Sunday, April 26, 2015

Roddy Radiation, The Scotch Bonnets, and Rude Boy George at Fontana's in Manhattan on 4/25/15

(Words and video by Steve Shafer)

I arrived a bit later to this gig than had planned, so I was bummed to find that I had missed The Scotch Bonnets' opening set, as I'm a huge fan of their ska/rocksteady/soul sound. The Scotch Bonnets' two records--the Live Ya Life album and their Quest EP with HR of Bad Brains--are two of the best releases the American ska scene has produced in recent memory. However, I did catch them backing Roddy Radiation, as he played a batch of tracks he penned for The Specials ("Rat Race," "Concrete Jungle," "Hey Little Rich Girl"--dedicated to Amy Winehouse, who covered it--and "Bonediggin'" off Guilty 'til Proved Innocent, as well as Lynval Golding's "Do Nothing," which is one of my favorite Specials' songs, hands down) and some of his terrific skabilly cuts from 2011's Blues Attack, like "Another Rusty Nail" and "Judgment Day." Roddy was in fine form, playing his guitar with dramatic rockabilly flourishes (and introducing each song with a little story about it), while the excellent Scotch Bonnets kept everything firmly grounded in bubbling and propulsive, R and B-tinged ska. While the crowd wasn't as nearly large as it should have been for such a quality pairing (what's up with that, NYC ska massive?), Roddy and the Bonnets nonetheless put on damn fine and satisfying show, one worthy of a much larger audience. (Roddy Radiation and The Scotch Bonnets are currently on a tour of the US Midwest and South for the remainder of April and first half of May--watch the videos below for a preview and make sure to catch them if they come to your town!)





While I've had to significantly dial down my participation in Rude Boy George, due to family and work commitments, I'm still partially involved in the band (and even was asked to come on stage to sing during their version of "Kids in America"). So, while I can't really review their set here, I'll let these two videos convey how amazing they were last night and why they deserve your love.





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Sunday, April 19, 2015

Jerry Dammers in MOJO, Rhoda Dakar in Vive Le Rock!

Even though it's a fairly unremarkable magazine shop on Madison Avenue in one of Manhattan's wealthiest neighborhoods (I've seen Donald Fagan in there a few times), it carries two music magazines essential to any self-respecting Anglophile: MOJO and Vive Le Rock! (One of the guys behind the counter told me that some record executive who lives nearby asked them to carry these publications, along with NME, so they could keep up on the British music scene.) This month, each magazine is running a feature on a key 2 Tone-era musician: MOJO has a terrific interview with Jerry Dammers (on the occasion of The Specials, More Specials, and In the Studio being reissued in deluxe CD packages), while Vive Le Rock! catches up with Rhoda Dakar (who recently performed at the 2015 London International Ska Festival and released the stellar Rhoda Dakar Sings the Bodysnatchers album--read The Duff Guide to Ska review of it here).

Here are some great excerpts from each piece:

Rhoda Dakar (reminiscing with Andy Peart about The Bodysnatchers' seaside tour with The Specials in the summer of 1980): "What was brilliant about that tour was that the Go-Gos were on it as well. So, for the first and only time in my experience, there were as many women as men on a tour. That was brilliant because it really changed the dynamics of everything. I remember there was a drinking contest, girls against boys. We put up our champion and they put up theirs and we won (laughs). It was really comfortable and we weren't marginalized. It was a crazy tour. All these old seaside venues where people fell through stages which were collapsing and there were times when you could see the sea through the floor."

Jerry Dammers (responding to the comment from Lois Wilson, "You once said your aim with The Specials was nothing short of revolution."): "I spent my time growing up in Coventry in the '60s and '70s seeing the working-class youth bashing each other up, whether it was bashing immigrants or bashing each other at football. It was only a minority, of course, but it did seem like most districts in Coventry had some sort of gang, and some of the pubs were notorious for people glassing each other. The media was winding this up all over the country, so some kids thought that was what they were supposed to do. Meanwhile, the establishment that was actually keeping them down just carried on getting richer like they always had. The hippies wanted to form a better "alternative" society, but that just alienated some people. I wanted to change all of society from within, which was a much harder and more risky thing to try and do. The amazing thing is that it worked at all, even to the small extent that some people say it did. I often meet people who tell me that if it wasn't for The Specials they would have been racists or whatever, and that they turned to more socialist ideas because of The Specials."

Jerry Dammers (responding to the question, "What initially sent you down the left-wards path politically?"): "Well, hopefully that was some sort of intelligence or common sense. The general idea that children are still starving, or dying of preventable diseases, or getting blown to pieces, is not a good thing. Even if there was such a thing as "trickle down" from capitalism, which there never has been, and never will be, what an absolutely horrible idea, that some people are only worthy of what might happen to "trickle down" from the rich."


Friday, April 17, 2015

The Duff Guide to Ska Record Store Day 2015 Ska Round-Up

Legions of (mostly) older music fans will be lining-up outside of your local mom and pop record shop this Saturday morning (April 18, 2015) to partake in the twice-yearly celebration of indie record stores and vinyl known throughout the USA, UK, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, France, Mexico, Italy, and Spain as Record Store Day.

