Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year's, Y'all!

From the Guardian (UK):

Q: "What's your favourite New Year's Eve song?"

Asked of Gaz Mayall, DJ, Gaz's Rockin' Blues (appearing at the Tabernacle, London on New Year's Eve)...

"Aulde Lang Syne," The Trojans
"We recorded it in 1994 because I thought if the day comes when I'm not playing with my band [British ska outfit the Trojans] I need to have that one up my sleeve. I can't imagine Hogmanay without bagpipes. It starts slow and I like to stop the music when I play it and then everyone sings along – it's completely chaotic and nuts."

The Best Ska Albums of 2010!

Editor's note: Here is The Duff Guide to Ska's "Best Ska Albums of 2010" list, such as it is. In all honesty, there were several albums that we weren't able to get our mitts on before the clock ran out (here's our shout-out of love to Babyhead and Pama Intl who probably should be on this list, too!)--and, no doubt, there were many others out there that we never even knew about. So here is our less-than-definitive "Best of List" in all of its flawed glory...

1592: This One's for You All (self-released). Read The Duff Guide to Ska Review here.

Babayaga: Funky Drop (Skanky 'Lil Records). Read The Duff Guide to Ska review here.

Babylove and the van Dangos: The Money and the Time (Jump Up Records)

The Beatdown: The Beatdown (Stomp Records). Read The Duff Guide to Ska review here.

Bigger Thomas: Steal My Sound (self-released). Read The Duff Guide to Ska review here.

The Bullets: Sweet Misery (Jump Up Records). Read The Duff Guide to Ska review here.

The Caroloregians: Funkify Your Reggae (Grover Records)

Jimmy the Squirrel: Whatever the Weather (Do the Dog Music). Read The Duff Guide to Ska review here.

King Hammond: Jacuzzi (N.1. Records)

King Hammond: The King and I (N.1. Records). Read The Duff Guide to Ska Review here.

Mark Foggo: MAD (V2 Records). Read The Duff Guide to Ska review here.

The Moon Invaders vs. The Caroloregians: Hot Blood Cold Weather (Jump Up Records)

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Bonus "Best of" Lists!

Best Live Ska Records:

King Django Quintet: Brooklyn Hangover (Stubborn Records). Read The Duff Guide to Ska review here.

The Moon Invaders: Live at the Ancienne Belgique (Grover Records)

Best Ska Reissue:

Laurel Aitken: Everybody Ska! Rudi Got Married 1980 to 1992 (Pressure Drop). Read The Duff Guide to Ska Review here.

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Also, check our "Best Ska Singles of 2010" and "Best Ska 10" and 12" Platters of 2010"!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Best Ska 10" and 12" Platters of 2010

Editor's note: Despite what our admirers might say about us, The Duff Guide to Ska wasn't able to acquire and listen to every ska 7", 10", 12", LP, CD, and digital track released in 2010. So with this confession/caveat in mind, below please find our thoroughly unscientific, highly biased, and most incomplete "Best Ska 10" and 12" Platters of 2010" list:

Heavy Manners: "Get Me Outta Debt" b/w "Fight the Good Fight" (three track 12" record; Jump Up Records). Read The Duff Guide to Ska review here.

King Django: Avenue A (four track 10" record; Stubborn Records). Read The Duff Guide to Ska review here.

The Revivers: The Revivers (five track 10" record; Jump Up Records).

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Up next: "Best Ska Albums of 2010"!

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Don't miss our list of "Best Ska Singles of 2010"!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Friday, December 24, 2010

The Best Ska Singles of 2010

Editor's note: Despite what our fans and boosters may say about us, The Duff Guide to Ska is not omniscient (we're quite imperfect and fallible, trust us!). We're ashamed to admit that didn't get our sweaty hands on every ska 7", 10", 12", LP, CD, and digital track released in 2010 (though we wish we had!). So, despite our shortcomings, below please find our thoroughly unscientific, highly biased, and most incomplete "Best Ska Singles of 2010" list:

- Babyhead: "Jungle Law" b/w "Jungle Lore" (two track vinyl single; Rockers Revolt Records). Read The Duff Guide to Ska review here.

- Club Moonstomp, featuring Roy Ellis, Eastern Standard Time, Mr. T Bone, and Green Room Rockers (four track color vinyl single, Jump Up Records).

- The Crabs Corporation Meets King Hammond: "Bring Down the Birds" (one track vinyl single; Record Kicks). Read The Duff Guide to Ska review here.

- King Hammond: "Riot in London Town" (four track vinyl single; N.1. Records). Read The Duff Guide to Ska review here.

- The Hard Times: "Two Bucks for Bob" (three track digital EP; Whatevski Records). Read The Duff Guide to Ska review here.

- Buford O'Sullivan: L.R.T.R. (three track vinyl single and eight track digital EP; Megalith Records). Read The Duff Guide to Ska review here.

- Tin Roots: Set Sail (four track digital EP; self-released). Read The Duff Guide to Ska review here.

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Up next: The Best Ska 10" and 12" Records!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Decade Without Moon, Part 2

Jeremy Patton--who runs Megalith Records and has most of the Moon Records archive in his possession--just posted some pictures from the end of days at the East 10th Street store, as well as some photos from the Moon promo office (in happier days, circa 1997), when it was operating out of my apartment (check out the pix here).

It was kind of chaotic and cramped--two desks complete with now ancient Macs (and a folding card table for our intern's use); steel shelves jammed with promo CDs, one-sheets, posters, padded mailers, Moon Skazettes, press clippings, and a well-used postage meter--but we serviced countless college radio stations, skazines, local and music press, clubs, and indie record stores with everything they needed to help promote our bands and their releases/tours.

Wish I still had that "Skalapalooza" poster (it was ruined in a flood in my parent's basement a few years ago--still not sure how the water made its way into that Rubbermaid bin)...

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Obey the Ska!

I now completely forget what image I was searching for when I came across this crazy mash up of OBEY's Andre the Giant, The Beat's logo font, and "Dance Craze's" iconic loafer, checkered sock, and houndstooth trouser combo. (Don't know if this t-shirt is even available anymore--I couldn't find it on eBay or through a Google search--the image was posted on a turntablist's blog, which noted that the shirt came out in 2009.)

Shepard Fairey knows good design (the "Dance Craze" LP cover and poster was created by John "Teflon" Sims) to "appropriate" when he sees it.

Anyone ever seen this shirt in person?

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Toasters' Christma-ska

Looking for a last-minute gift for the ska fan on your Xmas list--or need some non-saccharine holiday music to lift your spirits? Well, The Toasters have you covered!

Bucket and the boys have now made the eleven Christmas/holiday themed tunes they originally recorded for the 1997 Japan-only Moon Ska Tokyo/Tachyon Records Christma-ska CD available for digital download through Amazon, iTunes, and CD Baby (you can also hear samples of all these tunes at each of these sites).

