Thursday, January 30, 2014

Duff Review: Roland Alphonso and the Stubborn All-Stars "Roland Meets Richie" b/w Stubborn All-Stars "Rich Morrissey"

Stubborn Records
7" vinyl single

(Review by Steve Shafer)

It's hard to believe that the stunning 1995 debut Stubborn All-Stars album Open Season was released almost 20 years ago (!), just as the so-called Third Wave of ska was about to burn white hot in the USA. Almost overnight, this supergroup of New York area ska musicians led by Skinnerbox's King Django became one of the most popular and acclaimed traditional ska bands on the US scene (which led to a collaboration with Rancid for the Beavis and Butthead movie soundtrack and a high enough profile for MTV news coverage)--and the Stubborn All-Stars went on to release one of the finest albums recorded of that entire era, 1997's Back with a New Batch (the boys in Rancid and Dicky Barrett of the Mighty Mighty Bosstones lent their background vocal stylings to this effort).

This single revisits one of the top, aggressively hard-hitting instrumental cuts off of Open Season--"Rich Morrissey" and its version "Roland Meets Richie" featuring the late great and very much missed Skatalite Roland Alphonso--but these are pristine new mixes that make the tunes sound better than ever. Ska vinyl freaks like me, as well as SAS fans and completists, are absolutely going to want to pick this up for its collectibility (a version of "Open Season" appeared on 1994's "Old's Cool" 7" EP and then two additional versions--the album cut and a 15th anniversary remix--were released on a single in 2009), but it's also a terrific excuse to rediscover just exactly how good these songs were in the first place.

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Trojans "Perfidia" b/w "Misogyny" and "Love Is All I Had" b/w "Bertie's Rhino"

Ska in the World Records (Japan)
7" vinyl singles
(Available in the US through Jump Up Records)

(Review by Steve Shafer)

These two singles released in conjunction with The Trojans' brilliant new album Smash It, their first new record since Desiderata in 1998, find the band in incredibly fine form (check out this great interview with Trojans front man Gaz Mayall in Reggae Steady Ska to see what he's been up to all these years). While they stayed out of the studio for the first decade of the new millennium after being very active in the late 80s and throughout the 90s (a pity, really--their unique brand of Celtic/eclectic ska and reggae has been very much missed), The Trojans have been quite active, most notably performing on the Gaz's Rockin' Blues stage at the annual Notting Hill Carnival in London and Gaz himself has been busy keeping his Gaz's Rockin' Blues night going (read a review of his book about his regular club night, the history of Gaz's Rockin' Records and how it helped jumpstart the UK ska scene after the flame-out of 2 Tone, and the genesis of The Trojans here).

Singer Zoe Devlin--who recorded Smash It prior to becoming a contestant on the UK's X Factor show last fall (she didn't win), which caused her to miss The Trojans' tour of Japan, so her friend Hollie Cook took over vocal duties--is featured on this very fine cover of Albert Dominguez's pop standard "Perfidia" (faithless, treacherous, or false in Spanish), which has been recorded by everyone from Xavier Cugat, Desi Arnaz, Mel Torme, Perez Prado, and Nat King Cole to Laurel Aitken, Phyllis Dillon, and Ocean 11. From what I've read online, it seems like Devlin's future with The Trojans is in question--a shame, since she has a wonderfully expressive alto voice that brings a lot of color and character to the band (that already has a lot of these qualities).

The superb, penny-whistle driven Gaelic romp "Misogyny" decries the second-class status of women in much of the Muslim world (honor killings, etc.): "Misogyny, misogyny, the girls don't stand a chance/These medieval attitudes will have to change at once/Misogynist, misogynist, give the girls a chance/with chivalry and equal rights/and let the ladies dance!" To his great credit, Gaz has always been very outspoken about social and economic injustice, as well as environmental issues, and his lyrics on this cut are certainly one of his finest moments.