While I may grouse a bit about the pricey-ness of these limited-edition RSD releases (and how the UK RSD releases are consistently better than those available in the USA), each year you can find me in a record store or two (or three) on this day, hoping to pick up a few of that year's crop (usually new wave or post-punk related releases) that caught my attention.

So, while I'm more likely to be able to find some of the non-ska releases on my list this year (I'd like the Johnny Marr, Kate Pierson, and Buzzcocks singles; The Pop Group EP, and Replacements 10"), I'm sharing this recap of the some of the ska RSD releases that I'd be lucky to get my mitts on (and you would be, too):

1) For their first-ever Record Store Day release, Soul Jazz Records is issuing the Down Beat Special Studio One five x 7" box set, featuring the following killer singles (this is a UK-only release, limited to 500 copies--though, I suspect import copies will be available in the USA for a pretty penny):
  • Willie Williams "Armagideon Time" b/w Marcia Griffiths "Feel Like Jumping"
  • The Skatalites "Addis Ababa" b/w The Eternals "Queen of the Minstrels"
  • Dawn Penn "No No No" b/w Dub Specialist "Hooligan (Dub)"
  • The Mad Lads "Ten to One" b/w Jackie Mittoo "Totally Together"
  • Michigan and Smiley "Nice Up the Dance" b/w "The Wailers "Simmer Down"

2) Demon Music Group is issuing The Beat's The 7" Singles Collection. This box set contains thirteen Beat vinyl 45s, from their 2 Tone debut, "Tears of a Clown," to their last Special Beat Service single, "Ackee 1-2-3"--and everything in between: "Mirror In The Bathroom," "Hands Off... She’s Mine," "Best Friend," "Too Nice To Talk To," "Doors of Your Heart," "All Out To Get You," "Hit It," "Save It For Later," "Jeanette," "I Confess," and "Can’t Get To Losing You." A 16-page booklet is included, presumably about the band and each single. Only 1,000 copies of this set are being pressed and it's a UK-only release.


3) Salvo is issuing Madness"Lovestruck" (from 1999's Wonderful) b/w"Le Grand Pantalon" (a fantastic, reflective version of "Baggy Trousers" that was used in a 2011 Kronenbourg 1664 beer ad and was included on the 2013 A Guided Tour of Madness box set). Neither track has been available on vinyl before. Only 1,000 copies of this single will be for sale in the UK.


4) Trojan Records will be releasing a 60s ska/reggae compilation with cuts from Desmond Dekker and The Aces, The Upsetters, and the like. Titled Rude Boy Rumble, this 12-track LP will feature cuts chosen by Tom "Papa" Ray AKA The Soul Selector (also the owner of Vintage Vinyl in St. Louis, MO). This release will be available in the USA.


Happy record hunting this Saturday!


Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Duff Guide to Ska NYC Spring/Summer 2015 Ska Calendar #5

Friday, April 17, 2015 @ 7:00 pm

Skarroneros, The Beatdown, The Rudie Crew, Beat Brigade

Grand Victory
245 Grand Street
Brooklyn, NY
$10/21+

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Saturday, April 18, 2015 @ 10:00 pm

The Scofflaws (10pm), The Shanks, This Good Robot

Record Store Day 2015
Soul Sounds Records
291 West Main Street
Sayville, NY
After 6pm: $10

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Wednesday, April 22, 2015 @ 8:00 pm

Mighty Mystic, InDaze, The Far East

Knitting Factory Brooklyn
361 Metropolitan Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$10 in advance/$12 day of show

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Saturday, April 25, 2015 @ 7:30 pm

Roddy Radiation (of The Specials) w/The Scotch Bonnets, Rude Boy George

Fontana's Bar
105 Eldridge Street
New York, NY
$10/21+

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Wednesday, April 29, 2015 @ 7:00 pm

The English Beat, The Rudie Crew

The Gramercy Theater
127 East 23rd Street
New York, NY

$25/16+

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Saturday, May 2, 2015 (3 sets starting at 7:00 pm)

Rude Boy George

Toshi's Living Room
1141 Broadway
New York, NY
No cover!

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Saturday, May 2, 2015 @ 8:00 pm

Fishbone, Easy Star Allstars, The Skints

Brooklyn Bowl
61 Wythe Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$22/21+

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Saturday, May 9, 2015 @ 9:00 pm

Dig Deeper Presents Derrick Morgan, Crazy Baldhead, DJ Scratch Famous (of Deadly Dragon Sound System), DJ Honky and Mr. Robinson

Littlefield
622 Degraw Street
Brooklyn, NY 11217
$20 in advance/$25 day of show
21+

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Saturday, May 9, 2015 @ 7:00 pm

The Skatalites

Brooklyn Bowl
61 Wythe Avenue
Brooklyn, NY

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Friday, May 15, 2015, from 10:30 pm to 11:00 pm

Rude Boy George

Jersey Shore Festival
The Aztec Pool
901 Boardwalk
Seaside Heights, NJ
Free!

