Monday, November 28, 2011

King Hammond Storms NYC This Week (Thursday and Saturday)!

If you've been following The Duff Guide to Ska for any length of time, you'll know that I'm a ridiculously big fan of King Hammond, who is coming over from the UK to make two rare appearances in New York City this week, backed by early reggae masters The Hard Times. These days, it's not too often that we have out-of-country ska musicians performing here in NYC (a shame, really), so make sure to come out to these shows!

Thursday, December 1, 2011 at 9:00 pm

King Hammond and The Hard Times

Shrine
2271 Adam Clayton Powell Jr Boulevard (aka 7th Avenue between 133rd and 134th Streets)
New York, NY
Free!

The Hard Times go on at 9:00 pm; King Hammond hits the stage at 10:30 pm.

Saturday, December 3, 2011 at 9:00 pm

Dirty Reggae Party #14 at The Lake with King Hammond, The Hard Times, The Reggay Lords (plus Ticklah on the decks!)

The Lake
258 Johnson Avenue (between Bushwick Avenue and White Street)
Brooklyn, NY
$6

(Take the L train to Montrose, walk down Bushwick and make a left on Johnson--or take the J train to Flushing, walk towards Bushwick Avenue, make a left, and walk till you hit Johnson Avenue and make a right. Look for the metal door with '258' on it, open it, and go up the stairs...)

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You may ask yourself, who exactly is King Hammond and why should I care?

Inspired by the late ʻ60s/early ʻ70s reggae hits (like The Upsetters' "Return of Django," Harry J All Stars' "Liquidator," and Dave & Ansell Collins' "Double Barrel") that ruled the British airwaves when he was a youth, Nick Welsh launched his King Hammond project back in 1987 (initially claiming--and sometimes fooling people--that King Hammond was this lost gem of an artist from the skinhead reggae era that Nick had discovered), while he was the bassist and songwriter for Bad Manners (“Skaville UK,” “This is Ska,” “Return of the Ugly”).

After his first single “King Hammond Shuffle” appeared on several international compilations (including Ska for Ska's Sake in 1989 on Skank Records), King Hammond released two fantastic albums of skinhead reggae, Revolution ʻ70 (Bluebeat, 1989) and Blow Your Mind (Receiver/Trojan, 1992).

During the 1990s, Welsh joined Pauline Blackʼs Selecter as bassist and songwriter (plus he produced their four studio albums--my favorite of the lot was 1999's Cruel Britannia); was a member of 3 Men & a Black, with J.J. Burnell (The Stranglers), Jake Burns (Stiff Little Fingers), Roddy Radiation (The Specials), Dave Wakeling (The Beat), Bruce Foxton (The Jam), and Pauline Black; and collaborated with ex-Belle Stars singer Jennie Matthias in Big 5. Then, in the mid-2000s, Welsh fronted his own ska band, Skaville UK, which released three albums (1973, Decadent, and Devil Beat--click on the links for The Duff Guide to Ska reviews).



Welsh revived King Hammond in 2010 and since that time has released three albums (The King and I, Jacuzzi, and Showbiz--click on the links for The Duff Guide to Ska reviews) and two vinyl EPs ("Riot in London Town" and "Hey, Mr. DJ") on his own N.1 Records imprint. In June 2011, King Hammond was a featured performer at the Ink ʼn ʼIron Festival in Long Beach, CA (and played several gigs in Mexico afterwards), and is touring throughout the UK and Europe with this seven-piece band The Rude Boy Mafia.



During his four decades in ska and reggae, Welsh has played with and produced such legendary artists as Prince Buster, Laurel Aitken, Dave Barker, Rico Rodriguez, Judge Dread, and Lee “Scratch” Perry. Notably, Welsh worked with Perry as the musical director on the Grammy-Award winning album Jamaican E.T. (Sanctuary/Trojan, 2002)—winner of Best Reggae Album in 2003--and its follow-up, Alien Starman (Secret Records, 2004).



Welsh also has written music for television (“The Osbournes,” “Ugly Betty,” “Desperate Housewives,” “Malcolm in the Middle,” and “LA Ink”), films (“Domino,” “The Magic Roundabout”), and videogames (“WWE Smackdown versus RAW,” “Day of Reckoning”)--so even if you don't know King Hammond, you've probably heard his music...

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You can read an interview I did with Nick last year here.

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If you're in the NYC area, hope to see you at one or both of these gigs!

