Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The Duff Guide to Punk: The Blankz "(I Just Want To) Slam" b/w "Baby's Turning Blue"

Slope Records
Yellow vinyl picture sleeve single/CD single/digital download
2018

There's a brilliant purity to The Blankz's sweetly dopey and immensely fun late '70s/early '80s New Wave-ish American punk (think a combo of early Devo, first-three-albums Ramones--each member's last name is Blank, too!--and bands from the LA/San Francisco punk scenes, like The Zeros, The Normals, The Bags, The Units, The Offs, your fave band here, etc.). This ain't no arch parody act (thank god), but a band of talented believers in the music and attitude of that unparalleled era. Like many of those groups, there's no hidden agenda, it's WYSIWYG. The Blankz sing about wanting to slam dance in "(I Just Want To) Slam": "Now I'm full of rage/Flying off the stage/Landing on the floor/Ready for some more/Pogo in the pit/Shoot a gob of spit/Full of energy/Ready mentally!" While "Baby's Turning Blue" is what they consider their "anthem of the opioid epidemic"--about someone who hasn't been seen at the methadone clinic for a bit because they've OD'd (sung by a 13+ years sober Tommy Blank). Of note, Cris Kirkwood of the Meat Puppets (Up On the Sun was a fave of mine in the late '80s) and fellow Phoenix resident did a bang-up job of producing these terrific wham-bam songs--and this is the second single in a planned series of nine (!) that The Blankz are releasing (the debut issued last month was "White Baby," about Tommy Blank's real-life experience growing up after being adopted as an infant by a Mexican family: "White baby/Brown mommy/White baby/Brown daddy/Why am I so confused/Around all these brown dudes?").

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Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: Reggae Roast Soundsystem Featuring Tippa Irie "Real Reggae Music"

Trojan Reloaded
7" vinyl single/digital download
2018

(Review by Steve Shafer)

The first physical release on Trojan Records' new imprint Trojan Reloaded (created in celebration of the label's 50th anniversary to release new reggae music, as opposed to reissues of classics) sports two versions of Reggae Roast Soundsystem's winning "Real Reggae Music" featuring Tippa Irie. This summery, King Jammy-like digital dancehall cut (the DJ Madd Remix has more boom and bite to it, by the way) is a smart way to kick off this label, as both the Reggae Roast Soundsystem and Tippa Irie have been long-standing and popular champions of the London dancehall scene ("Inna London, inna yard/Reggae make you party hard"). Trojan Reloaded also has released the fantastic digital-only Murder EP (which deserves a physical release) from Reggae Roast Soundsystem that includes versions of the riddim by Charlie P and Brother Culture, and Natty Campbell. Trojan Reloaded's off to a cracking start--here's looking forward to more quality releases soon...

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Note: If you've already ordered/bought the impressive new Trojan 50 box set, the "Real Reggae Music" single is included; otherwise, the more budget-minded or long-time Trojan collectors will be able to pick up this 45 for considerably less!

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Thursday, August 9, 2018

Duff Review: NY Ska-Jazz Ensemble "Minor Moods" (Reissue)

Brixton Records
Vinyl LP
2018
Available in the USA through Jump Up Records

(Review by Steve Shafer)

I missed this album the first time round in 2002, not too long after the crash and burn of the so-called Third Wave ska scene in the United States (which, no doubt, is why it was only released in Italy and Spain). So, it's great to have a chance to be introduced to this really fine record over fifteen (!) years later. If you don't know this band, NY Ska-Jazz Ensemble began back in 1994 as a super-group of sorts, made up of members of The Toasters (Fred Reiter, Jonathan McCain, and Rick Faulkner), The Scofflaws (Victor Rice, Carey Brown), and The Skatalites (Devon James), all of whom wanted to highlight jazz's considerable influence on/relationship to traditional ska music. Minor Moods is NYSJE's fourth studio album (and by this point in the band's history, only "Rock Steady" Freddie Reiter remained from the original line-up).

Like all of NYSJE's albums, Minor Moods contains both more than credible ska interpretations of jazz standards (in this case, Thelonious Monk and Denzil Best's "Bemsha Swing"--its title is from a nickname for Best's home of Barbados--and Miles Davis' Middle Eastern-sounding "Nardis") and top-notch ska-jazz originals. In particular, "Zinc," "This I Like," "Brain Freeze," "Kaneho," and "Sticks" all have memorable melodies and hooks (in addition to Reiter, guitarist Andy Stack, and keyboardist Peter Truffa each composed several tracks for this album); two cuts here are also reprised from earlier records: "Mouse," Reiter's tune inspired by the theme to "Mighty Mouse" first appeared on The Toasters' Hard Band for Dead; and a cracking live version of their own "Buttah" is from the 1998 Get This album). The vocal tracks are a bit weaker--this is really an instrumental group (and their musicianship is off the charts!), but they do get major points for the pro-multiculturalism/pro-immigration song "Streets of NYC."

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Sunday, August 5, 2018

Trojan Records in MOJO!

Apologies for no new posts over the past two weeks--I was on holiday with the family. On our last day in Dublin, I picked up a copy of the September 2018 issue of MOJO at Tower Records (!) for the airplane ride back to the USA. In it is a great feature on the rise and fall and rebirth of Trojan Records (in recognition of their 50th anniversary) by reggae journalist Dave Katz that provides more info on co-owner Lee Gopthal than I've previously encountered. Plus, the giveaway CD Reggae Nuggets sports both classic and lesser-known Trojan tracks by Alton Ellis, The Heptones, Prince Far I, Ricky and Bunny, Dennis Brown, Phyllis Dillon, Johnny Osbourne, The Ethiopians, The Inspirations, The Beltones, Val Bennett, Ken Boothe, Lee Perry, The Crystalites, and Lester Sterling and The Skatalites (MOJO also has a list of what they consider to be the 50 greatest reggae albums up on their website--discuss amongst yourselves). Also on my reading list for the journey home was Margo Jefferson's fascinating cultural history of Michael Jackson, On Michael Jackson--check out the Guardian's interview with her; and Mark Andersen and Ralph Heibutzki's incredible We Are The Clash, the now-definitive history of the post-Mick Jones/Topper Headon Clash (Joe Strummer, Paul Simonon, Nick Sheppard, Vince White, and Pete Howard), which managed to achieve some legitimate triumphs--many blisteringly good live shows, like their 12/6/84 benefit show for striking union coal miners at the Brixton Academy (with a number a great new tracks in the set like "Are You Ready for War?," "Three Card Trick," "North and South," "Dirty Punk," "Jericho," and "This Is England") and their daft-but-brilliant, have-guitar-will-travel busking tour of the north of England--despite Strummer's struggle with depression/self-medication and Bernard Rhodes' absolutely ham-fisted hijacking of what could have been a pretty great album of new songs: Out of Control.

On our travels around Ireland, I managed to miss the chance to see Madness perform twice. They played Galway a day before we arrived and were in Dublin while we were in Galway! (I did catch a BT advert that uses their cover of "It Must Be Love" on TV a few times, but it's not the same.) And Jerry Dammers did a DJ set in Dublin while we were on a brief detour to the (brutally hot) continent. So it goes...

