an all-black Birmingham ska band that formed in 1977, two years before 2 Tone--were featured on the 1980 "Son of Stiff" package tour in the UK and released the truly excellent Hot in 1981, which did not have much chart success (the album came out just as 2 Tone was flaming out and The Equators' sound may have been a bit too polished and rock/jazz/pop influenced for what was expected by 2 Tone fans at the time; though give it a listen now and you'll be left scratching your head to as why it wasn't a massive hit). Soon after forming The Beat, Dave Wakeling is quoted in "Be Stiff" as saying, "...just when we thought we'd discovered something new, we discovered The Equators right in our home town of Birmingham, who had already come up with a similar formation..."  As for why The Equators went with Stiff instead of the more natural fit of 2 Tone, Equators' singer Donald Bailey stated, "We thought, 'Hey, we were playing this music before the 2 Tone thing came out. Why give it to 2 Tone?'"

Hoping to capitalize on 2 Tone's enormous success--and Desmond Dekker's previous UK chart hits from 1967 to 1970 with "007," the #1 hit "Israelites," "It Mek," and "You Can Get It If You Really Want It"--Robinson arranged for the King of Ska to release two albums, Black and Dekker (recorded with Graham Parker's Rumours, The Equators, and the Akrylykz backing him and featuring good-to-great new recordings of many of his previous hits; 1980) and Compass Point (produced by Robert "Addicted to Love" Palmer and apparently a complete mess; released in 1981). Neither of these albums nor a slew of singles managed to return Dekker to the charts (last summer, I picked up his cover of The Heptones' "Book of Rules," released in 1982 on Stiff and it's pretty fantastic).

Lastly, if you check out Stiff's discography in the back of the book, you'll note that Stiff licensed and released The Potato 5's first 7" single ("Western Special" b/w "Big City") from Gaz's Rockin' Records (but Stiff's closing shop prevented further deals, forcing Gaz to get his label up-and-running on his own).

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Rude Boy George Tonight (1/17/15) at Country Hill BBQ Market in Manhattan (No Cover)!

Sadly, Jerry won't be there (of course, he's certainly welcome to come!)--though we hope you can join us if you're in the NYC area tonight! Originally, this was going to be a private party for our bass player Marc Wasserman's birthday, but the venue has kindly allowed us to invite the public and there is NO COVER. Rude Boy George goes on at 8:30 pm sharp (there's another event after our performance), so get there on time! Cowboy boots and ten gallon hats are optional. Hope to see you there!


Thursday, January 15, 2015

Duff Review: H.R. and The Scotch Bonnets "Quest" EP

Morphius Records
2014
CD

(Review by Steve Shafer)

Ska and reggae fans willing to venture just a tiny bit beyond the safe and tried-and-true traditional musical confines of these genres will want to be sure to take a listen to the fantastic new five-track Quest EP from ace Baltimore/DC rocksteady crew The Scotch Bonnets in collaboration with the Bad Brain's singer H.R. (Human Rights, AKA Paul Hudson). This meeting of musical minds and formidable talents yields a recording that is a brilliant blend of The Scotch Bonnets' ska/rocksteady/soul with H.R.'s otherworldly and very spiritual reggae.

The lead-off title track, a minor-key rocksteady duet of sorts between singer, songwriter, guitarist Lady Hatchet (AKA Kristen Forbes) and HR (co-written by the two and keyboardist Pablo Fiasco), offers words of encouragement--tempered with a dose of not-so-happy reality--for every human being trying to give some meaning to and derive some happiness from their existence:

"It's all so beautiful, magical, marvelous
It's also terrible, frightening, bittersweet
There's no rehearsing and you learn as you go
It's all pretending, running around and around in the game of life...