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Friday, November 25, 2011

Thanksgiving Weekend NYC Ska and Reggae Shows

Friday, November 25, 2011

Vic Ruggiero Trio - featuring Vic, Ara, and Jay of The Slackers (doing reggae and punk)
Captain Ahab & The Seacrackens (surf)
Red Light Cinema (blues/rock)
DJ RATA spinning garage & soul

The Shop Brooklyn
290 Metropolitan Avenue (between Roebling & Driggs--take the L to Bedford)
Brooklyn, NY 11211
21+

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Friday, November 25, 2011 at 10:00 pm

The Bluebeats

Old Fields Restaurant
81 Broadway
Greenlawn, New York
Two sets/Free

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Saturday, November 26, 2011 at 7:00 pm

HR and the Human Rights Band, Let Me Crazy, and The BK What

The Shop Brooklyn
290 Metropolitan Avenue (between Roebling & Driggs--take the L to Bedford)
Brooklyn, NY 11211
$10 cover 21+

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Sunday, November 27, 2011 at 7:30 pm

Destroy Babylon (awesome roots reggae from Boston!) and Mr. Kowalski

The Rock Shop
249 4th Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$8 cover/21+

Destroy Babylon goes on at 8:00 pm.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Message to You...



(Thanks to Miles for sending it in and to Quinn for creating it!)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Barry Llewellyn of The Heptones RIP

Trojan Records and Irie FM are reporting that Barry Llewellyn of The Heptones (at far left in the photo) passed away earlier today. Our sincere condolences go out to Llewellyn's family and friends.

Irie FM reports:
Music News understands that Barry fell ill and was taken to the Kingston Public hospital where he died in the wee hours this morning.
Llewellyn's/The Heptones' biography can be found at Trojan Records and AllMusic.com.

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Update (11/27/11): The BBC has just posted an obituary for Llewellyn, which may be found here.

Update (11/29/11): The New York Times published an obituary for Llewellyn here.





NYC Fall/Winter 2011 Ska Calendar Update #7

Editor's Note: In an ideal world, I'd be able to catch all of these great bands in action, but I'm a middle-aged guy with work and family obligations, etc. So it goes. Having said that, I am going to get out and catch Destroy Babylon (from Boston) this Sunday--read my review of their amazing new album here--and the two King Hammond shows next week (he's coming over from the UK and will be backed by The Hard Times, so the least you can do is grab a subway train to see him at The Shrine in Harlem or The Lake in Bushwick).

Wednesday, November 23, 2011 at 9:00 pm

Pidgin Droppings and Bigger Thomas

Hat City Kitchen
459 Valley St
Orange, New Jersey
$10

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Friday, November 25, 2011 at 10:00 pm

The Bluebeats

Old Fields Restaurant
81 Broadway
Greenlawn, New York
Two sets/Free

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Sunday, November 27, 2011 at 7:30 pm

Destroy Babylon (awesome roots reggae from Boston!) and Mr. Kowalski

The Rock Shop
249 4th Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$8 cover/21+

Destroy Babylon goes on at 8:00 pm.

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Thursday, December 1, 2011

King Hammond and The Hard Times

Shrine
2271 Adam Clayton Powell Jr Boulevard (aka 7th Avenue between 133rd and 134th Streets)
New York, NY
Free!

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Saturday, December 3, 2011 at 9:00 pm

Dirty Reggae Party #14 at The Lake with King Hammond, The Hard Times, The Reggay Lords (plus Ticklah on the decks!)

The Lake
258 Johnson Avenue (between Bushwick Avenue and White Street)
Brooklyn, NY
$6

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Saturday, December 10, 2011 at 6:00 pm

The Rudie Crew, The Snails, On Trial, and Karate Chop Shop

Circle of Hope
1125 South Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA
$7

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Saturday, December 17, 2011 at 8:00 pm

The Slackers, The Pietasters, Bomb The Music Industry (plus DJ 100DBs)

Irving Plaza
17 Irving Place
New York, NY
$17.50

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Additional gigs will be posted when we find out about them. Send info to duffguidetoska@gmail.com!

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Thursday, November 17, 2011

Duff Gig Review: Queen P and The Shifters at The Shop Brooklyn (11/12/11)

Back in the mid-1990s, Ocean 11 were one of those bands that had this crazy, under-the-radar buzz about them. If you didn't live in Southern California with direct access to that almost mythic ska scene (which seemed to exist apart from every other ska scene in the US in terms of its sheer size and the number of incredible bands it generated), Ocean 11 seemed particularly mysterious and elusive. Someone in a band or a college radio station would rave about them to you over the phone or you'd glean some bit of news about their activity from a fanzine (these were pre-internet times, so everything was word-of-mouth, second-hand).

Eventually, the Moon Records store (when it was a teeny shop on East 2nd Street between Avenues A and B) obtained a few copies of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (released in 1995) and I was able to get my mitts on a copy (this is now one rare CD--used copies of it are going for close to $70 on Amazon and GEMM). It's a mix of well-known and obscure ska and rocksteady covers (The Tartans, The Caledonians), as well as some terrific originals. I just dug it out to give it a listen and found that The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly still stands up as one of the best traditional ska records of the 1990s.

