Sunday, July 5, 2020

Duff Review: Brixton Sounds "Sonidos de Brixton" b/w "Me Perdi"

The artwork is a reproduction of a Steady Beat Recordings paper label for a vinyl single.Steady Beat Recordings
7" vinyl single/digital

(Review by Steve Shafer)

This stellar new single from Oaxaca, Mexico's Brixton Sounds contains two original tracks of '60s ska and Jamaican jazz with hints of cool jazz, bossa nova, and samba--all impeccably performed and produced--and will remind one of Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra, Jump with Joey, and the originators, The Skatalites. A theme song of sorts, "Sonidos de Brixton" is an elegant, almost cinematic instrumental with a lovely melody in the repeated chorus, while the moody "Me Perdi" ("I Got Lost") features the gorgeous and expressive vocals of Alondra Hernández. It doesn't get much better than this.

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Thursday, July 2, 2020

Duff Review: The Lions "The Loser"

Names You Can Trust
7" vinyl single/digital

(Review by Steve Shafer)

It's hard to believe that it's been five years since The Lions released their magnificent Soul Riot (here's some of what I wrote about it back then: "I am in awe of this record. Like Fishbone's Truth and Soul or Marvin Gaye's What's Going On, The Lions' absolutely phenomenal Soul Riot is full of songs of defiance, despair, anger, and pure joy (where love and lust are concerned) that reflect the Black American experience--as the nation's horrific legacy of slavery continues to play out in so many devastating ways (in particular, see "When It Rains," "At a Loss," and "Going Nowhere")). Fortunately, they're finally back with a superb new single, a cover of Derrick Harriott's perfect 1967 rocksteady hit "The Loser." The Lions' take on it at first seems pretty faithful, but when you hear the Impressions-like harmonies in the chorus and other responses, Alex Désert's silky lead vocals, and Black Shakespeare's deft deejay commentary, it all ascends to the next level.

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Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Duff Review: The Equators "Nice to Be Nice"

The cover features an illustration of someone dancing next to the sun.Self-released
Digital single

(Review by Steve Shafer)

The Equators, of course, are the all-Black Birmingham-based ska band that pre-dated The Beat, opted to sign with Stiff Records rather than 2 Tone, backed Desmond Dekker on some of his 1980 Black and Dekker album, inspired The Untouchables to form, and released one incredible album (Hot) in 1981, just as 2 Tone was flaming out.

The Bailey brothers (Don, Rocky, and Leo) reformed the band with several new members in 2017 and released the digital single "Bed of Roses" (about the difficult experience of immigrating from the Caribbean to the UK in the 1960s). The Equators' excellent new single "Nice to Be Nice" is much more upbeat--they're pitching it as this summer's anthem and certainly have made a strong case for it. It's a sweet, crisp, and brisk ska track that's about nothing more than the minor miracle (particularly these days) of how a beautiful day can make you happy: "Feeling nice/Feeling really good/As I walk through my neighborhood/No dark clouds in the sky/Make everybody feel so nice." Put this on if your mood needs a boost.

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Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Duff Review: Steady Social Club "Take One"

The album cover features an illustration of a Black mermaid lounging on letters forming the name of the band.Self-released

(Review by Steve Shafer)

Take One is the impressive debut album from Poland's first rocksteady act Steady Social Club, and is filled with really terrific original tunes and ace performances--all recorded live in the studio on analog gear in one take, warts and all, with no edits, overdubs, etc. (hence, the album title). It should be noted that Steady Social Club are not newcomers to the scene, as members hail from other Polish and (one) German ska groups (Vespa, The Bartenders, Real Cool Sound, Big Fat Mama, and Spartan Allstars). They joke that they're ska veterans, but older now, so they play slower (hah!). And this really is a late night, end-of-the-afterparty record, when people couple or uncouple, and don't necessarily make the best decisions (practically all of the songs on Take One are about falling in or extracting oneself from a romantic relationship). The rocksteady tempos are markedly (almost stubbornly) unhurried, giving the male and female singers (Wioletta Baran, Anna Teliczan, and Boris Borowski) plenty of time to do their thing, and the song arrangements are uncomplicated, yet completely appropriate and effective (the band is rounded out by Artur Grochowski on drums, percussions, and keyboards; Bartłomiej Kościański on bass, guitar, and keys; and Maciej Januchowski on guitar, keyboards, and vocals; the later two wrote all of the tracks here).

Top cuts here include "Let's Do Rocksteady," which has wonderful harmonizing and offbeat use of male falsetto ("Let's forget all the daily trouble/Now it's just you and me together/Hold me tight, till you feel my heartbeat/All the world can come back tomorrow"); the gorgeous ballad "Magic Feeling" (which, of course, is that of being in love); and the incredibly sultry tracks "Set Me Free" (who could resist this entreaty?) and the you're-headed-for-a fall "Slow Down." "You Kept Me Waiting" is more Harry J skinhead reggae than rocksteady and features really amazing Jerry Dammers-esque organ during the chorus (the singer knows he's not ever going to get what he wants, but still can't help himself: "I'll keep on waiting/Up through the night/I'll keep on waiting/Until the dawn/Why?"). "Friend or Foe" also is excellent dirty reggae about someone getting what they're owed in a Niney the Observer "Blood and Fire" kind of way ("I say one day/You gonna pay/And the lies you've said/Will be exposed!"). Perhaps the fiercest song on the album is "There's the Door" (I'm warning you/This game won't be played be no more/It is last chance for you to change/And otherwise there's the door")--you won't be able to resist singing along with the ominous "ohs" of the chorus.

Even though I'm getting killed on the shipping costs from Poland to the USA, I need Steady Social Club's Take One LP in my collection. If you're a fan of rocksteady, you'll want this album, too.

[Update: Since posting this review, I've learned that this LP will be available in the USA through Jump Up Records.]

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Sunday, June 28, 2020

Duff Review: Danny Rebel and the KGB: "For Babylon's Head" EP

The cover painting depicts Danny Rebel driving a car and a police car chasing him can be seen in the rear view mirror.Self-released

(Review by Steve Shafer)

If you aren't into American hardcore and punk from the first half of the 1980s, you might miss that the cover artwork for Danny Rebel and the KGB's new EP For Babylon's Head is a brilliant take on the Minutemen's 1984 Double Nickels on the Dime cover photo--and that this punk-hardcore-art rock-jazz masterpiece contains 45(!) tracks on two LPs filled with left-wing commentary on racism, war, working-class life, and more. Like that Minutemen album, the tracks on DRKGB's For Babylon's Head deal with the gentrification and destruction of a diverse, working-class neighborhood and tangling with lawless, racist cops (the one big difference between Danny Rebel's painting and the Minutemen's photo is that in the former, we see the police car lights in the VW Bug's rear view mirror, while in the latter, it's bassist Mike Watt's smiling eyes; also, note how Rebel has artfully snuck in references to his band's first two albums!).