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Friday, May 15, 2015 @ 7:30 pm

Bad Manners, Dale and the Zdubs

Knitting Factory Brooklyn
361 Metropolitan Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$20 in advance/$25 day of show

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Saturday, May 30, 2015 @ 7:00 pm

Rude Boy George

State Theatre of Boyertown
61 North Reading Avenue
Boyertown, PA

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Friday, June 26, 2015 @ 7:00 pm

The Pietasters

Rock's Off Booze Cruise
The Jewel
Board the boat at East 23rd Street and the FDR Drive, Manhattan
Tix: $25 in advance/$30 day of show
21+

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Thursday, April 2, 2015

Life's Little Victories: Record Collecting #6 (UB40's "Present Arms")

On one of my recent lunchtime forays to my favorite used record store near work, I came across a very good plus copy of UB40's Present Arms (with the 12" of "Don't Walk on the Grass" b/w "Dr. X" included) for a mere $5.00! I'd never owned or known much about this 1981 album, apart from its amazing "One In Ten" single--so I snatched it up (the price was certainly right). In a fortuitous coincidence, Present Arms has been on my radar lately, as I'd seen that it's scheduled for a deluxe, three CD re-issue in the near future (though no firm release date has been announced yet); obviously, it was time to become acquainted with the album.

I was one of the many teenage Americans who were introduced to--and became crazy about--UB40 (and reggae) through their 1983 album, Labor of Love, which, as everyone knows, was a phenomenal tribute to many of the JA reggae artists who had inspired them as they were growing up in the 70s in the UK (if I remember correctly, the tracks that WLIR played heavily in their new wave mix were UB40's covers of Eric Donaldson's "Cherry Oh Baby" and--of course--Tony Tribe's version of Neil Diamond's "Red Red Wine"). I read somewhere that UB40's homage to their musical heroes ended up significantly rewarding many of the original composers; I wish I remembered which artist it was, but he was able to buy a large house with the songwriting royalties. I have a distinct memory of first listening to Labor of Love (back when you scoured the record sleeve for clues/info about the band and music) and being kind of delighted when I figured out that each part of the album's cover illustration referred to a song therein (I wasn't always so quick on the uptake...). Perhaps most momentously, Labor of Love marked the first time I'd heard a Laurel Aitken cut, as he wrote, originally performed (as the deejay Tiger), and produced the bittersweet "Guilty" ("...of loving you"). A little over a decade later, I'd have the incredible honor and pleasure of working with Mr. Aitken while I was at Moon Records.

From 1983 through 1986, I caught UB40's fantastic live show every time they performed in NYC (usually outdoors on Manhattan's Pier 54 on the Hudson River, right next to the U.S.S. Intrepid, always in a massive cloud of cheeba, cheeba, y'all) and eagerly bought each new US release: Geffery Morgan, Little Baggariddim, and Rat in the Kitchen (all of which contained great material and received strong airplay on WLIR). But, in the first half of the 80s, Signing Off and Present Arms hadn't been given proper US releases and I never came across imports of them at that time. I did pick up the North American-only compilation UB40 1980-83 right after buying Labor of Love, but only some of the songs connected ("King," "One in Ten," "I Won't Close My Eyes," and "Dubmobile"). Overall, UB40 1980-83 seemed disappointingly gray and dour (at the time, I didn't fully appreciate just how bad things were for the working class and poor in the UK under Thatcher after she privatized many government services, made deep cuts to the social safety net, and waged war on the unions), and not all of the songs included were winners (particularly in contrast to the ace material they covered on Labor of Love). So, in my adolescent rush to judgement, I wrote off UB40's first two albums as hit-or-miss affairs.

Listening to Present Arms today, I'm struck by how much the band had progressed since Signing Off. The songs, performances, and production on Present Arms are much improved--and it's as politically incisive as their debut, if not more so. When Geffery Morgan and Rat in the Kitchen were released, I loved finding that UB40 were writing sharp and catchy songs about political, social, and economic injustice that, like the music of 2 Tone, made you want to dance. But after this period, the fire in UB40's collective gut seemed to go out and they mostly produced albums of reggae pop covers (which did bring them many hits and financial success--over the years, they've sold over 70 million records!). Having said that, 2005's Who You Fighting For? (the anti-Iraq war title track is one of the best songs they've ever written) and 2008's TwentyFourSeven (see "Middle of the Night," which may be an anti-extraordinary rendition song) contained a lot of good-to-terrific original material and showed that the band hadn't completely abandoned their original mission statement or forsaken their concern for the wider world. Sadly, after much internal strife, UB40 recently fragmented into two versions of the band...(which may be the the reason the re-issue of Present Arms is delayed).

Present Arms' angry/mournful title track was certainly not an attack on British soldiers, but decried the terrible lack of opportunity--brought about by Thatcher's policies--that left many young men with no other way to earn a living than to join the army, become dehumanized in the process of learning to obey and kill, and not necessarily being used to defend England, but to shield the interests and do the bidding of the rich and politically-connected.