Ocean 11 - Can't Forget About You by Duff Guide to Ska

The band never made it out to the East Coast (and I never caught them there), but we were lucky enough to feature them on two Moon Records releases: California Ska-quake, Volume 2: The Aftershock (compiled by Luis Correa of Steady Beat, who did a damn fine job--his label also distributed The Good, The Bad, The Ugly) and the Bang soundtrack. For those wanting to track down more of their discography, Ocean 11 cuts also can be found on Ska Island (Island Records), Girls Go Ska (Simmerdown Productions), Skauthentic (Steady Beat Recordings), Step on It (The Ska Parade), Keep the Pressure On (Kingpin Records), Ska Sucks (Liberation Records), and Ska Stars of the 90s (Gaz's Rockin Records).

[Ocean 11 fans should take note that Moondust Records just released a new single from the band that contains "Miss Understanding" (which appeared on the aforementioned Girls Go Ska comp) b/w "Spring in Rome" (a previously unreleased track that also features Malik Moore of The Bullets). I was lucky enough to pick up a copy at this gig along with a live Ocean 11 CD!]

Ocean 11 Miss Understanding by Duff Guide to Ska

So, I was pretty psyched to hear that King Duncan of The Shifters was using his birthday as an excuse to fulfill a ska fan-boy fantasy by flying out Queen P--Ocean 11's singer, who has recently been gigging with The Delirians--for some shows backed by The Shifters in Washington, DC, Baltimore, and New York City. (Read King Duncan's tribute to Ocean 11 here.)

Their New York gig took place at The Shop Brooklyn in Williamsburg, which is motorcycle shop by day and bar/BBQ joint by night. Bands play in the large garage in the back of the building next to a sea of choppers, which makes for a cool and unconventional venue. However, the one downside to this somewhat DIY set-up was the sub-par PA system that was in use (apologies for the sometimes poor sound quality in the videos below--but I think enough of the musicians' amazing performances come through that they're worth posting and watching). The next show there features H.R. of the Bad Brains (on November 26)...let's hope the venue figures out their sound issues before then.

DJs Han Solo (Dave Hahn of Dub is a Weapon) and Grace of Spades prepped the crowd with some choice selections of vintage ska and early reggae and then The Shifters were up. Hitting the concrete floor in matching Hawaiian shirts, the band tore through their set of excellent swinging, soulful ska original tunes (plus their signature cover of "Rockfort Rock") with such obvious glee (look at them do their synchronized moves in "Dance with You"!). It's been a long time since I've seen a band have such a blast playing out--and the audience couldn't help but being won over by their terrifically tight performance. If these guys play your town, make sure to see them.

Queen P's phenomenal set was mostly comprised of material off The Good, The Bad, The Ugly (not unexpected, of course) and included The Clarendonians' "Rules of Life," The Tartan's "Solid as a Rock," Cornel Campbell's "Let's Start Again," Ocean 11's "I am Queen"--and the highlights for me were Marcia Griffiths' "I Shall Sing," and Phyllis Dillon's "Picture on the Wall" and "I Can't Forget About You Baby." Queen P's voice has such an amazing purity, warmth, clarity, and directness to it (sadly, sometimes hard to hear through the terrible PA system that night) and she exudes such a cool confidence and ease as she sings. She's a wonderfully gifted performer to watch in action. I hope she'll make the trip out East again to play with The Shifters soon--and if you're anywhere near where they play, you make make sure to catch 'em!

[The Frighteners also played later this night--I didn't catch enough of their set, which sounded fantastic--but will review one of their live gigs soon...]

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(Again, sorry about the quality of the sound--the PA at the venue wasn't great--so it is what it is...but there is still lots here to like and enjoy!)





























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UPDATE: Here's a link to some videos (with much better audio) of Queen P and The Shifters performing in Washington, DC and Baltimore on this same tour--see them here.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

NYC Fall/Winter 2011 Ska Calendar Update #6

Wednesday, November 16, 2011 at 10:30 pm

The Rudie Crew

Fontana's Bar
105 Eldridge st
New York, NY

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Thursday, November 17, 2011 at 9:00 PM

NYC Championship Reggae: The Hard Times and The Frighteners

Otto's Shrunken Head
538 E 14th Street
New York, NY
Free/21+

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Friday, November 18, 2011 at 7:30 pm

Mustard Plug, Flatfoot 56, Hub City Stompers, The Jukebox Romantics

Knitting Factory – Brooklyn
361 Metropolitan Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11211
$12 in advance/$14 day of show

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Friday, November 18, 2011 at 9:30 pm

New York Ska Jazz Ensemble

DownHouse Lounge
250 Avenue X
Brooklyn, NY
718-627-3200

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Saturday, November 19, 2011 at 8:00 pm

Mustard Plug, Flatfoot 56, Hub City Stompers, The Pandemics

Asbury Lanes
209 4th Avenue
Asbury Park, NJ
All Ages!