Unless you were one of the lucky people that snapped up one of the few copies of Christma-ska that Moon Ska Records imported for sale through the East 10th Street store in the late 90s, these tracks have been unavailable outside of Japan for almost 13 years. (In addition to The Toasters' cuts, the Japanese Christma-ska also featured songs by The Bluebeats, NY Ska Jazz Ensemble, The Allstonians, Buford O'Sullivan Experience, and Skinnerbox.) It also should be noted that three of The Toasters' tracks ("Happy Christmas," "Christmas Time Again," and "Rudy Christmas A Jail") are original compositions.

And check out the "vintage," mid-80s Bob Fingerman illustration used on the cover--a very nice touch for a great collection of tunes!

Holiday Gifts from Madness!

The Nutty Boys just wrapped up their "Do Not Adjust Your Nut" tour of the UK and are graciously offering some free downloads of live recordings from various stops along the way:

Blackpool: "Lovestruck"

Glasgow: "One Step Beyond"

Newcastle: "Forever Young" and "Madness"

Manchester: "Shut Up" and "Clerkenwell Polka"

Leicester: "Embarrassment"

Leeds: "My Girl"

Nottingham: "The Sun & The Rain" and "Tomorrow's Just Another Day"

Bournemouth: "Bed & Breakfast Man" and "The Young & The Old"

Reading: "Driving In My Car" and "The Prince"

Birmingham: "Wings Of a Dove"

Cardiff: "House Of Fun" and "Tarzan’s Nuts"

Plymouth: "NW5" and "Our House"

Brighton: "Baggy Trousers"

London: "It Must Be Love" and "Night Boat To Cairo"

Friday, December 17, 2010

A Decade Without Moon

Thanks to John at Hoi Polloi Skazine for pointing out today's significance in the ska world. It's been 10 long years since Bucket sent out this terrible news.

The US ska scene still hasn't yet recovered from this body blow. (Will it ever?)

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On a related, and decidedly happier note, check out Kames Jelly's New Jersey Noise blog for a look back at some of Moon Records' early singles...

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And to cheer you up, check out the HP Ska "Rudy Christmas" holiday playlist!

Duff Review: V/A Live in London (The London International Ska Festival)

Blue Beat Records
1989
LP/CS

With the forthcoming 2011 London International Ska Festival in mind, I thought it might be timely to turn back the clock about 23 years to check out Live in London, the record that documented the very first ska fest Sean Flowerdew organized back in 1988, when he was still a teenager (seventeen, to be exact!).

Apart from the 1988 Bad Manners fan-club only Eat the Beat LP, Live in London was the auspicious debut commercial release from Buster Bloodvessel's then newly revived Blue Beat Records--he licensed the name and logo, and then proceeded to issue a string of top-notch records, including Bad Manners' Return of the Ugly, Buster's All-Stars' Skinhead Luv-A-Fair, and Napoleon Solo's Shot! before the label folded in 1990. As an historic recording, Live in London captured 12 phenomenal bands (with lots of spirited noise and chanting from the crowd) at the height of the late 80s Euro ska scene (England, in particular, was a hotbed of post-2 Tone activity); and as for its merits as a ska record, you'll be hard-pressed to find a collection of tunes and live performances as consistently good as this.

Night one, December 20, 1988 at The Sir George Robey (an elegant name for a shambles of a venue), featured Capone and the Bullets (UK), The Braces (West Germany--this was before the fall of the Berlin Wall!), Bim Skala Bim (USA), Skaos (West Germany), and Prince Buster (JA) backed by The Trojans (UK). Night two, December 21, 1988 at the larger and more glam Brixton Fridge, included Napoleon Solo (Denmark), The Deltones (UK), The Loafers (UK), The Potato 5 (UK), Laurel Aitken (UK), and Bad Manners (UK).

Glasgow's Capone and the Bullets open side one with their light-hearted "Paranoid Zone," offering up a great example of why they were wildly popular throughout the British Isles (as an intro to this tune, the singer deadpans that he gets paranoid "whenever we do a gig, I get this sort of feeling that everyone is looking at me"). The Braces' demonstrate why they were one of the top German acts at the time with a boisterous rendition of their signature tune "Julie Julie". On every live recording I've ever heard them do, Boston's Bim Skala Bim always sound incredible--they were simply a powerhouse live act, a key ingredient of which was the fantastic vocal interplay between Dan Vitale and Jackie Starr (certainly rivaling the spot-on vocal stylings of a Recriminations-era Bucket and Vicky Rose). "Jah Laundromat" is Bim's amusingly surreal take on Rastafarianism immersed in Christian baptism ("We'll wash all our sins away/down at Jah laundromat today"). Skaos exhumes and re-animates an appropriately sinister, revved-up ska-billy version of "The Munsters" TV theme song (with a nice thermin-sounding guitar effect)--and, like several other songs during the 80s (such as "Baby Elephant Walk"), it was covered by more than one ska band: The Forest Hillbillies recorded it for Gaz in 1986, swapping out the guitar for a violin on the melody for a touch of that hoedown-ska sound.

If happen to come across a vinyl copy of this album, check out the significant number of vinyl grooves allotted to Prince Buster's "Dance Cleopatra" (it's practically a third of side one!). While I have major respect for The Prince--and The Trojans are truly nothing short of stellar as his backing band here--this strikes me a bit of an odd choice for showcasing Buster's talents. As The Trojans perform a deadly cool extended take on this instrumental cut, Prince Buster spends most of the track shouting out the titles of his hit songs or signature lyrics like "Al Capone's guns don't argue!" and "This is a punch designed by Cassius Clay to cripple every fighter living today!" A minor quibble, but it would have been nice to actually hear him sing a tune like "Take it Easy" or "Shaking Up Orange Street."

On side two, Napoleon Solo practically burst out of the speakers on their burningly lusty and almost cinematic soul-ska romp, "Drive Me Wild" ("It's kind of strange what a woman can do to a man/Break me down and build me up now/Don't you understand?/She drives me wild!"). Criminally unknown in the States (imagine a 60s girl group like The Angels or Ronnettes transported to JA to exclusively perform ska and rocksteady tunes), The Deltones' breezy warning "Don't Fall in Love" (...with me) wasn't enough to keep the UK rude boys away (and this sweet cut lets you know why). Sean Flowerdew's own much beloved band The Loafers turn in a blistering performance of their frantic "Too Late Rudy". The premier instrumental ska act in the UK of that time, The Potato 5 play a rollicking cover of The Skatalites' foundational rhythm track "Shockers Rock" (which in itself is a version of Roland Alphonso's "Cleopatra"). Laurel Aitken, one of the most natural and gifted performers I've ever seen, is backed by the Pressure Tenants on this jaunty reading of his 1980 hit "Rudi Got Married." While they were poised to release Return of the Ugly, one of the finest records of their career (largely due to the superb songwriting of King Hammond himself, Nick Welsh), Bad Manners relive the glory days with their sanguine 1981 top 10 hit "Walking in the Sunshine".