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Sunday, July 22, 2018

The Duff Guide to Ska NYC "Dog Days of Summer" 2018 Ska Calendar #7

Shinehead
Saturday, July 28, 2018 @ 1:00 pm

Reggay Lords

Riis Park Beach Bazaar
16702 Rockaway Beach Boulevard
Queens, NY
Free!

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Saturday, August 4, 2018 @ 4:00 pm

Sister Nancy, Shinehead with DJ Papalotl, DJ Misbehavior

Crotona Park
Bronx, NY
Info through City Parks Foundation
Free!

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Saturday, August 18, 2018 @ 6:30 pm

The Pietasters Booze Cruise

The Lucille
Board boat at East 23rd Street and FDR Drive in Manhattan
$37.50 in advance/$40 day of show
21+

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Friday, August 24, 2018 @ 8:00 pm

Fishbone ("Classic '80s/'90s line-up!), Oxymorrons

Brooklyn Bowl
61 Wythe Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$25/21+

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Saturday, August 25, 2018 @ 6:00 pm

The Slackers Booze Cruise

The Liberty Belle
Board boat at Pier 36, 299 South Street in Manhattan
$30 in advance/$35 day of show
21+

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Friday, August 31, 2018 @ 7:00 pm

Los Pies Negros, Mephiskapheles, Ensemble Calavera, The Pandemics, DJ Ryan Midnight, DJ Comadre

Brooklyn Bazaar
150 Greenpoint Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$20

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Friday, September 7, 2018 @ 7:30 pm

Rebellion Rises 2018 Tour Featuring Ziggy Marley, Steel Pulse & Tribal Seeds

Pier 17
89 South Street
New York, NY
$40.50

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If you don't see a NYC ska show listed here, send us all of the details to duffguidetoska@gmail.com!

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Thursday, July 19, 2018

Duff Review: "Trojan 50th Anniversary Picture Disc" (plus Trojan Reloaded)!

Trojan Records/Sanctuary Records Group/BMG
Heavyweight vinyl picture disc LP
2018

(Review by Steve Shafer)

Of all the This Is Trojan 50! releases coming out this year celebrating the label's golden anniversary, the Trojan 50th Anniversary Picture Disc seemed like the most sensible one to pick up, since I felt compelled to partake in this significant milestone somehow ("The Story of Trojan Records" book by Laurence Cane-Honeysett comes out in October and I'll probably buy that, too). I've been collecting Trojan comps--the vast majority of them nothing short of excellent--since the early 1990s (some of my favorites include The Trojan StoryThe Trojan Story Volume II, The Story of Trojan RecordsRebel Music, Reggae Chartbusters, Club Reggae, Blow Mr. Hornsman, Freedom Sounds, Music Is My OccupationClement "Coxsone" Dodd - Musical Fever 1967-1968, and Clancy Eccles And Friends - Fatty Fatty 1967 - 1970). Having said that, the downside of being along for the ride for several of Trojan's five decades has been seeing many of the same classic cuts packaged, go out of print, and then be repackaged over and over and over again.

The Trojan 50 box set (priced at $135 in the USA and containing six CDs, four LPs, two 7" singles, and some label merch) is quite beautifully designed and contains a veritable treasure trove of Jamaican ska, rocksteady, and reggae; but unless you're new to the genre (and if you are, by all means buy this, since you'll own some of the greatest music ever recorded) or an obsessive Trojan collector that has to have everything, you already possess the majority of these songs. Being a sucker for vinyl and picture discs (and Trojan vinyl can be hard to come by in the states--on a recent trip to New Orleans, I picked up a pretty beat up copy of the phenomenal 1969 Reggae Chartbusters comp because it was the first copy I'd ever seen in all my many decades of crate digging and it contains Dandy Livingstone's awesome "Reggae in Your Jeggae"; fortunately, the surface noise doesn't distract too much and I paid less than $10 for it!), I'm pretty pleased with my purchase.

The selection of tracks on the Trojan 50th Anniversary Picture Disc--all UK top 10 chart hits back in the day--is unquestionably spectacular. Of all the late '60s/early '70s Trojan classics here (Desmond Dekker and The Aces' "Israelites," The Pioneers' "Let Your Yeah Be Yeah," Harry J All Stars' "Liquidator," Ken Boothe's "Everything I Own," The Upsetter's "Dollar In The Teeth," John Holt's Kris Kristofferson cover of "Help Me Make It Through the Night," Althea and Donna's "Uptown Ranking," Susan Cadogan's "Hurt So Good," Dave and Ansel Collins' "Double Barrel," Bob and Marcia's "To Be Young Gifted and Black," and Nicky Thomas' "Love of the Common People"), the only cut I was unfamiliar with (and am glad to have) is Sophia George's relatively late (1985) but great top #7 UK hit, "Girlie Girlie." This is a record you can put on at house party and just let it play.

As part of its celebrations, Trojan is releasing new music again through its new imprint Trojan Reloaded (the first 7" dancehall single on this label is "Real Reggae Music" from Reggae Roast Soundsystem, featuring Tippa Irie, which is available in the US on August 10, 2018--and their excellent digital Murder EP is out now). Here's hoping that this move creates lots of opportunities for some new reggae classics to be born...

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Sunday, July 15, 2018

"Ska: A Music, Not a Typo" (Trouser Press)

A few weeks ago, we picked up six back issues of "Trouser Press" at the Archive of Contemporary Music, during one of their sales. While this incredible music mag was primarily concerned with covering New Wave in the late '70s/early '80s, it did offer a good deal of 2 Tone coverage (I have an issue with a great feature on The Beat and just found reviews of The Specials' More Specials and Madness' Absolutely in the January '81 issue with Gary Numan on the cover). And then I came across these pretty spot-on write-ups of several great Trojan and Mango ska comps from the November 1980 issue with The Cars on the front...


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Friday, July 13, 2018

Duff Review: Heavyball "Black Eye Diaries"

Magnetic North Melodies
CD/LP/digital
2015

(Review by Steve Shafer)

Heavyball's second album When Can You Start? was one of our favorite albums of 2017 (read The Duff Guide to Ska review of it here) and is still in frequent rotation on our turntable. So, when we learned through Kevin Flowerdew's essential Do The Dog Skazine that Heavyball's debut album Black Eye Diaries (Ten Uplifting Songs About Death and Disappointment) was back in print, we got our hands on a copy as soon as the Royal Mail could deliver it to our lair in New York City. Whereas When Can You Start? is a brilliant mod-ska-Brit pop opera of sorts about a week in lives of workers both high and low in the UK, Black Eye Diaries focuses on the indignities of living in the middle of nowhere, stuck in an existence with not much good going on, and of life (and people) letting you down badly. Sounds like a bummer of a record, but as the subtitle of the album states, it delivers as advertised: these are terrific, upbeat songs about life's hard truths.

The tension and limits of living in lesser metro areas are conveyed in tracks like the no future of "Small Time Hero" ("Your girlfriend is still in detention/You park up and smoke by the gates/Her song is playing so she can hear/Her teacher wishes you'd disappear...And you're never gonna leave this town/Where you can't afford to buy a round/And you're never gonna get too far/Flipping burgers in a fast food bar/And you're never gonna leave this place/Non-starter in the human race/And you're never gonna leave this town/'Cos you didn't even last the round") and a fantastic ska cover of Erasure's mid-'80s synth-pop hit "Smalltown Boy," about a gay teen's experience with homophobia, gay-bashing, and familial rejection leading him to abandon his home town for the (hopefully) more tolerant (or anonymous) big city. "Another Country" expresses disgust at the increasing economic inequality between the very rich in London versus everyone else outside its city limits ("It's like living in another country/It's all ugly and it's all for show/Too many folk with too much money/Looking down on the one's below...Now I'm home I feel much better/So much better than I did before/It may be cold, I know it's wetter/I'll never be a city boy...Home sweet home/We're not wanted").