"You got no job, you got no pay
Join the military, sign today
They'll take you off to fight on foreign shores

Be your mother's pride and joy
Her armed and dangerous golden boy
They're paying to protect what isn't yours

Be your mother's pride and joy
Her armed and dangerous golden boy
A uniformed hero shows no fear

The khaki ranks of flesh and steel
Learning how to smile and kill
They'll teach you to ignore the screams and tears

Be your mother's pride and joy
Her armed and dangerous golden boy
A uniformed hero shows no fear

The khaki ranks of flesh and steel
Learning how to smile and kill
They'll teach you to ignore the screams and tears"

The character of Sardonicus comes from the 1961 William Castle B-horror film, "Mr. Saronicus," whose face becomes frozen in a "horrifying grin" after he robs his father's grave for the lottery ticket that was buried with him ("sardonicus" comes from the Latin medical term Risus sardonicus, a symptom of untreated tetanus manifesting itself through involuntary muscle spasms in the face, which can result in a rictus or "sardonic smile"). In January of 1981, a few months before Present Arms was recorded, Ronald Reagan was sworn in as the 40th President of the United States and his hard-line stance against the Soviets (several neo-cons in his administration--including Dick Cheney--who were disdainful of detente, increased defense spending to such a degree and implemented provocative polices that ended up re-igniting the arms race with the Soviets, since they were convinced that America was preparing for a nuclear first strike against them), his use of end-of-days evangelical language (Reagan told TV preacher Jim Bakker in 1980, "We may be the generation that sees Armageddon"), and itchy-trigger gunslinger image exacerbated Cold War relations between the nuclear superpowers to such a degree that millions of people throughout Western Europe and the U.S. (and one had to imagine the Soviet Union) were very worried that they might die in a nuclear war (I was one of them). At the time, the caricature of Reagan was of this perpetually sunny and smiling actor-cowboy-madman who blindly believed his anti-Soviet/Commie rhetoric and would take all of us with him to oblivion in WWIII. Like many new wave and post-punk bands of this era, UB40 expressed this Cold War dread in the taut, tense, and somewhat spooky "Sardonicus"--Reagan as all cheery exterior distracting everyone from the perniciousness within:

"A human statue made of living stone
A paradox etched in human bone
If you could see behind the thin disguise
There's a hidden glint of madness in his eyes

Many men are fooled by his smile
His superficial grace, his charm, his style
Sardonicus is everybody's friend
Sardonicus keeps smiling to the end

A human statue made of living stone
A paradox etched in human bone
If you could see behind the thin disguise
There's a hidden glint of madness in his eyes

Many men are fooled by his smile
His superficial grace, his charm, his style
Sardonicus is everybody's friend
Sardonicus keeps smiling to the end"

The powerful and insistent "One in Ten" was directed at Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her policies that favored the rich and powerful at the expense of the working class and poor. It's a potent protest song that gives voice to the disenfranchised and conveniently forgotten and, in doing so, reminds the more fortunate of us that we're not off the hook. But it's also a pointed commentary on how the process of categorizing people by the problems they're experiencing and tallying them up can numb/distance us from the real lives and horrific suffering behind the figures. This, in turn, can allow policymakers and those with power to think of large groups of people in great need as abstract construct--which can be more easily ignored while the resources that could help them can be diverted elsewhere.

I am the one in ten
A number on a list
I am the one in ten
Even though I don't exist
Nobody knows me
But I'm always there
A statistic, a reminder
of a world that doesn't care

My arms enfold the dole queue
Malnutrition dulls my hair
My eyes are black and lifeless
With an underprivileged stare
I'm the beggar on the corner
Will no one spare a dime?
I'm the child that never learns to read
Because no one spared the time

I am the one in ten
A number on a list
I am the one in ten
Even though I don't exist
Nobody knows me
But I'm always there
A statistic, a reminder
of a world that doesn't care

I'm the murderer, the victim
The license with the gun
I'm the sad and bruised old lady
In an alley in a slum
I'm a middle-aged businessman
With chronic heart disease
I'm another teenage suicide
In a street that has no trees

I am the one in ten
A number on a list
I am the one in ten
Even though I don't exist
Nobody knows me
But I'm always there
A statistic, a reminder
of a world that doesn't care

I'm a starving Third World mother
A refugee without a home
I'm a housewife hooked on Valium
I'm a pensioner alone
I'm a cancer-ridden specter
Covering the earth
I'm another hungry baby
I'm an accident of birth

I am the one in ten
A number on a list
I am the one in ten
Even though I don't exist
Nobody knows me
But I'm always there
A statistic, a reminder
of a world that doesn't care

Even though it was a charting single in the UK (#16), I'd never before heard the fantastic "Don't Let It Pass You By," which is a reality check/sympathetic and urgent call to action: you've only got one life to lead and a limited amount of time to live it, so don't be passive and complacent--particularly if you find yourself downtrodden and feeling powerless. (The track then segues into a fantastic dub with toasting that suggests that one should "burn two spliff, play Ital riddim" to help get in the right frame of mind to accomplish this...)

There's no one coming with that freedom train
There's nowhere you can go where you feel no pain
Take the blinkers off your eyes
The power's in your hand
Stop waiting for your ticket to the promised land

Don't let it pass you by!
Don't let it pass you by!
Don't let it pass you by!