Back in the day, the readers of George Marshall's amazing "Zoot" skazine (he's written some of the most accurately succinct ska reviews I've ever had the pleasure to read) voted the London International Ska Fest the #1 ska event of 1988--and Live in London as the #2 live record in 1989. How's that for an endorsement? (George also provides boosterish liner notes on the back of the LP sleeve.)

No doubt there are pirated copies of Live in London orbiting in cyberspace, but of the many out-of-print treasures from the late 80s ska scene deserving a proper "real world" re-release, this is an absolute must.

Duff Guide to Ska Grade: A

Thursday, December 16, 2010

New Ska Doc: "Gaz's Rockin' Blues: A Brief History"

Directors Leo Leigh and Zaid Mudhaffer have put together an excellent short documentary film (17+ minutes) for Spine Television about Gaz Mayall's long-running club night titled "Gaz's Rockin' Blues: A Brief History." Filmed during the release of Gaz's book, "Gaz's Rockin' Blues: The First 30 Years" (read The Duff Guide to Ska review here) and an exhibit of his club posters and related paraphernalia at London's Subway Gallery, this doc features interviews with Gaz, one of his main DJs Natty Bo (Top Cats, Ska Cubano), and assorted friends and fans. (An added bonus is a soundtrack featuring cuts from The Ska Flames and Potato 5!)

So much of what Gaz has done and accomplished with his club night is ephemeral (people came, drank, danced, socialized, fell in/out of love, caught a band, went home--then, repeat a week later) that it's really wonderful that at least some facets of it have been documented in his book--and now in this gem of a film.


Tuesday, December 14, 2010

2011 London International Ska Fest Update: Randy's Clive Chin to DJ

Does it really mean anything to write "stop the presses" on a blog in this day and age? Anyway, the latest from Sean Flowerdew is that legendary reggae producer and record label owner Clive Chin will be joining the extraordinary ranks of DJs (Gaz Mayall, Tommy Rock-A-Shacka, Rhoda Dakar, Mark Lamarr, Felix Hall, etc.) at the 2011 London International Ska Festival. Here's some very relevant background from Sean:
Clive Chin ranks as one of Jamaican music's greatest & most prolific reggae producers. While working at the family business, Randy's Record Store and the crucial studio upstairs, Randy's Studio 17, Chin oversaw seminal recordings by the '70s top reggae performers and producers: The Wailers, Tommy McCook, Alton Ellis, Dennis Brown, Gregory Isaacs, Lee Perry and Black Uhuru. From 1969, when it opened, Randy's Studio 17 became a focal point of Jamaican music. Working with innovative engineer Errol Thompson, the teenage Clive Chin laid down thick bass and drum rhythms which became a signature of the roots reggae, dub and rebel rock/rockers sounds. Music personnel flocked to Randy's to get the rich bass sound and full sonic image on their songs.

Chin first rose to prominence by producing a record for a classmate Horace Swaby, a.k.a. Augustus Pablo. This record, "Java," became a slow burning international sensation with its Eastern motif played on the melodica. LPs followed, namely This Is Augustus Pablo and Java Java Dub, which elaborated on the rhythmic achievements of the single. Another of his biggest hits on the British National Chart was "Fatty Bum, Bum" by Carl Malcolm. Ultimately, these halcyon days came to an abrupt end in 1978, as the Chin family closed shop and relocated to New York, where the record operation was renamed V.P. Records, today, the largest reggae distributor in North America. In 2007 VP Records started an imprint 17 North Parade to reissue some of the historic Randy's releases.

Clive Chin is now celebrating Randy's Record label 50th anniversary, by taking his music to the world. He has recently completed tours of China, Japan, USA and we are honoured to now be bringing a true Jamaican legend to the UK for The London Intl Ska Festival.
Sean also has provided some excellent info about Tommy Rock-A-Shacka, who may be lesser-known to some Westerners:
Minoru Tomita better known as 'Tommy Rock-A-Shacka' is one of the founders of the legendary Rock-A-Shacka/ Far East Records label. Working closely with his partner in crime Masaya ‘PiratesChoice’ Hayashi (founder of Drum And Bass Records) in Japan, together have built a reputation collecting, releasing and also producing material for the masses.

Over the years, Tommy has collaborated with many Jamaican artists and producers, and as a team have released material from the likes of the late great Alton Ellis, Stranger Cole, Prince Buster, Sonia Pottinger, and Glen Brown, to name but a few.

Tommy is considered to be one of the biggest collectors of Jamaican music in Japan, and a leading figure amongst the Japanese revival scene. He has a frightening collection of rare singles and possibly the biggest Merritone, Top Deck, Prince Buster catalogue known to man. Having dj'd all over the world including the UK, Germany, Austria, Los Angeles, Mexico, we are delighted to be bring the man from Far East -Tommy Rock-A-Shacka to The London Intl Ska Festival.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Skavoovie Documentary Soundtrack

In "ant"-icipation of the forthcoming Duff Guide to Ska interview with Ans Purins (freelance illustrator--he did some work for Moon Records back in the day--and comic book artist, as well as frontman) of Skavoovie, check out this really quite compelling and informative video about ants titled "Ants! Rulers of the Insect World" by Adam Lazarus. What does a nature documentary have to do with ska, you may ask? Well, it features a ska/dubby/jazzy soundtrack composed mostly by Skavoovie members Eugene Cho and Ben Jaffe, which was then performed by the band. Very good stuff here.

Ants! Rulers of the Insect World from Adam Lazarus.


According to Ans, this video hasn't been available for about a decade, so it's nice to have it in circulation again...

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Also, I just received my review copy of Ans' awesome new comic book, "Zombre (#2), The Magic Forest," which I'll review when I post his interview.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Les Ejectes, Rhoda Dakar, and Tommy Rock-A-Shacka Join 2011 London Int'l Ska Fest!

Things are moving at so fast and furious a pace at the 2011 London International Ska Festival, we can barely keep up. French act Les Ejectes (you might remember them from Unicorn's 1989 Vive le Ska comp?) are now slated to perform at the fest:
Formed in 1988, Les Ejectes are one of the longest running, hardest working, and most loved French ska bands. From the outset the band stood on a politically charged crossroads of punk, ska, reggae and rhythm and blues. Equally inspired by the French artists Nino Ferrer and Serge Gainsbourg, they have released 10 albums, including mixes with Mad Professor.

