(Review by Steve Shafer)
King Hammond musical collaborator Sammy Buzz (nee Wilson), who should be familiar to devoted readers of The Duff Guide to Ska (I reviewed his I'm Buzzin' EP in late 2012--and two of those tracks, "Cigarettes" and "I'm Buzzin'" are reprised here), has just released his truly marvelous debut album, The Buzzman Cometh, which features some seriously fun and memorable tracks about himself, women, ska-related matters, and just trying to make your way through life with your body and spirit intact.
Buzz's modern ska reminds this reviewer of the brilliant sounds created in the late 80s UK ska scene (Laurel Aitken, Bad Manners, The Trojans, Potato 5, Maroon Town, The Loafers, King Hammond, The Riffs, The Deltones, etc.)--definitely post-2 Tone and greatly influenced by those bands (particularly The Beat and--even though they weren't 2 Tone--The Equators), but not quite classifiably Third Wave (or whatever has come to pass in the years since). However you categorize his ska, Sammy Buzz writes some exceptionally good tunes (which are expertly produced by Steve Crittal) that should not be missed.
The album begins ominously (a bell tolls for you) with the excellent, melodramatic, spaghetti Western-flavored "The Buzzman Cometh." "Maaga Gal" (maaga is Jamaican patois for skinny--I had to look it up) is the catchiest ska song you've ever heard about a singer's concern and love for his underweight (anorexic?) girlfriend ("She may be skin and bone/but she's my very own...She may be lacking in flesh/But she's the very best!"). "Ruff Ride Ruff" borrows Prince Buster's instantly recognizable "Rough Rider" bass line, but isn't the expected lewd track--it's about a good-for-nothing being thrown out of the house by his strict mom ("She's rougher that the carpet in me room/Tougher than the bristles pon the broom/She's rougher than my pet hedgehog/Rough like a flea-bitten dog...").
"Rude Boys and Rude Girls" is a fantastic earworm of ska tune that essentially asks that the ongoing battle of the sexes be left at the door--the gig is all about dancing and pleasure. "We 'ave Fe Flex" is another lovely catchy track that reiterates the perennial plea for love, peace, and understanding: "Love thy neighbor/And love thy enemy/Give thanks and blessings/that we were born free/Keep out of trouble/and live healthy/Just look at the world and see that/Time so hard/We have Fe Flex..." The gentle and hilarious tweak of the nose of ska record collectors who like to boast that, whatever the title, "I Got It On Vinyl" hits this vinyl-obsessive reviewer close to home, but it makes me love it all the more, since it's so on the money (the taunting "la, la, la, la, las" between all of the "I got it on vinyl" refrains is a nice touch!).
The singer is almost mowed down while trying to cross the street by a driver being chased by the police in the dubby "Mad Traffick." "I Need a Holiday," a frantic dancehall cut, describes the singer trying to soak up as much relaxation as possible on vacation, only to find it immediately dissipate upon return to reality. "Cigarettes" is a public service announcement with a ska beat, coughs, and cheesy, 70s-sounding keyboard lines, urging listeners to quit this pernicious, addictive habit before it's too late ("Cigarette, cigarette/It can cause your death"), and Sammy offers a few hair-raising examples of why one should quit: "I had a friend called Bernadette/who was addicted to a cigarette/She smoked all day/and in bed at night/until her bedroom, it catch alight/She's not with us anymore/Now's she's knocking on Heaven's door/A big fat lesson to all of you/give up the cigarette, it's overdue!"
"Boss Skinhead" is another great self-referential song in a musical genre full of them (Laurel Aitken, amongst others, is name-checked here), while "I'm Buzzin'" spells out Sammy Buzz's let-the-good-times-roll, can't-change-fate approach to life ("I'm buzzing'/but I'm not out of my mind/Don't need no complication/An easy life for me/Don't work, no botheration/Yeah, what will be will be"). It's a very nice slice of upbeat ska for when your troubles might be grinding you down. The future's not so bright in the cold, New Wave-ish, "1984"-type tale "Urban Citizen," which denounces governmental surveillance of its people.
In addition to the 12 songs on the album, there are two cool bonus tracks, the lost and broken-hearted "Standing Here Alone" (which says it all, really) and a sunny, unnamed instrumental track ("Nice It Up"?) that's guaranteed to improve your outlook, even on the darkest of days.