There ain't no heaven and there ain't no hell
Except the one we're in and you know too well
There's no one waiting on
Waiting on a higher high
Don't let the only world you're ever gonna live in
Pass you by

"Don't Slow Down" (the flip side to the "Don't Let It Pass You By" single) is cut from the same cloth, but explicitly concerned with mortality--you have an expiration date ("Impatience is a virtue/Catch me if you can/The seconds have been ticking by/Since your life began"). Despite the song's beauty, "Silent Witness" documents the bleak life on Maggie's farm--things are so bad that the mannequins--who "see" everything that goes down on the street--would flee if they could:

"The neon haze of city lights
The tribal sound of marching feet
Cuts through the gloom on cold dark nights
The tired and homeless roam the streets

The sirens wail, engines roar
A shadowed man just glances around
A victim of life's mindless toil
Lies cold and helpless on the ground

The window dummies' silent stare
Bears witness on the nights
If they could move, what it would prove
To see them all take flight

The neon haze of city lights
The tribal sound of marching feet
Cuts through the gloom on cold dark nights
The tired and homeless roam the streets

The walls shout loud with angry words
The people air their views
The poor can scream but no one hears
The concrete jungle sings the blues

The window dummies' silent stare
Bears witness on the nights
If they could move, what it would prove
To see them all take flight"

The irresistibly cheery, singsongy "Lambs Bread" is a plea of sorts for the legalization of marijuana (and elimination of the criminal drug trade) and the excellent "Don't Walk on the Grass" presumably makes the same case. The mysterious "Dr. X" (named after this movie?) is another incredible, bubbly, and lushly melodic instrumental reggae cut.

Maybe you can't stay angry and young (and poor) forever--the road to success is full of compromise that can eat away at one's mission and subtly corrupt one's noble ideals--the pursuit and acquisition of money absolutely has this effect. (I certainly struggle with being a good and decent person in a society that doesn't necessarily value these qualities.) But I miss this hungry and pissed-off version of UB40 and believe that we need these kind of catchy, socially-aware protest songs more than ever...

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Next on my list to (hopefully) find in the bins: Present Arms in Dub!

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Saturday, March 28, 2015

Record Store Day 2015: Soul Jazz Presents "Down Beat Special" Studio One 7" Box Set

For their first-ever Record Store Day release, Soul Jazz Records is issuing the Down Beat Special Studio One five 7" box set, which will feature the following singles:

Willie Williams "Armagideon Time" b/w Marcia Griffiths "Feel Like Jumping"

The Skatalites "Addis Ababa" b/w The Eternals "Queen of the Minstrels"

Dawn Penn "No No No" b/w Dub specialist "Hooligan (Dub)"

The Mad Lads "Ten to One" b/w Jackie Mittoo "Totally Together"

Michigan and Smiley "Nice Up the Dance" b/w "The Wailers "Simmer Down"

I have to admit that I'm pretty bummed that this is a UK-only, limited-edition (500 copies) Record Store Day 2015 release, since it's going to be very hard to obtain here in the States and will likely cost an arm and a leg as a rare import (RSD releases in the US tend to be marked up significantly as it is).

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Check out the other ska/reggae related RSD 2015 releases we're interested in here.

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Saturday, March 21, 2015

Duff Review: Reggay Lords "Run or Get Down"

Jump Up Records
2015
Vinyl LP

(Review by Steve Shafer)

First, a brief biographical sketch: The Reggay Lords are an early reggae supergroup of sorts, with members from drawn from such acts as Coldspot 8, The Rudie Crew, The Pinstripes, The Hard Times (RIP), and The Forthrights (RIP), who perform dressed as 18th century English lords (replete with powdered wigs, puffy shirts, embroidered jackets or velvet robes, and the occasional mead-filled chalice) and speak in condescending (and tongue-in-cheek) tones to the ska rabble that gather to receive their musical beneficence. (Read The Duff Guide to Ska review of one of The Reggay Lords' live shows here.)

While their costumes, stage antics, and lordly attitudes are definitely entertaining and engaging (absolutely see them live if you have the chance), The Reggay Lords' music really delivers. Run or Get Down, the Lords' second album (their superb self-titled debut was released in 2013), contains track after track of highly catchy and danceable dirty reggae and is a definite "must purchase"! (Also, it's a vinyl-only release, so this is yet another in a long line of reasons to join us music luddites and dig out or buy a turntable...)

As the album cover might suggest, the Lords are highly critical of the police's abuse of power and heavy-handed treatment of the "commoners" (to use their parlance) on two of the ten cuts here (which are stingingly relevant in light of the death of Eric Garner and its impact on New York City; the years of unconstitutional "stop and frisk" policing in NYC that targeted vast numbers of innocent men of color; and how the police are used by local--and racist--governments to prey on communities of color for municipal revenue--surely, a scheme that is not limited to Ferguson, MO). The title track's lyrics lay it all out--essentially, positing that the residents of neighborhoods can regulate themselves, while the police are agents of violence and chaos:

"When I was just a boy on the corner
I never heard them shout in anger
And no man would curse or slander
Everyone had a nice street manner

And if a bully boy him come down
He get beat down by de block
And the only big man that a flash him gun
Was the one, him drunk, a cop

Everybody run or get down
He say..."

The other (rather chipper and defiant) song relating to the police is "One Day," a clear warning (and an expression of yearning for deliverance) that envisions a time of revolution when the agents of Babylon will no longer be in a position to torment and mistreat the people:

"Oh, and what a wonderful world it would be...

One day
I'll rid the world of my oppressors
One day
I'll live without my oppressors

Blood will run
Screams will carry
Babylon will run
Dreams turn reality

So Mr. Blue in black
Stay back
So Mr. Blue in black
Stay back
Soon your black heart will turn blue for you

So, what about the countless victims?
The thousands and millions
What about the countless children
Laid low by you?