Then there are songs of bad decisions and dashed expectations. The top of that list is the hilarious, self-aware/regretful, still-in-love with your ex/drunk bar fight song "Black Eye Friday" that manages to work in a bit of Toots and the Maytals' "54-46 (Was My Number)": "I hit him one time/He hit me three times/I was talking, when I should've been listening..." (that last bit is something that singer/guitarist Bigface heard during a stint in the army: "I stole that quote from a corporal I worked with in the army. When the lads turned up for first parade on Monday morning, at least one would always have a black eye. He’d taunt them in a broad Sunderland accent 'Ah! You was talking when you should have been listening, eh?'"). Or the tale in "Wanted" of how she's left her boyfriend/husband and is literally running off with you, but it's changed the dynamics of everything in ways you didn't expect: "You got what you wanted/But you lost what you had/And if you got all that you wanted/Why do you look so sad?" (Which reminds me of this admittedly nerdy, but apt Star Trek quote spoken by Spock's character in "Amok Time": "After a time, you may find that having is not so pleasing a thing after all as wanting. It is not logical, but it is often true.") The bitter, but completely rocking mod track "Lost Heroes" expresses the sting and anger of learning that the people you looked up to--pop stars and politicians alike--are complete frauds ("And I have seen everything I need/And I don't need anything I've seen"); there's an incredible live acoustic version of it here! The eerie ska cut "Hands Up" is (I think) about managing to survive the horrors of war and making it back home (which was all you wanted), but being so damaged by the experience that you end up taking your own life.

The album ends with "Unhappy Now," an extraordinary Revolver-era Beatles/Sound Affects-era Jam-influenced song about (guiltily) having to leave a dead-end town and a good friend mired in a rut: "No money to pay the rent/Now the money's all been spent/Because life is hard in our town/Being home just dragged him down...Moved deep down south for a life in the sun/I'm sorry that I'm the only one to go/People so unhappy now/Everyone's so unhappy now/And deep down I still miss him/But I've made my choice/And now I've got to go."

It's relatively rare to come across such a powerful collection of songs that ring so true and real in their depiction of--and ambivalence toward--modern life. Heavyball's Black Eye Diaries is a phenomenal ska-mod soundtrack for one's less-than-hoped-for existence.

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Friday, July 6, 2018

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: Caz Gardiner, The Far East, The Classy Wrecks

(Reviews by Steve Shafer)

The always amazing Caz Gardiner (ex-Checkered Cabs/ex-Caz and the Day Laborers) has an excellent new(ish) single out called "Stop" (digital, Carbonero Records, 2018)--which is a full-on funky soul track about someone who should be seen, but definitely not heard ("...The way you talking/I keep thinking/Stop!"). A whole lot of ska fans love their soul--so make sure to check out this cut and keep tabs on whatever Caz is doing next.

Brooklyn's The Far East have released an intriguing new single "Far East Ride" b/w "Rain On My Party" (vinyl single/digital, Channel Tubes, 2018). I'm really partial to the B side, which is billed as a Lovers Rock cut, but seems more influenced by the sounds of late '50s/early '60s girl groups (check out the "wah-wah-wah" backing harmonies) married to some serious rocksteady grooves. But don't just take my word on this--legendary BBC reggae DJ David Rodigan recently gave the track his stamp of approval by Tweeting out the link to the official "Rain On My Party" video. (Speaking of Rodigan, his autobiography is a fascinating read! In particular, the story of his first trip to JA to buy dub plates from King Tubby is absolutely incredible!)

Toronto's Classy Wrecks play a really enjoyable mix of hook-filled pop and rocksteady--and they've just released two songs as a preview of their forthcoming album Bedrocksteady (digital, Bandcamp, 2018). "In the Evening" is about a guy who kind of knows he's on the less equal side of the relationship equation ("You said that we're always having fun/But I'm waiting on your every move/Baby, you control my mood"), but is kind of okay with it. "Time Moves On"--essentially a good kick in the ass for procrastinators to get things in gear now--has a fantastic, almost Motown-ish horn riff embedded in it. I'm definitely interested in hearing where the rest of the album takes us...

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Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: King Kong Girio, Boomtown United

(Reviews by Steve Shafer)

Before releasing two new, forthcoming EPs he's produced for Susan Cadogan and his own King Kong Four, King Kong Girio (ex-King Apparatus) has issued a sensational new single "When The Needle Drops" (digital, Bandcamp, 2018) that shouldn't be missed. Originally penned for another artist (who passed on it) and then shelved until Girio recently rediscovered it, the track is a slightly melancholy ("But time abandons/and leaves us here/Where we don't want to stay") but thoroughly nostalgic and heartfelt homage to the 1960s JA ska originators: "Was it the best of what you are/on a scratched up 45?/Because when that needle drops/Your music comes alive/When we look back/We can see where it all began/So long ago/You're not forgotten." Maybe it all was better then, but I'm pretty happy in the here and now with songs like this. Keep 'em coming!

St. Louis, MO's Boomtown United recently popped up on my radar through their contribution of "Work It Out" to the excellent Jump Up/Ska Brewing compilation Drink the Ska (read The Duff Guide to Ska review here). Their new, five-track, self-titled EP (digital, iTunes/Amazon, 2018) is full of extremely catchy and must-sing-along modern/post-2 Tone ska tracks. The urgent, slightly desperate (and shades of "English Civil War") "Outside" is fantastic rebel music: "Times are often tumultuous/A condition in the way in which we live/Searching for hope/Lost in the shadows/And the chances are rail thin/Down and out/That's how they found us/And they never really count us in...Oh, it may seem kind of ugly/That's just the way it is/We may seem kind of dangerous/From the outside looking in!" (An anthem for the resistance? You decide.) The unquenchable desire/lust in "Love Like Fire" (which boils down to: "Hot to the touch/I can't get enough") is conveyed in the dissonant trills of the sax, which are the aural equivalent of flames of fire. "Too Many Chances" lays out the inevitable after it's all gone bad ("The seeds of separation are starting to grow/Now time will tell us what we already know"), while "The Calling" is a soulful lament for musicians and their partners--I love you, but I've got to hit the road. Fans of bands like The Crombies and The Dirty Notion will be instant converts to Boomtown United (the Midwest ska scene has got it going on!). This is a band to keep an eye on...

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Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Duff Review: The Selecter "Live at the Roadhouse"

DMF Records
CD+DVD/Double LP+DVD
2018

(Review by Steve Shafer)

Various incarnations of The Selecter have released live albums over their 38+ year existence (in particular, check out 1992's scorching Out On The Streets with Neol Davies, Pauline Black, Nick Welsh, and Martin Stewart--or 2015's positively amazing Access All Areas, which was recorded in 1980 with all of the original members of The Selecter--read our review of it here) and Live at the Roadhouse captures the current (and really great) iteration of the band in top form, performing stellar tracks from their last few albums (String Theory, Subculture, Daylight), as well as their old 2 Tone chart hits and fan favorites.