As you go, baby don't feel defeated
'Cause on this road, some will come and some will slip away
Just keep your head, give your aimless wandering a higher love
And then your quest will bring you peace of mind"

Lady Hatchet's "Cheyenne" is a sprightly and wonderfully bright knees-up ska tune that to these ears sounds like something that could have come off of Bad Manners' 1989 Return of the Ugly album (their best record and a highlight of the mid-to-late '80s UK ska scene)--a cut that Nick Welsh might have written (think "Memory Train," "Since You've Gone Away," or "Rosemary"--ska songs with pop hearts beating within). It's written from the point of view of a "traveling man" who has fallen for a woman, much to the displeasure of her mother--who's doing all she can to put a stop to things. The track sports a terrific everybody-sing-along chorus (and check out the King Hammond-y organ solo): "Cheyenne, I don't care what your mother thinks/She don't know what the future brings/When you and I will still be friends." If there was such a thing as a Billboard ska top ten ska in some alternate universe, this would be all over it.

The extraordinarily confident and smoking hot rocksteady-soul-rocker "Just a Kid" (another amazing Hatchet tune) is an unapologetic tune about searching for physical and emotional satisfaction on the road:

"I'm not sorry
I'm not ashamed
I never even knew your name
But now I will shout it
Shout it like the loudest sound

Hey, Bobby Miller
Where you've been out running around?

I'm not embarrassed
I'm not to blame
I never even knew your name
But now I will scream out
Scream out at the top of my lungs

Hey, Bobby Miller
Can hear you hear the howl of the dogs?

You could have been just a kid with a smile like that
How could I've known that you've been around a while
So you had to learn a thing or two

I have been roughed
Feeling so beat up
Did the mess around, mess around, mess around with my heart and soul
I couldn't take any more

Keeping to myself
Moving a straight shooting course

Another round in another dirty town
No, I never know whose chit chat is going to grip me in an eloquent voice
or have me reach for the door
Hey buttercup, you've really got that thing I adore

But when I looked out at you
You were smiling back
That's when I knew the one way to escape was getting back in the van

I'm not sorry
I'm not ashamed
It's all the same, it's just a game
Yeah, we're playing till the dark hits the sun
I feel like having some fun

You got me rolling so high--I can't describe it
And I don't want to come down--no!

(Spoken:)
No, no, don't talk
Why ruin the magic of action with conversation?
Loose lips sink pirate ships
And I just want to...walk the plank"

H.R.'s and Pablo Fiasco's "Universal Love" is a trippy/dubby rocksteady cut that features H.R. professing his unwavering and boundless love and devotion to his woman: "I'll never let you down/I'll never break your heart/I'll never let you down/I'm only yours from the start/No matter what they say/I'm always here for you/Just remember every day, I love you, I love/My universal love..."

Lastly, "H.R. Psalm" features H.R. reciting Psalm 45 from the King James version of the Bible over a mesmerizing reggae track (that conjures visions of wandering through the Judean desert). This particular psalm is a wedding song, written to the king on the day of his marriage to a foreign woman--but it is also interpreted as a Messianic prophecy, with Jesus as the king and Israel as the bride.

Don't let this gem of an EP slip past you in the white noise of your life! Attention must be paid to The Scotch Bonnet's and H.R.'s Quest, since it's some of the best music the US ska scene has to offer!


Thursday, January 8, 2015

Hollie Cook at Highline Ballroom in Manhattan Tonight!

I haven't had the chance to post a NYC ska/reggae calendar lately (sorry, too much going on!), but I do want to point out that Hollie Cook is playing at the Highline Ballroom tonight (tix at the door are $25). Unfortunately, this isn't more of a ska or reggae bill, but that shouldn't deter you (be open to new sounds!).

Ms. Cook's most recent album, Twice, came out this past summer and is highly recommended (read The Duff Guide to Ska review of the first single off that record--"Looking for Real Love" b/w "99"--here)--and her stunning debut album is essential to any collection (check out my review of it here)!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Duff Review: Hotknives "Razor Blade Alley" and Crabs Corporation "The Opium Eaters" b/w The Values featuring Neil Innes and Bedders "Madness" and Rude Boy George "Driving In My Car"

Jump Up Records/Specialized
2014
Yellow vinyl 7" single

(Review by Steve Shafer)

This sweet slab of wax is the second single spun off of Specialized 3: Mad Not Cancer, the four-CD collection of Madness covers released in support of the Teenage Cancer Trust in the UK. The first excellent single featured King Hammond and Bim Skala Bim covering "Bed and Breakfast Man" and "Nightboat to Cairo" respectively--The Duff Guide to Ska review of it can be checked out here.