So Mr. Blue in black
Stay back
So Mr. Blue in black
Stay back
Soon your black heart will turn blue for you

So, c'mon and fight, yeah!
And woman fight, too
So, c'mon and fight
For truth"

The rest of the songs on Run or Get Down aren't quite as heavy (though the "High John" is an awesome supplication to a higher, regal authority/"conquerer" to "protect me now and always do not let my enemies rest--not in a chair, not in a bed!"). "Spirit" wonders how you can come across the ghost of someone who's still alive (the walking dead are not limited to the ranks of the undead: "When a man's not in the ground, yeah/How could you see his spirit, no!"). Propelled by a buoyant popcorn reggae organ line, "Oh Lord" serves as a jubilant theme song of sorts ("You know we're working!/Reggay Lords, that's our job!"). "It's a Game," with its terrific Middle Eastern-sounding, minor-key guitar riff (shades of Dick Dale), has a tense, plodding tempo and feel that reflects the heavy burden the singer's shouldering after realizing he's surrounded by manipulative, pernicious fake friends ("It's a game to them, how they put you down/It a game to them, that's why they're always around/Put me in one spot, they told me not to move about!"). The sweetly nostalgic ice rink organ of "Big Girl" masks the loss of youth, time, and innocence (and the sadness over how the years have transformed the childhood friend--first crush?--into a stranger): "You used to be the little girl I used to play with/You used to be the little girl I used to stay with...Where did you go?"

The Upsetters-like "Nice Shoes" is a tightly-wound, organ-centric instrumental with menacing exhortations about the risks of dressing sharply in dicey neighborhoods: "Nice shoes, my brother!/Lace by lace/Block by block/Gonna take that man's shoes/Gonna leave him in his socks!" There's a Greek myth quality to the warning contained in "There Was a Woman," which recounts the story of a siren-like woman who could lure men to their death, since they could not resist her sexual attractiveness--or see the trap that it hid ("There was a woman/She threw a contest/She don't care for the rules/She don't play by the book/A woman/She threw a contest/And when a man gets speared/All she wore was her hair/The gal could do nothing but win..."). The album ends on a lighter note, with the celebratory, good times "Barrister's Ball": "Down at the Barrister's Ball/Them don't serve no tea at all/Now all the ladies line up in the attic/Across the room and give we a wink/They never wear no funny trousers/You don't what will arouse her." Nice up the dance, indeed.

The ska scene needs more royalty like this! Make sure to hail the Reggay Lords and pick up their Run or Get Down now!


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Another Record Store Day 2015 Ska Release: The Beat's "The 7" Singles Collection"

In addition to the UK-only Madness "Lovestruck" vinyl single and the US/UK Trojan Records' Rude Boy Rumble compilation LP, ska fans in the UK who don't already have them (or want to replace any scratched up copies currently in their collection) will be interested to learn that Demon Music Group is issuing The Beat's The 7" Singles Collection" for Record Store Day 2015.

This box set contains thirteen Beat vinyl 45s, from their 2 Tone debut, "Tears of a Clown," to their last Special Beat Service single, "Ackee 1-2-3"--and everything in between: "Mirror In The Bathroom," "Hands Off... She’s Mine," "Best Friend," "Too Nice To Talk To," "Doors of Your Heart," "All Out To Get You," "Hit It," "Save It For Later," "Jeanette," "I Confess," and "Can’t Get To Losing You." A 16-page booklet is included, presumably about the band and each single. Only 1,000 copies of this set are being pressed.

It seems a bit odd that this set isn't being given a US release, as The Beat were enormously popular in America during the new wave era (and many of those former kids who bought The English Beat's records are now all middle-aged people who are probably still buying music in physical formats--and didn't have the chance to purchase many of the band's UK-only singles back in the day!). For now, American fans should hit up any family or friends in the UK and ask them to pick up a copy--or get ready to bid a lot cash on eBay...

Monday, March 16, 2015

Duff Review: Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra "Ska Me Forever"

Nacional Records
2015
Vinyl LP and digital download

(Review by Steve Shafer)

In the weird, lost years after the flame out of the post-2 Tone NYC-Boston-LA ska scenes at the very end of the 80s and prior to the rise of the mighty Third Wave sometime in the mid-90s, I started reading in Tower Records' "Pulse" magazine about this ska band in Japan, Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra (TSPO or Skapara to their fans in Japan), that was on Epic/Sony Records (!) and had become as popular as a Top 40 band here in America. So, as a rabid ska fan at a time when there just weren't that many modern ska releases that were easy to obtain (back in the pre-internet era, this sometimes meant going to a bank to exchange currency and then mailing the intriguingly colorful foreign paper money overseas to pay for albums from Unicorn Records and other Euro ska labels), I had to keep my eyes peeled for these Holy Grail-like releases from TSPO at every record store I stumbled upon in my travels both near and far.

One fine day in 1991 at Tower Records on Broadway and West Fourth Street in Manhattan (RIP), my mind nearly melted when I came across a new plastic divider in the bins for Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra. Even better, I found not just one, but several TSPO albums for sale! Most of the text on the CDs was in Japanese and, of course, completely indecipherable to me (I still don't know the names of some of the songs on them), and since they were imports, they were a bit pricier than most. But none of this prevented me from purchasing as many as I could reasonably afford (on my pitiful salary as a caseworker to mentally ill homeless people)--and instantly becoming a fan of their wonderfully insane mix of vintage 60s ska, big band music, film soundtracks, surf rock, and anything else musical that happened to inspire them ("Sesame Street" theme song, anyone?).

