Friday, January 22, 2016

The Duff Guide to Ska's 2015 Year in Review, Part 4!

Buster and friends dancing in the streets!
(By Steve Shafer)

I'm still playing catch up on all the releases that I meant to review in 2015 (and I've been sick for the last week with something like the flu, but not the flu). So, here's the latest batch of my quick takes on great ska albums from 2015...

The Sidewalk Doctors: The Sidewalk Doctors digital album/limited edition CD (self-released through Bandcamp) -- Full disclosure: I feel really dumb for being so slow to catch onto The Sidewalk Doctors, despite all of the good word I've heard about this band from trusted sources (as well as noting guitarist Lenny Bignell's involvement in the Phoenix City Allstars and the recent Rhoda Dakar Sings The Bodysnatchers project). So, let me declare far and wide that London's The Sidewalk Doctors are a phenomenal ska/rocksteady group topped by powerfully soulful/bluesy vocals from Nathan Thomas--and this album is amongst my absolute favorites of 2015! Top tracks include the major ska groove and urgent restlessness/dissatisfaction in "Everybody's Looking" ("...for something better!")--which might just be my best-loved song of 2015--the unreserved and unabashed love and adoration (accompanied by 70s reggae strings and ice rink organ!) expressed in "You'll Be the Only One" ("You're my fairytale/My favorite work of art/You lift me up from the very darkest parts"); the haunting loss and debilitating emotional pain in the rocksteady song "In My Shoes" ("My bed's been empty far, far too long/Yet, the space beside me holds deathly harm/I look my demons dead straight in the eye/And another woman's solace ain't going to make me right/No one's calling me, shaking from the pain/One question still rings out loud/What would you do baby, if you were in my shoes?"); and the sad resignation/desperation of not being to escape the self-medicating that "keeps the demons at my feet" in the twitchy, Skatalites-like "This Life is Killing Me" (and the short, redeeming answer song, "Let It Rule," that follows it with the repeated refrain: "Oh, you've got to let it rule, where you find love!"--which is fleshed out on the record's shining final track, "Where There is Love"). This is an incredibly accomplished, confident, and brilliantly appealing album--and one that is not to be missed!

Various Artists: Pressure Drip limited edition blue cassette (Jump Up Records) -- A recent article on the history of Stomp Records reminded me of just how vital compilations were to the rise of ska in the late 1980s and early 1990s--putting local (NY Beat, Mash It Up, NYC Ska Live), regional (American SkathicCalifornia Skaquake), national (Ska FaceSkarmageddon), even international acts (Skankin' Round the World) on every ska fan's map--all during a time when any news about a ska band and their release was very difficult to come by (often only delivered via word-of-mouth or a skazine). From the '80s on, ska compilations certainly super-fueled my love of ska and turned me on to amazing bands all over the world. To some degree, I suppose the internet has made compilations less essential--information and music files flow so freely now--but the democratization of everything has made it harder and much more time-consuming to sort the wheat from the chaff (and what happened to all of those intrepid zine reviewers from the '90s--so few people actually write about ska music these days!). So, obviously, there's still a place for an edited or (I hesitate to use the word, as it's been hijacked in so many awful hipster-y ways) curated collection of songs for your consideration. In this instance, it's to promote acts that are associated with Jump Up (as opposed to a particular scene) and a ska coffee(!)--but what an incredible batch of bands are featured here, from all over the globe (look through this list of bands on the Pressure Drip comp)! Jump Up chief Chuck Wren is very selective about who he works with and the proof of his high standards is in these 23 impeccable tracks. I happen to be pretty familiar with all of these acts, but Pressure Drip properly introduced me to The Crombies (previously, I've only heard them on a single, doing two covers) and I can't wait to get my mitts on more of their music (the comp achieved its goal)! Lastly, even if you don't have a Walkman, boom box, or tape deck, you should own a copy of this cassette--it's a work of art in itself (illustration and design by the always amazing CHema Skandal) and highly collectable.

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Read The Duff Guide to Ska's Year in Review, Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3!

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