With its Old Testament echos of the Israelite siege and destruction of Jericho and its wicked inhabitants, "St Henri Wall" is part rocksteady track, part spiritual aimed at the predatory capitalist developers and gentrifiers in this Montreal neighborhood who are representative of Babylon's evildoers: "This wall is bound to fall/St Henri Wall is gonna come a tumbling down/I don't think they know/How we gonna break this wall down/I don't think they know/How we're gonna fizz the fire/Babylon better run/Run, run, run Babylon." This incredible track is versioned in "Wall Dub."

"Another Song About You" is a sparse but positively seething acoustic cut about police racial profiling, harassment, and murder (they're Babylon's enforcers) that's powerful and emotionally devastating in its musical simplicity and lyrical directness:

Another song about you, Mr. Man
Another death in the streets from your hands
Another scream of anger
In the end, it's all noise

Lights of blue and red
Once again, in my car
Another random check
That's the third time, so far
"I'm not supposed to feel you"
Yes, that's what you're trained to do

Feeling paranoia walking down my street
Your hands around my neck
And I feel that it's so hard to breathe
If I was a criminal
You would see a bullet through those eyes

It's another verse
Another melody
The words are rearranged
To sound like new
I felt inspired as you look at me
It's just another song about you

Maybe it's the color of these eyes
That you want me to die
Maybe it is written in the Book of Rules
Who to call
About the cause of all this murder?
If I was a criminal
You would see a bullet through those eyes

Both of these songs are protest music at its finest (deeply meaningful messages delivered within exceedingly catchy tunes). We're all living through some truly awful times, but Danny Rebel and the KGB are helping to provide a soundtrack for the downtrodden and oppressed that pushes back against the powers that be--and maybe even provides some hope for better days.

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Saturday, June 27, 2020

Duff Review: Flying Vipers "Cuttings"

The cover illustration depicts a volcano erupting in the midst of a lush jungle.Music ADD Records
Digital (July 3, 2020)/LP and cassette (Fall 2020, Jump Up Records)

(Review by Steve Shafer)

Back in the mid-nineties when I ran the Moon Records promo department out of a bedroom in my apartment (with my assistant and an intern or two), I often played dub albums (loads of Lee "Scratch" Perry after reading an extensive overview/ranking of his recordings in the Beastie Boys' magazine "Grand Royale"), as the rhythms and melodies would help keep us working at a steady pace without being too intrusive or overpowering. While I'm certainly not implying that dub is akin to background music a la Muzak, it is great music to play either while doing something else or when taking the time to do nothing but be alone with your thoughts. If Flying Vipers' Cuttings had been available back then, it would have been in heavy rotation on the office stereo, as well as during the off hours.

After releasing a series of superb cassettes (The Green Tape, The Copper Tape), and physical and digital singles ("Highest Region," "Nervous Breakdub (Pandemic Version)" b/w "PMA Calling") over the past few years, Flying Vipers have finally issued their first long-player Cuttings, which, as one would expect, is crammed with incredibly hooky, dubby roots reggae instrumentals reminiscent of Dennis Bovell's magnificent productions and Perry's recent and awesome collaborations with Adrian Sherwood and Daniel Boyle.

Cuttings, of course, refers not only to the leaves that have been harvested from cannabis plants, but these musical fruits of the band's labors in the studio--and they have one bounteous crop here. Highlights include "Leaf Miner," which has a wonderful interplay between a rigid and relentless bass riff and a series of answering free flowing Rhodes piano lines; the prescient, apocalyptic "Two Twenties Clash" (and people thought things were bad back in '77!); the Bunny "Striker" Lee tribute "Flight of the Gorgon" with its majestic, panoramic horns; the bad-ass "Scorpio Son" and its version "Son of Scorpio"; and the supremely confident and untouchable "Puff Adder" (many of the cuts on this album are ripe for being versioned by deejays and singers--and becoming well-known riddims in their own right).

Flying Vipers are comprised of the devastatingly good rhythm section of Marc and John Beaudette (Destroy BabylonThe Macrotones), the gifted Zack Brines (Pressure Cooker) on keys, and Jay Champany (10 Ft. Ganja Plant) on percussion and the master at the analogue controls (plus ace guests on horns, sax, flute, clarinet, and binghi).

If you haven't been paying attention to this band, Cuttings is a brilliant introduction to the mighty Flying Vipers; and if you have, you're going to love this album,

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Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Megative Release Video in Support of Black Lives Matter (and a New Single is Forthcoming)

The band poses in back of a drum head with Megative printed on it.In case you missed it, Megative's self-titled debut album was one of the best ska-related releases of 2018 (this now hard-to-find LP is available through Soulbeats Records). Need a Megative teaser or refresher? Here's the first paragraph of The Duff Guide to Ska review of it from November 2018:

"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)."

While the band was largely off the radar during 2019, Megative had planned to release their new single "The Lunatics Have Taken Over the Asylum) this June 5 (Soulbeats Records), but delayed it until July 15, due to the worldwide anti-racist/anti-police brutality protests that erupted in reaction to the outrageous police killing of George Floyd. In its stead, Megative has issued a new video in support of Black Lives Matter--a "Lockdown" version of their incredible and highly relevant "Yeah Yeah Yeah (Yeah Yeah)" cut, which can be viewed below. Here's what we wrote about this track back in 2018:

"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)!""

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Friday, June 19, 2020

"2 Tone: The Albums" Box Set Forthcoming

Word comes via Specials' autobiographer Paul Willo that Chrysalis Records is releasing a box set of the first eight 2 Tone albums as a CD box set on September 4th, 2020. Titled 2 Tone: The Albums, this collection comes packaged with mini-LP sleeves, a 24-page booklet with liner notes by Jason Weir and Peter Walsh, and contains The Specials' The Specials, The Selecter's Too Much Pressure, The Specials' More Specials, Dance Craze, Rico's That Man Is Forward and Jama Rico, This Are Two Tone, and The Special AKA's In the Studio. The retail list price will be £32.

Of course, the majority of these albums have been previously released on CD, but 2 Tone fans may still be enticed to pick up this set, as this edition of Dance Craze restores the Madness tracks that were excised from previous CD reissues and for the fact that Rico's Rico Jama has never before been available on CD outside of Japan.

All details can be found at Paul Willo's FB post.

Lastly, this box set is not being released in the USA or Canada, so you'll have to mail-order it from overseas if you live in either of those countries.

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Update (7/2/2020): This box set is now available to pre-order through the official Two Tone store; a related t-shirt can be had, too.

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Thursday, June 18, 2020

Duff Review: Rudebeard "As You Walk Away" EP

F&J Records

(Review by Steve Shafer)

While the new As You Walk Away EP from Rudebeard, a Scottish ska supergroup (made up of members of The Amphetameanies, Newtown Grunts, Joe Viterbo, and other acts north of Hadrian's Wall) is a mere three tracks, all of them are funny, gleefully irreverent, and extraordinarily catchy. The title track--the only one without rude words--is a mid-tempo modern ska track with awesome, I've-learned-my-lesson lyrics straight out of a country and western song: [Chorus:] "Don't you let the door hit you on the arse/At least exit quietly/You were right and I was wrong/But now I've got some clarity/Lots and lots of clarity..." Whenever live shows are permitted again, everyone in the venue will be singing along to this one. "Small C Conservative" eviscerates free market-loving politicians ("He's a small 'c' conservative/And a big 'C' cunt...Friedmanite/Gammonite/Monetarist/Gobshite"), while sporting a wickedly good Brix Smith-era Fall meets Dick Dale surf guitar riff (and '80s Fall synth sounds). As its title suggests, "A Mucky Fumble on a Pishy Mattress" is kind of over before it's really started--the song's only about 30 seconds long--but it's nevertheless a great pop-punk-ska cut. (Rudebeard has two other digital EPs available, both very much worth checking out: Smell Yer Ska and Wide-os on the Rise.)