In 1999, I had the good fortune, during a terrible time when Moon Records was teetering on the edge of oblivion, to meet several representatives from TSPO's label (AVEX/Justa Record) who were in the States looking for a possible partner in the North American market. Moon would have been well-positioned to take on this role, had this meeting taken place several years earlier, when ska was all the rage and the label was thriving (and maybe having TSPO on Moon's roster could have helped prevent its demise?). Even though the brief meeting with the Justa Record people was fruitless (it was obvious that Moon was in its death throes and the Third Wave had long ago crested), they gave me a slew of TSPO vinyl (including this, this, and that) and CDs, as well as a few issues of the brilliant Justa Record magazine, which I still have to this day.

Although, in better days, I had a hand in licensing many of Moon's releases to Tachyon in Japan (which were issued on our sister label, Moon Ska Tokyo), I never was able to hitch a ride along with any of our bands that toured there. And when the bottom dropped out of the ska scene in the USA, any hopes of TSPO doing a victory lap around the US disappeared (or so I thought). Since I had drifted away from the ska scene for a few years to nurse my accumulated wounds after the failure of my ska/reggae digital-download label (7 Wonders of the World Music, 1999-2001), I was completely ignorant of the fact that TSPO performed less than 20 blocks from my apartment at NYC's Central Park Summerstage in 2005 (d'oh)! So, I jumped all over the chance to see TSPO in 2013 at Stage 48, on Manhattan's West Side--watch the videos I shot and read my review of that incredible show here.

Ska Me Forever is Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra's 19th album and has been belatedly issued in the US in celebration of the band's 25th anniversary in 2014 (if you can believe it, Ska Me Forever is TSPO's first release in the USA--through Nacional Records in Hollywood, CA, home mostly to Latin rock acts, like Los Fabulosos Cadillacs and Manu Chao, though the current incarnation of the Tom Tom Club also is on their roster). Purchasing the nine-track LP is a nice deal, as it includes a digital download card for those same cuts. An 18-track digital version of this record also is available--and it contains some real gems that I wish were included on the vinyl album, which should have been a double-LP. (A 13-track Japanese edition of Ska Me Forever was released on CD in August 2014.)

Side A of the Ska Me Forever LP--which features all new material and reflects their omnivorous taste in music--roars out of the starting gate with the amazing, menacing surf-ska instrumental "Damned" (featuring FPM) and then immediately shifts to the majestic "Horizon," another in a long line of lush ska-jazz cuts that TSPO does so damn well. "Wake Up" (with Asian Kung-Fu Generation) comes off as ska-punk lite, with echoes of the Bosstones' poppier fare; to be blunt, I'm not a fan of ska-punk, so take that into consideration when I tell you that this cut misses the mark (I just don't think it's in their wheelhouse). The gorgeous "Chance" sounds like a sunny 60s AM pop tune (think Carpenters or Bacharach) crossed with JA riddims that segues into a pleasantly light, I'm-totally-buzzed-and-carefree-on-summer's-afternoon dub. When I first listened to the church organ-heavy "The Tennessee Waltz" (which seems filled with nostalgic longing for an idealized home/refuge, much like "Take Me Home, Country Roads"), it seemed vaguely familiar, so I did a little bit of research and learned that it's an oft-covered 1946 pop/country tune by Redd Stewart and Pee Wee King that was a massive 1950 hit for Patti Page (and was very popular in Japan).



The flip side of the Ska Me Forever begins with a haunting, dubby, and significantly re-worked instrumental version of Cafe Tacvba's melancholy "Eres" ("You Are," from their 2003 album Cuatro Caminos). Apart from being a wonderfully heartbreaking and melodramatic track (the original is about how devastated the singer is after his love is gone), it's a shrewd move for TSPO to cover a song from one of the most popular alternative rock bands in Mexico, since TSPO have a huge fan base there after playing major music festivals (like Vive Latino). This is followed by what I assume are a trio of new recordings of some of their past (and greatest) all-out ska crowd pleasers (which are here for the TSPO newcomers): "Down Beat Stomp" (from 2003's Stompin' On Down Beat Alley), "Ska Me Crazy" (from 2001's Gunslingers), and "Storm Rider" (from 2010's World Ska Symphony).

The gleefully raucous "Down Beat Stomp," which musically quotes "Dawning of a New Era" (and generally feels like a song The Specials could have written in 1979), sports a fantastic sing-along chorus and should be, not surprisingly, very appealing to fans of 2 Tone. While we're in Specials mode, "Ska Me Crazy" is similar in spirit to a blistering, show-ending rendition of The Specials' "Enjoy Yourself" ("Don't piss me now/Don't cross my nature/I can never get enough/I want something now/Do the rock now baby, yeah/It's time to go/I want to live the night life/Sleep all the morning/Going, getting off the whole night/Nothing would be better/You gotta ska me baby, yeah/Get ready to go!"). The LP proper closes with the incredible, cinematic, spaghetti-Western-ish instrumental "Storm Rider," which has the most bad-ass and sinister bass and bari-sax riffs this side of Henry Mancini's "Peter Gunn Theme."