Live at the Roadhouse is a real treat to listen to and watch, as it was expertly recorded and videotaped in London on October 6, 2017 before a packed house during a co-headling tour of the UK with The Beat featuring Ranking Roger (they've also released an album/DVD from that night). The Selecter's live versions of "Frontline," "Breakdown," "Daylight," "Remember Me," "The Big Badoof," and "The Avengers Theme" (one of the best TV show themes of all time--and a terrific choice to cover) are of primary interest here, as the other cuts have been recorded live many times over the years. All, of course, sound fantastic. ("Breakdown" expresses outrage at the extrajudicial police killings in the US and UK of unarmed black people, which are a horrific symptom of entrenched racism, societal dysfunction, and purposeful neglect--and "Frontline" calls for everyone to disengage a bit from social media and reconnect with the world in order to take action against injustice; both are extraordinarily powerful and catchy protest songs for our increasingly troubled times.)

In addition to documenting the entire concert, the Live at the Roadhouse DVD features a nice, if a bit scattershot, interview with Pauline Black and Arthur "Gaps" Hendrickson that also manages to highlight their charming, decades-long friendship and easy rapport with each other (Pauline: "I'll always make music until I drop off my perch, I think." Gaps: "I'm in, oh yeah, I'm in. You know, I can't see me doing anything else. You know, here I am. I'm free!" Pauline: "We're too old to go back to our day jobs!").

Having seen The Selecter during their past few visits through NYC, I can certainly attest to their superb, spirited, and all-out fun live shows--and Live at the Roadhouse certainly reflects all of that and more. This one's a must for Selecter fans.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Desorden Publico US Tour!

If you're near Salt Lake City, Denver, Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, Orlando, Doral, or Boca Raton in the next few weeks, make sure to see Desorden Publico play live! (Their latest album Bailando Sobre Las Ruinas or Dancing on the Ruins is really fantastic--read The Duff Guide to Ska review of it here: https://duffguidetoska.blogspot.com/…/duff-guide-to-ska-fas….)

Monday, June 18, 2018

Duff Review: The English Beat "Here We Go Love!"

Here We Go/Megaforce Records
CD/LP/Digital
2018

(Review by Steve Shafer)

First off--to address the question foremost in fans' minds--Here We Go Love! is a terrific record, full of good-to-stellar original songs and strong performances throughout. Musically, the album picks up where Special Beat Service left off, at a point when the band already had moved far afield from the taut 2 Tone ska of their debut. There is, of course, a good amount of ska and reggae here to please the ska faithful, along with even more New Wave-y pop, rhythm and blues, and soul for the fans who came later. But it's not the styles, it's the songs the carry the day.

The passage of time and accumulated miles on the road haven't diminished Wakeling's considerable songwriting skills--several tracks were embedded in my head from the first listen and many of the songs on Here We Go Love! are worthy additions to his musical canon. The phenomenal Motown-ish "You Really Oughtta Know By Now" ("...but, oh no, you just don't do you") is probably the top cut on the album (and manages to sneak in a nice nod to "Tears of A Clown" while at it), while the sizzling, Stax-infused "Every Time You Told Me" (about knowing you're being played) is a close second. But it doesn't end there. The could be a pop/film soundtrack hit "The One and the Only" might be about Trump or any other supremely narcissistic and cruel person in your life ("Funny how hate can be/He won't hear your crying/Won't have the time of day/He just walks on by/And it's like he doesn't notice/Yeah right..."). Like the great single off this album "How Can You Stand There?," the ska track "Redemption Time" is about failing to stand up to fight injustice--in this case, opposing the status quo and actually doing something to slow down/halt climate change (and its title reminds one of Max Romeo's "Revelation Time" or Willie William's/The Clash's "Armagideon Time" in that all of us and our planet may be in the end times if we don't start changing our ways drastically and immediately...). The "I-can't-believe-how-stupid-it-is-that-we-have-to-still-protest-this-shit" anti-war song "If Killing Worked It Would Have Worked By Now" ("We're all grunts in the human army/Four million at war and one billion starving/Sick to death of those old boys' rules/We'll make our future or we'll die like fools") is brilliant for both its catchiness and humane logic.

It might have been preferable to bill this venture as "Dave Wakeling of The English Beat," as it's clearly his show (no other performers are listed in the CD credits, though they are on The English Beat website) and without the full participation of other members of The Beat in the band, it's not quite in the same vein as The Beat of old. Having said that, several Beat members and associates did have a part in this album (though you're mostly left wondering as to exactly where): Everett Morton is listed as playing congas; the dear, departed Saxa clearly helped with the sax lines for "If Killing Worked It Would Have Worked By Now"--unfortunately, an injury prevented him from actually playing on the album before his passing; and Andy Cox (!) made snipping sounds with garden shears on "You're Stuck" (also, The Specials' Roddy Radiation guested on guitar and The Aggrolites' Roger Rivas played some organ). Liner-notes obsessives will be interested to know that Bob Sargeant (who, of course, beautifully produced the first three Beat albums, as well as records for The Ruts, XTC, The Damned, Fine Young Cannibals, and many of John Peel's BBC sessions with post-punk bands like The Fall, Buzzcocks, Gary Numan, Gang of Four, as well as Madness and The Specials) was one of the executive producers of this album; and Hunt Emerson, who designed the iconic Beat Girl logo and striking cover artwork for I Just Can't Stop It and Wha'ppen?, has created fantastic artwork for this release!

Despite its prolonged gestation, Dave Wakeling deserves full credit for (finally!) moving ahead with excellent new material (like his peers in Madness, The Selecter, and Bodysnatchers who have released amazing records over the past few years) and not relying solely on nostalgia and former glories (and the first three Beat albums were glorious!) to keep on filling the venues while touring non-stop. Here's to hoping that Here We Go Love! marks the beginning of a new and prolific creative phase for Wakeling. He's still got the goods and then some...

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Thursday, June 14, 2018

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: Matamoska!, Soul Radics!

(Reviews by Steve Shafer)

This excellent imported rocksteady single was released last fall to coincide with Soul Radics' European tour, though upon their return to Nashville, TN, the band announced that they were going on "an indefinite hiatus." So, if this turns out to be their swan song, it's a pretty damn good one. "Two Devils" b/w "Stormy Weather" (Clear vinyl, picture sleeve single, Grover Records, 2017) is available in limited quantities in the USA from Jump Up Records and definitely worth picking up. Interestingly, "Two Devils" (powered by Dani Casler's smoky alto voice and the fantastic Radics musicians) is not exactly about regret, because all that cheating still feels mighty right. But there's still the sense that life could be easier/better with an active moral compass ("I've got two devils on my shoulder...wish I had an angel"). The choice to version the 1933 torch song "Stormy Weather" (most notably sung by Ethel Waters, Lena Horne, Billie Holiday, and many others) on the flip side seems like an apt one, as it's all about abandonment, unfulfilled desire, and a joyless life on hold ("When he went away/The blues walked in and met me/Oh yeah, if he stays away/Old rocking chair's gonna get me/All I do is pray/The Lord will let me/Walk in the sun once more"). You've got everything if you're lucky enough to have love, commitment, and fidelity with the right person.

