Sunday, December 9, 2018

Duff Review: Rhoda Dakar "The Lotek Four, Volume II"

Self-Released
7" vinyl EP
2018

(Review by Steve Shafer)

This is the second--and really superb-- crowdfunded EP from the always extraordinary Rhoda Dakar and her boss band (Louis Vause on piano and Paul Tadman on bass--both of the Lee Thompson Ska Orchestra; Lenny Bignell of Pama International and The Sidewalk Doctors on guitar; Mark Claydon from The Get Up on drums; and Terry Edwards of The Higsons and sometime Madness collaborator on horns). On The Lotek Four, Volume II, the soul influences that were quite present on Dakar's debut EP are even more pronounced--to great effect--on this set of really fine originals, all co-written with various members of the band (full disclosure, I was a supporter of this release; also, make sure to read our Duff Guide to Ska review of Dakar's first EP).

EP opener "Comfort Zone" is a fantastic jazzy-soul-ska cut that wouldn't have been out of place musically or thematically on The Special AKA's stellar In the Studio (Dakar's vocals, of course, were essential to the success of that album). The song's about going through life on auto-pilot--detached, ambivalent, without enjoyment; doing what you have to in order to get by ("The 9 to 5 is no good for me/Just busy keeping myself fed/To make a buck don't get me horny/I'd rather stay at home in bed...Save up that cash for that one rainy day/When the worst comes, I'll be up anyway..."). It's comfort zone as trap not refuge. "Welcome To My Themepark" is a Madness-y pop piss-take on the gentrification of Brixton, though it could just as easily apply to any formerly vibrant and funky urban neighborhood ruined by real estate developers' greed (huge swaths of Manhattan and Brooklyn have been transformed into playgrounds solely for the rich and fabulous). Dakar alternates between being an amusement park barker ("Ladies and gentlemen, by visiting Brixton police station at the end of your stay, anything of which you have been robbed--with the exception of your dignity--will be returned. Thank you for coming!"), and lamenting what has been lost: "It used to be a real town/Was a good life, not a fake one/And we lived that real good life/With our husbands and our wives."

The straight-up Stax-like "Back for More" finds the singer repeatedly trying to exit an emotionally abusive relationship: "You bide your time/I come back for more/Like a fool, I'm back for more." But the repeated chorus ends on a defiantly optimistic note: "I'm not coming back for more/I'm not coming back..." Everything ends too quickly with the ethereal "Love Notes (From Your Soul Team)," a wonderfully radiant, spirit-lifting track that is a sure-fired cure for anyone's blues. It also serves as a reminder of how vital close and caring friends are for staying sane and making it through this life: "You're on the same team/Not sure what it means/But you've faith in the friends who make it seem alright/We're your soul team/Here to stop you feeling sad/Takes a whole team/To antidote the bad/We're your soul team/Best support you've ever had/Sending love notes..." This is soul-pop perfection.

On the sleeve's liner notes, Dakar thanks her supporters for their leap of faith in funding both EPs in advance--well prior to hearing a note. And, once again, Dakar and Co. have delivered on their promise to their fans and then some. This is one small, but mightily impressive release.

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Tuesday, December 4, 2018

The Specials Preview "Vote For Me" From New Album "Encore"!

Terry Hall, Lynval Golding, Horace Panter (l-r)
(By Steve Shafer)

To help whet fans' appetites for the new Specials' album Encore (to be released on CD/LP on February 1, 2019 from UMC), the band is previewing their terrific song "Vote For Me" on their YouTube channel and FB page.

Upon first listen, it's sort of a shock to hear the opening bars of "Vote For Me" musically quote a bit of "Ghost Town" and then settle into the moody, minor-key territory staked out by The Special AKA's In the Studio (think the reggae and jazz of "Racist Friend," "Alcohol," and "What I Like Most About You Is Your Girlfriend," plus a bit of Rico's Jama; there's also a wonderful, Madness-like bridge with strings in there, too!). On one hand, it makes sense for the remaining Specials (Terry Hall, Lynval Golding, and Horace Panter--joined by top collaborators Nikolaj Torp Larsen on keys, Kenrick Rowe on drums, and Steve Craddock on guitar) to go this route--they're essentially time traveling to pick up where The Specials left off with More Specials and the Ghost Town EP--which is exactly what Jerry Dammers and John Bradbury did with The Special AKA after Terry Hall, Neville Staple, and Lynval Golding left The Specials to form Fun Boy 3 (some of the songs that appeared on The Special AKA's In the Studio were written before the split for The Specials' then-planned third album; and it should be noted that Panter, Golding, and Radiation did guest perform on a few In the Studio tracks).

So, in some sense, "Vote For Me" is a safe move, reminding the listener of Specials' sounds and songs of old that are ingrained on fans' hearts and minds. Yet, it's also sort of audacious, given how The Specials' dissolution was driven in part by dissatisfaction with the musical direction Dammers had taken with More Specials (he was the band's primary--though by no means sole--songwriter and arranger), as well as his leadership style (his given nickname "The General" was not meant to be endearing). Whether intentional or not, with "Vote For Me" they've validated Dammers' vision for the evolution of The Specials' post-"Ghost Town" music that was realized through In the Studio. It's just a shame that Dammers, Staples, Radiation, and Bradbury (RIP) couldn't be back for the ride, as "Vote For Me" successfully keeps faith with The Specials' collective sound and mission.

Lyrically, "Vote For Me" is pointed commentary on the corruption, lies, self-dealing, and moral bankruptcy of political leaders in England and America during this dreadfully bleak age of Brexit and Trumpism ("You tore our families apart" has to refer to the absolutely horrific, repugnant, racist, and inhumane Trump policy of sometimes permanently separating migrant/asylum-seeking kids from their parents at the US-Mexico border)--it continues the kind of "government leaving the youth on the shelf"/should be serving the greater good and needs of the people criticism expressed back in '81. And it's fantastic how the chorus references Queens, NY's bruddah's The Ramones and William Shakespeare (and Bob Marley's nod to the bard in "Get Up, Stand Up") to hammer home its point about political deception.

Every vote for you, do you promise
To be upright, decent, and honest
To have our best interests at heart?

You understand why we don't believe you
You're way too easy to see through
Not the best places to start

There are no rocks at Rockaway Beach
And all that glitters isn't gold

You're all so drunk on money and power
Inside your ivory tower
Teaching us not to be smart

Making laws that serve to protect you
But we won't ever forget that
You tore our families apart

There are no rocks at Rockaway Beach
And all that glitters isn't gold

So, every vote for you, do you promise
To be upright, decent, and honest
To take away all of the fear?

You said you wait for us to elect you
But all we'll do is reject you
Your politics bore us to tears

There are no rocks at Rockaway Beach
And all that glitters isn't gold

"Vote For Me" is a powerful and more than credible opening salvo from The Specials' Encore. Based on this track, it seems like fans' expectations for the new album should be high.

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For more on the new Specials' album, check our "Everything We Know About The Specials' New Album Encore" post from earlier this fall.

In addition, you can read The Duff Guide to Ska's write-up of the reissue of The Special AKA's In the Studio from a few years ago.

Lastly, unlike the some of the stone-filled beaches I've seen in England, New York City's Rockaway Beach is pretty much all sand and you can take the A subway line to get there.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Duff Review: Megative "Megative"

Last Gang Records
White vinyl LP/digital
2018

(Review by Steve Shafer)

Megative's tremendously good and absolutely searing self-titled debut is a concept album of sorts, focused on the breakdown or end, really the death, of everything--your own body and consciousness; inter-personal relationships; society/civilization; the sum of humanity; and the very planet that sustains us. These bleak Armagideon Time anxieties are expressed within a sparse, but powerfully realized and incredibly appealing mix of modern minor-key ska and dubby reggae (think of a mash-up of The Specials' Ghost Town EP with the Gorillaz's Demon Days or 2 Tone and punky-reggae Clash tracks given a modern, juiced-up Danger Mouse/Prince Fatty/Mungo's Hi-Fi production).

The album is bookended by tracks that incorporate the ominous wail of air-raid sirens (which, depending on your age, may remind one of the heavy "Two Tribes"-like 1980's Cold War trepidation of perishing in a nuclear holocaust that everyone carried with them daily). The opener, "Have Mercy," begs forgiveness for our accumulated sins over the ages that we now must pay for in a major Old Testament way ("There's something strange coming over this land/It don't have a face, still stares you down/Maybe it's the bloody history coming back and seeking revenge"). While the eerie final track "One Day...All This Will Be Gone," with its horror/sci-fi B-movie spoken intro (from the made-for-TV post-nuclear war movie "In the Year 2889": "Maybe there's no one left to hear my voice, no living being to record the end of the world...Down through the ages, the prophets forewarned us that in one day thousands of years of accomplishments would be wiped away by the destructive hand of power. Now that day has come..."), is about personal, emotional, and global apocalypse--from the perspective that everything is fated/designed to be impermanent, transitory, fleeting and we can't do a damn thing about it ("I never thought I was a fool for love/Until you broke my heart/And now I wonder if the end was not/Built into the stars" and "But monoliths will never last forever/Pyramids decay and weather/We scramble for eternal life anyway/I lie awake staring up at the ceiling/See the cracks and the dark gray feeling/We run from fear/But all our schemes are in vain"). It also may be about the terror of dying alone.