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Sunday, November 20, 2011 at 7:30 pm

The Rudie Crew, The Hard Times, The Pandemics, Across the Aisle (plus DJ Grace of Spades!)

Bar Matchless, BK
557 Manhattan Ave,
Brooklyn, NY
$10/21+

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Wednesday, November 23, 2011 at 9:00 pm

Pidgin Droppings and Bigger Thomas

Hat City Kitchen
459 Valley St
Orange, New Jersey
$10

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Friday, November 25, 2011 at 10:00 pm

The Bluebeats

Old Fields Restaurant
81 Broadway
Greenlawn, New York
Two sets!

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Sunday, November 27, 2011 at 8:00 pm

Destroy Babylon (awesome roots reggae from Boston!) and Mr. Kowalski

The Rock Shop
249 4th Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$8 cover/21+

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Thursday, December 1, 2011

King Hammond and The Hard Times

Shrine
2271 Adam Clayton Powell Jr Boulevard (aka 7th Avenue between 133rd and 134th Streets)
New York, NY
Free!

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Saturday, December 3, 2011

Dirty Reggae Party #14 at The Lake with King Hammond, The Hard Times, Dub is a Weapon (plus Ticklah on the decks!)

The Lake
258 Johnson Avenue (between Bushwick Avenue and White Street)
Brooklyn, NY
$6

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Additional gigs will be posted when we find out about them. Send info to duffguidetoska@gmail.com!

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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Queen P (of Ocean 11) and The Shifters Hit DC, Baltimore, and NYC!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Queen P (Ocean 11), The Shifters, and the Hub City Stompers

Solly's Tavern
1942 11th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20001
202.603.1766

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Friday, November 11, 2011

Queen P and The Shifters, plus DJ Amanda Otto and Selector Pablo Fiasco

The Sidebar Tavern
218-20 E Lexington Street
Baltimore, MD
410.659.4130

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Saturday, November 12, 2011

Queen P (of Ocean 11), The Shifters (DC), and The Frighteners (plus DJs Grace of Spades and Hahn Solo)

The Shop Brooklyn
290 Metropolitan Avenue (between Roebling & Driggs)
Brooklyn, NY
Free!

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Editor's Note: Here's some cool (personal) background on this Queen P/Shifters mini-tour from The Shifters' t-bonist King Duncan that also serves as a tribute to the legendary 1990s California trad ska band Ocean 11...

"17 years ago, I was turning 17."

by King Duncan

That was the thought that ran through my head this morning when I woke up at 5 AM. I don’t have a lot of time these days to ponder life, mortality, love found and lost… Y’know, the real meaningful shit portrayed by people my age in romantic comedies. Yeah. That’s not me. I’m kind of busy. I’m a “working professional” who moved to DC from San Diego to further my career, like many imports to this area. To torture myself further, I’ve also joined a few bands along the way and helped start a monthly Ska and Reggae venue because, obviously, I was getting way too much sleep. My life is hectic. So somewhere between a morning shower and walking into work, I get a few seconds to think, reflect, and focus.

Lately, that quality morning-think time has been dedicated to concentrating on this upcoming weekend (and inevitably about my upcoming birthday on Sunday). In case anyone reading this doesn’t know, The Shifters, my semi-upstart, semi-Rocksteady band, are embarking on a mini-tour up the East Coast with Persephone, AKA Queen P, from Ocean 11. Persephone was kind enough to agree to come out here for my birthday and perform one show at my club, BlueBeat DC. The idea eventually evolved and we ended up agreeing to extend the good times through Veterans Day, with stops in Baltimore and New York City.



Amongst friends, band-mates and fans (we have those?), some have asked me just what is the big deal about Ocean 11 and Queen P? Indeed, even this website linked to an article attempting to answer that very question. In an effort to lend clarity to this mystery bestowed on my East Coast brethren, I volunteered to write a piece promoting the shows and shedding some light on why we So Cal folk of a certain age have such a fondness for Ocean 11.

One problem: every time I try writing this article, I end up editing it down to nothing because, to be completely honest, fellow Duff readers, I can’t begin to write about this subject without getting ridiculously autobiographical. To be frank, the story gets kind of fucking weird. In fact, if anyone ever ends up reading this, I guarantee what you are reading on your screen has been edited no less than 20 times and most likely will still come off fairly strange. Continue at your own risk.

