Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Duff Guide to Ska Bullet Points: Dr. Ring Ding "The Remedy" and Flying Vipers "Dub Fader Cuts"

The cover illustration features a cartoony bottle of rum floating in the ocean with a small island with palm trees in the background.
(Good through 2021, at least.)
(Reviews by Steve Shafer)
  • Given Dr. Ring Ding's considerable talents and history of releasing consistently great albums, a review of his latest, The Remedy (LP, Jump Up Records, 2020), could probably be summed up in just a few words: You know it's incredible, so go buy it! But since my humble lot in life is to write about ska music--even if I'm usually too verbose in doing so--I've going to delve a bit into why The Remedy is one of the best ska, reggae, and dancehall albums you'll find this year. 
According to Dr. Ring Ding's brief liner notes, the music on The Remedy is intended as an antidote of sorts to the awful plague year we've all endured--to both lift our spirits, as well as acknowledge all of the suffering and loss we've experienced. So, the album is split between a Sunny Side and Cloudy Side, no doubt inspired by the completely unexpected (and great!) cover of Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now" (key lyric: "I've looked at clouds from both sides now"). Just as Stranger Cole preaches "more life!" as the answer to all our ills, Dr. Ring Ding plugs "More Reggae" to inject some joy into your world ("More reggae, loving the community/More reggae, celebrate life/More reggae, together in the unity/And bring on the positive vibes"). Title track "The Remedy" is a terrific '80s computer game dancehall cut with some really charming interplay between the good Doctor and Sista Gracy: "Dr. Ring Ding, how are ya?/Mi terrible, the pain in my limbs is unbearable/Dr. Ring Ding, how are ya?/Distressed, and that is why I've come to your address/Dr. Ring Ding, how are ya?/Mi horrible, want some advice, my sweet, mi adorable/Dr. Ring Ding, how are ya?/Mi bad, I wonder what kind of remedy you have"; at the end of this consult, Sista Gracy prescribes "a quart of rum" to dull the pain (personally, I recommend Tito's and soda with a twist of lime). On the minor-key, Busters-sounding ska song "Fun," Dr. Ring Ding is simply out for a good time, but stymied in his endeavor by the overly woke: "Cracked a joke the other night/Almost got me in a fight/Stuck up buzzkill got uptight/Told me my style ain't right." The showpiece "Unity" sports a serious and driving bass-heavy groove for Dr. Ring Ding and Tippa Irie to toast over ("One love, one blood, one life, one unity/Peace and understanding inna fi we community"). If you don't dance to this...

The darkest bit on The Remedy's Cloudy Side is another surprising cover--a slightly off-kilter reggae version of Radiohead's "Creep," where Dr. Ring Ding really leans into its stalker-y and narcissistic lyrics. Benny Bell's 1946 novelty song "Shaving Cream" (popularized by Dr. Demento in the 1970s)--where every vignette in each verse ends badly (literally going to shit)--feels appropriate for 2020 (and the lyrics are so calypso-like in their suggestiveness/naughtiness): "I have a sad story to tell you/It may hurt your feelings a bit/Last night when I walked into my bathroom/I stepped in a big pile of...Shaving cream/Be nice and clean/Shave everyday and you'll always look keen"). The instrumental "Toochie" sounds like a classic Skatalites cut given a brisk reading by The Scofflaws, and "Oldschool Rock" seems like it could be a long-lost Studio One Sound Dimension riddim just recovered from Coxsone's vaults. The final track on the album "Dancing in the Rain" is a beautiful, if melancholy duet with jazz singer Stephanie K that seems to be a tribute to someone who has died: "You gave us all a smile/If only for a while/We know you didn't want to stop the fun...Without your happy face/There's only empty space/It's seems the world's not round without you dear/You brightened up the day/Then you went away/We hope you know that you're forever here...Dancing in the rain/We'll never be the same/As we throw confetti/Fare thee well." So say we all. Dr. Ring Ding's The Remedy is incredible, so go buy it!
  • The cover illustration features a jungle scene with snakes in the trees, bones and skulls scattered on the ground, and a volcano in the background.
       Happy People Records continues their streak of issuing choice singles from top ska and reggae acts from all over the world. The latest is Dub Fader Cuts (7" vinyl single/digital, Happy People Records, 2020) from Boston-area reggae masters Flying Vipers. Both tracks are versions of instrumentals from their stellar debut LP Cuttings (which I reviewed earlier this year) that were remixed by Dub Fader (aka Craig Welsch of 10 Ft. Ganja Plant). "The Gorgon Strikes Back" is a brighter and more deconstructed version of Cuttings' Bunny "Striker" Lee tribute "Flight of the Gorgon"; while "Fermented Herbs" is a sparser and dubbier take on "Gesho," the latter of which sports all sorts of fantastic keyboard bits and sound effects (gesho is a plant native to Ethiopia that is used to make a type of mead). Needless to say, both tracks are essential if you love dub and the Vipers. And to top it off, the band is donating their proceeds to the Alpha Boys School

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