The songs that fill the grooves between are equally filled with dread.

In the shadow of looming mortality, the singer realizes in "More Time" that there are more days behind him than ahead--and regrets that he hasn't spent his time better ("Oh, I never gave a fuck about the youth I wasted/Oh, thought I had more time/Now I only seem to dream about/The fruits I tasted/Oh, can I get more time?"). It's an eventual lament for everyone living, but you'll sing with that chorus wherever you are in life. Fast-forward 10-15 years or so from Terry Hall's "Friday Night/Saturday Morning" and you have the protagonist of the very catchy "Can't Do Drugs (Like I Used To)," whose body is wearing out, expressing worries about the decline to come: "I can't do drugs/Like I used to/'Cause I know too much/And I might blow a fuse...I used to think I would live forever/They said that I was crazy/But when I dream of the future now/I wake up.../The sweat is dripping off me" (Screechy Dan hammers it home: "I remember when you used to be wilding/Club after club every night until morning...Time after time/You did line after line/To get dime after dime/It's crime after crime..."). The complete lack of empathy and failure/inability to recognize people as they actually are is portrayed in "She's Not Real" (with its echoes of "Stereotype"): "What she is/Is not what he sees/She's a figment/He wants to believe/Desire unquestioned/His heart is deceived/He wants to make her/Into all that he needs..."

The post-apocalyptic spaghetti Western reggae-ish "Beneath the Sun" (which features a fantastic Rico-like trombone solo) depicts a not-too-distant future when planetary climate change of our own making (that we failed to mitigate or reverse!) has transformed Earth into an unrecognizable hellish landscape of nothing but desert and salty sea--and triggered the disintegration of society and decimation of humanity. Extreme economic inequality at its ugliest plays out in "Can't Get Away," as the wealthiest have the resources to escape "a world charred to a crisp," leaving the desperate masses behind with no option but to face oblivion: "Oh, we watch those lucky few/Fly off into the stars/Never to return, while we cried/"Gotta get away!/Oh, can't get away!" (Think it's far-fetched scenario? What about the tech billionaires today developing their own private rocket programs?)

The one joyful and truly blissed-out moment on the entire album comes in the "They Live" referencing "Yeah Yeah Yeah (Yeah Yeah)." The verses of the song are in a minor key (as is almost every song on the record)--"The maniacs are in control/Aliens in human bodies without souls/We watch them on our screens like they're gods/And we smile while they feed us to the dogs/Now I fear I might do something rash/Watching lunatics build towers doomed to crash/They divide us up against our friends/How I long for the days when we'll all sing again..."--but everything abruptly shifts to a bright major key during the you-can't-resist-singing-along chorus of solidarity and rebellion against oppression: "yeah, yeah, yeah (yeah, yeah)!" Judge Screechy condemns the oppressors to death by guillotine for "crimes against humanity"--even though the end times are already here as a "wave of blood with crush the Earth." At least, humanity will be free to stand on their feet when Doomsday arrives.

Megative--vocalist Tim Fletcher (The Stills), producer/bassist Gus Van Go (Me, Mom and Morgentaler), producer/mixer/songwriting tandem Likeminds, AKA Jesse Singer and Chris Soper, and dancehall veteran Screechy Dan (Ruff Entry Crew)--have created a brilliant, if not deeply dark and profoundly disturbing vision of what's lurking on our horizon. The question is if we'll heed the alarm to change what we can (and even enjoy ourselves!) before it's too late.

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Thursday, November 15, 2018

Ska and Reggae Singer/Songwriter and Potato 5 Collaborator Floyd Lloyd Seivright Passes Away at 70

On November 6, 2018, ska and reggae singer and songwriter Floyd Lloyd Seivright passed away unexpectedly in St. Ann's Bay Hospital in Jamaica at age 70.

Third Wave ska fans worldwide know of Floyd Lloyd through his work with the Potato 5 on their classic 1987 debut album, Floyd Lloyd and the Potato 5 Meet Laurel Aitken (Gaz's Rockin' Records); read our review of it here. In addition to singing on side A of the album, Seivright co-wrote two of its fantastic tracks: "Tear Up" and "Big City" (one of my absolute favorite Potato 5 songs). He also appeared with the Potato 5 on Gaz's Ska Stars of the 80s compilation and with his own band on Unicorn's Double Barrel Ska Explosion live album, which was recorded at the second International London Ska Festival in 1989.

From the early 1970s through the mid-2000s, Lloyd wrote tracks performed by The Mighty Diamonds and Ernest Ranglin, in addition to the ten or so albums of his own songs that he recorded and released on his own Tropic label. Lloyd also founded Tropic Entertainment, Ltd., a music publishing business that represents over 500 titles, including songs composed by Justin Hinds, Lennie Hibbert, Ernest Ranglin, and Kareem Baaqi.

Back in my Moon Records days in the 1990s, I had the great pleasure of meeting the soft-spoken, but intensely focused Seivright in his Greenwich Village apartment in Manhattan to discuss the possibility of Moon doing some sort of deal to carry or license some of his ska albums. If I remember correctly, we ended up carrying several of his titles (including Tear It Up: The Ska Album and Better to Laugh) in our store and catalogue.

We extend our sincerest condolences to Floyd Lloyd Seivright's family, friends, and fans.

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Duff Review: "Rudeboy: The Trojan Records Story" Documentary

(Review by Steve Shafer)

Pitched somewhere between a hagiography of sorts and earnest truth-seeking documentary, "Rudeboy: The Story of Trojan Records," directed by Nicolas Jack Davies, had its US premiere last night at the DOC NYC Festival at a nearly sold-out screening at the SVA Theatre in Chelsea. Commissioned by BMG (which currently owns the Trojan catalogue) in celebration of Trojan's 50th anniversary this year, this 85-minute film employs a mix of short, talking head interviews with a number of often charming key players and commentators (Roy Ellis, Lee Perry, Derrick Morgan, Pauline Black, Don Letts, Ken Boothe, Toots Hibbert, George Dekker, Marcia Griffiths, Bunny Lee, King Edwards, Freddie Notes, Dandy Livingstone, Lloyd Coxsone, Neville Staple, and Dave Barker); archival footage of Jamaica, London, and TV/concert appearances by some of the featured artists; and truly artful recreations of past events with actors portraying various protagonists in this story, such as the late Trojan co-owner Lee Gopthal, Jamaican producer and Trojan sound system owner Duke Reid, and younger versions of Dandy Livingstone, Derrick Morgan, Bunny Lee, and more (they aren't given any lines and are usually shown in fairly ordinary situations in offices, studios, or dances, but nonetheless provide compelling visuals to accompany the audio of some of the interviews or samples of essential Trojan releases).

In sum, they provide a very cursory, but completely appealing outline of the label's history from its founding until it went under in 1975 (the origins and history of ska and its evolution to rocksteady and early reggae receive short shrift, too). Newcomers to Trojan will be intrigued and enlightened by what they learn, but anyone with a deeper knowledge of the label and its affiliated artists will be left wanting more (there's enough to cover here for a doc mini-series). Notably absent from the film is Trojan co-founder Chris Blackwell (after the viewing and brief Q&A with the audience, I asked director Davies about this as we were being ushered out of the theater and he told me that he very much wanted to include Blackwell, but was prevented from doing so, as Blackwell was contractually committed to telling his story for another project; Trojan label director and manager David Betteridge and Rob Bell stand in for him in the film) and with so many stellar artists released on Trojan over the years, one had the nagging feeling that far too many voices were left out (no doubt due to availability, budget and time constraints, and--most tragically--the deaths of many musicians).

At the heart of this film is the story of how a commercial enterprise (the joining of Chris Blackwell's and Lee Gopthal's similar ventures licensing reggae singles from Jamaican producers for release in the UK) unintentionally ended up influencing a generation (or two or three) of youth in the UK and beyond. And the film is most successful at conveying Trojan's enormous cultural and societal impact, as well as showcasing some of the label's finest music (which, of course, is released on the accompanying soundtrack album, full of superlative early reggae/skinhead reggae; a good reminder of how much extraordinary music came from this poor and tiny island nation).