On the A side, Third-wave UK stars The Hotknives tackle Lee Thompson's "Razor Blade Alley," a precautionary story of unsafe sex with a prostitute that results in case of venereal disease ("I'm just too shy to check in, but this pain of pissing razors is cutting in"), keeping the jazzy vibe of the tune in the keys, but adjusting the guitar and rhythm section so that their terrific version is much more of an urgent ska tune. Argentina's Crabs Corporation transform Mike Barson's jazzy instrumental The Opium Eaters (from Madness' 1981 album 7) into an fantastically trippy and dubby early reggae cut.

On the B side, The Values featuring Neil Innes (of Monty Python and Rutles fame) and Bedders (Mark Bedford of Madness, of course) serve up a jaunty and slightly sardonic version of Madness' signature tune (Prince Buster's original "Madness") that's a cross between something you might expect to hear off "Life of Brian" and Benny Hill. Great stuff. I'm a member of Rude Boy George, so I can't objectively review our version of "Driving in My Car," but we've heard from many people that they like how we've successfully transformed what was essentially a quirky novelty track into (what we think is) a pretty great all-out ska song.


Saturday, December 27, 2014

Duff Review: King Hammond "Bed and Breakfast Man" b/w Bim Skala Bim (featuring Dave Hillyard) "Nightboat to Cairo" (from Specialized 3)

Jump Up Records/Specialized
2014
White vinyl 7" single

(Review by Steve Shafer)

This is the first single spun off of Specialized 3: Mad Not Cancer, which is a four-CD collection of Madness covers released in support of the Teenage Cancer Trust in the UK (for the record, the first Specialized benefit CD was a tribute to The Specials; the second one to The Beat; and the planned four release is focused on The Clash).

Side A features the always terrific King Hammond (AKA Nick Welsh) with a sweet arrangement of "Bed and Breakfast Man" that, to me, sounds like something Laurel Aitken would have done in the 1980s. It irons out the quirkiness of the original, replacing it with a more straightforward, traditional ska vibe that works really well here (I also love KH's intro: "This is an old London folk song...").

Bim Skala Bim, with The Slackers' Dave Hillyard along for the ride, turn in a more faithful version of the beloved and classic "Nightboat to Cairo" (though the bubbly Bim organ is instantly recognizable as theirs!). Of course, this track sounds terrific in their more-than-capable hands and is probably simply brilliant live.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Duff Review: "Rhoda Dakar Sings The Bodysnatchers"

Pledge Music
2014
CD/LP/digital download
(The CD is also available to purchase through the London International Ska Festival website.)

(Review by Steve Shafer)

Of all the 2 Tone-era bands, The Bodysnatchers (2 Tone's only all-female act--and the only women in the late 70s UK ska scene apart from Pauline Black) were the ones who were criminally under-documented on vinyl during their relatively brief--but brilliant--existence, from late 1979 to 1981. Apart from two fantastic singles (a cover of Dandy Livingstone's "Let's Do Rocksteady" b/w "Ruder Than You," co-written by The Bodysnatchers and the band's friend Gaz Mayall in 1980; and the band's "Easy Life" b/w a cover of Bob Andy's "Too Experienced," also released in 1980) and an amazing live version of "Easy Life" included on the Dance Craze soundtrack (1981), The Bodysnatchers weren't able to keep it together long enough to record their debut album before fragmenting over how to move forward. One faction of The Bodysnatchers wanted to go pop (the majority of the band): Sarah Jane Owen, Stella Barker, Penny Leyton, and Miranda Joyce formed The Belle Stars, releasing a pop version of The Bodysnatchers' original "Hiawatha" as their first single (later, they had a massive hit with their cover of The Dixie Cups' "Iko Iko"--the song was originally written by James "Sugar Boy Crawford"--when it was featured on the 1988 "Rain Man" film soundtrack); after The Belle Stars' demise, Owen and Layton then joined The Deltones, another amazing all female UK ska act, in 1984. The remainder of The Bodysnatchers wanted to be more political--Ms. Dakar and Nicky Summers went on to work with The Special AKA, releasing the first Bodysnatcher song the band ever wrote, "The Boiler" (an extremely disturbing story of date rape, only meant to be listened to once, according to Jerry Dammers); Dakar then joined The Special AKA, singing and co-writing songs on their sole studio album (read my thoughts on that record here).

