Thursday, April 27, 2017

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: Hollie Cook's "Superstar," Pama International's "Man Next Door" b/w "Austerity Skank," and Neville Staple's "Return of Judge Roughneck"

(Reviews by Steve Shafer)

Hollie Cook "Superstar" b/w "Superdub" (free Record Store Day 7"/digital download, Merge Records, 2017): The physical release of this single was a last minute addition to the 2017 Record Store Day line-up and was said to given out for free at select indie shops in celebration of Cook's joining the Merge Records line-up in the USA (did anyone receive one?). The choice of cover here--The Carpenters' AM pop staple "Superstar"--is definitely inspired, continues to fulfill Cook's mission to create "tropical pop," and is well matched to her wonderfully pure voice. And while this is no slight to producer/drummer Ben Mckone (who does a very fine job here), I have to admit to kind of missing the Prince Fatty touch. No word on the new album yet, but it bodes well, based on this teaser...

Pama International "Man Next Door" b/w "Austerity Skank" (clear vinyl 7" single/digital download, Record Kicks, 2017): Following their fantastic cover of Martha and the Vandellas' "Heatwave" comes Pama International's second single off their forthcoming Love and Austerity album (to be released any time now via Record Kicks and featuring the amazing co-lead vocals of Jewels Vass and Anna Uhuru). John Holt's rocksteady urban living lament (most memorably versioned/deconstructed by The Slits) is beautifully rendered here. Even better is Pama International's original tune "Austerity Skank," which tries to shake off the gray of the punishing Cameron (now May/Brexit) years through PMA: "Hard times have come/Now, hard times be gone/No more illusions/System delusions/Our hard times are done...I'm stepping out to a better place/Tired of all of the lies getting in the way/I just want to be free/With no austerity..."

Neville Staple Return of Judge Roughneck (CD/2 x LP, Cleopatra Records, 2017): When I first put on Neville Staple's new record (after first seeing it on Chuck Wren's FB feed) and heard the opening notes of "Gangsters"/"Al Capone" in "Return of Judge Roughneck" (referencing his "Stupid Marriage" persona, natch), I braced myself for an album trading heavily on 2 Tone/Specials nostalgia (even note the use of The Specials' font on the back cover). After having listened to the LP several times through now, my initial impressions haven't been dispelled, but it's all done so winningly and well that any cynicism melts away at the sheer joy of it all. About half the tracks are safe but good covers (Stranger Cole's "Bangarang," Peter Tosh's "Maga Dog," The Melodians' "Sweet Sensation," and Sigman and Magidson's via Prince Buster/The Specials "Enjoy Yourself," among them)--though, the "Ghost Town"-like version of his own Fun Boy Three's "The Lunatics Have Taken Over the Asylum," an apt tune for the times if there ever was one, and gleeful rendition of Jimmy Soul's "If You Want to Be Happy" are truly ace; but think of them as warming you up for the really good stuff. Just about all of the new tracks--the Toasters-like modern ska of "Down My Street," the rocksteady rude boy anthem "Crime Don't Pay," the Madness-y sing-along music hall ska of "Gang Fever" ("Every time you read The Mirror or Star/Kids shot dead, rumours of war/It's a fever"), and "Politician Man"--are really good in their own right (more of these, please!). Oh, and there's a full album of inventive dubs included on the second LP or extended CD ("Crime Dub," Roadblock," "Dub Fever," "Bang Bang," "Dub Crazy," and "Legal Dub" in particular are fantastic!). This one is very much worth picking up.

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