Trojan's string of UK top ten charting pop hits in the late '60s and early '70s (including The Upsetters' "Return of Django," Harry J All Stars' "Liquidator," Boris Gardiner's "Elizabethan Reggae," Dave & Ansell Collins' "Double Barrel" and "Monkey Spanner," Desmond Dekker's "Israelites" and "It Mek," The Pioneers' "Long Shot (Kick De Bucket)," Bob and Marcia's "Young, Gifted, and Black" and "Pied Piper," the Melodians' "Sweet Sensation," and Nicky Thomas' "Love of the Common People") and success with its budget line of Tighten Up compilation albums was a result of skinhead reggae's massive popularity among both black and white youth. The sons and daughters of the Windrush generation (in the '50s and early '60s, over 100,000 Jamaicans emigrated to England after WWII after they were invited to help rebuild the nation and its economy) who largely felt alienated in Britain's overly racist society (there's a scene in the film where soundman Lloyd Coxsone recounts looking for employment at a government job center and finding that every listing was marked with a NCP, an acronym for "No Colored People") found that they shared a deep and common love for reggae with their white working class peers, which enabled all sorts of social connections to be formed (and making that generation of white Britons a bit less racist than the previous). Indeed, as reggae/punk DJ, filmmaker, and musician Don Letts reminds the viewer, the white skinheads of the late '60s/early '70s were, "the fashion kind, not the fascist kind," who were emulating the look of the black working class reggae fans and musicians. As well (as both Pauline Black and Neville Staple note), Trojan's artists and releases helped young, first-generation black Britons find validation and a sense of cultural belonging through the widespread embrace of reggae music and the representation of black British and Jamaican artists on the radio (even if it was usually pirate radio!), TV, and in the press.

The film glosses over the demise of Trojan, which was the result of many factors, including the transition to roots and dub in Jamaica (depriving the label of skinhead reggae to license), the business split between Gopthal and Blackwell (who went on to directly sign reggae musicians like Bob Marley and the Wailers, Toots and the Maytals, and Burning Spear to Island--and figured out how to successfully shape their sound for and market them to a white, rock audience), and the accumulated expenses from re-mixing, re-mastering, and adding pop strings to many later releases that never made it big. Also unmentioned was the common, but ugly and exploitive music business practice in Jamaica at that time--the music producer controlled the copyright/owned the recording. So, the producers of the licensed Trojan hits were paid all of the royalties due, little of which was ever shared with the artists themselves.

All criticisms aside, "Rudeboy: The Story of Trojan Records" really is a great (and fantastic looking/sounding) introduction to the legendary label and all of its stellar music--and longtime ska and reggae fans will enjoy watching it. But anyone seeking a much more detailed and comprehensive history of the label and its magnificent roster of artists will find it in Laurence Cane-Honeysett's newly released (also to mark the label's 50th anniversary) and absolutely essential "The Story of Trojan Records."

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Monday, November 12, 2018

The Duff Guide to Ska NYC Fall/Winter 2018 Ska Calendar #11

Linton Kwesi Johnson: Time's running out, so see some ska!
Friday, November 16, 2018 @ 6:00pm - 10:00 pm

100% Ska Selections with 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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Saturday, November 17, 2018 @ 9:30 pm

The Scofflaws, The Big Takeover

Diviera Drive
131 Berry Street
Brooklyn, NY
$10

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Saturday, November 17, 2018 @ 7:00 pm

Mustard Plug, Sgt. Scag

Bowery Electric
327 Bowery
New York, NY
Tix: Advance - $14/Day of show - $16
21+

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Saturday, November 17, 2018 @ 9:00 pm

Dubistry

Silvana
300 West 116th Street
New York, NY

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Saturday, November 24, 2018 @ 7:00 pm

Skarroñeros Farewell Show w/Días Azules, Perdixion, Escasos Recuros, Invading Species, and Lakras

Brooklyn Bazaar
150 Greenpoint Avenue
Brooklyn, NY

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Saturday, November 24, 2018 @ 9:00 pm

Caz Gardiner

Silvana
300 West 116th Street
New York, NY

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Friday, November 30, 2018 @ 9:00 pm

Ensamble Calavera First Anniversary Party

Maguire's Pub
5420 Roosevelt Avenue
Woodside, NY
$10/21+

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Saturday, December 1, 2018 @ 8:00 pm

Streetlight Manifesto, Mephiskapheles

Playstation Theater
1515 Broadway (at West 44th Street)
New York, NY
$29.50/16+

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Sunday, December 2, 2018 @ 8:00 pm

NYC Ska Orchestra w/Maddie Ruthless, Rho and The Nomads

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

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Saturday, December 15, 2018 @ 10:30 pm

Uzimon Holiday Danse with DJ Grace of Spades

Mercury Lounge
217 East Houston Street
New York, NY
$12-$15/21+

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Saturday, December 22, 2018 @ 7:00 pm

The Slackers, W.O.W., Pandemics, DJ Grace

Irving Plaza
17 Irving Place
New York, NY
$22/All ages

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Wednesday, January 2, 2019 @ 8:00 pm

Steel Pulse

Brooklyn Bowl
61 Wythe Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$35-$30/21+

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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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Wednesday, October 31, 2018

"Rudeboy: The Story of Trojan Records" To Be Shown at DOC NYC Festival!


Ska fans in the NYC area should take note that there will be a single screening of the new Trojan Records documentary "Rudeboy" on Wednesday, November 14, 2018 at 9:15 pm at the SVA Theater in Chelsea. The film is being shown as part of the DOC NYC film festival. (I've bought my tickets already and if you're interested, you should purchase them in advance now.)

"Rudeboy: The Story of Trojan Records" includes interviews with Roy Ellis, Lee "Scratch" Perry, Derrick Morgan, Pauline Black, Don Letts, Ken Boothe, members of The Pioneers, Marcia Griffiths, Bunny Lee, King Edwards, Dandy Livingstone, Lloyd Coxsone, Neville Staple, and Dave Barker.

Trojan Records is releasing a soundtrack to the film on both CD and LP; the CD is available now, while the LP will be issued on 11/9/18 (both can be ordered now through Amazon in the USA). Long-time fans will have the majority of these (classic) tracks, but new converts to the cause will have an incredible collection of reggae music to feast on.

Lastly, make sure to watch this preview of the movie that was broadcast on BBC News recently. If this doesn't convince you to go see "Rudeboy," I don't know what will!

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Monday, October 29, 2018

Everything We Know About The Specials' New Album "Encore"

Word's been seeping out for a bit now about The Specials new record Encore, which is being released on February 1, 2019 (it's already available to pre-order through Amazon.co.uk, but not in the US yet). So, we're going to sum up what's publicly known and then some. The 10-track album will be available on vinyl and CD (the latter includes a bonus disc, titled The Best of The Specials Live). Of note, Encore is being issued on a major label by UMC (Universal Music Catalogue), which is part of the Universal Music Group. This particular imprint released Madness' most recent album Can't Touch Us Now and its current batch of new records includes The Beatles' deluxe reissue of The White Album, The Rolling Stones' 50th anniversary edition of Beggar's Banquet, and remastered back catalogue/comps from Massive Attack, Brian Eno, The Cure, The Beach Boys, John Lennon, The Police, Soft Cell, REM, Metallica, Guns n' Roses, and more. So, it'll be interesting to see what sort of promotional push this receives (The Specials are announcing their 2019 tour dates on October 30).

Encore's track list is a mix of new material and covers:
  1. "Black Skinned Blue-Eyed Boys" [an Equals cover]
  2. "B.L.M." [Black Lives Matter]
  3. "Vote For Me"
  4. "The Lunatics Have Taken Over the Asylum" [a Fun Boy 3 cover]
  5. "Breaking Point"
  6. "Blam Blam Fever" [a Valentines' cover AKA "Guns Fever"]
  7. "10 Commandments" [a Prince Buster cover, featuring Saffiyah Khan]
  8. "Embarrassed By You"
  9. "The Life And Times (Of a Man Called Depression)"
  10. "We Sell Hope"
While various--but never all--members of The Specials have recorded as The Specials (King of Kings with Desmond Dekker, Today’s Specials, Guilty ’til Proved Innocent!, Skinhead Girl, and Conquering Ruler) in the years since the original group split in 1981 (into The Special AKA and Fun Boy 3), Encore marks the first time singer Terry Hall has recorded/released new material under The Specials banner since the extraordinary/incendiary Ghost Town EP.

This iteration of The Specials consists of original members Hall, Lynval Golding, and Horace Panter--joined by more recent collaborators: keyboardist Nikolaj Torp Larsen (who also co-wrote some of these tunes with Hall, Golding, and Panter), Kenrick Rowe on drums, and Ocean Colour Scene guitarist Steve Craddock. Founder, primary songwriter, and keyboardist Jerry Dammers steadfastly has refused to participate in any Specials reunions; guitarist Roddy Radiation and singer Neville Staple were part of many reunion tours, but opted out within the past few years to pursue their own musical projects; and, sadly, drummer John "Brad" Bradbury passed away unexpectedly in 2015.