Les Ejectes have toured Iceland, Italy, Czech Republic, Germany, Poland, Tunisia, Spain, Canada, Lithuania, USA, Serbia, Croatia, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Canada, Romania, Switzerland and of course their native France, with shows alongside Mano Negra, The Mescaleros, Murphys Law, Rita Marley, Maroon Town, Bob Dylan, Beastie Boys and Iggy Pop, in the process building a huge grassroots following. Their politically charged and socially aware stance has led them to active involvement on the anti-facist and anti-racist scenes, as well as backing ecological and youth enterprises, particularly supporting new musicians.

2010 has seen the release of their superb new album 'To The Roots.'



Also, Rhoda Dakar (Bodysnatchers and The Special AKA) and Tommy Rock-A-Shacka have signed on as DJs!

Here's the complete line-up as of right now (more to be added, of course):

Performers:

Ken Boothe (Jamaica)*
The English Beat starring Dave Wakeling (US)
Bob Andy & Marcia Griffiths (Jamaica)*
James Hunter (UK)
The Ska Flames (Japan)*
Dub Pistols (UK)
The Trojans (UK)
The Loafers (UK, one-off reformation)*
The Hotknives (UK, original line-up)*
Bim skala Bim (USA)*
Maroon Town (UK)
Intensified (UK)
Napoleon Solo (Denmark)*
The Caroloregians (Belgium)
Les Ejectes (France)*
The Amphetameanies (Scotland)
The Sidewalk Doctors (UK)
Cartoon Violence (Wales)
Jimmy the Squirrel (UK)
(* denotes exclusive shows)

DJs:

Mark Lamarr
Gaz Mayall
Rhoda Dakar
Wrongtom
Tommy Rock-A-Shacka (Japan)
The Tighten Up Crew featuring Champian MC
Jim Cox (Reggae Train)
Greedy G
Felix Hall

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Amphetameanies Do "Christmas Wrapping" on the Beeb

The Amphetameanies--who are one of the featured acts at the upcoming 2011 London International Ska Festival--were kind enough to share this terrific video of them performing The Waitresses' now classic New Wave holiday track "Christmas Wrapping" for BBC Scotland back on Xmas Eve 2007. (Don't miss the great shot of Jane Chalmers wiping her brow in relief at the end...the lyric sheet for this cut is a monster!)



They also do a bang-up job of covering The Pogues' "Fairytale of New York."
The boys from the NYPD choir were singing Galway Bay
And the bells were ringing out for Christmas Day
...
Always gives me chills.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Duff Review: Babayaga Funky Drop

Skanky 'Lil Records
2010
CD

For the unfamiliar, the German ska band Babayaga is like the very gifted but hyperactive love child that would result if it were possible to mate The Toasters with The Busters. (For the non-Russians, Poles, and Hellboy fans out there, Baba Yaga is a witch-like character from Slavic folklore, who is sometimes depicted as a reluctant source of wisdom for those on quests, but in other tales is a kidnapper--and possible eater--of children.) Babayaga's brass-heavy, super-charged modern ska sound (with dashes of reggae, jazz, and Latin upping the amperage) is supremely infectious, highly-danceable, and all-out good fun. On their splendid third album Funky Drop, you'll find a mix of fine instrumentals (like "I Am A Train" and "Sweet") and a slew of cuts that will have you singing along loudly to their choruses.

Despite their country's often harsh and dreary climate--and like so many of their German ska predecessors (No Sports, Dr. Ring Ding & The Senior Allstars, El Bosso und die Ping Pongs, Blechreiz, The Frits, The Braces, The Butlers, etc.)--Babayaga write what seems like a surprising number of upbeat, carefree, good times songs (don't they have seasonal affective disorder there?). A prime example of this is the sunshine-y and catchy "Mellow Mood" ("I'm in a mellow mood/that I can dance and touch your face"), with its lovely three-part harmonies. "Funky Drop" isn't funky reggae, but a great ska tune, nonetheless ("You don't have to do anything/except dance and sing to the Funky Drop"). "Yesterday Night" is a driving ska-soul tune that has the singer urging his girlfriend not to ruin the good thing they have going--and to "forget what happened yesterday night." Babayaga's jazzier roots show on the smooth, non-Sicilian sounding instrumental "Mafia."

The tone of the album shifts a little with the more aggro, frenzied, and insistent kiss off "You Better Go" (the object of their scorn is even ejected from their gig!), as well as their public disdain for flower children in "Hippie." The mournful reggae cut "Motherless Child" references Joe Higgs' extraordinary "There's a Reward" (found on Life of Contradiction--read The Duff Guide to Ska review here); this is the original lyric: "Sometimes I feel like a motherless child/You know no one cares for me/I've never known sympathy." While most of the tracks on Funky Drop are in English, there is the salsa tune "Dos Alemanes Muertos" (Spanish for "Two Dead Germans") and two ska songs in German, "Der Traurige Clown" ("The Sad Clown") and "Sommawaso."

Those seeking ska's musical enlightenment should definitely stop by Babayaga's chicken leg cabin for the fantastic sounds found on their Funky Drop.

The Duff Guide to Ska Grade: A

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Bob and Marcia Added to 2011 London International Ska Festival!

It just keeps on getting better:
Following the announcement of Ken Boothe, we are honoured to announce the next acts added to The London International Ska Festival are two more Jamaican legends. One of reggae's most influential songwriters and singers, Bob Andy and the 'Queen of Reggae' Marcia Griffiths will be reuniting for a very special evening, and once again performing together again as Bob & Marcia.

The duo met whilst recording for Jamaica's premier label of the day Studio One, but it was on the move to the Harry J Label that their international recognition came. In 1970 and 71 they hit the British, as well as the International charts with their version of Nina Simone's 'Young, Gifted and Black', which peaked at No.5 and 'The Pied Piper' (reaching No.11).

Bob Andy was one of the founding members of The Paragons, along with Tyrone Evans and Howard Barrett, and later joined by John Holt. As one of Studio One's leading lights, Bob worked closely with Jackie Mittoo on many of the label's seminal sounds. Besides writing songs for himself which have become reggae standards 'Feeling Soul', 'My Time', 'Going Home' and 'Too Experienced', to name just a few, Bob contributed hits for many of the other artists there. His album 'Songbook' is quite rightly referred to as "a masterpiece".

Marcia Griffiths, discovered by Philip “Boasie” James lead singer of the Blues Busters, started her singing career performing with Byron Lee & The Dragonaires. Her recording years started soon after, at Coxsone Dodd's Studio One where she recorded her first hit, the Bob Andy composition 'Feel Like Jumping'. Upon Bob & Marcia's split in 1974, Marcia united with Judy Mowatt and Rita Marley to form the I-Threes, Bob Marley's sublime vocal trio.