I'm generally not a ska-punk fan--and based on this single, I'm not sure that Matamoska! really falls in this self-selected category (is it because of Jose Padilla's gravelly voice?)--but their "Beer Goggles" b/w "Doom Boogie" (Vinyl, picture sleeve single, Steady Beat Recordings, 2018) is a fantastic modern/Third Wave ska single. Naturally, "Beer Googles" is an extended, mid-tempo ska take of sorts on the best Homer Simpson quote ever: “To alcohol! The cause of...and solution to...all of life’s problems” (Matamoska!: "I'm living like a rat/'Cause you left me on the street/I've got nothing else to give/You don't want my company/Because it's two o'clock in the morning/I got my beer googles on/I've left them on/I want you back again/'Cause I've got my beer goggles on... It's not summertime/'Cause the living's not easy/I know that you will never be/Coming back to me..."). "Doom Boogie" is a terrific horn-driven instrumental (shades of The Toasters, Mephiskapheles, or The Scofflaws) that must pack the dance floor every time it's played live. Like the world outside depicted on the sleeve, this one's on fire!

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Thursday, June 7, 2018

The Duff Guide to Ska NYC Spring/Summer 2018 Ska Calendar #6

The Selecter in LA, 1980
Friday, June 8, 2018 between 6:00 pm and 10:00 pm

100% Ska at Otto's Shrunken Head w/Selections by DJ Ryan Midnight

Otto's Shrunken Head
538 East 14th Street (between Avenues A and B)
New York, NY
(No cover!)

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Friday, June 8, 2018 @ 10:00 pm

Dubistry

Silvana
300 West 116th Street
New York, NY

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Saturday, June 9, 2018 @ 9:00 pm

Dance Inna Bushwick w/Top Shotta Band featuring Tonto Irie, The Far East, Boomshot!, and selections by Grace of Spades

1239 Dekalb Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$10

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Friday, June 15, 2018 @ 7:00 pm

Reggay Lords, The Fuss, The Freecoasters, w/selections by Grace of Spades

El Cortez
17 Ingraham Street
Brooklyn, NY
$10/21+

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Friday, June 15, 2018 @ 10:00 pm

Caz Gardiner

Silvana
300 West 116th Street
New York, NY

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Saturday, June 16, 2018 @ 1:00 pm

Beat Brigade, Night of the Living Funk

Riis Park Beach Bazaar
16702 Rockaway Beach Boulevard
Queens, NY
Free!

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Sunday, June 24, 2018 @ 7:30 pm

The Toasters, Beat Brigade, Joker's Republic

Knitting Factory Brooklyn
361 Metropolitan Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$15 in advance/$17 day of show
All ages

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Tuesday, June 26, 2018 @ 8:00 pm

NYC Ska Orchestra, Royal KhaoZ

Brooklyn Bowl
61 Wythe Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$10/21+

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Thursday, July 12, 2018 @ 6:00 pm

Brown Rice Family

Live at the Dumbo Archway
155 Water Street
Brooklyn, NY
Free!

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Saturday, July 28, 2018 @ 1:00 pm

Reggay Lords

Riis Park Beach Bazaar
16702 Rockaway Beach Boulevard
Queens, NY
Free!

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Saturday, August 18, 2018 @ 6:30 pm

The Pietasters Booze Cruise

The Lucille
Board boat at East 23rd Street and FDR Drive in Manhattan
$37.50 in advance/$40 day of show
21+

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Friday, August 24, 2018 @ 8:00 pm

Fishbone ("Classic '80s/'90s line-up!), Oxymorrons

Brooklyn Bowl
61 Wythe Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$25/21+

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Saturday, August 25, 2018 @ 6:00 pm

The Slackers Booze Cruise

The Liberty Belle
Board boat at Pier 36, 299 South Street in Manhattan
$30 in advance/$35 day of show
21+

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If you don't see a NYC ska show listed here, send us all of the details to duffguidetoska@gmail.com!
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Monday, June 4, 2018

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: Pama International, Pama Intl v. Manasseh, Jackie Mittoo

(Reviews by Steve Shafer)

In case you missed it back in 2006--when they were the first band in 30 years (!) to sign to Trojan Records--Pama International has reissued the nothing-short-of-amazing Trojan Sessions LP, as well as the (mostly) new Trojan Sessions in Dub, a track-for-track companion album with dubs by Nick Manasseh, who co-produced the original Trojan Sessions with Sean Flowerdew (Heavyweight red and black vinyl LPs/CDs, Happy People Records, 2017 and 2018). Trojan Sessions features a mind-blowing roster of guest artists, including the late Rico Rodriguez, Dennis Alcapone, Dawn Penn, Dave and Ansel Collins, Derrick Morgan, and Winston Francis (and at this point Pama International included Specials Lynval Golding on guitar, and Horace Panter on bass) on a boss collection of original material. Between the host of 1960s JA superstars and various musical styles of these tracks, this record brilliantly honors the history and spirit of Trojan (and its artists), as well as serves as a primer of sorts of Jamaican music, circa 1965-1972. I love the album start to finish, but several highlights include Rico on The Skatalites'-sounding "Disobedient Children"; the early "Liquidator" reggae "Neither High Nor Dry" with Dennis Alcapone; a sublime Dawn Penn on the dubby "Betterment Blues"; Dave and Ansel Collins make it sound like '69 on "It Ain't Funny"; Pama's singer Finny shines on the funky reggae "I Got So Much to Shout About"  and rootsier "One Step"; and Winston Francis on the rock-solid rocksteady "Fisherman" (which has echoes of "You're Wondering Now" lurking within). Once you're familiar with the tunes onTrojan Sessions, listening to how they're deconstructed and reassembled by Manasseh on Trojan Sessions in Dub is a real pleasure. "Disobedient Dub" in particular is stellar (love all the outer space effects, use of Rico's voice, and placement of sounds within the mix to create all sorts of aural distance), with "One Step Dub" and "Fisherman Dub" hot on its tail.

I don't know why it was so hard to obtain (I finally ordered it directly from VP Records after two failed attempts elsewhere), but The Jackie Mittoo Showcase EP (Black vinyl picture sleeve single, 17 North Parade/VP Records, 2018) was completely worth the wait and effort. Essentially, this four-track release presents some of the greatest tracks off last year's excellent double-CD Striker Showcase (which The Duff Guide to Ska reviewed here). These 1977-1978 cuts are prime, moody rocksteady/reggae Mittoo material (with his phenomenal soulful/jazzy Hammond keyboard lines floating above it all) from three essential albums co-produced by Bunny "Striker" Lee: "Disco Jack" and "Brain Mark" are off Hot Blood; "Earthquake" is from In Cold Blood; while "Drum Song" is on the original Showcase album. One can't have enough Jackie Mittoo in their collection.