Specials biographer Paul "Willo" Williams has posted an exclusive, glowing preview of Encore, which he states picks up "where More Specials left off" (so there will be bits of rock, pop, and soul with your 2 Tone); and if "'Ghost Town' was the anthem of 1981, then Encore is the snapshot of the world today--and on a global scale." Expect sharp political and social commentary on racism, sexism, gun violence, mental illness, and more--all of which you can dance to.

Needless to say, expectations are running high for this release (fans have been clamoring for new material ever since the first few reunion tours, which started back in 2008!). Here's really hoping that the band delivers!

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Thursday, October 25, 2018

Madness' "Michael Caine" and The Troubles

The deceptively happy cover of
Madness' 1984 single "Michael Caine."
I've been reading Stuart Bailie's extraordinary "Trouble Songs: Music and Conflict in Northern Ireland" (bands like The Undertones, Stiff Little Fingers, The Clash, Dexy's, Rudi, and many more are covered) and was surprised to come across a passage about Madness' "Michael Caine"--a track I liked well enough when I'd first heard in 1984 on WLIR, but always though of as sort of lightweight pop single. From what I could discern from the chorus ("And all I wanted was a word/or photograph to keep at home"), I imagined that it was some sort of scenario of romantic cinematic regret/longing related to one of Michael Caine's movie roles, perhaps "Alfie"?  It turns out that the track actually refers to something much more weighty: The early 1980s UK state policy of using a "supergrass"--a paid informer or IRA member who was granted immunity from prosecution for identifying and testifying against other IRA members (who then has to go into witness protect and live under an assumed identity).

Bailie writes: "'Michael Caine' draws on this feature of the conflict. The character in the song is anxious and startled by the sound of a phone. He wishes he had a photograph or memento of his past life, but this is unsafe and not permitted by the programme. The name repetition is a technique to resist interrogation and by using Michael Caine (who obliged Madness with a voice sample) it references the dark espionage of films like "The Ipcress File." The song also draws on Cathal's [Smyth AKA Chas Smash's] memories of Coleraine and Porstewart in 1971:

'Woody [Dan Woodgate, Madness drummer] sent me a cassette of the music and the lyrics came to me immediately. I don't know why. I thought of my time in Northern Ireland, you know, Bernadette Devlin, the people banging the dustbin lids on the floor [to warn people that the British Army was in the area], that comedy tune, 'Belfast, Belfast.' I remembered going to the shops and being frisked. I remember thinking back to when rubber bullets were being used, thinking, 'Jesus...' It was a general mood of suspicion and fear.

'At the front end of the song I said, "we'll get the IRA and yah yah," which was like, we'll get the IRA and shit, but I was too scared to be obvious. And then the concept of Michael Caine put a veneer over it, which made it like a spy film, like "Get Carter." But it was totally inspired by Northern Ireland. I was scared to be overt. I wanted a song to have a sense of the fear and the underlying suspicion that was present. It was almost tangible in the air. You know, that thing of the right street, the right pub...the wrong street, the wrong pub.'"

Indeed, during the spoken opening of the official music video for "(My Name Is) Michael Caine," Madness saxophonist Lee Thompson drives up in car that stops in front of a bag of trash, gets out, and addresses the camera "If there's one thing worse than a murderer, it's a dirty, rotten, stinking 'grass'." Then he picks up the bag of garbage and tosses it off-screen, saying, "And that goes for litterbugs, as well."

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Read more of The Duff Guide to Ska's writings on Madness:

The Liberty of Norton Folgate

Can't Touch Us Now

Oui Oui Si Si Ja Ja Da Da

Total Madness

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Wednesday, October 24, 2018

The Duff Guide to Ska NYC Fall/Winter 2018 Ska Calendar #10

Friday, October 26, 2018 @ 7:00 pm

Big D and the Kids Table, BIGWIG, The Creepshow, Sgt. Scag

Brooklyn Bazaar
150 Greenpoint Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
Tix: Advance - $15 / Day of show - $17
16+

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Friday, October 26, 2018

Punky Reggae Party with Boomshot Riddim Collective, Escasos Recursos, Nufok Rebels, plus sound selectors Grace of Spades, Rata, Tenosh, Pdrito

Email revqc@eastrev for address.

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Saturday, October 27, 2018 @ 7:00 pm

Lee "Scratch" Perry and Subatomic Sound System: 45th Anniversary Performance of "Blackboard Jungle Dub," Top Shotta Band

Elsewhere
599 Johnson Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$25/16+

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Saturday, November 3, 2018 @ 8:00 pm

The Full Watts Band, Boomshot

C'mon Everybody
325 Franklin Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$10 in advance/$13 at door
21+

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Tuesday, November 6, 2018 @ 8:00 pm

Fishbone, Living Color, Brass Against

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

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Thursday, November 8, 2018 @ 7:00 pm

Stacked Like Pancakes, Beat Brigade

The Kingsland
269 Norman Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$10 in advance/$13 day of show
16+

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Saturday, November 17, 2018 @ 9:30 pm

The Scofflaws, The Big Takeover

Diviera Drive
131 Berry Street
Brooklyn, NY
$10

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Saturday, November 17, 2018 @ 7:00 pm

Mustard Plug, Sgt. Scag

Bowery Electric
327 Bowery
New York, NY
Tix: Advance - $14/Day of show - $16
21+

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Saturday, December 1, 2018 @ 8:00 pm

Streetlight Manifesto, Mephiskapheles

Playstation Theater
1515 Broadway (at West 44th Street)
New York, NY
$29.50/16+

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Saturday, December 22, 2018 @ 7:00 pm

The Slackers

Irving Plaza
17 Irving Place
New York, NY
$22/All ages

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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, October 22, 2018

Boy George: "People Who Don't Like Reggae Music Are Quite Disturbing"

Culture Club have a new album coming out soon (called Life), so Boy George has been making the rounds with the music press to promote it. And that's how I came across this incredible exchange from the October 19/26, 2018 issue of Entertainment Weekly:

EW: "A few of the tracks, including the single "Let Somebody Love You," have a strong reggae vibe. Did you listen to a lot of that while making Life?"

Boy George: "I've always liked reggae music. I'm always surprised when people don't love it, but there are people out there who don't. Look, there are people out there who don't like Bowie! I've met them! I've met people that have said to me, 'Yeah, I didn't ever really get into Bowie.' I'm like, 'Well, which period did you not get into?' Because there's so many different parts of Bowie. And I think the same thing with reggae music. People who don't like reggae music, I think, are quite disturbing."

Boy George released a fantastic album called This Is What I Do back in 2014 (which we reviewed) that contains a good number of reggae tunes (roots and dancehall)--and is absolutely worth picking up, if you haven't already.

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Thursday, October 18, 2018

New UB40 Album "For the Many" To Be Released in Celebration of their 40th Anniversary (plus a Tour of the USA in 2019)!

If you've been a long-standing UB40 fan, you're painfully aware that the band has split into two factions--UB40 featuring Ali Campbell, Mickey Virtue, and Astro, and UB40 (with Robin Campbell, Jimmy Brown, Earl Falconer, Norman Hassan, Brian Travers, and Duncan Campbell). I've seen both permutations live and have to admit to preferring the version with Robin, Duncan, et al, as they performed a terrific mix of their own hit material (often sharply political and socialist in nature) in addition to some of their Labour of Love-type covers (read our review of their 2010 show at the now closed B.B. King's in Times Square), while UB40 with Ali et al pretty much stuck to the (admittedly very popular) covers (read our review of their 2015 show at the now closed Webster Hall).

In celebration of UB40's 40th anniversary, the Robin/Duncan iteration of the band has recorded an album of all new material titled For the Many (a nod to Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party slogan), which will be accompanied by a dub version, and a third version featuring guest collaborators. The album proper and deluxe edition with the dub album can be pre-ordered via their Pledge campaign--with a release set for February 2019. (If you can believe it, the last time UB40 released a non-covers album was in 2008, with TwentyFourSeven, which included some truly great songs, including "Dance Until the Morning Light," "Middle of the Night," and "Oh America"). They also will be touring the UK and USA in 2019.

UB40 featuring Ali, Mickey, and Astro have recently released another album of covers, A Real Labour of Love.

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For more on UB40, check out The Duff Guide to Ska appreciation of Present Arms that we posted a few years ago.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Duff Review: "Joe Strummer 001"!

