Sunday, April 2, 2017

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: The Bakesys "Studio Selections 1991-1995," Flying Vipers "The Copper Tape," The Skatalites "Foundation Ska"

(Reviews by Steve Shafer)

The Bakesys Studio Selections 1991-1995 (CD, Do The Dog Music, 2017): Even though I was pretty well plugged into the international ska scene in the early 1990s (largely thanks to The Bakesys' keyboardist Kevin Flowerdew, who produced the wonderfully comprehensive Rude Skazine, which morphed into the current Do The Dog Skazine), I somehow missed the thread with The Bakesys--which I'm all the lesser for, since they recorded some truly excellent modern UK ska (a frenetic 2 Tone-power pop blend influenced by The Specials and The Jam, amongst others, and specifically made for maximum dancing), as captured on Studio Selections 1991-1995 (all of which holds up very well 25 or so years later). This release contains their debut album (key cuts: "Looking for Love," "Confused,""Days Gone By," "Life So Dub," and the int'l ska comp favorite "Animated Violence"), plus six sweet rare/unreleased songs/versions (highlights: "Sunnyside Up," "Looking for Version," "Without Warning," and "Days Gone Pop"). Don't be a dope like I was and miss out on The Bakesys' music this time 'round.

Flying Vipers The Copper Tape (cassette/digital download, Music A. D. D., 2017): This is the second release from Boston's mighty Flying Vipers, which is comprised of members of Destroy Babylon and Pressure Cooker, who specialize in '70s-sounding instrumental roots reggae and dub recorded on analog equipment that reminds this reviewer most strongly of Dennis Bovell's output (check out The Duff Guide to Ska's review of The Vipers' debut, The Green Tape). The Vipers create incredible, mesmerizing dub tracks that never quite deconstruct things to the point where the tune is entirely lost--melody is everything here (like on all Bovell productions). I love this whole tape (eight cuts on the cassette, seven on the download), but standout tracks for me include the sublimely ethereal "Smoke and Dagger" (paging Jackie Mittoo!), the Western reggae-ish "Heady Topper Headon" (of course, named after The Clash's phenomenal drummer), and the mysterious Lee Perry-like "Return of the Living Zero" (which rely on organ, melodica, and clavinet respectively to carry each song's tune). You may think me bold, but the Flying Vipers' Copper Tape is most likely the best new dub release you'll hear all year.

The Skatalites Foundation Ska (CD/LP, Studio One, 2017 reissue): This fantastic compilation of Skatalites tracks produced by Coxsone Dodd was originally released by Heartbeat Records in 1997, but has been out of print for some years now--so, this is a very welcome reissue (grab the heavyweight double LP while you can!). While it shouldn't be considered a definitive collection of their work (the in-demand and extraordinarily prolific Skatalites also recorded for Prince Buster, Vincent Chin, King Edwards, Duke Reid, Leslie Kong, Sonia Pottinger, and Justin Yap), Foundation Ska is essential for all fans of '60s ska and captures many of the group's greatest cuts, including "Ska La Parisienne," "Ball of Fire," "Dick Tracy," "Cleopatra," "Beardsman Ska," "Addis Ababa," "Nimble Foot Ska," "Killer Diller," and The Beatles' cover "I Should Have Known Better" AKA "Independence Day." (For what it's worth, I believe the best Skatalites comp--though again, not definitive--is the spectacular 1984 Top Deck release Scattered Lights, licensed by Alligator Records in the US, which helped introduce the band to a whole new generation of American ska fans and musicians in the mid-1980s!)

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