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Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Duff Review: Rude Boy George "Lies and Alibis"

The EP cover is made to look like a tabloid newspaper, with titles of songs as headlines and lyrics as the stories. Pictures of various band members are scattered throughout.Self-released

(Review by Steve Shafer) 

[Disclaimer: I was a co-founder of this band, but left five years ago.]

Lies and Alibis marks Rude Boy George's fourth EP of ska and reggae versions of new wave hits--and it's another really fine and fun collection of tracks from this ace band of NYC-area ska veterans (Bigger Thomas, Hub City Stompers, Heavensbee). This time out, RBG focuses on early '80s synth-pop from Heaven 17, Thompson Twins, Soft Cell, and...Rod Stewart? Released in 1981 on Tonight I'm Yours, "Young Turks" was the Rod's quite successful bid at gearing some of his music to the popular new wave sounds of the day (and made it to #5 on Billboard's US pop charts). Rude Boy George's take on it is a vast improvement on the original--but, still! (Can I refer to Stewart's original as "cod new wave"?). The other choices of songs are impeccable, particularly Thompson Twins' "Lies" and Heaven 17's "Let Me Go," both of which are given a shiny pop-ska sheen.

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Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Duff Review: Erin Bardwell "Interval"

Erin Bardwell looks down at a keyboard that is out of frame; a microphone is in front of him, as well.Pop-A-Top Records

(Review by Steve Shafer)

The title of Erin Bardwell's new album Interval is meant to be taken literally: this is a pause, a break from the usual routines with his other bands, Erin Bardwell Collective and Subject A, in order to take stock of things. Bardwell jokes--or maybe doesn't--in his liner notes that "some call it a mid-life crisis." Whatever the case may be, Interval is a deeply introspective album (and great Sunday morning record) that often explores the seemingly small moments in one's life that produce powerful and sometimes disturbing emotional reactions, and end up haunting one's memories. In content and unsettled tone, it may remind the listener of an album like The Special AKA's In The Studio, which used songs about personal dysfunction and desperate situations to comment on the cruelty and injustice in the world around us.

The album starts off with the 2 Tone/Northern Soul track "Four Walls Surround," which is about being young and lonely and boxed in by one's own fears, anxieties, and depression--and cutting oneself off from the very people who might make it all better, if at least tolerable ("These four walls/A problem starts all by itself/At first wasn't true/Becomes your only truth/These four walls/Will comfort you/Say you're busy/Can't come out, don't come round...People stop asking in the end"). Its bookend a few tracks later is "Name on a Page" (which utilizes the same tune as "When You Smile"), but is set years later and from the point of view of someone who had lost touch with the troubled teen of "Four Walls Surround" and is relieved to have randomly found out that they're still alive: "They said you wasn't home/A name remembered/Often wondered/Thought you were sick/Sick of life/You made it past your teenage years/It's actually made my day/Saw your name on a page." (One of the terrible burdens of being middle aged is knowing how people's life stories end, sometimes quite badly.)

The lyrics for "When You Smile" appear to be quite sweet on their own, but the music that accompanies them has a dark, menacing edge and casts lyrics like this in a new light (is this a sick codependent relationship?): "It's a drug and I want more/Could it even stop a war?/Mother nature's given charm/Fix any kind of harm." "(Like a Reflection on) The Liffey" is about being a place that is so closely associated with someone who is gone (dead or somewhere far away) and feeling the loss, but also finding solace in the memories of that person attached to different parts of that place--in this case, Dublin (also, it's interesting to note that in Irish, Liffey means life). Interval includes two Madness-sounding covers of Irish folk tunes by Bardwell's uncle Eddie McLachlan (found on the album Celtic Tiger by Ciunas) that fit in quite well here: "Bridge of Tears" (outside of Dunfanaghy in County Donegal there is a short stone bridge leading to the road to Derry, where people would depart Ireland permanently for boats to Scotland, England, Australia, and America; family and friends would say goodbye forever to their loved ones at this point of no return, as if they were about to cross the river Styx into the underworld) and "That London Winter" about recalling a long-ago affair (and an unplanned pregnancy?).

Like In the Studio's "Nelson Mandela," the one musically bright spot on this album--though with a devastating spoken word bit at the end--is the protest song "Windrush" (written by Pop-A-Top collaborator Sonya Beale): "With dreams with dreams of embracing a mother/Came came hope a better life/Promised a welcome befitting royalty/But in reality/There was no love from mother...Years down the line after the work so hard for mother/She wants she wants to dash you away/Too many too many people came/Just can't take the strain/No longer no longer no longer remain" (which, of course, refers to the British government's utterly racist and despicable treatment of the Windrush generation). While another reviewer has beat me to the punch in labelling many of Bardwell's songs as "dream-ska," the label is so apt and "Injured Arm" is a wonderful example of it. The track is lush, light, and delicate--like the distant memory that inspired it: "And as I dip my injured arm into the sea/The tree that scratched it/And damaged it...And as I dip my injured arm into the sea/Maybe that's where you'll find me." The audio samples that introduce and close the song are from Bardwell's parents' children's theatre show recorded at the Glastonbury Festival in 1981: "And we don't want unhappy endings here today, do we?...The cockroaches who weren't hurt...had a good time and lived happily ever after." All of us humans long for the same things in of our lives, too.

Erin Bardwell's Interval is a tremendous, strikingly original ska and rocksteady record and unlike anything else you'll likely to hear this year.

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Friday, June 5, 2020

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: Rhoda Dakar and Dub Pistols "Stand Together"

Sunday Best Recordings

(Review by Steve Shafer)

While it was not intended to address the current worldwide protests against the outrageous police killings of unarmed black people in America triggered by the murder of George Floyd, the seemingly prescient new single from Rhoda Dakar and Dub Pistols "Stand Together" could not be more relevant if it tried.

Released in advance of Dub Pistols' forthcoming album Addict (9/11/20, CD/LP), "Stand Together" is a brilliantly catchy and buoyant 2 Tone track with modern dancehall touches and echoes of Dandy Livingstone's "Rudy, A Message to You" in the horns (and was co-written by Dakar and the Pistols two years ago). In keeping with 2 Tone's fiercely anti-racist ethos (underscored in the video below), "Stand Together" is both a call for ongoing solidarity between black and white people, as well as a plea to continue building upon all of the hard-won legal and moral victories against racial discrimination over the years:

In my lifetime, I've have seen such progress
Changes that I'd never dreamt I would
Marched and challenged 
Even when it's hopeless
Then the law is changed
To vote for love

[Chorus:] No matter what the problem
Unity will get us through it
It's our intent to right wrongs
We'll stand together
We can do it

"Stand Together" offers something good and uplifting for the mind, body, and spirit in these bleak times--and really should be issued as a proper physical single!