The digital version of Ska Me Forever (which includes all of the songs on the LP) opens with a new, manic recording of the instantly familiar Russian folk song "Peddlers" ("Korobeiniki")--the first track on TSPO's 1989 self-titled debut EP. The Ramones-ish "One Way Punk" isn't half bad (though that may be because it reminds me of "Blitzkrieg Bop") and the catchy "Senkou" (with 10-FEET), which manages to be both uptempo and introspective-sounding, is a testament (despite the rap break) to the Bosstones' far-reaching and lasting impact (also see "Nagareyuku Sekai No Nakade" with MONGOL800). The bittersweet "Sunny Blues (7 inch)" finds TSPO back on traditional ska footing, as does their soused and happy cover of the classic Mexican folk song, "Cielito Lindo" (with its "Ay, yai, yai, yai" chorus that you may have heard sung by Desi Arnaz on "I Love Lucy" or, um, in an old Fritos commercial that trades in racial stereotypes).



"For the Goal" is a pretty great calypso-y footie chant ("Why don't we all share the finest moments/Why don't we laugh at the greatest feeling/Let's all hope together as we're shooting for the goal!") that would sound great on the terraces in Japan (if it isn't already being used there). TSPO's fantastic rendition of Beethoven’s "Ode An Die Freude" ("Ode to Joy") from "Symphony No. 9" (familiar to contemporary pop audiences via the first "Die Hard" movie or the brutal "A Clockwork Orange"--and to churchgoers as the hymn "Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee") begins with the melody played on a melodica (with ska percussion beneath) before dramatically building to an epic, Monty Python-esque (or PDQ Bach-esque, if you like), cast-of-thousands finale. "All Good Ska Is One" is a pretty wonderful (and show-ending) soulful vintage ska cut (which I first thought sounded like Angelo Moore fronting The Senior Allstars while covering a choice Prince Buster or Laurel Aitken track--and it turns out that Angelo is singing lead on this track, which comes from the 2011 Sunny Side of the Street EP!) with a message that is awfully hard to argue with: "We can do it, now/Meet the world with an embracing heart/Nothing can ever stand in your way/We can all unite, like all good ska music...Come together, all good ska is one!"


As always, on both versions of Ska Me Forever, Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra create some of the best and most enjoyable ska in the world, with something to please ska fans of every persuasion (vintage ska, modern ska, ska-punk, etc.). Live long and prosper, TSPO!


Saturday, March 7, 2015

The Duff Guide to Ska Winter/Spring 2015 Ska Calendar #4

Saturday, March 7, 2015 @ 7:00 pm

Vic Ruggiero, The Snails, Reggay Lords (Record Release!), DJ Grace of Spades

Grand Victory
245 Grand Street
Brooklyn, NY
$10/21+

+ + + +

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

+ + + +

Saturday, March 21, 2015 @ 9:30 pm

Rude Boy George

Seaside Tavern
981 Cove Road
Stamford, CT

+ + + +

Friday, April 17, 2015 @ 7:00 pm

Skarroneros, The Beatdown, The Pandemics, Beat Brigade, King Django

Grand Victory
245 Grand Street
Brooklyn, NY
$10/21+

+ + + +

Saturday, April 25, 2015 @ 7:30 pm

Roddy Radiation (of The Specials) w/The Scotch Bonnets, Rude Boy George

Fontana's Bar
105 Eldridge Street
New York, NY
$10/21+

+ + + +

Wednesday, April 29, 2015 @ 7:00 pm

The English Beat, The Rudie Crew

The Gramercy Theater
127 East 23rd Street
New York, NY
$25/16+

+ + + +

Saturday, May 2, 2015 (3 sets starting at 7:00 pm)

Rude Boy George

Toshi's Living Room
1141 Broadway
New York, NY
No cover!

+ + + +

Saturday, May 2, 2015 @ 8:00 pm

Fishbone, Easy Star Allstars, The Skints

Brooklyn Bowl
61 Wythe Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$22/21+

+ + + +

Saturday, May 9, 2015 @ 9:00 pm

Dig Deeper Presents Derrick Morgan, Crazy Baldhead, DJ Scratch Famous (of Deadly Dragon Sound System), DJ Honky and Mr. Robinson

Littlefield
622 Degraw Street
Brooklyn, NY 11217
$20 in advance/$25 day of show
21+

+ + + +

Saturday, May 9, 2015 @ 7:00 pm

The Skatalites

Brooklyn Bowl
61 Wythe Avenue
Brooklyn, NY

+ + + +

Friday, May 15, 2015 @ 7:30 pm

Bad Manners, Dale and the Zdubs

Knitting Factory Brooklyn
361 Metropolitan Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$20 in advance/$25 day of show

+ + + +

Saturday, May 30, 2015 @ 7:00 pm

Rude Boy George

State Theatre of Boyertown
61 North Reading Avenue
Boyertown, PA

+ + + +

Friday, June 26, 2015 @ 7:00 pm

The Pietasters

Rock's Off Booze Cruise
The Jewel
Board the boat at East 23rd Street and the FDR Drive, Manhattan
Tix: $25 in advance/$30 day of show
21+

+ + + +