For over 40 years Bob Andy and Marcia Griffiths have continued to record and tour all over the world, establishing themselves as true legends of Jamaica’s musical history. In recent years the Jamaican government conferred the Order of Distinction on both of them. We are delighted to have Bob and Marcia performing not only their timeless duets but also their classic solo hits at The London Intl Ska Festival.
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Also, the schedule of appearances is starting to firm up:
Thursday 21 April 2011
Ken Boothe and James Hunter

Friday 22 April 2011
The Loafers and Hotknives

Saturday 23 April 2011
The English Beat starring Dave Wakeling and The Caroloregians

Sunday 24 April 2011
Bob & Marcia

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Ska Quote of the Day

This little nugget comes from the Louisiana Music and Culture Offbeat's review of The Local Skank's album Collect All Five:
"ska—the music the most white people feel confident dancing to"
Love it!

Random Mainstream Media Ska Reference

I've always been a huge fan of David Rees' "Get Your War On" strip, which started right after Dubya attacked Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11. Always highly critical of the Bush Administration's so-called "War on Terror," Rees ended the strip when Bush finally left the White House. However, since the Afghanistan war rages on two years into the Obama Administration, he's back with some sharp commentary. These two panels are from a great two-page spread in this week's New York Magazine. The ska references are kind of jarring and remind me of the 3rd wave's cheesy, cringe-inducing tendency to wedge 'ska' into words and phrases where it simply didn't belong (Skanksgiving, anyone?), which made people outside of the scene think all the less of us.

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Now for the overtly political segment of this post.

It's surreal to see Rees' strip all these years later and to be reminded of the nightmarish things that went down while the Bush Administration was at the helm (incredibly horrific things like all the people murdered on 9/11--and how the attack might have been averted; Bush, Cheney et al lying that Iraq was behind 9/11 and/or had weapons of mass destruction in order to justify the invasion of that country; all the people on both sides that didn't have to be maimed or die as a result--particularly Iraqi civilians who didn't sign up for combat; the billions upon billions Bush borrowed to finance two wars while simultaneously giving everyone tax cuts--where were the GOP deficit hawks and tea party types during all this extraordinary accumulation of debt? Oh, that's right, a white man was doing it!; the torture--and waterboarding is torture--and indefinite imprisoning of suspected terrorists; the policy of extraordinary rendition; the "unitary executive" and use of Presidential signing statements; the illegal wiretapping of Americans' e-mails and phone calls--and the Bush Administration's deliberate misinterpretation and shredding of our nation's laws; the color-coded fear weekends when everyone bought duct tape and plastic sheeting to keep out the dirty bomb/bio-chemical attack that never came; the fact that Bin Laden escaped Tora Bora and is still at large; and now Bush's blatant attempt to re-write history).

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Since I've gotten all that out of my system, it's time to go back to writing reviews of new ska releases and putting together The Duff Guide to Ska's "Best of 2010" list!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Ken Boothe to Play 2011 London International Ska Fest!

It has just been announced that legendary Jamaican singer, Ken Boothe (AKA Mr. Rocksteady), will be performing at the 2011 London International Ska Festival next April. Mr. Boothe is the first of five old-school Jamaican artists to be announced that will be performing at the ska fest. Here are some highlights of his career, provided by festival organizer Sean Flowerdew:
Best known for his No.1 UK hit 'Everything I Own', Ken started his musical career by winning a singing competition at the age of 8, in his birthplace of Kingston, Jamaica. His debut recording came in the ska-era when he teamed up with Winston 'Stranger' Cole in the duo Stranger And Ken, releasing classic cuts including 'World's Fair', 'Hush' and 'Artibella', before moving onto Clement Dodd’s Studio One label. A series of classic cuts followed including 'The Train Is Coming' (on which he was backed by Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer & BB Seaton of The Gaylads) and 'Moving Away'. In 1967 he toured the UK for the first time with fellow rocksteady legend Alton Ellis. The tour was hugely successful, with Boothe being promoted as "Mr.Rock Steady". The title was also used for his superb debut album the following year, which contained the unlikely but huge selling rocksteady version of 'Puppet On A String'.

Upon leaving Studio One he was in demand with Jamaica's top producers: Sonia Pottinger, Phil Pratt, Leslie Kong, Bunny Lee, B.B. Seaton, Keith Hudson, Randy's, Niney the Observer, releasing many island hits including 'Freedom Street'. In 1974 Ken Boothe teamed up with producer Lloyd Charmers, a pairing and subsequent releases on Trojan Records, that spawned his two biggest UK hits. The aforementioned 'Everything I Own' top the charts for 4 weeks and the follow-up 'Crying Over You' reached number 11. The pair also issued other superb versions of 'Who Gets Your Love', 'Let's Get It On', 'Silver Words' and Ain't No Sunshine'

To this day Ken Boothe tours all over the world and remains one of Jamaica's most loved vocalists with his uniquely emotive and soulful style. In 2003 this fact was recognised by the Jamaican government awarding him the Order Of Distinction for his contribution to Jamaican music.
Also of note, the LISF has launched its own website.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Duff Review: The Hard Times Two Bucks for Bob EP

Whatevski Records
2010
3-track digital EP

With a name that couldn't be more relevant if they tried, NYC's awesome practitioners of Upsetters-inspired boss skinhead reggae, The Hard Times, have dropped an EP of buoyant tracks to temporarily distract us from the swelling ranks of the unemployed among us and the disintegrating social safety net in tatters at our feet. The three stellar instrumental cuts you'll find on the digital-only Two Bucks for Bob EP are on par with those from other early reggae heavyweights on the scene like The Caroloregians, King Hammond, and The Bullets. Truly, this is some sweet stuff.

The high-quality of The Hard Times' songwriting and musicianship really shouldn't come as a shock when you consider the band's lineage--most of them are veterans of the NYC ska scene. Drummer Bob Timm previously was in 90s-era bands The DeFactos and Orange Street (and did a boffo job covering ska for About.com from 1997 to 2005); keyboardist Jerica Rosenblum was a member of The Scofflaws, Mephiskapheles, and The Defactos; now ex-bassist Juan Cardenas was in The Duppies; and guitarist Jacob Wake-Up used to be in Across the Aisle and is still in Hey Stranger.

"Two Bucks for Bob" (what's the story behind that title?) is a moody, reggay-ish cut that introduces you to the band's amazing chops. You might think "Bender of Steel" is a groovy mash note to that irascible, cigar-chomping, beer-chugging, fire-belching, foul-mouthed, thieving (but orphan-loving) robot from 31st century New New York, Bender Bending Rodríguez (from Futurama)--but it's actually an ode to Coney Island strongman Mighty Joe Rollino (RIP). Put "Ricochet Rocker" on the sound system and it's guaranteed to pack the dancefloor with its jerky, propulsive riddims, looping bass lines, and killer melody that's passed back and forth between the guitar and keys like a steaming hot potato. You'll be hard-pressed not to shake your booty to this cut. (Listen to samples of all of these tracks here.)

