Thursday, August 8, 2013

Duff Review: Caz and the Day Laborers Self-Titled EP

Digital download via Bandcamp
(Vinyl EP release TK)

(Review by Steve Shafer)

Sometimes, I could kick myself for lazily sticking to my ingrained, old school, dopey ways. Having grown up in the pre-digital age (buying LPs and cassettes in my teen years), I'm predisposed to favoring music released on tangible formats--and am less in love with digital-only releases, even though I understand the financial and logistical choices for going that route (and actually have really dug recent digital releases from Bigger Thomas, 2000 Tons of TNT, and The Frightnrs, amongst others). One of the members of Caz and the Day Laborers sent me a link to a review copy of their new digital EP back in (gulp) April and I didn't get around to downloading it until this week. In my lame defense, it's been an unbelievably busy spring and summer at work, but I feel terrible for ignoring such good music for so long. My apologies to the band!

Caz and the Day Laborers' self-titled digital EP (beautifully recorded by Sean Russell in Virginia and mixed by Victor Rice down in Brazil) features six ace rocksteady and reggae original cuts, as well as six terrific dub versions of these tracks assembled by the talented Mr. Rice. Back in the 1990s, I was lucky to be part of the label (Moon Ska/Ska Satellite) that released the 1998 debut CD of Caz Gardiner's (and Jorge Bañales') first band, The Checkered Cabs--so I'm thrilled to know that she's back on the Washington, DC ska scene in such strong and fine form (she has great command of her gorgeously pure and rich alto voice), and backed by a fantastic band comprised of DC-area ska stars (the Day Laborers are: Jorge Pezzimenti, guitars, backing vocals/The Pietasters; Teddy "Dos Dedos" García, keyboards/Los Granadians and The Shifters; Jorge E. Bañales, bass/The Shifters; and Curtis F. Reaves Jr., drums, percussion, backing vocals/The Smooths and The Pietasters).

"You Got It" is jaunty rocksteady song full of the frisson of anticipating a love connection ("You call me/and you say it real sweet/That you want to see me/I'm gonna to tell ya.../You got it") with a great Jackie Mittoo organ line. One of my favorite tracks here, "Grateful" is a catchy, soaring hymn to persevering in tough times (the song grew out of Caz's coping with an extremely painful neurological condition called trigeminal neuralgia, AKA the grim "suicide disease") and keeping one's life and circumstances in perspective ("I know to be grateful, grateful, grateful/I know, I could be worse off/Yes, it's true"). The sultry, but wary and warning "Now That I'm Dancing" is, on its surface, about never wanting the groove to end, but I suspect that it's also really about being able to trust someone after you've acquiesced to entering a relationship with them ("I hear the music pumping/And the people dancing on the floor/I been in here a while now/but I want to dance a little more/And this song keeps playing/Want this to never end/Don't let me down/now that I'm dancing").

Though there is deep sadness in Caz's voice, the cheery and easy-going melody and tempo of "You Know You're Wrong" masks the simmering outrage and frustration over the circumstances of the Trayvon Martin murder and the logic-defying and completely immoral outcome of that trial--and alludes to the despicable racial profiling of young men of color and their often unjust treatment at the hands of police (and society in general): "Though, you know you're wrong/You stand up proud with same old song/Though, you know you're wrong/You say you're right and they go along/The people out there, they're really scared/They feel that their rights, they aren't there/And you walk around as if you care/But each child is taught they must beware...With you in the rule/there is a fear/Has nothing to do with what's out here/We're more scared of you than it appears/Always on guard when you are near..." While Lynval Golding "dedicated" "A Message to You, Rudy," "It Doesn't Make It Alright," and "Why" to George Zimmerman at The Specials' recent concert in New York City, Caz and the Day Laborers' "You Know You're Wrong" has to be the one of the first (if not the first) songs written and recorded by a band on the current ska scene directly addressing this racial killing (and they've got my admiration and respect for continuing the worthy Jamaican ska/reggae tradition of addressing social injustice, as well as honoring the 2 Tone legacy of decrying racism and intolerance).

The upbeat reggae break-up tune "I Give Up" sounds so sweet that you might not mind that it's all over, while the knowing rocksteady track "Intentions" ("Why do you smile/when you mean me harm?/Do you think I don't know what's on your mind?") contains a fair amount of menace and dread for a song with such a terrifically mellow electric keyboard accompaniment. She's no fool; has his number; and won't get played this time, or ever.

Sorry to be so New York-centric about this (but it's where I live in every sense of the word!), but fans of The Slackers, The Frightnrs, The Forthrights, and host of other rocksteady and early reggae bands should take note--this EP is for you! Don't be an idiot like me and almost miss this rocksteady gem!

Caz and the Day Laborers are just back from a mini-tour of Argentia (!) and are playing at The Kennedy Center (!) in Washington, DC later this month. Here's to their continuing success--I look forward to the chance to see them live and can't wait to hear what they do next!

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Postscript: I've spied a photo of a vinyl test-pressing of this EP on the band's Facebook page, so my old man music desires should be sated at some point in the near future.


daniel said...

Wow! Caz and the Jorges have actually just finished a tour in Argentina, not Brazil. Everyone loved them here, they were amazing. Got to see them live if you get a chance.

Steve from Moon said...

Thanks, Daniel! Thanks for catching that error on my part! I will correct my copy now!

Anonymous said...

Steve, thanks for the review of an excellent new band. They played a show at the Kennedy Center yesterday and the video is up now.