“The Highest of Heavens”

That’s my favorite line from "The Best of Love," a song found on the Step On It compilation released around 1994 or 1995. I was 17 when I bought that CD. That was 17 years ago. Back then I was poor, white trash. I had few friends. I was not well-liked. I did things by myself. I hated my school and the preppy, asshole fucks found therein. One of my few sanctuaries was music. I loved playing music, listening to music, and seeing music performed live. I loved going to shows (usually alone) and had developed a liking of Ska, in particular. (I also developed a short-lived fanaticism with Gwen Stefani, but that’s another story for another time.) If I have any fond memories of my high school years, it’s the escape and sense of relief I felt in the world of music. That’s where I belonged.

However, at 17, I also had the attention span of a gnat. The modern bands I listened to since age 15 or 16 (No Doubt, Sublime, Skankin’ Pickle, to name some) who fascinated me previously could not keep my attention any longer. 2 Tone filled that gap, momentarily. But honestly, how much 2 Tone can anyone really listen to? Coincidentally, many modern acts of the time were transitioning to a poppy, New Wave kind of feel and shedding their Ska roots. I still bought many CDs, many compilations, even a few tapes, only to be bored with them a few weeks later. Ska, or rather The Ska I Knew, was not cutting it anymore.

Somewhere in the mess, I bought a CD comp put out by some radio show called The Ska Parade, a program I had never heard previously. The CD had a shit ton of local bands I had never really heard of previously, either. The disc came with a booklet that was entirely too long to read and didn’t make a lot of sense the few times I glanced at it. Most of the bands were woefully forgettable. Given all that, the CD did contain, however, two tracks from a band called Ocean 11. Two songs of pure, unadulterated, traditional Ska of which I honestly had never heard before.



This Ocean 11 outfit, whomever they were, sounded old yet new; modern yet classic. Crisp female vocals harmonically delivered over carefully plucked basslines. Guitars strummed with clean distortion on the upbeat. Drumsticks dancing on a hi-hat while a middle speed tempo swings and sways. It was New-Old-Stock perfection: a culmination of sound that can only compare to seeing a great black and white movie in a new theater or driving a classic car on a modern highway. Every time I listened to these two songs, I’d end up going back and listening to them again. Over and over and over.

Inspiration naturally turned into obsession. I caught a fever. I immediately sought more from these Ocean 11 people, eventually stumbling upon their only full length CD, The Good, The Bad, The Ugly. A disc that did not fail to deliver on what the previous radio show compilation tracks promised… In fact, the album is so good, I don’t have enough time or space to gush over it. Just know this: it is the greatest Rocksteady/Ska/Reggae album ever recorded by a modern band. And the sound Ocean 11 laid down led to a natural fondness of the other amazing traditional bands of the time I was until then unaware of (Hepcat, Mobtown, etc.), while opening my ear up to what the legends did in Jamaica so many years before. And many, many years later, these are the same kinds of sounds I try to emulate in my own bands.





Fast forward to the now.

I’m turning 34 this week. I’m an adult. I have an adult life. I have adult problems and I find adult resolutions. I have adult ups and adult downs. My teenaged Ska fixation has morphed into a deep appreciation for music, in general, and oddly enough, a good number of those folks who were in those bands I was so hooked on 10 or 12 or 15 years ago are now my friends. I even conned a few of them into giving me their phone numbers! SUCKERS!!! And in this time that is now, as I reconcile the shows booked with my band and Persephone, I put on Ocean 11 during my morning-think time so I can study. I analyze what they did, how they did it, and I try to imagine how The Shifters are going to attempt to do that. We’ve been at this for weeks now. I hope we get it right.

But below all that, somewhere in the back of my consciousness, bleeding like water through a Kleenex is a white trash, Ska-addicted teenager who is waiting in line to get in the club. I’ve been waiting to get in this club for 17 years. Man, 17 years. Seems like half a lifetime ago…

Duff Review: Little Roy "Battle for Seattle"

Ark Recordings
2011
LP and CD

(Review by Steve Shafer)

After their monumental, game-changing Nevermind was released in 1991 (launching grunge, in particular, and alternative music in general into the stratosphere), Nirvana were inescapable: they ruled, fueled, and defined college/classic/modern rock radio, the music press, and MTV (back then, if you had told me that these three forms of media would be practically irrelevant 20 years later, I would have laughed loudly in your face). While I wasn't a huge fan--my musical preferences then were more along the lines of Britpop and ska/reggae (obviously)--I couldn't help but admire how at the core of many of Nirvana's hits lay an incredibly keen pop sensibility. These were intensely catchy songs that deserved to be hits, even if they were obscured by a sonic wall of punky grunge fury. That Kurt Cobain could write a damn good melody.

