Thursday, January 15, 2015

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

Morphius Records

(Review by Steve Shafer)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keeping to myself
Moving a straight shooting course

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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