[Update: According to Rhoda Dakar, a 7" single of "Stand Together" is in the works!]

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Rhoda Dakar also has a fantastic new monthly radio show on Totally Wired Radio called "Pork Pie and Mash Up," which features 2 Tone, reggae, ska, pop, and world (Mondays, 12-2 pm UK time). Her first broadcast is now available on catch up and features an interview with Barry Ashworth of Dub Pistols. Definitely give it a listen!

Also, back in April, Dub Pistols previewed their excellent cover of The Clash's "Bankrobber" with a music video (and Dakar also played it on her radio show). The "Bankrobber" digital and vinyl single will be released on June 30, 2020.

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Monday, June 1, 2020

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: Victor Rice "Drink"

The album cover features simple illustrations of two fish surrounded by air bubbles.
Easy Star Records

Victor Rice's Drink is the second album in a planned trilogy of what Rice calls his "samba-rocksteady" instrumentals (read The Duff Guide to Ska review of his first LP Smoke). Recorded in Belgium with Nico Leonard (Pyrotechnist, The Moon Invaders, Pum Pum Hotel studio) and New York with Ticklah (Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings, Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra, and Easy Star All-Stars) at the controls and members of The Moon Invaders, Tommy Tornado, Mr. T Bone, The Slackers, The Scofflaws, and others performing, Drink is yet another top-notch album from Victor Rice and filled with evocative tracks expressing a gamut of moods. Indeed, as Rice comments in the album's press materials, “Most of these songs were written during a difficult period in my life, and there was a lot of drinking involved, so they were made under the influence of red wine. Once the sequence of songs were finished, it felt like a story arc, from the first glass to the last."

Within this context, one can infer what each song's rhythms and melodies might be meant to express. Drink opens with "La Mura" ("The Wall"), which has a bit of a dramatic spaghetti Western reggae edge to it--we're on a long, never-ending slog and soon hitting our limit--and the horns convey increasing tension as the song unfolds. "Simão" ("Simon") features a series of elaborate rock guitar riffs that seem to be in an increasingly heated conversation with the more restrained horns (but, it turns out, is named after Rice's cat), while the stately and cinematic "The Demander"--which refers to Rice's first car that he sometimes drove "recklessly"--has echoes of Prince Buster's "Gangsters" and "City Riot" (and sounds very much like Prince Busters' All Stars--which, of course, was comprised of many of The Skatalites). Like the meme of the cartoon dog drinking coffee while the room around him is ablaze, "This is Fine" is bright and chipper on the surface, but in denial of something more ominous--and "Bebida" ("Drink") sounds delightfully carefree, like when you have a good buzz going at an outdoor cafe and all your troubles recede from your thoughts. "Arouche" is refined, but busy--and refers to the slightly seedy, downtown São Paulo neighborhood known for its nightlife (where Rice lives). There's a nobleness to "Five," as if someone's valiantly grinding it out each workday until quitting time (so they can finally live at happy hour). "Madrid" has a muted, almost downcast melody, but with a stinging guitar solo (what went down here?). Last call is where we are with the dubby "Time to Go"; things have gotten pretty fuzzy and sloppy, and it's time to pour oneself into a cab.

While one is certainly sad for what Rice went through, his rough patch inspired the creation of some wonderful music. Will Comer round out this trilogy?

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Saturday, May 30, 2020

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: Ska Jazz Messengers "Introspección"

The album cover features an illustration of a parrot in flight.Liquidador Music

(Review by Steve Shafer)

Even though their home country has been in the midst of economic collapse, political chaos, and social unrest (and, no, I'm not referring to the United States here), Venezuela's Ska Jazz Messengers led by Rafel Frías have managed to pull off a minor miracle with the release of their debut album Introspección--an impeccably produced record filled with gorgeous and superbly crafted ska-jazz tracks.

Many of the songs on Introspección are in an elegant Skatalites/Jamaican jazz vein--see the magnificent "Tunja" mixed by Victor Rice; The Mighty Vikings' cover "Up and Down" with Jump with Joey's Joey Altruda on guitar and double bass; their single "Mil Veces No" (which we reviewed previously); and "Asian Moon" with Desorden Publico's Horatio Blanco on vocals and guitar, and Ego-Wrappin's Takeshima Satoru on alto sax. Others veer into the sophisticated jazz-pop-reggae that Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra does so well, such as the lush, bossa nova-tinged "Una Hermosa Noche" and moody "Bajo la Lluvia" (both with famed Japanese reggae keyboardist Hakase-Sun); the sultry "Cuando te Miro" (which incorporates a bit of Roberta Flack's "Where is the Love?"), and the hopful and ethereal "Al Mundo Recrear" ("Recreate the World")--both showcase SJM's Ruthsy Fuentes' wonderful vocals; and a jaunty version of Emerson Kitamura's "Dokoyukuno" with Kitamura also on organ. Following the mad success of their cover of Pharell William's "Happy," Ska Jazz Messengers tackle another chart-topping hit with their winning version of Bruno Mars and CeeLo Green's "Forget You," which is recast as the pop-jazz-reggae "Sigueme" ("Follow Me"). But the best cover on the album is their take on Carole King's '70 soft rock smash "It's Too Late" with The Delirians' Angel Salgado on vocals--it's absolutely phenomenal.

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Monday, May 18, 2020

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: Prince Fatty featuring Shniece Mcmenamin and Horseman "The Model" b/w "The Model Dub"

The cover features a cartoon illustration of an old computer terminal with depictions of Prince Fatty, Shniece, and Horseman on the screen.Evergreen Recordings
7" vinyl picture sleeve single/digital

(Review by Steve Shafer)

Originally slated for release this past April for Record Store Day 2020 (that is until the coronavirus pandemic hit), Prince Fatty's terrific cover of Kraftwerk's "Das Model" featuring Shniece Mcmenamin and Horseman will now be issued on July 3, 2020. This track, of course, was first released on Kraftwerk's The Man-Machine in 1978, but went stratospheric when re-released in 1981 as the B side to the "Computer Love" single during the height of synth-pop in the UK. (The song has been both criticized for objectifying women and interpreted as a commentary on the commodification of desire, as well as the male gaze and scopophilia.) The wonderful simplicity of "The Model" has lent itself to being easily recast in many genres (name a style of music and there's been a cover version of it done) and its immediate catchiness makes "The Model" an ideal and enduring pop song. In Prince Fatty's boss reggae version, the synths remain artificially chilly and the riddim is rigidly martial, but Shniece's vocals are mighty alluring and Horseman's toasted commentary provides humanizing depth ("She's a modeling queen/'Cause she nice up the scene"). While it was recorded well before Kraftwerk co-founder Florian Schneider's death this past April, this single serves as a fantastic tribute to this incredible musician who was an essential part of one of the most influential bands of all time.