And that's a key component of what makes Little Roy's Battle for Seattle, a roots reggae album of Nirvana covers, such a brilliant (and completely enjoyable) success. A really well-written song is like a high-performance engine--it doesn't matter what car body you dress it up in, it's still going to drive like mad! It isn't limited by genre. But what really allows Battle for Seattle to transcend the usual shortcomings of a tribute album (mimicking the original artist out of an overabundance of reverence or fear of alienating the fans by deviating too much from the source material) is that this is a fully-realized, whip smart re-imagining--or, more appropriately (in Jamaican fashion, naturally), re-versioning of Nirvana's original tracks. Little Roy and Co. own these tunes.

As a result, it doesn't really matter if you are familiar with these cuts off of Bleach, Nevermind, In Utero, or Unplugged (though this record will probably blow the minds of hardcore Nirvana fans)--the tracks here sound as if they had been originally written as reggae songs (which reminds me--embarrassingly--of when I was a teenager in the 80s and heard Smokey Robinson & the Miracles' "Tears of a Clown" on the radio in Memphis, of all places, and thought, "that's a really good cover of the English Beat!") .

Almost from the start, you realize, "Courtney, we're not in Seattle any more!" when the horn line in "Dive" abruptly shifts to incorporate the "Real Rock" rhythm, as if to boldly plant the Rasta colors and claim this territory in the name of Reggae. Clearly, album producers (who came up with this concept in the first place) Prince Fatty and Mutant Hi-Fi put much thought and care into adapting these songs to the reggae idiom. For proof, check out "Come As You Are's" eerie, dubby, Welson organ opening (from the bass line in Nirvana's original, which itself was pilfered from Killing Joke's stunningly furious "Eighties") or the bouncy "Is This Love" Bob Marley-ish arrangement of "Polly" (kind of ironic, since love certainly isn't in the equation here). Even the disposable sexual relationship of "About a Girl" ("I'll take advantage/while you hang me out to dry") is given an almost majestic context with these expansive, echo-throughout-the-landscape horn lines.

Dive by Little Roy

One of the other immediately striking things is that you can actually understand Cobain's often difficult, painful, and brutal lyrics (about abusive relationships, severe alienation, drug addiction, and deeply damaged minds), which Little Roy presents in a very straightforward, drama-free manner that's quite effective (the lyrics pack a devastating Joe Frazier punch all by themselves). In the bleak and ugly recounting of what one assumes was Cobain's mercurial, co-dependent relationship with Courtney Love in "Heart Shaped Box," Little Roy deftly brings out the humor of the "Hey!/Wait!/I've got a new complaint" chorus after heavy lyrics like "Throw down your umbilical noose/so I can climb right back" (yes, the heart-shaped box here is her uterus). "Polly"--with its horrific sexually sadistic subtext--comes across as more pathetic and mournful than malevolent and cruel. Little Roy's delivery on "On a Plain"--about a stuck-in-neutral, self-aware, but self-centered heroin user--is perfectly blase and non-commital--even blissed-out ("I love myself/better than you/I know it's wrong/so what should I do?/I'm on a plain/I can't complain"). "Come As You Are" (originally addressed to Nirvana's fans) is probably the closest to the ska/reggae ethos of acceptance and tolerance: "Come doused in mud/soaked in bleach" (and you definitely believe Little Roy's sincere when he states he doesn't have a gun hidden behind his back--Cobain did, but it was only to be aimed at himself).

Heart-Shaped Box by Little Roy

Just in case you're wondering, Nirvana's (now cliched) signature alternating soft-and-melodic verse/blaring-crunch-blast chorus song structure is (wisely) abandoned--it's just not a reggae thing. All of Nirvana's bellowing rage is sublimated--reggae doesn't wear its anger on its sleeve like punk or grunge. It's expressed through supremely confident, never-faultering righteous indignation--a deadly cool, slow burn (captured best here as Little Roy sings "Lithium's" defiant in-the-face-of-madness chorus: "I like it/I'm not gonna crack/I miss you/I'm not gonna crack/I love you/I'm not gonna crack/I saved you/I'm not gonna crack").

Lithium by Little Roy

One last comment about this album's sound: Battle for Seattle's super warm production by Prince Fatty and Mutant Hi-Fi conveys a clarity and immediacy that are really best heard through a proper stereo from a CD or LP. You'll miss way too much in the compressed Mp3 format playing through your computer speakers or iPod/iPhone earbuds. Go old school with this one.

Little Roy's Battle for Seattle takes all kinds of wild risks in covering Nirvana's almost sacred songbook, but ends up triumphing big time. There are mighty few reggae records this year that can match the full-on glories of this one.

