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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