After two long, challenging, and apparently very unpleasant years recording The Special AKA's extraordinary In the Studio (in a recent interview with Reggae Steady Ska, Ms. Dakar stated that she's never listened to the finished album), Ms. Dakar took a long break from the ska scene (though she did occasionally sing and record in the 80s and 90s with non-ska acts like Happy House, Palm Skin Productions, Dr. Robert of the Blow Monkeys, and Apollo 440). However, according to Paul Williams' book "You're Wondering Now: The Specials from Conception to Reunion," in 2002 Jennie Matthias (Belle Stars/Big 5) contacted Dakar to see if she was interested in touring with her and Pauline Black of The Selecter as part of a "Ska Divas" supergroup, performing Bodysnatchers, Selecter, and Belle Stars songs--all backed by a band that included Nick Welsh (who, at the time, was the songwriter and bassist of that iteration of The Selecter, and had been a member of Bad Manners, as well as the man behind King Hammond).

These shows rekindled Dakar's love of ska music and later led to a series of fruitful collaborations between her and Welsh (that apparently had been initiated at the suggestion of Ms. Black). In 2006, Welsh left The Selecter and formed Skaville UK--and arranged for Dakar to sing vocals on several tracks on each of that act's two albums (1973 in 2006 and Decadent! in 2008) and she performed gigs with them, as well. Welsh also co-wrote several songs and played all of the instruments on Dakar's 2007 solo record, Cleaning in Another Woman's Kitchenand the two released the more rock-oriented Back to the Garage in 2009. Dakar also was a featured guest vocalist on Madness' "On the Town," from their stunningly good 2009 album, The Liberty of Norton Folgate (read my thoughts on that record here).

After having been approached by a seemingly never-ending stream of Bodysnatchers and 2 Tone fans over the span of several decades about the possibility of her releasing an album of unrecorded Bodysnatchers' tunes (a full-on reunion was never in the cards; the split in 1981 wasn't amicable)--coupled with the 35th anniversary of the band's formation and an opportunity to perform Bodysnatchers' songs on Halloween at the Jazz Cafe in Camden--led Dakar to get in touch with Sean Flowerdew (Pama Intl/Phoenix City All-stars/London International Ska Festival) to see if he thought it was feasible to put together some sort of recording. Of course, he did--and with Dakar's suggestion that they crowd fund the album through PledgeMusic (full disclosure: I financially supported this project in exchange for a CD and LP!), they assembled an all-star ska backing band (featuring two Specials, Lynval Golding on guitar and Horace Panter on bass; Sean Flowerdew on keys and co-producing; Mark Claydon of The Get Up on drums; Lenny Bignell of the Sidewalk Doctors and Phoenix City All-stars on guitar and co-producing; and Karl Wirrmann from Intensified on sax) and recorded 10 tracks live in the studio in one day (including five original and unrecorded Bodysnatchers songs).

While some DGTS readers of a certain age may have been fortunate enough to have seen The Bodysnatchers perform many of these tracks live, this record will be the very first opportunity for many a 2 Tone/Bodysnatchers fan to experience much of this music (it was mine!) and they won't be disappointed, as the songs and performances are nothing short of stellar (Ms. Dakar is in extremely fine form)!

[Some may grouse about the inclusion of the three previously recorded cuts here, plus another cover that was captured in Dance Craze--"Easy Life," Too Experienced," "Let's Do Rocksteady," and Desmond Dekker's "007"--but they likely would have appeared on The Bodysnatchers album, had that come to pass back in 1981. The versions here compare very favorably with the original arrangements (these aren't radical updates--they're true to The Bodysnatchers' 2 Tone sound--and they're terrific) and they deserve inclusion on Rhoda Dakar Sings The Bodysnatchers, since they are the band's signature tunes.]