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Friday, May 15, 2020

Reissue of "Absolute Beginners" Soundtrack (Tracks by Jerry Dammers, Laurel Aitken, Smiley Culture)

The cover illustration features a trumpet player; a 1950s teenage couple dancing; and a club singer (Sade) performing--while the background portrays a street riot..
The soundtrack for "Absolute Beginners"--Julien Temple's 1986 film adaptation of Colin MacInnes' cult novel about teenagers and mod culture in late '50s London--is being reissued on July 17, 2020. What's particularly noteworthy for ska/reggae fans is that this soundtrack featured the first post-Special AKA recording by Jerry Dammers (the epic, jazzy "Riot City"), in addition to songs by Laurel Aitken ("Landlords and Tenants", which utilizes The Ethiopians' "Everything Crash" riddim) and Smiley Culture ("So What?").

The CD version of "Absolute Beginners" will include all 22 songs from the soundtrack (the 1986, 1991, and 2010 editions were truncated) and the gatefold, double LP of the album will be available once again (previously, only certain runs of the 1986 LP were issued in this format).

While the film itself received mixed reviews, the soundtrack is excellent.

The track listing is below:

‘Absolute Beginners’ – David Bowie
‘Killer Blow’ – Sade
‘Have You Ever Had It Blue?’ – The Style Council
‘Quiet Life’ – Ray Davies
‘Va Va Voom’ – Gil Evans
‘That’s Motivation’ – David Bowie
‘Having It All’ – Eighth Wonder ft Patsy Kensit
‘Rodrigo Bay’ – Working Week
‘Selling Out’ – Slim Gaillard
‘Riot City’ – Jerry Dammers
‘Boogie Stop Shuffle (Rough And The Smooth)’ – Gil Evans
‘Ted Ain’t Dead’ – Tenpole Tudor
‘Volare (Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu)’ – David Bowie
‘Napoli’ – Clive Langer
‘Little Cat (You Never Had It So Good)’ – Jonas (24)
‘Absolute Beginners (Slight Refrain)’ – Gil Evans
‘Better Git It In Your Soul (The Hot And The Cool)’ – Gil Evans
‘Landlords And Tenants’ – Laurel Aitken
‘Santa Lucia’ – Ekow Abban
‘Cool Napoli’ – Gil Evans
‘So What? (Lyric Version)’ – Smiley Culture
‘Absolute Beginners (Refrain)’ – Gil Evans

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Thursday, May 14, 2020

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: Prince Fatty featuring Shniece Mcmenamin "Disco Deception" EP

Evergreen Recordings

(Review by Steve Shafer)

As of late, Prince Fatty has been mining his and his collaborators' shared love of soul music (for instance, see the awesome covers of The Temptations' "Get Ready" and William DeVaughn's "Be Thankful for What You've Got"). Of course, since black American musical forms like rhythm and blues, soul, gospel, and early rock 'n' roll significantly influenced the Jamaican musicians who created ska and its descendants (and there were a host of soulful rocksteady and reggae singers, like Alton Ellis, Ken Boothe, Delroy Wilson, Phyllis Dillon, Susan Cadogan, Marcia Griffiths, Jimmy Cliff, Toots Hibbert, and many more), it makes sense that many soul songs are ripe for being repurposed as reggae cuts (and there are numerous examples of such from the '60s onward). Rocksteady and reggae's slower tempos open up the space for soul singers to do their thing over tight, propulsive Jamaican grooves custom-made to pack dance floors--and the tracks on Disco Deception will do just that. For his latest release, Prince Fatty and singer Shniece Mcmenamin (of The Drizabone Soul Family, who's also worked with Chaka Kahn, Chic and Nile Rodgers, Sister Sledge, Aswad, Mungo's Hi-Fi, and The Last Poets) select some incredible tracks to cover: Lyn Collins' 1974 hit "Take Me Just as I Am," Gwen McCrae's 1974 single "90% of Me Is You," LaVern Baker's "Love Me Right" from 1957, "Fever"--first recorded by Little Willie John in 1953 who had a #1 hit with it, and Tina Turner's "You Got What You Wanted" from 1968. As always, all of the performances captured on Disco Deception are top-notch; Shniece's singing is never short of spectacular (and she makes it seem so effortless); and Fatty's production is impeccable. "Take Me Just as I Am" (with the great Horseman toasting), "90% of Me Is You," and "Love Me Right" are particularly wonderful and effective, though their stellar version of "You Got What You Wanted" (" you don't want what you got") has moments that will make the hair on the back of your neck stand on end. It's hard to match Turner's heart-wrenching performance (and, given her abusive relationship with Ike Turner at the time, horrifically true to life), but Shniece comes tantalizingly close.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: The Players Band "SKAMÖRGÅSBORD"

The cover features a close-up on the keys of an electric piano, which have the title of the album overlaid on them.


(Review by Steve Shafer)

I'm not sure how I missed The Players Band's previous albums during the first half of the 2000s--SKAMÖRGÅSBORD is their fifth release!--but I'm grateful for finally being clued in on this really excellent band. Comprised of members of Baltimore and Washington, DC-based ska and reggae acts (The PietastersThe Scotch BonnetsKill LincolnJah WorksBumpin Uglies, and Unity Reggae), this supergroup plays a mix of '60s ska, rocksteady, reggae, and post-2 Tone/modern ska masterfully--and the diversity of ace musicians involved in this group is their secret weapon, as it results in a compelling variety of songwriting styles and musical sounds.

SKAMÖRGÅSBORD is almost evenly split between fine originals and nicely selected covers that blend together well. Their version of Peter Gabriel's Stax-inspired and sexual innuendo-filled 1986 hit "Sledgehammer"--with Lady Hatchet on vocals--is positively epic; the horn section shines here, as it does throughout the album. In The Players Band's hands, The Rolling Stones' "Loving Cup" (a song from Exile on Main Street, which equates having sex to a high) becomes an interesting hybrid of Eagles-ish California rock married to reggae. Their marvelous and vibrant cover of Jackie Mittoo's classic "Hot Milk" shifts some of the keyboard melody to the horns, while Harry J All Stars' enduring skinhead reggae hit "Liquidator" features jazzy improvisational solos in breaks floating over that riddim that just won't quit. The Skatalites' "Nimrod" (AKA "Dreams of Fueman") has some nice spaghetti-Western reggae touches, and if you didn't know who was playing, you'd swear that their blistering take on Nat Adderley's jazz standard "Work Song" was by Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra.