Ignition Records
3xLPs and 1x12" single /2xCD
2018

(Review by Steve Shafer)

The story goes that after Joe Strummer's death (in 2002 at age 50 from a heart attack), a huge cache of his writings and recordings was discovered in a barn in his backyard, which ultimately yielded the 20,000 items that now comprise the Joe Strummer Archive (apparently he was quite the pack rat-documentarian). The new compilation Joe Strummer 001 is the first batch of freshly buffed material to emerge from the archive, much of it somewhat obscure/hard-to-find (see LP #1) or never released (LP #3 and the 12" single) and will be eagerly consumed by Clash and Strummer fans. But LP #2--containing readily available recordings of Strummer with The Mescaleros, Jimmy Cliff, and Johnny Cash (plus his contribution to Chef Aid: The South Park Album, the Buddy Holly pastiche "It's a Rockin' World")--is a bit at odds with rest of this set, as its seems to be more about re-shaping/re-claiming Strummer's post-Clash legacy than yielding unheard musical gems or rarities. (For instance, they could have swapped out LP #2 out for a cleaned up version of some/all of The Clash Mark II's Out of Control demos (AKA the 1983 Lucky 8 demos) or their legendary live benefit performance for striking coal miners at The Academy in Brixton on December 6, 1984, since that excellent, unheralded band was really more of Joe Strummer solo enterprise anyway. For proof of their greatness before manager Bernie Rhodes' machinations mucked it all up, read Mark Andersen and Ralph Heibutzki's "We Are The Clash" and listen to Crooked Beat Records' Recutting the Crap Volumes I and II. Also anyone looking for a fantastic comp of Joe Strummer and The Mescaleros' music should pick up their Live at Acton Town Hall, which we reviewed a few years ago).

Strummer's so-called "wilderness years"--between the disintegration of The Clash Mark II in 1986 and his finally regaining solid footing again with The Mescaleros in the late 1990s--were filled with a series of short-lived groups and one-off collaborations (and the not-so-great solo album Earthquake Weather); acting in and recordings cuts for art house and Hollywood film soundtracks; a drawn-out legal dispute with Sony; subbing for Shane McGowan in The Pogues; and DJing on the BBC World Service. (In Chris Salewicz's "Redemption Song: The Ballad Of Joe Strummer," he posits that during this period Strummer was clinically depressed--and episodes about the demise of The Clash Mark II in "We Are The Clash" support this assertion.)

The aforementioned unreleased/hard-to-find tracks on LPs #1, #2, and the 12" single have precious little reggae (disappointing, really--and the cover of The Tennors' "Ride Your Donkey" from Earthquake Weather is surprisingly meh) and there's a bit too much Americana for my taste, but the punk, rock, and worldbeat songs are pretty terrific. If you followed Strummer in the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s, you've likely encountered some of this lesser-known material (on LP #1), like "Love Kills" from the "Sid and Nancy" soundtrack, "Trash City" from the "Permanent Record" OST, and "Generations" from the A Punk Look at Human Rights comp (with punk supergroup Electric Dog House, made up of members of The Ruts DC and The Damned). But I've never heard the prime cuts "Afro-Cuban Be-Bop" with The Astro-Physicians (AKA The Pogues, which give this left-field Latin-y/Irish mash-up its Celtic flavor) from the "I Hired A Contract Killer" indie film soundtrack and the rabble-rousing cover of the anti-fascist Spanish Civil War song "15th Brigade" with The Latino Rockabilly War, the b-side to the "Island Hopping" Earthquake Weather single. Oddly, "Sandpaper Blues" with Radar is replicated almost note-for-note on The Mescalero' debut Rock Art and the X-Ray Style (is it the same recording?).

Of LP #2's previously unreleased songs, only "When Pigs Fly" (which nicks a bit of The Supremes' "You Can't Hurry Love") and "Rose of Erin" (both from the indie film soundtrack "When Pigs Fly"), the lounge-y "The Cool Impossible" (think "Broadway"), the Clash Mark II demo of "Pouring Rain" (ragged and impassioned!), and the absolutely stellar rocker "London's Burning" (which was released as a 7" vinyl single that we reviewed recently) are essential additions to the Strummer canon. It's definitely interesting to hear the reggae-ish "Czechoslovak Song/Where is England" demo, though the version from the Lucky 8 sessions--retitled as "This is England"--has much more kick to it (and it should be noted that the UK 12" of this last great Clash single includes two other legitimately good Clash Mark II tracks, "Do It Now" and "Sex Mad Roar"). And then there are other songs from the vault that take up space that could have been devoted to more vital material which was left on the shelves--like the cleaned-up, zydeco-y second take on "Pouring Rain" and the "Sid and Nancy" outtakes (with Mick Jones on guitar) "Crying on 23rd" (a straight-up blues track) and "Bullets" (a country-western cut with Pearl Harbor--AKA Pearl E. Gates--on vocals who, at one point, was spouse to Paul Simonon).

Lastly, the 12" (one-sided) single offers an unreleased Strummer/Jones Big Audio Dynamite composition "U.S. North" (for the indie film "Candy Mountain") that must have been recorded around the time of BAD's No. 10, Upping Street (which Strummer co-produced with Jones; they co-wrote "Ticket" on that album, too). It's a decent song (though far too long at 10+ minutes) and may be the only instance where Strummer sang and played guitar on a BAD recording.

If you're unfamiliar with Joe Strummer's post-Combat Rock years, this compilation does a pretty spectacular job of filling in the blanks. But it may leave the more zealous Strummer/Clash fans less satisfied and hoping that subsequent releases from Strummer's recorded archive will reveal even greater finds.

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Thursday, October 11, 2018

New Specials Album Update via Paul Willo

Specials biographer/insider Paul "Willo" Williams posted an intriguing update regarding The Specials' (Terry Hall, Lynval Golding, and Sir Horace Panter) new album on his FB page:
The new album is at the final mix mastering stage.
A fabulous collection of politics, life stories and personal tales.
Imagine where the band should have gone after More Specials.
This is The Specials with a lifetime of life experience behind them.
Album will be out Feb 1st 2019 as they celebrate their 40th Anniversary.
Are shows planned? YES.
Hold onto your hats...
More news end of month.
To be honest, I put a good amount of stock in Willo's opinion--I don't think this is mere hype.

We'll pass along any bits of news as we find them (nothing's on The Specials' website yet)!

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Thursday, September 27, 2018

Duff Review: Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros "London Is Burning"

Ignition Records
Limited edition 7" vinyl picture sleeve single
2018

(Review by Steve Shafer)

In advance of Joe Strummer 001, the new 32-track collection of his somewhat rare and unreleased (12 of them!) pre- and post-Clash (Mark 1) music, comes the new single "London Is Burning"--a truly fantastic, (punk) rocking alternate version (with an incredible Midnight Oil-sounding bass line) of the subdued and ballad-y "Burnin' Streets" that appeared on his posthumous 2003 album with The Mescaleros, Streetcore

Written a quarter of a century on and with echoes of The Clash's 1977 track "London's Burning"--about being bored, frustrated, and aimless living in the tower blocks, but kind of excited by all the possibilities that presents, too--"London Is Burning" has more existential concerns, like how to get by on streets that have gotten meaner and bleaker: "It takes every day to be surviving in the city/Ready to face a dawn with no pity" and "There's too many guns in this damn town/At the supermarket/You gotta duck down/Baby flack jackets on the merry-go-round..." Can't just be lost in the market any more. (The mind reels at what multiculturalist Strummer would be singing about these days.)

There's also this great turn of a phrase in the break: "There's a love triangle on a two-way street"; and this verse filled with still relevant uncertainty and disorientation: "A century that's hardly on its feet/The late news breaks early/Does the sun rise from the West or from the East?"

Here's hoping there are other revelations like this in Joe Strummer 001.

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Note: This 45 is one of the extra goodies offered with the deluxe version of this compilation, but copies of this single are available from joestrummer.com.

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Further reading: The Duff Guide to Ska review of Joe Strummer and The Mescaleros' "Live at Acton Town Hall." ("London Is Burning" was was originally titled "Fire Fighting Street" and written for the Fire Brigade Union benefit show at Acton Town Hall on November 15, 2002.)

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Thursday, September 20, 2018

The Duff Guide to Ska NYC Fall 2018 Ska Calendar #9

Scratch
Saturday, September 22, 2018 @ 8:00 pm

David Hillyard and The Rocksteady 7 - Record release show!