Much like The Slits' "Typical Girls" (and keeping with 2 Tone's mission to address social, political, and economic injustice within undeniably catchy songs that make one want to dance), The Bodysnatchers' "Easy Life"--the first track on Rhoda Dakar Sings The Bodysnatchers and certainly one of the band's finest moments--challenged 1970 British society's prevailing and very much entrenched attitude regarding the role of women (something we're still grappling with today) and acknowledged how difficult it was/is to defy these imposed expectations and fight for real equality--particularly for young women just reaching adulthood. It was also revolutionary in that they were women singing ska songs--in a scene dominated by young men--from a woman's point of view:

"I've been waiting so long
For this here time to come
I've been waiting ever so long
For this here time to come
But now it's here, do I want it?
Now it's here, I'm not sure if I want it
Why don't I plump for the easy option?
Yes, I could go for the easy option

It could be so easy
Life could be so easy
It could be so easy
Life could be so easy

We are near to our equality
Girls and boys with pay parity
We are near to our equality
The law says there is equal opportunity
But still it's a struggle
Yes, life is still a struggle
I could stay home and play houses
Care for my man and press his trousers

It could be so easy...

Hey girls, it's not too late
To stay home and vegetate
Just like mamma says you should do
Life society says you should do
Is this our natural fate?
I wasn't born to procreate
If I didn't have to use my brain
I know that I would go insane
I refuse, I want to say no
I don't care if it's hard, if it's slow

It could be so easy..."

(One much appreciated bonus to picking up this CD is that it contains song lyrics in the insert; before it arrived, I had been listening to the digital download tracks over and over in my attempt to discern the lyrics to the previously unreleased tracks! Note to bands: Please take the time, effort, and expense to print/post your lyrics somewhere so that fans can easily discern your songs' messages...)

"The Ghost of the Vox Continental" (the Vox Continental is a transistor-based combo organ that was used by Jerry Dammers and Madness' Mike Barson, amongst many other 2 Tone and new wave musicians) is an amusing ghost story about a keyboardist who is crushed by his organ during a load-in, but, even in death, is so devoted to the band that he continues to perform at gigs ("The ghostly keyboard player/Returned to haunt the band/The untouched keyboard moved to/The touch of a ghostly hand...They tried hard for a replacement/But no one stayed for very long/No need for them to learn the set/Vox Continental knew each song"). Of course, the song features a very prominent organ line that has slight echoes of Johann Sebastian Bach's "Toccata and Fugue in D minor" (which has been associated with horror movies since its use in films like "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" in 1931 and the 1962 Hammer Production of "The Phantom of the Opera"; many ska fans will recognize that The Toasters used its opening measures as the introduction to "Frankenska," on their 1988 Thrill Me Up album).

The carousel-like organ line that opens "Happy Time Tune" belies the suffering and want contained within its lyrics. While enduring the cold and wet London morning, Ms. Dakar recalls a seemingly idyllic family holiday to visit relatives in Jamaica ("We played cricket on the soft grass/Picked Julie mango from the trees"). But these pleasant memories are tempered by the grinding poverty in Jamaica and the song suggests that one should always be aware and appreciate that some people don't have it as good as you do and will never have the chance to go on holiday from the day-to-day lives: "There is another side to Jamaica/Far away from your Orange Street/Where poor people live in iron shacks/No work, no shoes on them feet/For them, there is no happy time/For them, no sun a shine/For them, no bird a sing/You should know everything."

The brilliantly evocative and cinematic "Private Eye"--think Humphrey Bogart as Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe in "The Big Sleep"--so deftly captures the essence and spirit of film noir. For portions of the song, Ms. Dakar is a femme fatale ("Said he liked my bleach job, used to be a brunette/I looked at him sideways, he lit my cigarette") who has a history with Marlowe ("He saved my life a few years back/Some crazy meathead was on my track"). One of the great things about this song is how its point of view shifts--at first, Ms. Dakar is the omniscient narrator describing Marlowe on a stakeout on Sunset Boulevard in LA ("Check the drugstore across the street/Saw his suspect come out to meet/Tall man in black, fedora hat/Hailed a cab/That was that"), then she's the femme fatale, followed by the aforementioned, stalking "meathead" encountering the PI ("Marlowe smashed through the door/Stuck a Lugar in my face!"), and finally she's Marlowe, with his lament about his destiny to live on the seamier side of life, but how his profession (and ingrained moral code) keeps him from succumbing to the plethora of sin around him.