Two Bucks for Bob is a smashing debut for The Hard Times--this is exactly the kind of music we all need in our lives: tunes to help us to get through the bad times and celebrate the good.

The Duff Guide to Ska Grade: A

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

CT Ska Gig Alerts: Sgt. Scagnetti Thankgiving Weekend!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Sub Rosa Party 5 Year Anniversary

Sgt. Scagnetti Hometown Reunion Show!

with special guest Burnkit 2600

Heirloom Arts Theater, Danbury, CT
$5 adv - $5 at the door
9pm doors, 10pm show starts
21+


Friday, November 26, 2010

Sgt. Scagnetti
SlackJaw
Distance No Object
The Nix86
Across The Aisle
Steady Habits

The Space, Hamden, CT
Show starts at 6:30 pm
$12


Saturday, November 27, 2010

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Duff Review: 1592 This One's For You All

Self-released
2010
CD

One of Detroit's most enduring nicknames--the Motor City--underscores how synonymous this city was with great feats of industrial manufacturing, unprecedented economic success, and the American dream; it's permanently linked to the nation's obsession with big, fast cars. Detroit made 'em and we bought 'em. Good jobs with decent union wages and benefits provided by Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler (AKA the Big Three) once allowed hundreds of thousands of poor and working class Americans to become middle class and realize the promise of the American dream (in the 1950s, Detroit had the highest median income and the highest rates of home ownership in the US). But the Big Three's industry dominance was its downfall--the companies that were once innovative became lazy and complacent (leaving expensive but forward-thinking investment in new technological developments to the Europeans and Japanese) and the oil crisis of the late 70s drove it all home. Japanese auto companies in particular were able to capitalize on the new reality, with their inexpensive, highly fuel-efficient, and extremely well-designed and reliable cars (everything the US-made cars were not). Faced with fierce competition (and unable to design and build cars that could compete) and following the trend of other manufacturing industries that placed profits over the people in the communities that had contributed to their success, the Big Three shuttered factories, laid off tens of thousands of people, and exported their jobs overseas (where they could pay rock bottom wages and not worry about providing benefits). This wholesale and permanent elimination of jobs (and Ronald Reagan's anti-urban policies didn't help) caused Detroit's middle class to move elsewhere in search of jobs; the rich to flee for exclusive enclaves in the suburbs; and all this white flight left the permanent underclass (Detroit proper is now a largely African American city with nearly a third of its population living under the poverty line) to eke out an existence in the decaying ruins of a once magnificent city.

From the context of this dying metropolis comes 1592, which has forged a new sub-genre of this familiar Jamaican sound: Detroit Rocksteady--a mash-up of funky Motown, old school garage-rock, and early reggae. Dark, dread-filled, bitter, defiant, yet ultimately hopeful--it's music to help keep your chin up in an ever meaner and bleaker America--where our great diversity is used to divide us, and concern for the common good and empathy for anyone else (forget about the poor and downtrodden, they're not even on the radar!) seems to be in very short supply.

It should hardly be a surprise that This One's for You All is steeped in history--how else can you know where you're going unless you know where you've been? And how can you avoid repeating the same mistakes if you're unaware of the past? The great heavy title track hoists a pint in tribute to many of extraordinary Jamaican musicians who created/defined the ska and reggae that 1592 play so well ("For Alton, Coxsone, Tubby/Perry and the Dragonnaires/Skatalites, Soul Brothers/backing everywhere"). The angry funkified rock-reggae of "Old Crew" bemoans how the values of previous generations that served us all so well seem to have been lost or abandoned over time: "They fought in all the wars/They built all the cars/and left behind a way/for us to live with pride...Whatever happened to the old crew/the ones our father looked up to?/Whatever happened to the old crew?/I sure don't see it in you."

"Detroit Why"--with its Prince-like guitar lines that seemingly squeal in pain--recognizes all the wasted potential, missed opportunities, broken promises, and dashed hopes contained within the city limits, but posits that the people and place are worth saving ("Why must you break so many hearts/and tear us apart/Detroit why?/Let's stand up to fight/and walk into the light"). Amidst all the rubble and despair also come several wonderful love songs, the almost shockingly bright, sing-along-with-the-chorus "Tomorrow is Another Day," which wants to capture the "everything's perfect" feeling people have when they first fall in love, and the sweet salvation found when love makes all our burdens a bit lighter in "Midnight."

Several other key cuts on This One's for You All are concerned with protecting others from pain and suffering (the Skinnerbox-like "Stepping on a Stone"); the importance of persevering, even if you're confused and your destination's unknown ("That's It"); and a declaration that the status quo just isn't working for us anymore ("It's Time," which has a great heavy metal-like riff, and lyrics like: "The way we construct the notion of self/keeps pushing the boundaries/and destroying all the wealth"--this is not about a loss of material riches, but probably each person's creative potential and ability to make the world a better place for all of us).

The album closes with the slinky and rhythmic "What's Left for Me," which accepts the responsibility that comes with knowing that we are both the cause and solution to our problems: "The more we keep this up/The more we lag behind/The more we keep this up/The more we have to fight/It keeps impressing me/that all hope is not lost/as we try to deal with the path/of the few, that no one takes."

1592's This One's for You All is a complex album full of deep grooves and deeper thoughts for our difficult and sometimes desperate times. But it also offers hope and inspiration--wrapped in stellar songs--to anyone willing to listen.

The Duff Guide to Ska Grade: A

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Here is a live video of 1592 performing "Tomorrow is Another Day" and "That's It":



1592 plays "This One's For You All" here:

Friday, November 19, 2010

"Let's Have a Party" with Kid British

This video here from Kid British seems all the more appropriate as it's the end of the work week (if you have work to do, that is)...



"The economy is falling/You're playing with your mobile/Oh, let's have a party now..."

A "Party at Ground Zero" for the post-Dubya years, kids.

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Fans in the UK were lucky enough to have the opportunity to catch Kid British opening a slew of fall dates for UB40 on their Signing Off 30th Anniversary Tour. I wish Kid British had been along when UB40 played NYC recently.

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And here is Kid British's pretty amazing cover of New Order's "Blue Monday" (surely, one of the greatest New Wave-era songs ever, along with The Smiths' "How Soon is Now?"), which we assume is on their forthcoming album...(KB split with Mercury, who wanted them to go more pop than ska--and are now signed with Manchester digital label Modern English).

Madness Debuting New Songs on Tour--Next Album Due Spring 2011!

