Thursday, January 7, 2016

The Duff Guide to Ska's 2015 Year in Review, Part 3!

LPs once came with dance instructions...
(By Steve Shafer)

I'm still playing catch up on all the releases that I meant to review in 2015. So, here's the latest batch of my quick takes on great ska albums from 2015...

Chris Murray ComboBuckle Up CD (Unstrictly Roots) -- While one is more likely to catch Chris Murray doing his fantastic one-man ska band thing (at least beyond Southern California), it's a real treat to hear him backed once again by the tight rhythm section of Ben Farrar on drums and Eddie Lozoya on bass on the Chris Murray Combo's second album, Buckle Up (Unstrictly Roots). It's a carefully crafted album full of upbeat, warm, mostly sunny, and exceedingly catchy--love all of those vocal harmonies!--vintage-sounding ska songs about seeking, being in, or experiencing the pain of being without love (see "Toothbrush," "What Will Come," or "Forget Your Love"), as well as striving to navigate life with one's head high and soul intact ("Ready," "When Your Someday Come"). And even though the brilliant "Ain't No Joke Being Broke" sounds like it could be a Depression-era track from the American Songbook, its lyrics place it firmly in the 21st century: "I'm a King Cobra dreaming PBR, 7 Gs at 20 APR/Yes, indeed, the only thing I need is more mouths to feed/See, I'm down on my knees, 'cos praying's free/Ain't no joke being broke." Anytime you put it on, Buckle Up will lift you up if you're down and give you an excuse to dance with joy--get this album!

Dennis BovellDub 4 Daze LP (Glitterbeat) -- This is a phenomenal new compilation of unreleased dub tracks and alternate mixes of old/classic cuts from the archives of the great Dennis Bovell, one of UK's premier roots reggae, dub, punk, and post-punk producers/songwriters/musicians (who was guitarist and songwriter for Matumbi, one of England's best reggae bands, and worked with Linton Kwesi Johnson, I-Roy, The Slits, Pop Group, Orange Juice, Madness, Viv Albertine, Joss Stone (!) and many others). What particularly sets Bovell apart as a dub creator is his method of deconstructing (and re-assembling) a song that always allows for crucial aspects of the original track's melody to survive and flourish in their new environment. Because of this, with some careful listening, you can discern which tracks are (superb) alternate versions of dubs from the late '70s and early '80s: "Dub Affair" is reconstructed from "The Grunwick Affair," "Zaion Dubb" is a take (duh) on "Zion Dub," "Top Level Dub" is sister to "Higher Ranking," "Physics of Dub" is related to "Scientific," and ""Tuned Dub" is descended from "Harmonizer Dub" (all of these are found on Pressure Sounds' fantastic Decibel: More Cuts from Dennis Bovell 1976-1983 compilation double LP). Of what I think is the unreleased material, "Tumbledown Dub's" almost spaghetti Western sounding piano and bass is a real standout. Depending on where you live, this LP (there's no CD or digital album) may be a bit hard to find--it's on a small German label--but Dub 4 Daze is a must-have for dub fans and worth every penny spent importing it!

Leo and the LineupHit the Streets LP (Jump Up Records) -- I heard it straight from the man--Copenhagen's Leo and the Lineup are Chuck Wren's new favorite band, which is saying a lot, since he probably hears more ska from all corners of the globe than anyone else around in his roles as ska label head, radio and club DJ, and voracious record collector. The band's stellar, tightly-wound, soulful, dirty reggae, 2 Tone concoction--which places them in the same territory as bands like The Caroloregians, Babylove and the Van Dangos, and if your ska memory goes back that far, Napoleon Solo and The Deltones--is completely winning. The album is full of striking, instantly memorable songs like the gorgeous but melancholy "Life Goes By," the shimmering good times now painful gone in "Memories of Summer" ("I was the king, you were my queen/Now I'm the court jester...all that is left is a fool with memories of summer"), the fantastic Jackie Mittoo-ish instrumental "Dirty Pockets," "Baby Please" (which reminds me a bit of The Rolling Stones' "Miss You"), and a sincerely sweet ballad (complete with strings!) about a toddler named "Molly Girl" ("She's a chubby chunk of genuine love...walks right into your heart"). Fans of The Pietasters should be sure to check this one out, but ska fans of every persuasion will find a lot to like on Hit the Streets.

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Read The Duff Guide to Ska's Part 1 and Part 2 of this series! More reviews are to come!

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