"I don't know why I'm a PI, it just doesn't make sense
Every day's a parking lot, the crowd of losers is dense
Wheeling with wasters, dealing with drunks
Whiskey for breakfast, coffee for lunch
High-class fluff, low-class hotels
Drugstore cowboys, nights spent in cells
Got no family, I got no home
All my romance takes place on the phone
Don't work too much, it don't really matter
If I didn't exist like this
I'd be with the rest, in the gutter"

The immensely catchy "The Loser" finds the singer giving dating and sartorial advice to an uncool guy whose approach toward women is painfully wrong. He heeds all of it and transforms himself into a popular ladies' man. To the dismay of the singer, she finds herself falling for him, too, even though she knows his front is more of a put-on than real:

"Time when by and I noticed the change
Acting still, but the role was new
You tried less, achieved and enigmatic pose
Taken in, girls surrounded you
Suddenly, when next we met
I realized I'd fallen for this drip
On each arm clung adoring girls
"By the way, thank you for the tip""

The take-away of the incredible, but sorrowful, rocksteady-ish "Mixed Feelings" is that one shouldn't settle for relationships that are conflicted, compromised, or fake: "So many people spend their days/Wondering if they like or hate/Too many people waste their time/Telling, telling the truth and wish they were lying/They are laughing, but crying/Just crying inside/Knowing their heart was broken..."

Apart from the strange notion that had the native peoples of North America only shared their lands with the white European invaders and not fought "with national pride," they wouldn't have been almost completely wiped out, "Hiawatha" is a welcome plea for rejecting nationalism and embracing multiculturalism (two prominent issues that England was beginning to grapple with in the late 70s/early 80s), as well as keeping in mind that we're all descended from common ancestors, if you go back far enough: "Integration, social changes/Different customs, faces/Stops us from getting in a rut." (It should be noted that in the Belle Stars' music video for "Hiawatha," the awful "native" costume touches and set--with totem poles!--trade on stereotypes and almost negate the positive message of the song!)

Rhoda Dakar Sings The Bodysnatchers is The Duff Guide to Ska's pick for album of the year. It's a superb album in its own right and an incredibly momentous development for the global ska scene--a "lost" 2 Tone record has been recovered, finally rendering the 2 Tone label discography complete. Get Rhoda Dakar Sings The Bodysnatchers now!


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Video/Photos of Rude Boy George, The Scofflaws, and Beat Brigade at Otto's Shrunken Head on 12/5/14!

Editor's note: File this post under shameless self-promotion--but it's also helping to promote some of our favorite, fellow NYC area bands!

If you weren't able to catch the packed and sweaty Rude Boy George record release party with our incredible special guests The Scofflaws and Beat Brigade at Otto's Shrunken Head last Friday night, you can take great comfort in the fact that some of the night was pretty well documented for your viewing/listening pleasure--thanks to Bryan Kremkau of SkaPunkPhotos (check out his awesome photos here and here), All-Nite Images (lots of great black and white photos can be seen here) and Otto Yamamoto (see his video below). Massive thanks to the photographers/videographers for doing this!

The following 45-minute black and white video shot by Otto Yamamoto is like a Dance Craze for (part of) the NYC ska scene in 2014 (with veterans from the 80s and 90s!), as it captured some amazing live footage of The Scofflaws, Rude Boy George, and Beat Brigade up close and in action!

Here's a rundown of what's in this video by time code:

00:00  The Scofflaws: "Rude Boy Train"
04:46  The Scofflaws: "Theme from the Godfather"
09:48  The Scofflaws: "Nude Beach"
15:02  The Scofflaws: "Nightmare"

19:13  Rude Boy George: "Always Something There to Remind Me"
22:00  Rude Boy George: "Love My Way"
25:48  Rude Boy George: "On My Radio"
29:04  Rude Boy George: "Kids in America"

32:33  Beat Brigade: "401 Kill"
38:06  Beat Brigade: "I Second That Emotion"



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And here's some fantastic color video of RBG and The Scofflaws from Bryan Kremkau of SkaPunkPhotos...