Word comes from Suggs via an interview with Wales Online that Madness will debut "six or seven" new songs on their "Do Not Adjust Your Nut" UK tour this November and December. Their forthcoming new album, title still unbeknownst to us, will be released in spring 2011. Here's Suggs in his own words:
“We’re hoping to play six or seven new songs on the tour, and the album will be out in the spring. With Norton Folgate, we recorded 40 songs, but with the next one, we’re concentrating on the 12 or so that’ll make the record, and trying to make something more fun and uplifting too. I think we can do that quite quickly.”
Also interesting to note that Suggs will hit the half century mark on January 13. He looks fantastic, so he must be doing something right!

Madness "Do Not Adjust Your Nut" UK tour dates may be found here. While we're on the topic of gigs, how about coming over to the USA for some dates, Nutty Boys?!?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Duff Review: Bigger Thomas Steal My Sound

Self-Released
2010
CD

When I first listened to the new Bigger Thomas CD Steal My Sound, my immediate reaction--and I'm carbon dating myself here--was how welcome it was to hear a band keeping the late'80s NYC ska sound alive! (What is the definition of this style of ska? Short answer: put on a copy of Moon Records' NYC Ska Live LP or cassette on the ster-ee-erio and listen! Awkward longer answer: it's heavily 2 Tone-influenced, aggressive modern ska, with strong new wave tendencies and some incursions into vintage ska sounds--and with the exception of The NY Citizens, free of ska-punk).

From the start, it's been clear that Bigger Thomas are fanatic devotees of The (English) Beat. You can find all sorts of melodic and rhythmic Wakeling/Cox/Steele DNA strands in Bigger Thomas' music, from their first fan favorite, "Ska in My Pocket" off their wonderful (Wha'ppen-inspired) debut "Red" album, to several tunes on Steal My Sound (most notably, "Kings of the Klub" and "Radics and Roger A Chat"). However, anyone who has followed the band is well aware that Bigger Thomas are much more than Beat imitators.

Apart from the light-hearted lyrical boasting and toasting on a few tracks, Steal My Sound is a serious album filled with tales of crushed hopes and diminished expectations. It mirrors the ugly reality of adult life, when you realize that things aren't going to turn out as you imagined they would when you were younger. But amidst the reconfigured world of middle-age, the band has found a gritty determination to follow their path and find satisfaction and happiness on their own terms. And they make some incredible music in the process.

The fantastically upbeat "I Can't Remember My Name," one of the best cuts on the album, is ostensibly about stumbling around on a summer day so hot that your brain can't function properly. But it's also a metaphor--we're fallible beings making all kinds of missteps as we try to move forward in the blazing heat of everyday life. Yet, the band also is keenly aware that life is a great adventure to be enjoyed: "I never get lost/but I try to every day!"

"Kings of the Klub" (a great versioning of their own "King for a Day" off We Wear the Mask) is a manic DJ clash between Roger Apollon, Jr. and Roy Radics (from The Rudie Crew) for toasting and boasting supremacy that reminds one of "Pato and Roger a Go Talk," with a little Untouchables thrown in the mix ("Make room, make room when they play the rub-a-dub/We rule the dance, we are kings of the club"). It's fantastic. However, if you want to screw with their music, Roger and Roy turn deadly serious on the spare (love the haunting melodica line in there played by King Django, who did a stellar job recording and mixing the album at his Version City Studio) and menacing "Steal My Sound" ("When we come to town/You know we don't mess around/Like a king who holds the crown/Don't steal my sound").

The band's don't-give-a-damn underdog and outsider status is reflected in songs like "Matinee Idol," where Roger sings about pursuing a girl who's "running with the 'A' crowd/My 'C' plus is not allowed/But I've got the nerve/and I hope you're grading on the curve." He pictures himself as an overseas movie star (as opposed to the standard Hollywood leading man) in the "foreign films you do adore/Well, I could be a matinee idol/with the yellow subtitles/But when the subject turns to a date/it does not translate." "Crown Victoria" is a tongue-in-cheek, laid-back ska tribute to trombonist Chris Malone's late model American car that, despite its regal connotation, is not a mode of luxurious transport for the band ("The Crown Victoria/You are my joy and pride/The longer the trip, the rougher the ride/Is that smoke beneath the hood?/You know that can't be good...). In life, sometimes function has to trump style, no? "Permanent Error" is a soulful, reggae-ish lament about e-mailing under the influence, and realizing that there is nothing in the world you can do to patch things up. Just move on.

"Shamokin" recounts how one night on tour the band played a sold-out show in front of thousands on a bill with The English Beat; the next, they were performing for a handful of punk rock kids in this poverty-stricken, no future ghost town of a coal town near Scranton, PA (even though the mines have been closed for years, a funeral pyre-like fire still rages in one of them a mile underground). "Shamokin" is the post-WWII 1950s American dream/teenage rockstar fantasy gone bust. The American manufacturing industries that once employed millions and allowed them to provide a decent and secure middle-class way of life for their families abandonded them in favor of cheap, benefits-free Third-world labor--devastating countless communities in the US its wake (how un-patriotic can you get?). Likewise, the music business, indie or major, essentially has been rendered obsolete by the terrible advent of file sharing--how can you earn a living as a full-time musician if your fans expect to download your music for free and can't tear themselves away from their computer, smartphone, or TV screens to pay a couple of bucks see you play a gig? "Shamokin" is the heart, soul, and conscience of Bigger Thomas wrapped up in one tune: what do you do when you can't do what you love to live?

For Bigger Thomas, the only possible response is to keep on making music, even if they have to "kiss their dreams goodbye": "The good old days we try to chase/they disappear without a trace/I hear the sound that we all make/its joyful noise cures my heartache."

For the forgotten kids and families across the USA stuck in dead-end towns and cities like Shamokin, the answer is far less clear.


The Duff Guide to Ska Grade: A

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Below is a video I shot of Bigger Thomas performing "I Can't Remember My Name"; the others were produced by the band.






Tuesday, November 16, 2010

RiceRokit's Pidgin English Dropping in December!

News from Kendo and the RiceRokit camp is that their second album will finally drop around Xmas on Megalith Records (first the holiday-themed free track and Jacuzzi from King Hammond and now this!?).

While RiceRokit's phenomenally good debut album Hang Loose (read The Duff Guide to Ska review here) was full of modern ska/rock/reggae songs referencing "The Shining" (you've got to check out the incredible "Dull Boy" on their MySpace page!), werewolves, "Saturday Night Fever," Ray Bradbury's "Something Wicked This Way Comes," and the horror of death and decay, Pidgin English will be expanding their sound to include what they consider "electro-pop" (listen to the new "Strawberries & Cream" or their take on Bauhaus' "Bela Lugosi's Dead"), which seems appropriate, as this album will include several 80s rock and New Wave favorites of Kendo's.

If you're a ska fan whose musical tastes are omnivorous, you'll definitely want to pick up these records! Stay tuned for more details soon...