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Thursday, May 31, 2018

Duff Review: Maroon Town "Freedom Call"


Brixton Records
CD/LP/digital
2018

(Review by Steve Shafer)

Maroon Town dedicate their incredibly powerful sixth album Freedom Call to "the marginalised, the dispossessed, 'the other' because any of us could be in these categories--and many of us are" and reminds the listener that "freedom means having the confidence to express yourself, to live without fear, to not be judged by appearance or status or race or religion... freedom means celebrating the gift of life on this planet." These are heavy, profound, and highly empathic sentiments relating to seemingly intractable, global problems (we human beings still can't seem to find a way to treat each other with respect and as equals) that Maroon Town have transformed into extraordinary, uplifting songs full of fiercely good Skatalites-like ska or roots reggae combined with choice bits of rap and soul.

The central (and best) track on the album is the massive, should-be-a-hit "Freedom Call" ("I wake up this morning, but keep on dreaming away/I wonder if my baby is dreaming of me/Like the river, like the river flows/I gotta keep moving, to keep moving on"), whose rhythm section relentlessly chugs along like the biggest steam engine imaginable to Laurel Aitken's Rainbow City, while the horns sound out across the land, beckoning all migrants and refugees to climb on board to be welcomed to a new home (one of the great instrumental cuts on here is named "Maroc"). Its companion piece is the gorgeous reggae cut "Around the Fire" ("Jamming, feel like jamming/In the sunset, feeling free/This world needs some action/Singing together to bring us peace/Sister, gather your children/Wrap them in harmonies/Give your warm embrace"), which celebrates the simple and centuries-old tradition of people coming together to make music (one imagines the freedom train riders taking a break along a beach at night to sing songs of deliverance).

Guest Basque singer Fermin Muguruza (who formed the Clash-influenced ska punk band Kortatu back in the late '80s, which was featured on the first Skankin' Round the World comp from Unicorn Records) advocates for his people's self-determination in the urgent ska cut "Hope." The lovely and soulful "Harmony" makes a plea for something that should be obvious and desirable (but almost always escapes us): "Make peace priority/War only brings poverty/It would be good to see/A world living in harmony." The exquisite and devout reggae track "A Prayer" reminds one to thank Jah/your higher power of choice for all that is good in life, as well as to keep the faith during hard times. "Rebel" urges everyone to find their voice and collectively stand up for what's right, since it's the only way positive change will come about ("Life is hard, life is cruel/Not for those who set the rules/They set the rules to make us fools/We got to get smart, gotta stay smart/It's not easy, it's not cozy/Dumbing down to make us dozy/Wake up, no sleep, wake up!"--is that a "They Live" reference at the end of that lyric?). But not everything on the album is concerned with saving the world. The seriously funky and sensuous (and should-be follow-up hit single) "Get Up" is all about having fun and taking pleasure in being alive and dancing with someone else: "Hey there/Keep doing what you're doing/You're moving in the right way/We're gonna lose ourselves/I want us to lose ourselves forever."

In a world where we are almost overwhelmingly aware of the infinite ways humans can be cruel and unjust to each other, Maroon Town's Freedom Call provides some much needed inspiration to keep up the fight for all that's good and right.

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You might also be interested in reading The Duff Guide to Ska's review of Maroon Town's previous album, Urban Myths.

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Maroon Town dedica su increíble sexto álbum Freedom Call a "los marginados, los desposeídos," el otro "porque cualquiera de nosotros podría estar en estas categorías, y muchos de nosotros lo somos" y recuerda al oyente que "la libertad significa tener la confianza expresarse, vivir sin miedo, no ser juzgado por la apariencia, el estado, la raza o la religión ... libertad significa celebrar el don de la vida en este planeta." Estos son sentimientos pesados, profundos y altamente empáticos relacionados con problemas mundiales aparentemente intratables (los seres humanos todavía no podemos encontrar la forma de tratarnos unos a otros con respeto y como iguales) que Maroon Town ha transformado en canciones extraordinarias y edificantes lleno de ferozmente buen Skatalites como el ska o reggae de raíces combinado con pedazos de rap y soul.

La pista central (y mejor) del álbum es el "Freedom Call" masivo, que debería ser un éxito ("Me levanto esta mañana, pero sigo soñando/Me pregunto si mi bebé está soñando conmigo/Me gusta el río, como el río fluye/Tengo que seguir moviéndome, seguir moviéndome"), cuya sección rítmica resuena implacablemente como la mayor máquina de vapor imaginable en la Ciudad del Arcoiris de Laurel Aitken, mientras los cuernos suenan a través de la tierra, haciendo señas a todos los migrantes y refugiados para subir a bordo para ser bienvenidos a un nuevo hogar (uno de los grandes cortes instrumentales aquí se llama "Maroc"). Su compañero es el magnífico corte de reggae "Around the Fire" ("Jamming, sentir como jamming/En la puesta de sol, sintiéndose libre/Este mundo necesita algo de acción/Cantando juntos para traernos paz/Hermana, reúne a tus hijos/Envuélvelos en harmonies/Dale tu abrace cálido"), que celebra la tradición simple y centenaria de personas que se unen para hacer música (uno imagina a los jinetes del tren Freedom tomando un descanso en la playa de noche para cantar canciones de liberación).

El invitado cantante vasco Fermin Muguruza (que formó la banda de ska punk Clash-influenciada Kortatu a finales de los años 80, que apareció en la primera compilación Skankin 'Round the World de Unicorn Records) aboga por la autodeterminación de su pueblo en el ska urgente corte "esperanza." La encantadora y conmovedora "Armonía" hace un llamado por algo que debería ser obvio y deseable (pero casi siempre se nos escapa): "Haz que la paz sea prioritaria/La guerra solo trae pobreza/Sería bueno ver/Un mundo viviendo en armonía." La exquisita y devota pista de reggae "A Prayer" le recuerda a uno que agradezca a Jah/su mayor poder de elección por todo lo que es bueno en la vida, así como a mantener la fe durante los tiempos difíciles. "Rebelde" insta a todos a encontrar su voz y defender de forma colectiva lo que es correcto, ya que es la única forma en que se producirán cambios positivos ("La vida es dura, la vida es cruel/No para quienes establecen las reglas/Establecen las reglas para Haznos tontos/Tenemos que ser inteligentes, tenemos que ser inteligentes/No es fácil, no es acogedor/Estúpido para hacernos perezosos/¡Despertar, no dormir, despertar!"- es una referencia de "Ellos viven" en el final de esa letra?). Pero no todo en el álbum está relacionado con salvar el mundo. Lo realmente divertido y sensual (y lo que debería ser un éxito de seguimiento) "Get Up" consiste en divertirse y disfrutar de estar vivo y bailando con otra persona: "¡Hola!/Sigue haciendo lo que estás haciendo/Tú estamos moviéndonos en el camino correcto/Nos vamos a perder a nosotros mismos/Quiero que nos perdamos para siempre."

En un mundo en el que somos casi totalmente conscientes de las infinitas formas en que los humanos pueden ser crueles e injustos entre sí, Freedom Call de Maroon Town proporciona alguna inspiración muy necesaria para seguir luchando por todo lo que es bueno y correcto.

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Friday, May 25, 2018

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: Dele Sosimi Meets Prince Fatty and Nostalgia 77, The Process, Hepcat vs. Victor Rice, Le Birrette, and Derrick Morgan, Charlie Organaire, and Dennis Alcapone!

(Reviews by Steve Shafer)

So much good music, so little time to digest and write about it all...