While the other three tracks on these two singles are included on Smash It, this sultry cover of Phyllis Dillon's heartbreakingly honest "Love Is All I Had" is a non-album cut and well worth tracking down by Trojans' completists and ska/rocksteady fans alike. Written by the The Trojans' bagpiper Anton O'Doherty, the jaunty, knees-up instrumental track "Bertie's Rhino" is another stellar example of their contagious good times Celtic ska. I dare you to put this on and successfully resist the urge to move at least some part of your body to this tune!

As great as these singles are (and they are terrific!), the rest of the songs on Smash It are their equals or better, so make sure to track down a copy of the CD or LP to hear what just might have been the best traditional ska record of 2013.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

NYC Winter 2014 Ska Calendar #1

Can't beat this: The Beat back in the day!
Sunday, January 19, 2014 at 6:00 pm

The Pilfers, The Big Takeover, Metro Stylee, Mark U

Gramercy Theater
127 East 23rd Street
Manhattan, NY
$19 (plus fees, if bought online)

+ + + +

Friday, January 24, 2014 @ 7:00 pm

Mephiskapheles, Inspecter 7, Pandemics, Flak Jacket, Death Proof

Revolution Bar and Music Hall
140 Merrick Road
Amityville, NY
16+/$12 in advance, $15 day of show

+ + + +

Friday, January 24, 2014 @ 9:00 pm

IV Aniversario Skarroneros/Sorfest II w/Skarroneros, Kantuta, Agonia, and more!

711 Church Avenue (between 7th and 8th)
Brooklyn, NY

+ + + +

Friday, January 31, 2014 @ 9:00 pm

Reggae in the Slope w/Forte (Kevin Batchelor of The Skatalites and Rocksteady Freddie of NY Ska Jazz Ensemble) and The Brooklyn Attractors--plus Channel One Sounds with selector Shalar

Port Royal
837-839 Union Street (6th and 7th Avenues)
Park Slope, Brooklyn

+ + + +

Thursday, February 6, 2014 @ 7:00 pm

Beat Brigade, The Ladrones, Rude Boy George, and Sweet Lucy

The Grand Victory
245 Grand Street
Brooklyn, NY 11211

+ + + +

Monday, January 13, 2014

Rude Boy George "Take One" Digital EP Now Available Everywhere--Plus First 2014 Gig on 2/6!

This is another post solely concerned with shameless self-promotion--but I don't feel too bad about it, as what we've got here really delivers the goods.

Rude Boy George, the band I'm in, just dropped its debut digital EP called Take One, which is available to preview and download through Bandcamp, CD Baby, iTunes, and many other digital music sites. In addition, you can listen to our tracks on Spotify and Xbox (while you virtually shoot things up).

Our first NYC-area gig of 2014 is on Thursday, February 6 at The Grand Victory in Brooklyn with Beat Brigade, The Ladrones, and Sweet Lucy. So, if you're around, definitely check us out--it's going to be an amazing night of music (our friends Beat Brigade and The Ladrones are both fantastic live!). We've got a bunch of new songs in the set, plus we seem to be expanding in all sorts of cool ways. Look for more live dates soon, both in and beyond New York City. And there will be more recorded music coming from us in 2014--some of which may be available on vinyl with your help (hint, hint)!

To watch videos of Rude Boy George in action, go to the Duff Guide to Ska YouTube channel.


Here's band's bio and some information about this release...

Rude Boy George ( is a NYC-based band that performs ska, rocksteady, and reggae versions of New Wave classics. We’re motivated by our shared love and respect for ska (reflected in the reference to 1960s and 2 Tone rude boys) and the extraordinary amount of good music produced in the late 70s and early 80s New Wave/post-punk era (Boy George). And we want to have some fun doing it. That's Rude Boy George’s agenda and mission statement--simple as that.

Rude Boy George formed in January 2013 with members drawn from several popular and long-standing NYC area ska bands: Bigger Thomas (vocalist Roger Apollon, drummer Jim Cooper, bassist/Marco on the Bass blogger Marc Wasserman, and guitarist Spencer Katzman), Beat Brigade and The Toasters (keyboardist Dave Barry), and Across the Aisle (singer Megg Howe)—plus a ska blogger/former indie ska label guy (Steve Shafer on backup vocals) thrown in for good measure.