Saturday, November 13, 2010

New Free Track From King Hammond: "Rudie's in Jail for Christmas"!

Despite what the calendar may read, the Xmas (or whatever you celebrate/observe) season is here! Gather around, kids! The good King Hammond has bestowed a magnificent gift upon us in the form of "Rudie's in Jail for Christmas"--a new free track that can be downloaded from King Hammond's website.

Here's a video from KH featuring the cut, plus it also serves as a retrospective of all that King Hammond has been up to over the past year...(hint: a lot!):




While you are visiting KH's site, you also might want to pre-order his new Jacuzzi album, which should be dropping any day now.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Long Island Ska/Reggae/Dub Gig Alert: The Hard Times, The Frighteners, and The Small Axes This Saturday Night!

The Hard Times are playing a gig this Saturday night (11/13/10) at Porkey's Sports Bar in Floral Park, NY (details on how to find your way there are listed below). Also on hand will be The Small Axes (reggae and ukuleles!) and The Frighteners (roots reggae and dub).

This will be the last time bass player Juan Cardenas performs with The Hard Times, as he's moving to L.A. in December. Also, the band will be announcing details of our their official EP, Two Bucks for Bob, available very soon on Whatevski Records (check out some of the new tracks on their MySpace page).

The show starts at 8:30 pm, with The Small Axes up first, followed by The Hard Times, and then The Frighteners.

Porkey's Sports Bar
144 Tulip Avenue
Floral Park, NY
(About 30 minutes from Manhattan by car, or 40 minutes by train)

By Car:
Take Grand Central or the LIE to Cross-Island Parkway South.
Take Cross-Island to exit 27E Jamaica Avenue/Jericho Turnpike.
Go about four or five traffic lights to Tulip Ave (just after the KFC on the right--King Hammond would be happy!).
Right on Tulip (fork to the left) then take Tulip down and "Main Street" strip is just after you go under the train tracks.
Porkey's will be halfway down on your left.

LIRR:
Take the Hempstead line to Floral Park station. Tulip Avenue runs underneath the station. Come down steps and walk a block or two south on Tulip (toward the retail- Main Street strip.

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Here are The Hard Times performing original tunes "Forward March," "Boss a Go Go," and "Samba Skank":



This Are The Small Axes...



Here are The Frighteners covering "Feel Like Jumping":

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Duff Review: Prince Fatty: "Insane in the Brain" b/w "Insane Dub Mix" and "Christopher Columbus" b/w "Dry Your Tears"

Mr. Bongo Recordings
2010
7"

For anyone who hasn't been introduced to Prince Fatty yet, it's a reggae collective that was originally assembled by producer Mike Pelanconi (who, amongst other things, helped engineer Lily Allen's brilliant ska-reggae-pop confection Alright Still--check the credits and you'll find a certain Victor Axelrod on keys!) for recording a single, "Nina's Dance," to promote Stussy's 25th anniversary. Their one-off was a minor hit in the UK, so they decided to make a go of it as a group. Prince Fatty's debut, Survival of the Fattest (Rasa Music, 2008), was one of those left-field surprises that the a-hole, snobby music-nazi in me almost dismissed outright as some sort of pop perversion of reggae (the sticker on the album boasted that "Milk and Honey" had been featured on an episode of the sudsy, doctor make-out fest "Grey's Anatomy"--a definite turn-off).

Survival of the Fattest is full of sprightly and stunningly good original roots reggae that sounds like it's straight outta mid-Seventies JA. Of course, it helps to have incredible Jamaican greats like Winston Francis and Little Roy sharing duties on the mic (plus the fantastic Holly Cook, daughter of Sex Pistols drummer Paul Cook and member of the reformed Slits). The album is a mix of playful instrumentals like "The Fat Panther" and the Rico-inspired "Switch Blade"; soulfully uplifting, make-you-smile cuts such as "Curious" and "Don't Give Up"; the drop-dead, heart-thumping-in-your-throat sexy "Milk and Honey" with Hollie Cook on vocals; and the stoned and on the prowl "Gin and Juice" with Horseman toasting under the influence. If you don't already have this record in your collection, you really should.

Prince Fatty is now back with a pair of vinyl singles to help promote the new Supersize album (which also features the legendary Dennis Alcapone): "Insane in the Brain" (featuring Horseman) b/w "Insane in the Brain Dub Mix," and "Christopher Columbus" (featuring Little Roy) b/w "Dry Your Tears" (featuring Winston Francis).

"Insane in the Brain" is a maddeningly good cover that betters Cypress Hill's 1993 hip hop original (which was featured in the excellent Warren Beatty liberal political comedy "Bullworth"). Horseman's toasting is fast and furious and top-notch (note the whinnying at the start of the track!). You'll have a hard time knocking this one out of your noggin. The dub is a somewhat reworked version of the A side instrumental track--nice to have, but not essential.

On the bitter and defiant "Christopher Columbus," Little Roy plaintively sings, "Why did he go" to the New World and deliver such misery (enslaving the native peoples he encountered and opening the door for the horrific, genocidal slave trade between Africa and the Americas) and wreak such havoc (plundering the indigenous people of their riches and their land's natural resources): "Him go away and him come again/bring Babylon on ya/Him go away and him come again/but Natty wouldn't give up!" Little Roy originally wrote and recorded this superb track in the 70s--and it can be found on a 1998 collection of his singles compiled by Pressure Sounds on Tafari Earth Uprising, which is definitely worth tracking down. (The companion piece to Little Roy's "Christopher Columbus" might be The Toasters' "History Book," a ska tune written from the point of view of the Old World invaders: "South Devon pirates, buccaneers on the Panama coast/With a cargo of potatoes and Indian princes, but what they want the most/Is to fill that hold with Spanish gold and make proud their boast/That England will smile on their piracy while they drink Elizabeth's toast...Arab traders ply their weapons on the Africa shore/And hapless victims bound in chains on the galleon floor/That their blood may be spilled in the land of Brazil/And they'll see their hopes forlorn/History will be cruel as it uses its tools/To shame the New World more.")

The gorgeous rocksteady track "Dry Your Tears" is an ace cover of "Dry Up Your Tears," originally sung by Bruce Ruffin (of The Techniques). Winston Francis' captivating voice will seal the deal if you desire to seduce someone who's on the rebound ("I know he's done you wrong/It's a good thing I came along/To dry up your tears")--it's powerful stuff.

The Duff Guide to Ska Grade for "Insane in the Brain" b/w "Insane in the Brain Dub Mix": B+

The Duff Guide to Ska Grade for "Christopher Columbus" b/w "Dry Your Tears": A

[These singles can be tracked down at Ernie B's Reggae.]

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(Please note that there is one shot in the fan video for "Insane in the Brain" that is NSFW.)