Friday, August 31, 2018

Sir Horace Panter Reveals New Specials Album in the Works

Details are few and far between, but yesterday Specials' bass player Horace Panter revealed on his Facebook feed that he had spent his birthday recording tracks for a new Specials album (with original members Terry Hall and Lynval Golding), which is slated for a February 2019 release (he also posted this news on Twitter today). Specials biographer Paul Willo has apparently heard some of the tracks and commented online that they're "brilliant."

Since other 2 Tone-era acts--Madness, Dave Wakeling's Beat, Ranking Roger's Beat, Pauline Black and Gaps Hendrickson's Selecter, and The Bodysnatchers/Special AKA's Rhoda Dakar--have been releasing new music of late, it's good to see the remaining members of The Specials finally making a go of it.

Much more will be revealed in the coming months, no doubt (The Specials' official website hasn't been updated in eons). But stay tuned.

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Thursday, August 30, 2018

Duff Review: Horace Andy backed by Welders "Straight To Hell" and Big Youth backed by Welders "Pair of Dice" b/w Horace Andy v. Big Youth "Asylum Seekers" and Eric Blowtorch "Christmas in Ladbroke Grove"

Fe True Records
Limited edition 12" vinyl EP/digital

(Review by Steve Shafer)

During The Clash's recording of Sandinista! in New York City at The Power Station and Electric Lady studios in 1980 and their extraordinary 17 show residency at Bond's in Times Square in 1981 (since an unhappy with this triple-LP album Epic wouldn't help finance a national tour, their only US gigs in support of Sandinista! with mind-blowing, Clash-selected opening acts like The Fall, Dead Kennedys, Bad Brains, Lee "Scratch" Perry, The Slits, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Bush Tetras, ESG, and others opening, according to the book "The Clash FAQ" by Gary J. Jucha), they had become completely enamored, if not obsessed, with the funky, druggy decadent, definitely crumbling, and oftentimes dangerous concrete jungle that was New York City in the late '70s and early '80s ("Ford to City: Drop Dead"; "Ladies and Gentlemen, The Bronx is Burning"). It was the greatest city in a nation still very much traumatized and disillusioned by the hubris, moral bankruptcy, deception, and madness of its leaders and failures of its institutions in the wake of the loss of the Vietnam War and the corruption/illegality at the highest levels of government in Watergate (as well as the more recent humiliations of the late '70s oil crisis, stagflation, America's "crisis of confidence," the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and the agonizing Iranian hostage crisis).

While this societal breakdown and collective PTSD of sorts played out around The Clash during their exploits in New York City (whose ghettos they dubbed "an urban Vietnam" in "This Is Radio Clash"--this Don Letts directed music video features live footage from the Bond's residency, as well as fantastic shots of The Clash's somewhat real/somewhat romanticized version of NYC), it also was being reflected/reinforced in dozens of films in the 1970s, including Michael Cimino's The Deer Hunter, Hal Ashby's Coming Home, and most significantly in Martin Scorsese's lurid, NYC-based Taxi Driver (about a deeply disturbed Vietnam vet who almost assassinates a presidential candidate after being romantically rejected by one of his female campaign volunteers and in a botched murder spree-suicide attempt to rescue a child prostitute he was obsessed with saving is mistakenly hailed as some kind of hero by the media), which was one of Joe Strummer's favorite movies (and The Clash loved their movies--during the recording of Sandinista!, they stayed at the Iroquois Hotel, because they'd heard James Dean used to bunk there). As well, Francis Ford Coppola's surreal and hellish Vietnam War take on Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness," Apocalypse Now had a huge impact on the band and was the inspiration, of course, for "Charlie Don't Surf" on Sandinista! It's interesting to note how Taxi Driver's Travis Bickle and Apocalypse Now's Captain Willard are clear descendants of the ultra-violent, loner American Wild West antiheroes depicted in 1960s spaghetti Westerns by Sergio Leone and others which influenced The Harder They ComePerry Henzell's JA rude boy/outlaw fantasy--Jimmy Cliff's character Ivanhoe Martin even goes to the cinema to see Sergio Corbucchi's Django in one scene. (The Harder They Come was so beloved by the myth-loving and self-mythologizing Clash that they referenced it in two songs: "Safe European Home" and "Guns of Brixton.") To the dismay of their British fans and the London music press (who felt they were losing one of their own to the Yanks), The Clash's growing infatuation with American culture, music, and politics (quite evident on London Calling and Sandinista!) was about to go full bore.

