Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Duff Guide to Ska Bullet Points: Prince Fatty and Shniece McMenamin, Joe Yorke and The Eastonian Singers

The cover illustration features Prince Fatty as the Mad Hatter, Shniece as Alice, and the Rabbit.(Reviews by Steve Shafer)
  • Inspired by a request from a TV/film/game music licenser for a reggae take on a '60 Free Love-era tune (that he didn't have at the time), Prince Fatty took up the idea and decided to cover Grace Slick's classic 1967 psychedelic rock cut recorded with Jefferson Airplane "White Rabbit"--but renamed as "Black Rabbit" (7" vinyl picture sleeve single/digital, Evergreen Recordings, 2020). With lyrics drawn from Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, and music influenced by Miles Davis' Sketches of Spain and Ravel's Bolero, "White Rabbit" was about "following your curiosity" and expanding one's mind through hallucinogenic drugs--as well as calling out the hypocrisy of parents who willingly read their children stories filled with pretty explicit drug use (like Carroll's), but then condemned their kids' drug experimentation as they approached adulthood. (The opening lyric, "One pill makes you larger, and one pill makes you small," makes me think of the red pill/blue pill sequence in The Matrix.) The minor-key grandiosity of the original lends itself quite well to Prince Fatty's spaghetti Western reggae-like setting, and Shniece McMenamin's superb, commanding vocals are the perfect guide for a vividly surreal trip like this. I'm not much of a fan of the original--which takes itself far too seriously, actually--but Prince Fatty's version goes down quite well. 
    The vinyl single features a paper label with the name of imprint (Happy People), as well as the song title and name of the musical group.
  • On Joe Yorke and The Eastonian Singers' sensational roots reggae single "Judgement Tree" (7" vinyl single/digital, Happy People Records, 2020), a Revelation Time of sorts has come and punishment has been meted out. Employing the Biblical symbolism of fruit bearing trees as representations of good and evil (see Matthew 7:16-20: Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them."), this track paints a hell on earth that might be dispelled if the righteous singer can vanquish the emblem of evil that has defiled the land (and unfairly condemned him): "When I arise/The black sun shines/No birds sing for me...After all the wrong you've done/Doomsday's here before tomorrow comes/And the branches rot beneath your feet/You run to the rock and it will be melted/You run to the sea, it will be boiling/The tree is so big and broad/Though this axe, it may be small/Well, I'll still cut you down/You will fall...Judgement's cast its shadow over me." Yorke's fantastic falsetto is appropriately otherworldly (and reminiscent of The Congos, Junior Murvin, etc.), and Eeyun Perkins' (Waggle Dance Records) production and dub ("Drayman's Special") are wonderfully executed. "Judgement Tree's" lyrics are haunting and grim--and a positive outcome may not be fated--but the riddim's mighty seductive, indeed. (This cut and Yorke's other Happy People single "Tonight" come from The Co-operator's 2019 album Rhythms from the Kitchen Sink.)
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