Hank's Saloon
46 Third Avenue (corner of Atlantic)
Brooklyn, NY

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Sunday, September 23, 2018 @ 8:00 pm

Israel Vibration and The Roots Radics Band

Sony Hall
235 West 46th Street, New York, New York
$26.50

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Saturday, October 13, 2018 @ 10:00 pm

Hub City Stompers, 45 Adaptors, Hekla

New Old Rock Deli/Blarney Stone
11 Trinity Place
New York, NY
$10 in advance/$15 day of show
21+

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Friday, October 19, 2018 @ 7:00 pm

Vic Ruggiero (of The Slackers), DJ Agent Jay, The Hempsteadys

The Kingsland
269 Norman Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$10

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Friday, October 26, 2018 @ 7:00 pm

Big D and the Kids Table, BIGWIG, The Creepshow, Sgt. Scagnetti

Brooklyn Bazaar
150 Greenpoint Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
Tix: Advance - $15 / Day of show - $17
16+

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Saturday, October 27, 2018 @ 7:00 pm

Lee "Scratch" Perry and Subatomic Sound System: 45th Anniversary Performance of "Blackboard Jungle Dub," Top Shotta Band

Elsewhere
599 Johnson Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$25/16+

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Thursday, November 8, 2018 @ 7:00 pm

Stacked Like Pancakes, Beat Brigade

The Kingsland
269 Norman Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$10 in advance/$13 day of show
16+

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Saturday, November 17, 2018 @ 9:30 pm

The Scofflaws, The Big Takeover

Diviera Drive
131 Berry Street
Brooklyn, NY
$10

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Saturday, November 17, 2018 @ 7:00 pm

Mustard Plug

Bowery Electric
327 Bowery
New York, NY
Tix: Advance - $14/Day of show - $16
21+

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Saturday, December 1, 2018 @ 8:00 pm

Streetlight Manifesto, Mephiskapheles

Playstation Theater
1515 Broadway (at West 44th Street)
New York, NY
$29.50/16+

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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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Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Duff Review: Lee "Scratch" Perry "The Black Album"

Upsetter Records
CD/Double LP
2018

(Review by Steve Shafer)

On The Black Album, Lee "Scratch" Perry collaborates again with co-producer Daniel Boyle (who also recently worked with Max Romeo on his fantastic Horror Zone in Boyle's Black Ark-modeled Rolling Lion studio), since their initial foray--2014's Back on the Controls--garnered a Grammy nomination and great notices. As with that release, Boyle's and Perry's mission on The Black Album is to capture the sound and spirit of Perry's spectacular 1970's analog Black Ark productions (Upsetter keyboardist Robbie Lyn plays on many cuts here), which were exceptionally warm, organic, and had a vibrant immediacy, and featured otherworldly percussive and aural effects resulting from Perry's masterful, spur-of-moment inventive, and wildly unorthodox approach to music and studio production. And it will come as no surprise that they've accomplished all this again here on a terrific new set of roots reggae cuts and their excellent track-for-track dub versions.

According to the liner notes, during the recording of this album Perry referred to the sound as "black," which then needed "space, light, and darkness" to help give it form and definition--all of which implies that there's a necessary ying and yang type of harmony/balance for everything in creation (including the diversity of people). This point is perhaps best illustrated on the wonderful and most perfectly realized track on the album, "Your Shadow Is Black" (and accompanying dub!). It's a bright, mid-tempo reggae cut with flute, melodica, harmonizing back-up singers, and Perry singing/saying stream-of-consciousness lyrics (he even makes kissing sounds at an appropriate spot): "Whirlwind and fire/Dark shadow in the room/Love your shadow/Your shadow is black/Your shadow is mud/Your shadow is God..." The Old Testament reference to Sodom and Gomorrow (Gomorrah) and mention of an ominous dark shadow on the moon suggests that evil is amongst us always (as a contrast with the good and righteous), but also infers that there will be divine punishment for wicked doers (the Lot reference in "Your Shadow Is Black" made me look up Perry's work on The Congos' magnificent "Sodom and Gomorrow" to compare their productions and they're incredibly similar in sound and vision!).

The great, eerie album opener "Mr. Brown In Town" makes direct lyrical reference to the Glen Adams-penned Bob Marley and the Wailers song "Mr. Brown" (which versioned Jackie Mittoo's "Pennie Wallie" and was based on a rumor about a ghost "upsetting" everyone by riding around Kingston in a three-wheeled coffin with three crows riding on top asking for a Mr. Brown; Perry also sang about "Mr. Brown" on his 1998  "Dr. Lee PhD" collaboration with The Beastie Boys). Essentially, "Mr. Brown In Town" declares that Perry is back "on the street again," "I'm still alive/refuse to die," and asserts that rebels/devils in the poor, violent Back-o-Wall slum don't fear Mr. Brown (and at one point--message to the Resistance--when exhorting Mr. Brown the clown to get out of town, he inserts "Trump!" instead of Brown).

Other standout tracks include the (expected and) knowingly boastful/self-aggrandizing "Trendsetter" ("Lee Scratch Perry/Upsetting the universe") and "Captain Perry" ("...of the mothership/Captain Perry/Don't miss a trick")--and perhaps Scratch isn't a big fan of some forms of reggae (see: "Killing Dancehall Softly"). Perry mounts a more-than-credible defense of being a vegetarian on "Dead Meat": "666/Me no eat meat...I'm so crazy because I don't eat dead flesh...No cannibals/You gotta to believe in animals." (Just the other day, I saw a video of Perry singing to cows in a field...) I'm not completely sure of the message being conveyed on the amazingly upbeat "Solid State Communication" (Perry as the instrument of God's word?): "Genesis/Revelation/I'm the Bible/I'm black Jesus...I am the God of Creation/I am the Lord of the Lords/Solid as a rock/King of Kings/And Lord of Lords/Conquering Lion of Judah/Solid state logic communication/The Upsetter...I'm a computer!" Of course, few but Scratch can pull off something like this so spectacularly well.

At 83--in his sixth decade of continually making and producing groundbreaking music--Scratch continues to move forward, always creating and amazing all with the results. (May everyone be so fortunate in their own lives...) Needless to say, fans of Perry and roots reggae will be more than pleased with The Black Album.

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Monday, September 10, 2018

Duff Review: Lee "Scratch" Perry "Game of the Throne" EP

Byrd Out
12" vinyl EP
2018

(Review by Steve Shafer)

The three tracks on the Game of the Throne EP--which were licensed from Mad Professor's Ariwa label--appear to have originated from the same sessions that produced the recent Black Ark Classics in Dub album from Mad Professor and The Robotiks featuring Lee "Scratch" Perry. "This is the Upsetter" is a fairly straight-forward, but enjoyable dub version of Perry's 1968 rocksteady cut "The Upsetter"--his first release for Joe Gibbs' label after breaking with Studio One (and aimed at squarely at Clement "Coxsone" Dodd for not giving him enough credit and money for his productions for Dodd). More compelling are the dubs of the paranoid/grudge-filled "Evil Tongues" and fantastically left-field "Soul Fire" (both from Scratch's phenomenal 1978 Roast Fish Collie Weed and Corn Bread album), renamed here as "Lion's Share Dub" and "Game of the Throne." Surprisingly, "Lion's Share Dub" is devoid of spoken or sung commentary--no grievances aired here--but it's a terrific Black Ark-ish dub instrumental. The highlight of the EP is "Game of the Throne," which transforms this previously quirky (but awesome) track into one with a serious, danceable (!) groove that offers praises to Jah ("Lord of lords/King of kings/Word of words/God of gods") and invokes the sacrificial/cleansing religious aspects/connotations of fire with righteous Old Testament punishment ("God will be speedy/And burn all the greedy/And save the needy"). Perhaps not essential, but Perry obsessives will absolutely want this.

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Wednesday, September 5, 2018

The Duff Guide to Ska NYC Late Summer/Fall 2018 Ska Calendar #8

Friday, September 7, 2018 @ 7:30 pm

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

Pier 17
89 South Street
New York, NY
$40.50

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Sunday, September 9, 2018 @ 10:00 pm

Reggae Punky Latin in Bushwick ft. DJ Shabbakano and DJ Comardr3

Bootleg Bar
1438 Myrtle Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
No cover

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Friday, September 14, 2018 @ 6:00 pm

Rocks Off Booze Cruise with Goldfinger and Pilfers

Aboard the Liberty Belle
Board at Pier 36
299 South Street
New York, NY
Tix: Advance - $39.99/Day of show - $45
21+

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Saturday, September 15, 2018 @ 9:00 pm

Dubistry

Shrine
2271 Seventh Avenue/Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Blvd. (between 133rd and 134th Streets)
New York, New York
No cover!

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Saturday, September 15, 2018 @ 10:00 pm

Move Your Mule Reunion

(Agent Jay, Li'l Jerk, Jonny Metro, Jah Point, Rata, and guest selectors will be dropping Ska, Reggae, and Rocksteady vinyl all night!)

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

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Tuesday, September 18, 2018 @ 9:00 pm

Black Uhuru

Highline Ballroom
431 West 16th Street
New York, NY
$25

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Saturday, September 22, 2018 @ 8:00 pm

David Hillyard and The Rocksteady 7 - Record release show!

Hank's Saloon
46 Third Avenue (corner of Atlantic)
Brooklyn, NY

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Sunday, September 23, 2018 @ 8:00 pm 

Israel Vibration and The Roots Radics Band

Sony Hall
235 West 46th Street, New York, New York
$26.50

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Friday, October 19, 2018 @ 7:00 pm

Vic Ruggiero (of The Slackers), DJ Agent Jay, The Hempsteadys

The Kingsland
269 Norman Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$10

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Friday, October 26, 2018 @ 7:00 pm 

Big D and the Kids Table, BIGWIG, The Creepshow, Sgt. Scagnetti

Brooklyn Bazaar
150 Greenpoint Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
Tix: Advance - $15 / Day of show - $17
16+

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Saturday, October 27, 2018 @ 7:00 pm

Lee "Scratch" Perry and Subatomic Sound System: 45th Anniversary Performance of "Blackboard Jungle Dub"

Elsewhere
599 Johnson Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$25/16+

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Saturday, November 17, 2018 @ 7:00 pm

Mustard Plug

Bowery Electric
327 Bowery
New York, NY
Tix: Advance - $14/Day of show - $16
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, September 3, 2018

Help Save the London International Ska Festival!