As The Clash began writing and recording their follow-up to Sandinista!, the real and (imagined) cinematic impact of the Vietnam War on America became a dominant, almost all-consuming topic of Combat Rock (its original title--and superior Mick Jones mix--was the even more explicitly American military-esque Rat Patrol from Fort Bragg)--see cuts like "Red Angel Dragnet" (which directly quotes Taxi Driver during a spoken word verse by Kosmo Vinyl channeling damaged Vietnam vet Travis Bickle as he drives his cab through all the porno theaters, sex shops, pimps, prostitutes, druggies, and scam artists in Times Square: "All the animals come out at night - queens, fairies, dopers, junkies, sick, venal. Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets."--and also offers this revealing bit: "What is the dream?/I'll tell it/To live like they do in the movies"), "Sean Flynn" (about the photojournalist son of Hollywood Robin Hood/Captain Blood actor Errol Flynn who disappeared in Vietnam in 1970; Dennis Hopper's character in Apocalypse Now is based on Flynn), "Car Jamming" ("And then a shyboy from Missouri/Boots blown off in a Sixties war/Riding aluminum crutches/Now he knows the welfare kindness/Agent Orange color-blindness") and the extraordinary "Straight to Hell."

Strummer's "Straight to Hell" is primarily about the estimated 50,000 sons and daughters of American GIs and Vietnamese women who were conceived during the war, but abandoned when the U.S. finally pulled out of Vietnam in 1975--though it also condemns Western imperialist nations' almost wholesale persecution/rejection of immigrants and refugees from their former colonies. These bi-racial children--who were so obviously fathered by white, black, and brown American soldiers--faced harsh discrimination and desperate poverty in Vietnam; many wound up in orphanages. To the Vietnamese, depending on your politics, they were children of the ally that failed/betrayed you or the offspring of your enemy; they stood out physically in a largely homogenous ethnic society; and a good number, but certainly not all, of their mothers had been sex workers. In 1980, a number of articles in U.S. newspapers and a documentary by Bill Kurtis titled "The American Faces" began to raise national awareness of the plight of the Amerasian children of the Vietnam War; clearly Strummer was paying attention. This was another (very real) example of the folly and failure of U.S. imperialist Cold War policy for Strummer to comment on (and it was an indirect swipe at Reagan, who--terrifyingly--was heating up things again with the Russians in the early 1980s). "Straight to Hell" went on to become a fan favorite, generated great critical acclaim (Jucha opines that it's the closest The Clash came to writing their own "Armagideon Time"), and has been covered, sampled, and versioned by other artists, including Skinnerbox, M.I.A., Elvis Costello, and Lily Allen and Mick Jones.

Several decades pass and Strummer ends up co-writing the title song for Horace Andy's great 1999 Living in the Flood album (released on Massive Attack's label after Andy came to widespread attention due to his work on Blue Lines, No Protection, and Mezzanine); at the time, when he'd come to town with the Mescaleros, Strummer mentions to Milwaukee reggae musician, producer, and Clash fanatic Eric Blowtorch that he thought "Straight to Hell" would be a perfect song for Andy to cover. Years later, when Blowtorch was corresponding with Andy, he asks if he has ever covered any Clash songs and Andy tells him that he has recorded a version of "Straight to Hell," but wasn't satisfied with the results. This sets Blowtorch on a mission--and this four-track EP is the spectacular result.