The band’s live debut took place at Electric Avenue in Manhattan on April 13, 2013 to a very enthusiastic crowd and the band has been gigging throughout the New York area since. Our perpetually expanding set list includes songs by Human League, Soft Cell, The Romantics, Billy Idol, INXS, The Smiths, Cyndi Lauper, Squeeze, Culture Club, Gary Numan, Psychedelic Furs, Talking Heads, Berlin, and The Pretenders.

In May 2013, Rude Boy George recorded three tracks at Bill Laswell’s studio in West Orange, NJ with ex-General Public/Special Beat/English Beat bassist Wayne “Waylo” Lothian producing. The result is our five-track digital EP Take One (with "(Keep Feeling) Fascination," "Don't Change," and "Talking in Your Sleep"--plus two remixes including one featuring Antonee First Class of The English Beat). Plans already are in the works to lay down more tracks in the studio--to be issued in 2014 on a more tangible format.

Rude Boy George’s current line-up features:

Megg Howe – vocals
Roger Apollon – vocals
Steve Shafer – backup vocals, melodica
Jackie Chasen - (Across the Aisle) saxophone, backup vocals
Jesse Gosselin (Across the Aisle/The Royal Swindle) - guitar
Lionel Salomon - keyboards
Jeff Usamanont (FunkFace/Daft Phunk/Electric Company) – guitar
Marc Wasserman – bass
Jim Cooper - drums
Jay Reid - (Across the Aisle) drums

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Duff Review: Specialized II "Beat Teenage Cancer" 7" Vinyl Singles

Jump Up Records/Specialized
Three red vinyl 7" singles

(Review by Steve Shafer)

This series of terrific singles have been spun off from the Specialized II Beat Teenage Cancer CD, which is both a tribute to the The (English) Beat and a fundraising vehicle to benefit the very worthy Teenage Cancer Trust in the UK (listen here to a BBC World interview with Dave Wakeling about the project). The Specialized benefit CDs--the first celebrated The Specials--are put together by The Specials' biographer Paul "Willo" Williams and typically feature UK and US ska bands.

Shockingly, Beat Teenage Cancer is the first Beat tribute album in existence (!). How can it be that a band as brilliant and beloved on both sides of the Atlantic as The Beat hasn't been honored like this before now? Fortunately, especially in light of how tribute albums can go south quite easily (see The Clash tribute album, Burning London), the covers on these three singles more than honor the originals, while refashioning them in fantastic new ways.

Nick Welsh "Save it for Later" and Rhoda Dakar "Too Nice To Talk To" b/w The Values featuring Neol Davies "All Out to Get You" and Lee Thompson "Madness (Acoustically Speaking)"

The great and prolific Nick Welsh (AKA King Hammond, also ex-Skaville UK, The Selecter, Bad Manners) strips down and downshifts the tempo of "Save It for Later," which must surely be The Beat's most famous song in the USA (ever since high school, I've tried to figure out what this song is really about--apart from the jokes about fellatio spelled out in the album lyric sheet--I've heard it suggested that it concerns holding off on sex in a relationship, but I've always thought it's more of a plea to consider keeping a messy, almost completely broken relationship going instead of ending it). Nick's incredible semi-acoustic version (with slide guitar by B.J. Cole) lives somewhere between African highlife, American country, and Hawaiian steel guitar music--and transforms the song into something stunningly beautiful and unique (Dave Wakeling even mentions how much he likes it in the linked BBC World interview linked above). Nick's good friend (and sometime collaboratorRhoda Dakar (ex-Bodysnatchers, The Special AKA) turns in a fantastically haunting version of "Too Nice To Talk To" that's a cross between something you'd hear off the trippy/dubby Massive Attack vs. Mad Professor's No Protection and the discordant no wave jazz/pop/reggae of The Special AKA's In the Studio