I just came across this phenomenal, mind-blowing mix of Afrobeat (hi-life, African drumming, funk, and jazz), and dub on Dele Sosimi Meets Prince Fatty and Nostalgia 77's You No Fit Touch Am in Dub (LP/digitalWah Wah 45s, 2016). Right now, this LP is on heavy rotation on my turntable (the ecstatic "Dance Together Dub" and trippy "I Don't Care Dub" in particular) and it should be on yours. Speaking of Dele Sosimi, he used to work with Fela Kuti, so I'll also take this opportunity to note that a month ago I picked up a vinyl copy of Fela Soul--an amazing, if unauthorized, mash-up of Fela Kuti's music with De La Soul's raps that came out a few years ago.

On the fantastic Who Is That Mad Band? and its great track-for-track dub companion Dub World (CDs/digital, Temple Gong Recordings, 2016 and 2017), Detroit's The Process play a wild, heady mix of '70s rock and roots reggae with new wave-synths and metal theatricality--all of which works surprisingly well. The band stands tall on their own with tracks like "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" which features the legendary (and late) Detroit rock guitarist Dick Wagner, "Mystery Babylon" "Dear Mr. Fantasy," and "Gypsy Wind." But then they have several excellent cuts mixed by On-U Sounds' Adrian Sherwood ("Time Has Come," "Return the Treasures") and David Harrow ("Fire Is Burning Version")--and others that feature Skip "Little Axe" McDonald (Sugar Hill Records' house band that recorded "The Message" and "White Lines" for Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Tackhead, Dub Syndicate), Ghetto Priest, and the inimitable Lee "Scratch" Perry himself! The Process are yet another great act from this town that spawns them like crazy--Detroit again for the win!

Being the vinyl junkie that I am, I pre-ordered Hepcat's essential early Third Wave classic Out of Nowhere (which was never released on wax in the early '90s, since vinyl was on the way out then)--but the even more compelling reason to pick this up is the accompanying bonus album of stellar dubs by Victor Rice, Dub Outta Nowhere (to be honest, I like some of Rice's versions better than the originals). Highlights include "Dub Wit Me," "Dubvez," "Miss Dubgeniality, "Prison of Dub," and "Police Dub." (The pre-order includes an immediate digital download of both albums, to keep you sated while you wait for the real thing.)

Italy's awesome all-female ska/rocksteady/soul act Le Birrette released their debut album Gal Songs Only (LP/digital) earlier this month. A whole bunch of these tracks sound like could be off Jackie Mittoo's Evening Time ("Jamaican Night," "Let Me Stay," "Rise Up"), while others are wonderful vintage ska in The Skatalites/Potato 5 vein ("Wounded Man," "Eclisse," "Mantis"). I want the vinyl in my collection pretty badly, but the shipping from Europe is the same as the cost of the record (ouch!)

Jump Up Records and The Drastics' imprint Happy As a Lark have co-released a cool new 45 featuring OG Jamaican all stars Derrick Morgan and Charlie Organaire (backed by the Tectonics) on the 1950's standard "There Stands the Glass" on side A with Dennis Alcapone doing his deejay thing on the version on the flip side. Don't miss this little gem!

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Sunday, May 20, 2018

Shots in the Dark: The Toasters' "Frankenska"

The Toasters' Frankenska (Unicorn Records, 1990)
with cover art by Steve Friel.
Editor's note: Shots in the Dark spotlights so-called Third-Wave ska releases that should have been massive hits on the scene but, due to bad timing, poor luck, or a fickle record-buying public, were lost in the fray.

(Review by Steve Shafer)

The Toasters’ first live album Frankenska was recorded in the summer of 1989 during the band’s maiden (and mostly underwhelming) tour of the UK--and ended up documenting the brilliant core of the band that was forging on despite still reeling from the surprise departure of their frontmen the Unity 2 just months previously (trombonist Ann Hellandsjo and alto saxophonist Marcel Reginatto also left in their wake). Less than a year earlier, The Toasters had released their fantastic second album, Thrill Me Up, which had reached #54 on the CMJ college radio charts and was starting to generate lots of press and industry attention, and they were headlining sold out shows all over the country. Literally and figuratively, The Toasters were going places fast. So, the Unity 2's unexpected exit (they had been lured away by Warner Bros. to capitalize on the blink-and-you-missed-it hip-hop/reggae craze of 1989-1990) threatened to destroy all that The Toasters had accomplished up until that point. When we asked about this episode, Toasters’ founder, guitarist, and primary songwriter Rob “Bucket” Hingley told us that the Unity 2 had "cold-cocked" the rest of The Toasters and "disrupted the unit intensely."

Sean “Cavo” Dinsmore recently explained to The Duff Guide to Ska why he and Lionel “Nene” Bernard left The Toasters: “The simple answer is that we weren’t happy just being in a ska band anymore. We were much more into dancehall and hip hop by that time. We had already recorded “Shirlee” for a WB compilation (Funky Reggae Crew) as Unity 2 and had been offered record deals from both Island and WB. After we came off the last cross-country tour [with The Toasters], we played a sold-out show at The Ritz and there was an A and R guy there from Island. In the dressing room we were like, ‘What do you think?’ And he said, ‘I love it, but I only want to sign you two, not the whole band.’ After everything else that had been happening, it seemed like a sign from God. Of course, we still wrestled with it for a while, but it was inevitable. It was bittersweet for sure...No regrets at all, except I wish we had done the last few gigs that were on the schedule. We kind of left them in a tight spot. But it was so difficult because they were so clearly upset by it. Lionel and I just thought the road would be a nightmare for all of us if we went. Buck was very pragmatic and just wanted their asses covered, fair enough. But we couldn’t.”
A June 6, 1988 feature on The Toasters in New York Magazine, while Thrill Me Up was being
recorded (note that they refer to it by its working title at the time, Franken-Ska).

Indeed, The Toasters’ decision to embark on a UK tour and appear at the second London International Ska Festival was a Hail Mary of sorts, to shake off the Unity 2’s body blow and keep the band’s momentum going during a transitional period when they could just have easily broken up.

During a respite on that 1989 UK tour, Bucket told George Marshall of Scotland’s indispensable Zoot skazine, “We’ve been playing venues in town where people don’t even know who we are. We get a lot of letters from Europe, but I suppose they are just isolated pockets of fans...The ska scene’s further developed and not so underground in the States. Ska’s happening in the U.S. and it’s not just talk. It’s bigger now that it was during 2 Tone. We played in front of 1,000 people in Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco when we toured, and in New York we had 2,000 people in The Ritz [at a show that included The NY Citizens and Bim Skala Bim].” In a recent interview with The Duff Guide to Ska, Bucket added, “I was surprised how quickly the ska scene had deteriorated in the UK after the zenith of 2 Tone. Some of the audiences were light indeed, but then again most people had never heard of us and some wouldn't come and see us because we were ‘Yanks.’”

