Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Duff Review: The Prizefighters "A Musical Knockout in Three Rounds" Series of 7" Singles!

Round 1: "One Thousand Words" b/w "Lost at Sea"
Round 2: "No Use Crying" b/w "Night Breeze"
Round 3: "Cold Shoulder" b/w "Sukeban"
Prizefighter Sound System
Series of vinyl 7" singles

(Review by Steve Shafer)

The Prizefighters' "A Musical Knockout in Three Rounds" delivers sweet vintage ska, rocksteady, and early reggae sounds via a series of three 7" vinyl singles--each of which features different and beautifully designed retro label art (plus, the paper sleeves are hand stamped with the image of the boxer from the label on Round 3). Like many recent ska projects in the US, these singles came to fruition through crowd funding (full disclosure--I was one of this projects supporters), which seems to be one of the more viable means for independent bands not to lose their collective shirts in the process of pressing up and selling recorded music. (I also like to think that doing vinyl-only releases helps cut down on illegal file sharing; I know, it's still possible to make a digital file off a vinyl record, but it's kind of a hassle and probably discourages the less determined file sharers from posting pirated music on the internet.)

The ace musicians in The Prizefighters have been championing 1960s-era Jamaican music in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area for over six years now (yes, there is a Minnesota ska scene!). Their 2011 self-released debut CD, Follow My Sound, was recorded and produced by the great King Django. Then Chuck Wren of Jump Up Records picked up the CD for national distribution and liked it so much that he pressed up a limited edition vinyl edition of the album with alternate versions, mixes, and even a dub by Anthony of The Drastics (both the CD and LP are available from Jump Up here). The Prizefighters also have been a part of Jump Up Records' "Jamaican Oldies Weekends" in Chicago; their chops scored them the enviable spot of backing Stranger Cole last November, as well as Roy Panton and Yvonne Harrison this past March. In October, they're backing Roy and Yvonne once again at the Montreal Ska Festival (which also includes One Night Band, Big D and the Kids Table, The Slackers, Green Room Rockers, Inspecter 7, Rude City Riot, Mad Bombers Society, Expos, Kman and the 45s, and more).

Like most Jamaican pop music from the early 1960s, The Prizefighters' tracks are mostly concerned with matters--conflict, mostly--of the heart (though, whether this was on purpose or not, as the singles progress from ska to early reggae, the band begins to address other topics--mirroring how Jamaican music increasingly addressed oppression, inequity, and other transgressions, as it moved toward roots reggae).

The first single, Round 1, features "One Thousand Words," a sprightly ska track that has the singer coming to the conclusion that it's time for him to stop banging his head against the wall: "So, I tell you the truth/You laugh in my face/How much of my time are you willing to waste?/I tried and I tried to make you mine/I'm not going to waste any more of my time." "Lost at Sea" hauntingly conveys the loneliness and heartache of separating from someone ("Where are you?/I can't find your face in the crowd") and losing your bearings in the process.

Round 2 shifts into rocksteady mode, with the really lovely "No Use for Crying" (and its gorgeous vocal harmonizing) that offers this sound advice: "No use crying for someone/that doesn't cry for you/Man, you've to let her go/You've been trying for so long/She ain't crying for you/Man, you've go to let her go!" The flip side is a fantastic, organ-drenched instrumental version of "No Use..." titled "Night Breeze."

Round 3 enters early/skinhead reggae territory (and the subject matter of the songs starts to venture further afield). "Cold Shoulder" reveals an awareness of conflict and injustice beyond the personal level: "These are troubled times we're living in/but it's not just me and you/We've got to learn to work together now/and some day we'll break on through/But sometimes it gets so hard/It feels that all that I get and all that I do/is just the cold shoulder from you." "Sukeban" has nothing to do with romance--it's just about a bad-ass girl (according to the band, sukeban means "delinquent girl" or "female gang leader" in Japanese). It also happens to be a terrifically frenzied instrumental, where the organ and guitar riffs seem to vie for musical turf and supremacy--and it may just be the best track of the bunch.

We ska fans on the coasts sometimes tend to pay less attention to (or even dismiss!) ska bands from most points in between--and we do this to our own detriment. So, ignore The Prizefighters' first-rate singles at your own musical peril. You've been warned.

(All three of these singles are available for purchase from The Prizefighters here.)

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