Sean Flowerdew, organizer of the long-running London International Ska Festival (and member of such illustrious bands as The Loafers, Pama International, and Phoenix City All-Stars), has launched a crowdfunder to help keep the festival (whose very existence is being threatened by its debt burden).

I'll let Sean make his pitch below (do read it, please), but I do want to let you know that there are all sorts of simple and rewarding ways for you--ska fans worldwide--to help Save the London International Ska Festival. You could do this by donating £5 for a raffle to take place this October (with prizes ranging from a £250 voucher to Merc clothing, a 250 voucher to Modfather clothing, a Trojan Records bundle, a Greensleeves Records bundle, a Cherry Red Red Records ska bundle, tickets to LISF Clash tribute or 2 Tone Thames cruises, signed LPs from Lynval Golding, Toots Hibbert, Mad Professor, and others, a subscription to Do The Dog Skazine, and much more!); pre-ordering the fantastic new Rudies All Around 18-track international ska compilation (CD, LP, digital) or the much-antipated Clash Version Rockers by the Phoenix City All-Stars (both albums start shipping out around September 21, 2018); or if you're planning to be in London or live there, consider buying advance tickets for one of the LISF club nights or river cruises this fall!

I've already pre-ordered the Rudies All Around and Clash Version Rockers albums and am about to pick up one of those raffle tickets (since you've got to be in it to win it). The Save the London International Ska Festival crowdfunder campaign only lasts until September 18, 2018, so if you want to do your part, you really do need to act now.

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Sean Flowerdew: "I founded The London Intl Ska Festival in 1988. Since then we've celebrated all things ska, from its roots in mento, calypso and rhythm & blues and onward through its evolution into rocksteady, reggae, dub, 2 Tone, skapunk and beyond.

Since 2011 the festival has been operating with substantial debts, which despite some great support and fundraising still total over £50,000. In the last 8 years, although I haven't ever taken a penny from the festival or been paid for any of the work, I have been able to keep the festival going year to year and paying off debts as I go. This unfortunately has taken its toll and I can no longer afford to fund the festival by myself.

So I'm reaching out to ska lovers around the world, to people who see the importance of our historic festival and to all the people who have enjoyed the shows over the last 30 years.

The aim of this crowdfunder is to try and #SaveTheSkaFest and clear the historic debts once and for all. Then The London Intl Ska Festival can move forward and continue to programme world-class and world-exclusive shows. You can help in a number of ways.

You can donate using this campaign, or purchase any one of our rewards which include badges, our compilation CD & LP Rudies All Around (featuring 18 fantastic bands from 13 countries), or tickets for any one of our events (all listed in the rewards). I will also be adding some more rewards next week.

Over 30 years we have hosted some of the greatest names in the genre including 2 Tone members from The Specials and Madness, plus The Selecter, The Beat, Jerry Dammers and Rhoda Dakar. We've had Jamaican legends: Prince Buster, Alton Ellis, Delroy Wilson, U-Roy, The Skatalites (starring Tommy McCook, Roland Alphonso, Lloyd Knibb, Lloyd Brevett, Dizzy Moore and Lester Sterling), Lee Perry, Horace Andy, Desmond Dekker, Ken Boothe, Doreen Shaffer, Derrick Morgan, Laurel Aitken, Keith & Tex, Ken Parker, Rico Rodriguez, Derrick Harriott, Bob Andy, Marcia Griffiths, Dennis Alcapone, Dave & Ansel Collins, The Pioneers, The Clarendonians, Otis Gayle, Owen Gray, Freddie Notes, Stranger Cole, Ranking Joe, BB Seaton (Gaylads), Twinkle Brothers, Clive Chin (Randys), Gladdy Wax sound system, Vin Gordon and Channel One sound system.

And 100s more including; Steel Pulse, Misty In Roots, Judge Dread, Bitty McLean, Caroll Thompson, Christopher Ellis, Dreadzone, Zion Train, The Skints, Pama International, Don Letts, David Rodigan, James Hunter, The Pietasters, The Toasters, African Head Charge, Dennis Bovell, Gentlemans Dub Club, Babylon Circus, Dub Pistols, Brinsley Forde (Aswad), The Hempolics, Jazz Jamaica, Mad Professor, The Loafers, Potato 5, Hotknives, Ska Cubano, Wrongtom, Manasseh, Sonic Boom Six, Chris Murray, to name a very few.

We have hosted shows in iconic London venues including; the Victoria & Albert Museum, The Forum, 100 Club, The Astoria, The Brixton Fridge (now the Electric), O2 Academy Islington, Islington Assembly Hall, Dixie Queen paddle steamer, Camden's Dublin Castle, Jazz Cafe, Dingwalls, Electric Ballroom and Barfly.

I would love to continue the festival. The next one is in the diary for 18-21 April 2019. If you'd like to see The London Intl Ska Festival continue please support if you can afford to and share this campaign with anyone you know who loves ska!"

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Friday, August 31, 2018

Sir Horace Panter Reveals New Specials Album in the Works

Details are few and far between, but yesterday Specials' bass player Horace Panter revealed on his Facebook feed that he had spent his birthday recording tracks for a new Specials album (with original members Terry Hall and Lynval Golding), which is slated for a February 2019 release (he also posted this news on Twitter today). Specials biographer Paul Willo has apparently heard some of the tracks and commented online that they're "brilliant."

Since other 2 Tone-era acts--Madness, Dave Wakeling's Beat, Ranking Roger's Beat, Pauline Black and Gaps Hendrickson's Selecter, and The Bodysnatchers/Special AKA's Rhoda Dakar--have been releasing new music of late, it's good to see the remaining members of The Specials finally making a go of it.

Much more will be revealed in the coming months, no doubt (The Specials' official website hasn't been updated in eons). But stay tuned.

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Thursday, August 30, 2018

Duff Review: Horace Andy backed by Welders "Straight To Hell" and Big Youth backed by Welders "Pair of Dice" b/w Horace Andy v. Big Youth "Asylum Seekers" and Eric Blowtorch "Christmas in Ladbroke Grove"

Fe True Records
Limited edition 12" vinyl EP/digital
2017

(Review by Steve Shafer)

During The Clash's recording of Sandinista! in New York City at The Power Station and Electric Lady studios in 1980 and their extraordinary 17 show residency at Bond's in Times Square in 1981 (since an unhappy with this triple-LP album Epic wouldn't help finance a national tour, their only US gigs in support of Sandinista! with mind-blowing, Clash-selected opening acts like The Fall, Dead Kennedys, Bad Brains, Lee "Scratch" Perry, The Slits, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Bush Tetras, ESG, and others opening, according to the book "The Clash FAQ" by Gary J. Jucha), they had become completely enamored, if not obsessed, with the funky, druggy decadent, definitely crumbling, and oftentimes dangerous concrete jungle that was New York City in the late '70s and early '80s ("Ford to City: Drop Dead"; "Ladies and Gentlemen, The Bronx is Burning"). It was the greatest city in a nation still very much traumatized and disillusioned by the hubris, moral bankruptcy, deception, and madness of its leaders and failures of its institutions in the wake of the loss of the Vietnam War and the corruption/illegality at the highest levels of government in Watergate (as well as the more recent humiliations of the late '70s oil crisis, stagflation, America's "crisis of confidence," the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and the agonizing Iranian hostage crisis).

While this societal breakdown and collective PTSD of sorts played out around The Clash during their exploits in New York City (whose ghettos they dubbed "an urban Vietnam" in "This Is Radio Clash"--this Don Letts directed music video features live footage from the Bond's residency, as well as fantastic shots of The Clash's somewhat real/somewhat romanticized version of NYC), it also was being reflected/reinforced in dozens of films in the 1970s, including Michael Cimino's The Deer Hunter, Hal Ashby's Coming Home, and most significantly in Martin Scorsese's lurid, NYC-based Taxi Driver (about a deeply disturbed Vietnam vet who almost assassinates a presidential candidate after being romantically rejected by one of his female campaign volunteers and in a botched murder spree-suicide attempt to rescue a child prostitute he was obsessed with saving is mistakenly hailed as some kind of hero by the media), which was one of Joe Strummer's favorite movies (and The Clash loved their movies--during the recording of Sandinista!, they stayed at the Iroquois Hotel, because they'd heard James Dean used to bunk there). As well, Francis Ford Coppola's surreal and hellish Vietnam War take on Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness," Apocalypse Now had a huge impact on the band and was the inspiration, of course, for "Charlie Don't Surf" on Sandinista! It's interesting to note how Taxi Driver's Travis Bickle and Apocalypse Now's Captain Willard are clear descendants of the ultra-violent, loner American Wild West antiheroes depicted in 1960s spaghetti Westerns by Sergio Leone and others which influenced The Harder They ComePerry Henzell's JA rude boy/outlaw fantasy--Jimmy Cliff's character Ivanhoe Martin even goes to the cinema to see Sergio Corbucchi's Django in one scene. (The Harder They Come was so beloved by the myth-loving and self-mythologizing Clash that they referenced it in two songs: "Safe European Home" and "Guns of Brixton.") To the dismay of their British fans and the London music press (who felt they were losing one of their own to the Yanks), The Clash's growing infatuation with American culture, music, and politics (quite evident on London Calling and Sandinista!) was about to go full bore.