Notably, this tour and live album marked the first and temporary appearance of singer/toaster Coolie Ranx in The Toasters’ line-up (which at the time consisted of Jonathan McCain on drums, Greg Grinnell--who worked with the Unity 2 on their What Is It, Yo? debut album--on bass, John Dugan on tenor sax, Steve “Hex” LaForge on keys, Vince Fossitt of Buffalo, NY’s The Great Train Robbery on alto sax, and Buck on guitar and vocals). Bucket recently recounted how he originally encountered Coolie back in 1989: “Coolie was living in Brooklyn at that time. I had discovered him when we were auditioning singers, one of whom had been Andre from Mephiskapheles, by the way. A friend from S.O.B.’s passed me a copy of this 12” single “Roughneck,” which sounded to me like a much more energized version of Shinehead. So, I went out to Crown Heights and tracked him down, much to the amusement of the Yardie drug dealers who lived in his building. They were impressed by the wraparound shades, black bomber jacket, and Kangol...When I met Coolie, I had an all-black minivan with tinted windows. Whenever I showed up at Coolie’s place--which was actually in Bushwick now that I think about it--which was deep in the hood back in those days, the Jamaican Yardies were at first suspicious because they thought I was a Fed. After that, they took a shine to me, as there weren’t that many white folks in that neighbourhood at that pre-hipster epoch.”

The Toasters live in London on June 12, 1989:
Bucket, Coolie Ranx, and John Dugan (left to right).
“Before I decided to sign on with The Toasters, I was a dancehall artist,” Coolie told The Duff Guide to Ska. “I put out a few songs and had already traveled to the UK when I was introduced to The Toasters by Catherine Tobias. She was managing Shinehead at the time, but they parted company. At the time, my song "Roughneck" was playing on the urban music stations and she heard the similarities between Shinehead and myself. She sought me out and proposed management of me. She said The Toasters had lost their two frontmen and suggested I audition and do a small run with them to Europe for me to gain stage experience (she wasn't aware of my history of opening up for most of the reggae acts that came from Jamaica to do stage shows). I had just returned from England singing in Saxon Sound when all of this happened upon me.”

Coolie continued, “At the time, I was a dancehall artist doing ska and had no intention of staying in the scene. It was meant to be as a one-off tour with them and I would resume my work in dancehall. It really was culture shock for me.” He would not resume his role as the official and wildly popular front man of The Toasters until a few years later (Cashew Miles and then Pablo Wright were the interim singers/toasters for the band who appeared on This Gun for Hire and New York Fever). “I had just returned from living in London from 1991-1993. I was walking in New York City when I ran into [Toasters drummer] Jonathan McCain’s girlfriend. She said he was back in The Toasters and they were playing that night. I went to check them out the show--this was in 1993. Buck spotted me in the audience with my friend Natty and from the stage he began shouting out to me and reminding me of past shows we did. After the show, he came over and said he wanted to catch up and have a drink later in the week. We met for a drink at Blanche's and there he proposed I rejoin the band.”

The London International Ska Fest II flyer that was included in
every album mail ordered from Unicorn at the time.
Both the second London International Ska Festival (held at The Sir George Robey in Finsbury Park, London on May 27-29, 1989 with Laurel Aitken, The Trojans, The Deltones, Potato 5, The Toasters, Skaos, Floyd Lloyd, Skaos, The Hotknives, The Busters, The Braces, The Ska-dows, Mr. Review, Les Frelons, Spy Club, Arthur Kay’s Originals, and The Skandal on the bill) and the Frankenska recording at the Town and Country II in Islington, London on June 12, 1989 had been organized by Unicorn Record’s label head Mark Johnson, while the other Toasters’ dates around the UK were booked by RPM, which was run by several ex-members of 2 Tone act The Bodysnatchers. While George Marshall opined in Zoot that The Toasters’ performance wasn’t their best at the London ska fest, there’s no question that the band had all cylinders firing for the Frankenska recording.

While the Frankenska set list is loaded with classic Toasters tunes from Recriminations through Thrill Me Up, it also featured a small preview of the band’s next album in the form of “One Track Mind” (this one’s better than the studio version). Coolie confidently takes the lead vocals on “Go Girl,” “Don’t Blame Me,” and “Thrill Me Up” (and delivers some amazing toasting on “Run Rudy Run”), as if he had been in the band forever instead of a few months. The versions of “Ska Killers,” “East Side Beat” (check out Greg Grinnell’s hilarious Beastie Boys-like rap--swapping out the one usually done by Cavo during an instrumental break in the song: “I live on the outskirts of a place--East Flatbush/Hot like Texas and twice as dangerous/Every second of my life was a thrill/For a walk on the wild side, there’s a place--Brownsville/It’s hard to chill when they turn up the heat/Come on boys, do the East Side Beat…”), and “Pool Shark” are positively scorching. Even The Toasters’ roadie for that tour Steven “Big Steve” Carroll is heard from--he shouts “Matt Davis, special agent” throughout the album opener. I was fortunate enough to catch The Toasters several times in NYC in 1988 and 1989--those gigs continue to be some of the most amazing live shows I’ve ever experienced--and despite the unfortunate departure of some of the crew, the remaining Toasters more than hold their own on Frankenska; this performance rates amongst the Thrill Me Up-era band’s best. George Marshall concurred in his review of Frankenska for Zoot: “Despite a below par performance at Ska Fest II, The Toasters did enough on their European tour to make this LP worthwhile. It benefits from concentrating on their earlier material like ‘Matt Davis,’ ‘East Side Beat,’ and ‘Weekend in L.A.,’ making it a fans’ album with all three sure to get you dancing away in the safety of your bedroom. There’s even a giveaway poster for freebie freaks.”

Also on the bill that evening with The Toasters at the Town and Country II were the Potato 5 and The Deltones. A recording of the Potato 5’s fantastic performance that night was released as Five Alive on Unicorn Records and captured incredible tracks like “Spit ‘n’ Polish” and “Stopped by a Cop” that the band didn’t have a chance to record in the studio before breaking up late in 1989, after a difficult US tour (with gigs that included Bim Skala Bim and The Donkey Show). Bucket recalled that “Potato 5 was an awesome band. They had recorded that classic album with Laurel Aitken and some of their tunes like “Western Special” were excellent. We got on well with them and they had a relaxed vibe. Deltones were a bit shambolic, but they had great singers (Dill) and those shows we played with them knocking around in South East London were a lot of fun.”

A large free poster inside every LP!
By taking a big risk on this tour, The Toasters’ fortune finally changed for the better, as the band’s absolutely terrific live show was recorded for posterity, the tour put them on the radar overseas (and led to regular gigs throughout Europe and beyond from that point on to the present day), and on their return to the States, they connected with a major league domestic booking agency (which allowed The Toasters to further develop the US ska touring circuit and support all of local ska scene across the country--and lay the groundwork that would kick-start the massive, mid-’90s US ska revival). “As it turned out, that gamble paid off handsomely, as it raised the profile of the band immensely and we were able to tour in Europe consistently after that smash debut,” Bucket assessed. “It was a hot band and we blew most of the European groups away. Upon our return to the USA, we were promptly signed to Falk and Morrow booking, which was a huge agency. That helped cement the US touring and, hey presto, we were now an international touring act.”

The only bum notes about this release are that The Toasters never received any royalties for Frankenska (or any other Unicorn release of theirs, including Pool Shark and the Naked City comp) and the album was never issued domestically in the US. In the early 1990s, Unicorn’s Mark Johnson reportedly fled the UK for Turkey (and later Thailand) to escape the tax man and, in the process, absconded with what he owed to all the label’s bands. But given The Toasters’ previous experiences with other imprints and distributors who ripped them off or went belly up throughout the 1980s, it came as no shock(er) at all.

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