The Values with Neol Davies (of The Selecter, of course) put a sweet jazzy/pop spin on one of my favorite tracks from Wha'ppen, "All Out to Get You" (though, sadly, they don't include these key lyrics that offer an escape from the paranoia and self-loathing: "Until you accept/that you’re just like the others/You’re a boy or a girl/Then a man or a woman/and your clothes never fit/and your skin’s the wrong colour/So, you make do with fear/you get more than you need/Yes, they’re all out to get you/All over nothing/They’re painting your life/in a permanent grey..."). While Lee Thompson (Madness' saxophonist, of course) doesn't contribute a Beat song--he does a weirdly wonderful spoken word (with jazz accompaniment) rendition of the Prince Buster's classic song (and his band's namesake) "Madness"--I guess the connection could be The Beat's love of Buster and their covers of his hits "Rough Rider" (actually written by Eddy Grant and his fellow members of The Four Gees!) and "Whine and Grine" on I Just Can't Stop It.

The Spritely Allstars featuring Ranking Roger "Two Swords (Majestic Mix)" b/w The Stiff Joints "Ackee 123"

While I miss the breakneck tempo of the original, I've really come to like The Spritely Allstars' (with toasting by Ranking Roger during the dub break!) mellow, reggay-ish cover of the anti-violence track "Two Swords" ("I’ve never been one for the punch-ups/But, look, I really hate them nazis/A certain something starts to wind me up/How could I hate them oh so violently/When two swords slashing at each other/Only sharpen one another/And, in the long run, even he’s your brother/Said even though that kid’s a nazi...Are you fighting the Front, or just fronting a fight?/Sometimes it’s hard to see/the left from the right/Are we angry, are we looking for peace?/Or just tryin’ to win the war/by killing all the enemy off?/Just to kill all the enemy off?"). We should note that The Spritely Allstars includes Hunt Emerson on guitar and melodica; he, of course, designed The Beat's dancing girl logo, as well as the iconic covers for I Just Can't Stop It and Wha'ppen.

The Stiff Joints nicely convert "Ackee 1-2-3" (a children's game that is like a combination of Hide and Seek and It) from its original calypso arrangement to ska and in the course of doing so retain the unrestrained joy, optimism, and exuberance of The Beat's version from Special Beat Service (my favorite lyrics here: "Forward where the knocks are hardest/Some to failure some to fame/Never mind the cheers or hooting/Keep your head and play the game/Try to keep your feet on the ground/Without getting them stuck in the mud/You will soon be over the moon/or twice as hot as the sun!").

Dave Wakeling "Mirror in the Bathroom" b/w Bigger Thomas "Sole Salvation" 

Dave Wakeling's new version of "Mirror in the Bathroom"--a club/jungle remix, really--has elements of it (namely, the vocals and sax) that sound so close to the original cut from I Just Can't Stop It, that I had to double-check the Specialized website to confirm that it is indeed a new recording of the song. There already are two remixes of this track in existence, found on the excellent B.P.M. ...Beats.Per.Minute compilation. So, while this isn't essential, it's another excellent versioning of this early Beat hit that's definitely worth owning (and so nice to have on vinyl!). This song is about narcissism that verges on mental illness, though the voice toasting on this remix celebrates the joys of smoking sinsemilla--which, interestingly enough, some people with mental illness use to self-medicate, in an attempt to alleviate their symptoms.

I have to disclose that I'm friends with members of Bigger Thomas--and I'm also in a group with few of them (Rude Boy George)--but that doesn't prevent me from digging (and praising!) their awesome version of The Beat's Jam-like "Sole Salvation" (key lyrics: "Make a cross/Make amends/Set the record straight/We’ve never said/the only things we should have ever/Bothered saying/Let's write out a list of things we need/Let's strike a brand new deal/That’s strong for any man/But has a woman's understanding in it/and then finish!/Just stop, when you feel like saying/“Have a heart, but don’t take mine”/Try a new dance “The Tolerance”/It just might be our sole salvation"). With guest vocalist Jenny Whiskey of the Hub City Stompers nicely augmenting their sound (appropriately so, since the song is about a man and a woman figuring out how to make their relationship work/last), Bigger Thomas brings this track fully into the ska fold, from The Beat album with the least amount of ska on it, and adds a spectacular New Wave-like outro.


The latest word from Paul Willo and the Specialized camp is that Madness will be the focus of the next benefit CD...