As The Clash began writing and recording their follow-up to Sandinista!, the real and (imagined) cinematic impact of the Vietnam War on America became a dominant, almost all-consuming topic of Combat Rock (its original title--and superior Mick Jones mix--was the even more explicitly American military-esque Rat Patrol from Fort Bragg)--see cuts like "Red Angel Dragnet" (which directly quotes Taxi Driver during a spoken word verse by Kosmo Vinyl channeling damaged Vietnam vet Travis Bickle as he drives his cab through all the porno theaters, sex shops, pimps, prostitutes, druggies, and scam artists in Times Square: "All the animals come out at night - queens, fairies, dopers, junkies, sick, venal. Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets."--and also offers this revealing bit: "What is the dream?/I'll tell it/To live like they do in the movies"), "Sean Flynn" (about the photojournalist son of Hollywood Robin Hood/Captain Blood actor Errol Flynn who disappeared in Vietnam in 1970; Dennis Hopper's character in Apocalypse Now is based on Flynn), "Car Jamming" ("And then a shyboy from Missouri/Boots blown off in a Sixties war/Riding aluminum crutches/Now he knows the welfare kindness/Agent Orange color-blindness") and the extraordinary "Straight to Hell."

Strummer's "Straight to Hell" is primarily about the estimated 50,000 sons and daughters of American GIs and Vietnamese women who were conceived during the war, but abandoned when the U.S. finally pulled out of Vietnam in 1975--though it also condemns Western imperialist nations' almost wholesale persecution/rejection of immigrants and refugees from their former colonies. These bi-racial children--who were so obviously fathered by white, black, and brown American soldiers--faced harsh discrimination and desperate poverty in Vietnam; many wound up in orphanages. To the Vietnamese, depending on your politics, they were children of the ally that failed/betrayed you or the offspring of your enemy; they stood out physically in a largely homogenous ethnic society; and a good number, but certainly not all, of their mothers had been sex workers. In 1980, a number of articles in U.S. newspapers and a documentary by Bill Kurtis titled "The American Faces" began to raise national awareness of the plight of the Amerasian children of the Vietnam War; clearly Strummer was paying attention. This was another (very real) example of the folly and failure of U.S. imperialist Cold War policy for Strummer to comment on (and it was an indirect swipe at Reagan, who--terrifyingly--was heating up things again with the Russians in the early 1980s). "Straight to Hell" went on to become a fan favorite, generated great critical acclaim (Jucha opines that it's the closest The Clash came to writing their own "Armagideon Time"), and has been covered, sampled, and versioned by other artists, including Skinnerbox, M.I.A., Elvis Costello, and Lily Allen and Mick Jones.

Several decades pass and Strummer ends up co-writing the title song for Horace Andy's great 1999 Living in the Flood album (released on Massive Attack's label after Andy came to widespread attention due to his work on Blue Lines, No Protection, and Mezzanine); at the time, when he'd come to town with the Mescaleros, Strummer mentions to Milwaukee reggae musician, producer, and Clash fanatic Eric Blowtorch that he thought "Straight to Hell" would be a perfect song for Andy to cover. Years later, when Blowtorch was corresponding with Andy, he asks if he has ever covered any Clash songs and Andy tells him that he has recorded a version of "Straight to Hell," but wasn't satisfied with the results. This sets Blowtorch on a mission--and this four-track EP is the spectacular result.

Horace Andy and the Welders' roots reggae take on "Straight To Hell" takes on renewed meaning and relevance as millions of immigrants and refugees across the globe ("It could be anywhere/Most likely could be any frontier/Any hemisphere") flee war, violence, extreme poverty, and man-made or natural disaster in the hope of finding peace, stability, and opportunity for themselves and their families--all while America extinguishes Lady Liberty's beacon and rolls up the welcome mat through Trump's despicable (and un-American) white supremacist/nativist/xenophobic Tweets, utterances, and policies, which gives cover to ethno-nationalists throughout Europe ("No man's land/There ain't no asylum here/King Solomon, he never lived 'round here/Straight to hell, boy/Go straight to hell"). In this version, the violin-sounding synth and lead guitar lines are transformed into bright horn riffs and the rhythm section keeps the pace relatively brisk--but it's all sparse enough to leave space for Andy's plaintive vocals to deliver the devastating lyrics. Since The Clash purposefully shed much of their reggae sounds on Combat Rock with the explicit goal of reaching a broad American rock audience--which they found and then some--it's wonderful to hear this track in a full-on reggae setting with Andy's beautifully expressive voice (Joe, of course, was spot-on about him singing this song).

Back in 2007, Blowtorch spent a summer volunteering at the Alpha Boys' School in Kingston, JA (which fostered many of the island's greatest musicians, including Tommy McCook, Johnny Moore, Lester Sterling, Don Drummond, Rico Rodriguez, Theophilius Beckford, Headley Bennet, Cedric Brooks, Vin Gordon, Leroy Smart, Eddie Thornton, Yellowman, Horsemouth Wallace, and more!). While there, he met U-Roy (and later recorded and released the Groping in the Dark/Groping in the Park 10" in 2010), who eventually put Blowtorch in touch with Big Youth (though this collaboration has all been long-distance; they've never met). On the terrific deejay version "Pair of Dice," Big Youth serves up some wordplay on the "Straight To Hell" lyric "this is your paradise" and great commentary on the high stakes gamble immigrants and refugees are taking: "If you're seeking asylum/Then paradise is a pair of dice/ICE stands for immigration and custom enforcement/Minutemen...racists/Trouble on the borderline/You've got to sell your heart/Sell your soul/You have to sell your kidney sometimes."

"Asylum Seekers" (AKA "Reason Pan Babylonian Delusion") is an amazing mash-up (by Shane Olivo) of a version of Horace Andy's "Straight To Hell" vocal track with Big Youth's singjay performance (Andy: "Let me tell you about your blood family, kid/It's ain't Coca-Cola..." Youth: "...It's racist!"--though mostly Big Youth urges asylum seekers to "Do right/Be right/Live right/Live good"). This mix includes some choice electro-synth percussion reminiscent in what has to be a nod to M.I.A.'s "Straight To Hell"-sampling "Paper Planes" (which also is about the challenges of immigrating legally and the stereotyping of immigrants).

The EP is rounded out with Blowtorch's haunting "Christmas in Ladbroke Grove" (performed with Cecilio Negron, Jr.), who was inspired to write this very Clash-like reggae track when he learned the heartbreaking news of Joe Strummer's death as he was in London around Christmas in 2002 to perform at Gaz's Rockin' Blues with The Inflammables.

"Running from Ankara to Tehran
In the school cafeteria someone left the radio on
Older brother just 19 and gone, his only solace in a song

He only just stopped squatting, said something ‘bout a boy named Rotten
He used to sweep the factory floor, then he ran off to join the peace war
He led the charge into the terror zone then left us on our own

He used to make the breeze a blow
He used to be your hero
Where did that gravedigger from Tehran go?
Where is Woody? Where is John? Joe?

Christmas night so quiet on Ladbroke Grove
Not one soul in sight on Portobello Road
Someone turn the radio on
Give us solace, give us song – where he gone?"

It's quite affecting and one of the best songs about Strummer I've heard--and is perhaps a track to pull out every December 22nd (or whenever the feeling strikes) as you hoist a few in Joe's memory. I imagine he'd be very pleased with this EP and touched by the tribute.

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10% of each Straight To Hell purchase goes to Doctors Without Borders/Medicin Sans Frontiers, who provide medical care to human beings in dire circumstances in the most dangerous parts of the world.

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Postscript: It wasn't until 1987 that America finally recognized the Amerasian children in Vietnam--our own kids--and established refugee/immigration status for them through the American Homecoming Act. While it was in effect (from 1988-1990), approximately 23,000 Amerasian children and 67,000 of their next-of-kin were resettled in the United States.

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Update: Washington Post, 8/31/18: "Thousands of Vietnamese, including offspring of U.S. troops, could be deported under tough Trump policy"

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