On the original material tip, the driving modern ska track "Player's Anthem" incorporates all sorts of Baltimore references and name checks ska bands from both Charm City and The District (much like The Toasters' "East Side Beat," though without the street menace and police oppression): "Rolling down Fayette, cruising with my baby/Warm summer night, ska music in my tape deck/Pump it up loud, so the people on the street/Can hear I'm rocking steady to The Mobtown Beat/Going down to Greektown, music in the park/Jah Works are the headline, jamming after dark/Now it's EST and I'm feeling alright/It was hot with The Scotch Bonnets on the stage that night..." The rocksteady track "Wet Noodle" expresses frustration with how the right wing is seemingly hell-bent on tearing apart the country with division and racism ("This situation is out of control/Two minutes to midnight...Why, oh why is it so hard to speak liberation and truth?/You spread so much misinformation/And hatred passed down to our youth"--note the Doomsday Clock reference in there), but seeks some sort of path forward ("Let's find a table and hash things out, once for all"), even at the risk of things being unproductive (see the song title). As its name suggests, "Jackie Mittoo" is wonderful tribute to the Keyboard King with Natty Roc (of Jah Works) on vocals: "A big star creator/A musical innovator/He was a trailblazer/The common denominator/Sound champion/Radio station/Studio One was the foundation/And Jackie, he just a play 'pon the ivory." However, the best of the original cuts has to be the awesome Toasters-doing-their-version-of-ska-punk "Get in the Van" with The Pietasters' Steve Jackson on vocals. It's an anthem for all of the bands who put up with all of the miserable indignities of getting from point A to point B in exchange for the chance to play their music and have some fun: "Hours later, stumble back to the place we call home/Don't know its name, gotta check it on my phone/Never worry, nevermore/8 AM time to rise, hit the road, yeah, more in store/Do it again, do it again/Gotta get in the van...Ready to ride/Do it again/If you wanna live high, you gotta do it again!" To cap things off, the album also features several superb dubs by Victor Rice (who also mixed the record), particularly "Sledgehammer Dub" and "Hot Milk Dub."

All in all, The Players Band's SKAMÖRGÅSBORD is a thoroughly enjoyable and satisfying album that offers the listener much to feast on.

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Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Jerry Dammers Working on New Album!

Details are scant, but according to a March 29, 2020 article in the British version of GQ, Jerry Dammers is in the midst of (finally!) recording a new album. This long read, titled "The Origins of The Specials’ ‘Ghost Town’ (and Why It Eerily Resonates Today)," provides an in-depth look into the political and economic circumstances that led to the widespread rioting in 1981 that occurred just as "Ghost Town" climbed to the #1 spot on the UK charts. But this piece pretty much buries the lede by leaving news of Dammers' forthcoming album to the very last paragraph:

"Jerry Dammers is in the middle – or thereabouts – of recording a new album, down in his studio in South London. He has hours of material “in the can”, as he says, but needs time to get it into shape. With all his DJing work cancelled for the time being, he is wisely using this period to try to finalise output he’s been tinkering with for years. “I’ll get there in the end,” he says. “I’m not a perfectionist but I want this to be good. I think it is good, but I want to give it my best shot. Once and for all.” I spoke to him for this article a few days ago and he is as disconcerted by the current crisis as all of us. Up until the lockdown he had been working late most nights, regularly seeing the crazies who still stalk the streets in the early hours in these desperate times and still freaked out by the desolation. “It’s quite spooky walking about at night. I would come back from the studio in the middle of the night and worryingly there would be the odd lunatics walking the streets. It’s only the most extreme people who appear to still be out there. It’s strange times.”"

What's most frustrating is the lack of any info regarding what this album might consist of--tracks Dammers recorded about a decade ago with Rico Rodriguez and Dick Cuthell or the Sun-Ra inspired free form jazz of The Spatial AKA Orchestra or something else entirely? Many fans want to know!

May Dammers use his time during the lockdown wisely and work expeditiously.

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Thursday, April 30, 2020

Jump Up's Chuck Wren: Cancel Record Store Day 2020!

Two rude boys dance on a city street at night.In case you missed it, earlier this week, Record Store Day announced that RSD 2020 was being postponed again (it was originally to take place on April 18th, but was moved to June 20 due to the coronavirus pandemic) and will now be spread out over three "drops" on August 29th, September 26th, and October 24th (RSD will be announcing on June 1st which releases will be available when).

Chuck Wren's Jump Up Records was participating in RSD 2020 with the release of The Skatalites' Ska Voove LP (see all other ska-related RSD releases here), but is now calling for the event to be outright cancelled this year. For what it's worth, I completely agree with Chuck--scrap the event, keep people safe and healthy, do some sort of pre-orders through the independent record stores' websites, and help all of the participating shops and labels make some money during a time when the economy is going south quickly.

Chuck's statement is below: 

"CANCEL RECORD STORE DAY! STORES, LABELS, DISTRIBUTORS: Record Store Day just rolled out a new set of release dates and canceled RSD for June (which was bumped from April). The new set of dates will fall in August, September, October, and then Black Friday RSD in November. From what I understand, distributors were told this last week, but had to keep quiet about it. Then RSD decided the new release dates for all the labels and artists that were accepted, but much like the bump in the date to June, never actually talked to any smaller label from what I can tell. The idea of multiple dates is their way to "help" stores under the falsehood that it will help with social distancing. 

However, as someone who has witnessed the insanity at multiple taste-maker indie-stores for 15 years and have personally participated as a label for the past two years, the whole concept of RSD making FOUR EVENTS (which is based around people mobbing a store) is a bad idea during a pandemic. How is this not obvious? RSD still refuses to allow stores to bend on their iron clad rules--to do something like take pre-orders to their store fan base. This would also mean sales way before these "now pushed back even further dates" and put money in bank accounts when it counts. NOW. On the label end, especially a micro-indie label like myself (can you be more micro than a ska label?), I'm not sure how RSD thinks I can sit on a record until October (a date they gave me, they never asked if this date worked, by the way). This means that the money I put up in December of 2019, I won't see until January 2021. Can you tell me how this helps stores or labels at this point? 


Labels who might be doing a RSD release, reach out and let me know if you are thinking of pulling your release. 

Stores: Would a pre-order thing be better, and what do you think of these new dates and the headache of four events, ordering, budgeting, implementing social distancing? (All to be possibly stuck with product you placed on order before a pandemic, which is now spread out over a longer period of time...) 

Anyone you know with a label or record store that is doing a RSD release, please show them this message. I would like to hear more voices on this issue. I think RSD has pretty much jumped the shark. For the safety of music fans and to help brick and mortar record shops now, we think the event should be completely canceled and the product should become available to stores immediately for curbside sales to help them weather the coming months. If this action is not taken, record stores will shut its doors in massive numbers. June 20 was the last hope for many. If you cared about music fans, you would not risk their lives four times in the tail end of 2020, when many health experts fear a second wave of infections. 

I need to feed my family and put money back in the bank. RSD doesn't seem to care about small labels. Otherwise, they wouldn't continue this event. Cancel it. Keep people safe. Let labels and stores move on.

As a label that came up with a Ska At Home campaign and donated the proceeds of close to 100 masks via my Threadless shop, I don't want any fan of my product to risk exposure with this RSD nonsense!

Save Record Stores NOW. Save lives and cancel RSD. 

-- Chuck Wren, Jump Up Records. Since 1993."