Horace Andy and the Welders' roots reggae take on "Straight To Hell" takes on renewed meaning and relevance as millions of immigrants and refugees across the globe ("It could be anywhere/Most likely could be any frontier/Any hemisphere") flee war, violence, extreme poverty, and man-made or natural disaster in the hope of finding peace, stability, and opportunity for themselves and their families--all while America extinguishes Lady Liberty's beacon and rolls up the welcome mat through Trump's despicable (and un-American) white supremacist/nativist/xenophobic Tweets, utterances, and policies, which gives cover to ethno-nationalists throughout Europe ("No man's land/There ain't no asylum here/King Solomon, he never lived 'round here/Straight to hell, boy/Go straight to hell"). In this version, the violin-sounding synth and lead guitar lines are transformed into bright horn riffs and the rhythm section keeps the pace relatively brisk--but it's all sparse enough to leave space for Andy's plaintive vocals to deliver the devastating lyrics. Since The Clash purposefully shed much of their reggae sounds on Combat Rock with the explicit goal of reaching a broad American rock audience--which they found and then some--it's wonderful to hear this track in a full-on reggae setting with Andy's beautifully expressive voice (Joe, of course, was spot-on about him singing this song).

Back in 2007, Blowtorch spent a summer volunteering at the Alpha Boys' School in Kingston, JA (which fostered many of the island's greatest musicians, including Tommy McCook, Johnny Moore, Lester Sterling, Don Drummond, Rico Rodriguez, Theophilius Beckford, Headley Bennet, Cedric Brooks, Vin Gordon, Leroy Smart, Eddie Thornton, Yellowman, Horsemouth Wallace, and more!). While there, he met U-Roy (and later recorded and released the Groping in the Dark/Groping in the Park 10" in 2010), who eventually put Blowtorch in touch with Big Youth (though this collaboration has all been long-distance; they've never met). On the terrific deejay version "Pair of Dice," Big Youth serves up some wordplay on the "Straight To Hell" lyric "this is your paradise" and great commentary on the high stakes gamble immigrants and refugees are taking: "If you're seeking asylum/Then paradise is a pair of dice/ICE stands for immigration and custom enforcement/Minutemen...racists/Trouble on the borderline/You've got to sell your heart/Sell your soul/You have to sell your kidney sometimes."

"Asylum Seekers" (AKA "Reason Pan Babylonian Delusion") is an amazing mash-up (by Shane Olivo) of a version of Horace Andy's "Straight To Hell" vocal track with Big Youth's singjay performance (Andy: "Let me tell you about your blood family, kid/It's ain't Coca-Cola..." Youth: "...It's racist!"--though mostly Big Youth urges asylum seekers to "Do right/Be right/Live right/Live good"). This mix includes some choice electro-synth percussion reminiscent in what has to be a nod to M.I.A.'s "Straight To Hell"-sampling "Paper Planes" (which also is about the challenges of immigrating legally and the stereotyping of immigrants).

The EP is rounded out with Blowtorch's haunting "Christmas in Ladbroke Grove" (performed with Cecilio Negron, Jr.), who was inspired to write this very Clash-like reggae track when he learned the heartbreaking news of Joe Strummer's death as he was in London around Christmas in 2002 to perform at Gaz's Rockin' Blues with The Inflammables.

"Running from Ankara to Tehran
In the school cafeteria someone left the radio on
Older brother just 19 and gone, his only solace in a song

He only just stopped squatting, said something ‘bout a boy named Rotten
He used to sweep the factory floor, then he ran off to join the peace war
He led the charge into the terror zone then left us on our own

He used to make the breeze a blow
He used to be your hero
Where did that gravedigger from Tehran go?
Where is Woody? Where is John? Joe?

Christmas night so quiet on Ladbroke Grove
Not one soul in sight on Portobello Road
Someone turn the radio on
Give us solace, give us song – where he gone?"

It's quite affecting and one of the best songs about Strummer I've heard--and is perhaps a track to pull out every December 22nd (or whenever the feeling strikes) as you hoist a few in Joe's memory. I imagine he'd be very pleased with this EP and touched by the tribute.

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10% of each Straight To Hell purchase goes to Doctors Without Borders/Medicin Sans Frontiers, who provide medical care to human beings in dire circumstances in the most dangerous parts of the world.