Duff Guide to Ska Grade: A

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Dirty Reggae Party #13 is Now at The Lake!

Take note, Dirty Reggae Party #13 has been moved to The Lake (address below)....

Saturday, November 5, 2011 at 9:00 pm

Dirty Reggae Party #13 with Kevin Batchelor's Grand Concourse, Top Shotta, and Coolie Ranx (plus Selectors Queen Majesty and Crazy Baldhead Crew!)

The Lake
258 Johnson Avenue (between Bushwick Avenue and White Street)
Brooklyn, NY
$6/All Ages!

Friday, November 4, 2011

NYC Fall 2011 Ska Calendar Update #5

Saturday, November 5, 2011 at 9:00 pm

Dirty Reggae Party #13 with Kevin Batchelor's Grand Concourse, Top Shotta, and Coolie Ranx (plus Selectors Queen Majesty and Crazy Baldhead Crew!)

Goodbye Blue Monday
1087 Broadway
Brooklyn, NY
J train to Kosciuszko
$7/all ages!

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Sunday, November 6, 2011 at 8:00 pm

The Toasters, Obi Fernandez, Royal City Riot

Highline Ballroom
431 W 16th Street (between 9th and 10th Avenues)
New York, NY 10011
$12 advance/$15 day of show/All Ages!

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Saturday, November 12 at 7:30 pm

Queen P (of Ocean 11), The Shifters (DC), and The Frighteners (plus DJs Grace of Spades and Chuckzilla)

The Shop Brooklyn
290 Metropolitan Avenue (between Roebling & Driggs)
Brooklyn, NY
Free!

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Thursday, November 17, 2011 at 9:00 PM

NYC Championship Reggae: The Hard Times and The Frighteners

Otto's Shrunken Head
538 E 14th Street
New York, NY
Free/21+

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Friday, November 18, 2011 at 7:30 pm

Mustard Plug, Flatfoot 56, Hub City Stompers, The Jukebox Romantics

Knitting Factory – Brooklyn
361 Metropolitan Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11211
$12 in advance/$14 day of show

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Friday, November 18, 2011 at 9:30 pm

New York Ska Jazz Ensemble

DownHouse Lounge
250 Avenue X
Brooklyn, NY
718-627-3200

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Thursday, December 1, 2011

King Hammond and The Hard Times

Shrine
2271 Adam Clayton Powell Jr Boulevard (aka 7th Avenue between 133rd and 134th Streets)
New York, NY
Free!

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Saturday, December 3, 2011

Dirty Reggae Party #14 at The Lake with King Hammond, The Hard Times, Dub is a Weapon

The Lake
258 Johnson Avenue (between Bushwick Avenue and White Street)
Brooklyn, NY

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Additional gigs will be posted when we find out about them. Send info to duffguidetoska@gmail.com!

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Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Duff Review: Destroy Babylon "Long Live the Vortex"

Music A.D.D. Records (CD)/Young Cub Records (LP)
2011

(Review by Steve Shafer)

It's not every band that lays out their mission statement in their name, but with Destroy Babylon, what you read is what you get: defiantly political roots reggae--which, in the best tradition of rebel music, blisteringly denounces, skewers, and parodies societal, governmental, and economic injustice. But even this description sells them short, as their lyrics aren't a cliched laundry list of perennial left-wing grievances--they're much more subtle and intelligent than that--and require that you invest a bit of time interpreting their meaning (the lyric book that accompanies the CD is much appreciated). And their superb late 70s reggae sound is permeable enough to allow the influence of other musical genres (such as rock and 60s psychedelia) to seep in, adding color and a pumped-up muscularity to their mix.

Destroy Babylon's extraordinary third record, Long Live the Vortex, is a concept album (!) of sorts that brilliantly captures the tenor of our Wall Street bailout, Citizens United, crony capitalism, 1% versus 99% times. And it could arguably serve as a soundtrack for the masses who are slowly-but-surely awakening to the fact that the political structure (and judicial system) of the nation has been increasingly rigged over the past 30 years to respond almost exclusively to the demands and voracious greed of wealthy individuals and corporations, who in turn largely view the public as saps to manipulate, exploit, and fleece. In short, Long Live the Vortex is an odyssey through the disorienting, alarming, and oftentimes brutal landscape of an America in crisis--seemingly in the process of societal disintegration, really--but a sojourn that also reveals real hope for salvation through the decency and tenacity of its people who are willing to struggle for what is good and right.