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Thursday, April 23, 2020

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: The Georgetown Orbits "The Ska-Jazz Single"

The Georgetown Orbits' logo--a G with a ring around its center, like a satellite orbiting a planet--is surrounded by laurels.Self-released
Digital single

(Review by Steve Shafer)

The magnificent new digital single from Seattle's Georgetown Orbits pays tribute to Jamaican ska's roots in black American jazz (that was readily evident in many of the recordings of The Skatalites and other ska musicians who attended the Alpha Boys School--most of whom started their professional careers playing jazz) by covering classics from two of that genre's greatest composers/musicians: Jelly Roll Morton and Charles Mingus. The Ska-Jazz Single features The Georgetown Orbits beautifully covering Morton's "New Orleans Bump" and Mingus' "Haitian Fight Song" in a 1960s trad ska style that would make Tommy McCook and company quite proud--and showcases The Orbits' formidable musicianship in the process. These recordings are very well done, indeed.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: The Dendrites "Lunchin' with The Dendrites"

The cover features a line illustration of an outstretched hand with the EP's title printed above it.Self-released
CD/digital EP

(Review by Steve Shafer)

Lunchin' with The Dendrites is the absolutely brilliant new EP from Denver's Dendrites that packs quite a wallop in its six tracks of strikingly original ska and jazz. "Dujack," with all of its menace (played by these wonderfully gifted musicians), could be the instrumental theme song for an imagined 1950s or 1960s private eye TV show, as it's in the vein of iconic tracks like "Peter Gunn" (written by Henry Mancini) or "Ironside" (composed by Quincy Jones); the music promises thrills, action, and conflict. "No Money No Sunshine" is an awesomely twisted you're completely bad for me but I can't help but love you mid-tempo ska song: "Baby, your dark cloud's been hanging over me/And I don't miss the sun/'Cause I hate to say, I love you more every single day/...Your vampire ways." I'm not sure if she's literally undead, but it's kind of not good either way.

"Snap Patch" is an easy-going jazzy/funky instrumental, while "Xaasj" (a species of large cacti found in northern Mexico) is a Mexican-ska-jazz blend, cinematic in scope, evoking the high drama of spaghetti Westerns. Perhaps the best cut on the EP, "Bottom Feeder" is an incredible, bright, dubby ska instrumental with these nagging minor-key chord progressions full of apocalyptic "Man at C and A"/"Ghost Town"-type dread (that Jerry Dammers did so well). Equally appropriate for Earth Day or the global COVID-19 pandemic, the sing-along "Don't Wanna Go" is an eco-ska song for environmental end times (it's the cut that should follow "Enjoy Yourself," when that track's lyrics are no longer relevant), which laments what we've done to trash the place, so much so that we have to abandon the mother-ship: "I'm not packing my suitcase 'cause I wanna go/Not packing my bags for a weekend show/I'm packing up 'cause we all gotta leave/'Cause the place we call home's a catastrophe...I'm packing now baby 'cause it's all gonna blow/Well, I tried and I tried and I tried to live green/Beam me up, Scotty, I don't wanna leave."

Lunchin' with The Dendrites is a real gem of an EP and, it almost goes without saying, is one of the best ska releases of the year.

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Monday, April 6, 2020

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Take: Flying Vipers "Nervous Breakdub (Pandemic Version)" b/w "PMA Calling"

The cover is an illustration of a Frankenstein-like man with a large fist facing off against a menacing winged viper.Music A.D.D.
Digital single

(Review by Steve Shafer)

While much of the nation--and world--is under heavy coronavirus manners, John and Marc Beaudette of the Boston dub unit Flying Vipers (and reggae-rock band Destroy Babylon) have revisited their really fantastic take on Black Flag's debut Nervous Breakdown EP (which we reviewed last year) with their new digital single "Nervous Breakdub (Pandemic Version)" b/w "PMA Calling." The pandemic version is even better than Flying Vipers' already great first run at this--its now distorted bass more punky and dirty and ballsy, and the use of the forever-locked-in-the-'70s sounds of the Odyssey synthesizer (think of the theme music for the "In Search of..." TV show hosted by Spock) provides a crisp, just shy of cheesy retro-futuristic contrast that works brilliantly. As you might of guessed, "PMA Calling" is Bad Brains-related; it's Flying Vipers' cover of BB's "Jah Calling" from their yellow ROIR tape (Bad Brain's debut release in '82), which turned on John Beaudette and countless other budding American teen punk rockers to reggae (and blew so many people's minds that Bad Brains could play both hardcore and roots reggae so damn well). Flying Vipers again make terrific use of the Odyssey synth with spaced-out sounds that soothe the stressed-out mind/body and float above the insistent, ever forward moving rhythm section (I'd listen to this in a sensory deprivation tank!). These stellar tracks will greatly enhance your lockdown playlist and help keep you going during dark and uncertain times.

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Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra "Skapara's Intro"

The title of the album is printed on the album cover in large Japanese characters.Epic/Sony (1990), Great Tracks/Sony Music Direct (2019)

(Review by Steve Shafer)

Late last year, Sony Japan reissued five of Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra's earliest releases on vinyl (their self-titled 1989 12" debut EP, Skapara's Intro, TSPO Live, World Famous, and Fantasia), all of which are now available as shockingly expensive imports in the US and Europe (anywhere from $55 to $70+). I had managed to pick up a few of these titles on CD back in the '90s at Tower Records on 4th Street and Broadway, but never saw any of them on vinyl (which was falling out of favor with the music industry and music fans then). So, when I saw that one very mainstream US record chain was offering them on enough of a sale that made their cost slightly less outrageous, I opted to buy their first full-length album, Skapara's Intro, which is an absolute ska classic (though I also really wanted to purchase their incredible 12" debut EP, but getting both was too much of a hit to my wallet). When Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra (TSPO, AKA Skapara) played Sony Hall here in Manhattan last October, I had hoped that they would be offering these reissues at their merch table, but no such luck.

Like their peers The Ska Flames, one of their main Japanese rivals at the time, Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra's brand of ska was very much in the mold of The Skatalites--1960s big band Jamaican ska played almost effortlessly by wonderfully gifted musicians--and many of the brilliant original tracks on Skapara's Intro are in this vein. But there's also this crackling undercurrent running through the album that hints at at the band's explosive power and their willingness to push the boundaries of this genre in all directions (see "Monster Rock" and "Kimi To Boku"), something that would become much more evident on subsequent albums.

The majority of Skapara's Intro consists of boss ska instrumentals like the the bright and chipper "Strange Bird," "Vampire" (a cinematic track that evokes a Bela Lugosi character both debonaire and deadly), "Monster Rock" (earth-shaking Dick Dale surf-ska meets Godzilla--and their first hit in Japan), "Kozou No Kousin" (a very funky take on Henry Mancini's "Baby Elephant Walk"--it seemed like every ska band was covering this at the time, including Bad Manners and Napoleon Solo), the Far East-sounding "Uuhan No Onna," "Golden Tiger," the ebullient and increasingly manic "Dokidoki Time" (which I believe translates as "Pounding Time"), and the straight-up jazz track "Getsumen Butou." The only songs with vocals (sung mostly in Japanese) are their white hot version of Percy Mayfield's "Hit the Road Jack" (that incorporates a bit of the "Star Wars" theme during the keyboard solo) and "Nigai Namida" ("Bitter Tears"), a highly melodramatic, slightly Western reggae-ish cut (the use of the string section is amazing here). The album ends with the odd but kind of extraordinary "Kimi To Boku" ("You and I"), a very French sounding track (like something out of a Charles Boyer film) that features a band member whistling the melancholy melody, purposely out of key at times, accompanied only by an accordion.

Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra has covered a lot of ground in the three decades since releasing Skapara's Intro (they're up to 22 studio records, five live albums, and a host of singles and EPs), but this album (and their debut EP that just preceded it) showed that they had it all in place from the very start. Without a doubt, TSPO's Skapara's Intro was one of the finest albums released during the late '80s/early '90s global ska scene--and is certainly a recording of great significance and importance in the ever-evolving history of ska music.

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Friday, March 27, 2020

Madness 2020 US Tour Dates Rescheduled to 2021

A highway route sign in the desert displays the 'M" Madness logo and has the word 'postponed' stamped over it.

As we all watch with dread as the coronavirus pandemic spreads across the United States and physical distancing is employed to slow its transmission, it comes as no surprise that Madness has rescheduled their late May 2020 US dates (the bright spot in all of this is that their tour wasn't cancelled outright).

Both the band and Stateside Madness have posted info regarding the new shows slated for late May/early June 2021--and if you've already bought tix they will be honored at the same venue next year; and if can't make the rescheduled date next year, let the venue/point of purchase know and they'll refund your tickets.

So, without further ado, here are the Madness US dates for 2021:

Wednesday, May 26, 2021: New York, NY - Hammerstein Ballroom
Friday, May 28, 2021: Boston, MA - House of Blues
Sunday, May 30, 2021: Los Angeles, CA - The Greek Theatre
Wednesday, June 2, 2021: Oakland, CA - The Fox Theatre
Thursday, June 3, 2021: Oakland, CA - The Fox Theatre

If you snagged tickets for the original dates, hopefully these rescheduled shows still work for you!

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Thursday, March 26, 2020

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: Detroit Riddim Crew and Friends "Detroit Riddim Crew and Friends"

The cover illustration depicts rude boys and girls dancing to music playing on a record player; in a corner, Santa rides on a Vespa sleigh carrying a record with a bow on it.Abbey Productions/Jump Up Records
Red, white, and black vinyl LP/digital

(Review by Steve Shafer)

To my great shame, I'm very late in getting around to reviewing the Detroit Riddim Crew and Friends' stellar debut album and am now abashedly singing its praises to anyone who'll listen! As their name indicates, the Detroit Riddim Crew is a collective of Detroit-area ska and reggae musicians (plus a few from the Anchor/Music works in Kingston, JA) in the orbit of producer-songwriter-musician Eric Abbey (1592, The Dirty Notion, J. Navarro and the Traitors) who first came together to release riddim tracks for others to version or deejay/toast over (see their great "Castle" and "Cane" riddims--the latter appears as "Oh Shephard" here). This record, however, is half secular Christmas tracks on side A (note Santa on his Vespa sleigh in the upper right hand corner of the album cover) and the Detroit Riddim Crew's original ska and reggae material on the flip. So, at least one side of the album works/is appropriate to play all year round!

The Christmas half of Detroit Riddim Crew and Friends is (thankfully) treacle-free with a choice selection of several lesser-trod, ska-ified covers (Roy Orbison's "Pretty Paper" and a really lovely rendition of The Emotions "What Do the Lonely Do at Christmas?"), perennial radio faves ("Rocking Around the Christmas Tree" and "Sleigh Ride"), and two really fine originals: the reggae instrumental "Christmas A Come" and the upbeat "Take Care," which, given the times, could be an anthem for surviving the pandemic and boosting morale ("Time is now to lend a hand and to ask for help/And try to stand in the midst of chaos, darkness, and fear/Be sure to know that this community is here/Take care of yourself and each other"--messages of solidarity and "goodwill toward men" shouldn't be limited to a few weeks in December)! Surely, all of these tracks are destined to be broken out by discerning ska and reggae fans every late November with whatever other tunes they rely on for promoting holiday cheer.

Side B is a collection of sensational tracks that explore a variety of Jamaican musical genres. "Oh Shepard" is moody '70s dancehall cut about seeking divine intervention to survive the predatory capitalism of Babyon ("Oh Shepard, please watch the sheep/The wolves are out for the kill/And they won't stop at anything/They've got to get their meal"). "Trafalgar" is a great, brisk, old-school, big band ska instrumental, while the sultry "Come To Me" and its lively, sax-spotlighting dub version, "Double E Dub," are pop-leaning reggae, like prime early '80s UB40. The militant, roots cut "Smash Dem Down" yearns for a better way of living with each other and the planet ("So break up the hatred/And fix all the mess/There's gotta be a way, much more than this/Find a way to smash them down!"). The terrific Detroit-based group The Tellways are showcased here with their excellent rocksteady track "Friendly" (from their 2019 debut EP Closer to the Fire, also produced by Eric Abbey/Abbey Productions--and he's their drummer), which is about trying to reel in a shy, uncertain romantic partner ("If we never talked before/I want to change that thing for sure/I may seem frightening/But I assure you that I'm charming"). And then there's the hilariously over-the-top toker's hymn, "Smokin' Everyday" ("Dig this...I've been smoking everyday since 1969/Me and my son Chaos, we had a real good time/We smoked downtown, we smoked in the woods/We smoked in the ghetto and expensive neighborhoods...We were smoking everyday/Smoking every way"); this ends up being just shy of parody, except that pretty much everyone knows or has known someone as obsessed with weed as this!

Don't wait for the next holiday season to roll around to enjoy these sounds--pick up Detroit Riddim Crew and Friends' awesome album now!

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Sunday, March 22, 2020

Stateside Madness (the US affiliate of the Madness Information Service)

The members of the ska band Madness have been inserted into a print of the US founding fathers signing the Declaration of Independence.
Nutty train coming through!
While at this point in time, it remains very unclear as to whether Madness' upcoming late May tour of parts of the United States (Boston, NYC, LA, Las Vegas, Oakland) will actually happen (I think the odds are most likely slim to none, sadly; Dave Wakeling, whose version of The Beat is slated to open for them, stated yesterday that it's looking like the tour will be postponed), American fans of The Nutty Boys can buoy their spirits by checking out the fantastic and relatively new Stateside Madness blog (and Facebook group), which is the United States affiliate of the Madness Information Service (the band's official fan organization).

Recent posts have included a page listing all of Madness' US releases, tours, and television appearances (they played The Mudd Club in Manhattan in 1979!); info about the new, US-only Madness greatest hits album (that will mark the first-ever physical release of "Bullingdon Boys") that is being issued to coincide with their maybe happening US tour; an excerpt from the 1982 book A Brief Case History of Madness by Mark Williams; and a great personal recollection by Stateside Madness' Donald Trull about being introduced to the band in 1983 via their smash American radio/MTV hit "Our House" and tracking down a cassette featuring both One Step Beyond... and Absolutely to hear more of the band's music.

Make sure to go to the bottom of the Madness Stateside home page to sign up for email updates, so you never miss a new post! This is essential reading!

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Also, to help pass the some of the hours indoors, Madness' newish book Before We Was We: Madness by Madness is a terrific, engrossing, and funny read--check out The Duff Guide to Ska review of it!

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