In "DB Inc.," the band has an idea how to "save us all" in this dire economic era. If corporations can be accorded the same kinds of constitutionally-protected rights as people (and enjoy all sorts of entitlements and perks through favorable policies enacted by in-their-pocket politicians), why not go that route: "Incorporate me now/Buy in, sell out/When the bottom fell out/our empty hands parade/Left some of us without/Why work?/Why slave away when/we can all be businesses/big, big businesses!" "Echo Chamber" is a salvo aimed at Fox News and their ilk for broadcasting what is nothing short of reality-challenged propaganda (i.e., lies)--and inflicting real damage on our democracy as a result: "How long can you filter out truth/Distort and disgust/How long can we eat that dirt/before it eats us...if you plant the seed/something's sure to grow/You have nothing to teach/Nothing that grows/Seems the more you have to say/the less the people know."



While it's not that specific, I imagine the wholesale theft and insatiable avarice portrayed in "Mr. Moneybags" to be a corporate equivalent of a Jesse James-type Western outlaw wreaking mass havoc across the nation: "Put 'em up /Put em up/hands to the sky/Your money or your life/Forget my face/Forget my name/There are no new towns/They're all the same/I've met a million people/in a million different places/I hate to pull my gun out/but I love to see their faces as I'm leaving." "#1 Killer" points out the hypocrisy of allowing corporate manufactured and marketed cigarettes to be legal and regulated (though they are a major public health problem causing a slew of cancers and other diseases), while keeping marijuana illegal (despite the fact that it may have several medicinal purposes, such as treating pain and alleviating the symptoms/side effects of cancer treatments).





The anti-war song "BLAST" contains this great lyric, "We will be the turpentine/to their war paint"--and, guessing from their video (see below), the "vortex" referred to in the chorus ("Long live the vortex!") might be a mushroom cloud, but just as easily be the wonderful complexity and diversity of our society, as expressed through such creative and life-affirming mediums as music, art, literature, etc. (see the album cover for a visual representation) that can help keep the annihilatory dogs of war at bay.



"Free the King" poses the charged question as to whether a murderer can ever be rehabilitated and redeemed in society's eyes through the real case of Arnie King ("What's the point of going on/without a way to right our wrong?...I don't condone what he did/but can't a man change?") We're a country that loves rooting for the underdog and has an insatiable appetite for stories about people transformed through impossibly desperate life journeys (and many of us claim to be Christian). Yet racism and an almost innate bloodlust for Old Testament vengeance largely dictate our criminal justice policies. Speaking of police and thieves, "Freeze" is not about being busted, but an ironic call to action--to shake people from their apathy and stupor: "Feet on the ground/carry uphill/You know/if you don't/nobody else will/Stop waiting around!/Stop standing still!"

Other songs on Long Live the Vortex reflect how the malignant political milieu of the larger society infects and corrupts our personal lives. "Bad Draw" is concerned with the aftereffects of suicide on those left behind: "I cannot carry that weight/Was it just a bad draw/or was it the battle that you fought?...You were the joker/and now the King of Hearts/I ain't the dealer/I wasn't from the start/The best lessons in life/come at the worst price." Or consider the bitter "Something Very Wrong," which depicts a stalking, obsessively jealous lover--she's decadently thriving (parasitically) off their relationship, while he's all too aware that it's sucking the life out of him: "Have you seen me at the window baby?/I've been staring while you dine/You can't blame me for the burning eyes/When I've seen you spitting out your wine."

For all of the crescendoing tension, anxiety, selfishness, hatred, and madness expressed in the songs that precede it on the album, Long Live the Vortex's coda is an incredible, almost euphoric release. A major-key tune--after all of those minor-key melodies--"Days of No Future Passed" is a psychedelic trip (flutes, tablas, sitars!) to the post-apocalypse. And everything is going to be okay (the optimistic chorus repeats its mantra: "I've got a future/in the no future!")--we've made it through to the other side of societal meltdown: "Those left in this land/high neon violence/A gun for each hand/on auto-pill dispense/Oh damaged goods/Oh dented cans/Low Americans/I've got a future/in the no future/Oh modern man/Get ready boys, get real fast/Give all your resistance/Speed today the distant past/Oh remaining good/with able hands..." The hope embodied in the "no future" of this track is the chance to start over and rebuild after the corrupt, unsustainable, and ultimately self-destructive Babylon is in ashes. Babylon's future is no more, but humanity's remains ripe with possibility.



Long Live the Vortex is a magnificent and accomplished album whose compelling imagery and brilliantly dread music will haunt, captivate, and reward you for many days to come. This is easily one of the top five ska/reggae releases of 2011.

Duff Guide to Ska Grade: A

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Long Live the Vortex's CD and LP packaging deserve a note here. The LP comes in a sleeve silk-screened by the band, while the CD comes in a cool and arty printed book of lyrics (don't just settle for the digital files!). See them both in the video below...