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Postscript: It wasn't until 1987 that America finally recognized the Amerasian children in Vietnam--our own kids--and established refugee/immigration status for them through the American Homecoming Act. While it was in effect (from 1988-1990), approximately 23,000 Amerasian children and 67,000 of their next-of-kin were resettled in the United States.

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Update: Washington Post, 8/31/18: "Thousands of Vietnamese, including offspring of U.S. troops, could be deported under tough Trump policy"

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Thursday, August 23, 2018

Duff Review: The Last Poets (w/Prince Fatty and Nostalgia 77) "Understand What Black Is"

Studio Rockers
Double LP/CD

(Review by Steve Shafer)

Anyone who's read Jeff Chang's pretty phenomenal history of the origins of hip-hop "Can't Stop Won't Stop" (particularly chapter 2, "Sipple Out Deh"--here's the money quote: "Dub's birth was accidental, its spread was fueled by economics, and it would become a diagram for hip-hop music. A space had been pried open for the break, for possibility. And, quickly, noise came up from the streets to fill the space--yard-centric toasts, sufferer moans, analog echoes--the sounds of people histories, dub histories, versions not represented in the official version.") knows how reggae helped birth hip-hop via DJ Kool Herc (Jamaican-born Clive Campbell, whose family emigrated to The Bronx when he was 12 and who brought his experience/knowledge of sound systems and Jamaican dancehall deejays/toasters with him as he started to DJ his own parties and used the percussive "breaks" from funk LPs--which he lengthened by repeatedly fading back and forth between the start and finish of the same break on two records--to lyrically rhyme over). Equally as influential on the creation of hip-hop were the sharply political and radical spoken word artists like The Last Poets (founded in 1968 on Malcolm X's birthday) and Gil-Scott-Heron, who were heavily influenced by the Black Power and Black Arts Movements of the 1960s and 1970s (which promoted "African-American intellectual achievement, political power, and cultural pride" and challenged America's institutional racism and culture of white supremacy) and typically delivered their poetry of "versions not represented in the official version" over backing jazz, blues, or soul instrumentals.

So, it's fitting that The Last Poets have engaged both Prince Fatty (Mike Pelanconi) and Nostalgia 77 (Ben Lamdin) to produce and write the driving and insistent roots reggae and Jamaican jazz musical accompaniment for Understand What Black Is (recorded for their 50th anniversary and also the first time their poetry has been paired with reggae which--as Linton Kwesi Johnson and Dennis Bovell have so aptly demonstrated--works quite well together). Stirred to action by the current (though not the first) white supremacist in the White House, The Last Poets continue to have much to say about the dismal racial state of our Union as far as Black people are concerned and the extraordinary impact that Black culture and creativity continues to have on America. Each of these songs is densely packed with compelling imagery and commentary (thankfully, there is a lyric insert). There is much to unpack, so much so that this album might be best digested in short sessions for maximum impact/reflection.

The title track "Understand What Black Is" illustrates the absurdity of racism as well re-orients our perspective from the dominant white, Western European lens, since "Black is humanity" (our collective origins trace back to decidedly non-white people in Africa--and everything about our species and its resilience and accomplishments has flowed from them): "Understand what Black is/The source from which all things come/The security blanket for the stars/Understand was Black is/It is not a color/It is the bases of all colors/It is not a complexion/It is a reflection/Of all complexions called human."

The righteously defiant "How Many Bullets" points out that despite centuries of enslavement, oppression, and murder, American racists have not--and can never--destroy the spirit, culture, and pride of Black people ("You can't kill what you can't see"). In a similar vein, the phenomenally epic "Rain of Terror" is a comprehensive history of white supremacy and racial violence in in the United States ("America's a terrorist!"), from the first white European settlers in the 1600s to the present--referencing mostly (and conveniently) forgotten horrific events like the destruction of Rosewood, the Tulsa race massacre, and the Philly police dropping a bomb on MOVE (seriously, this should be used in history classes across America as means to help kids to learn about our nation's outrageous and disgraceful treatment of non-white people throughout its existence).

Of course, not everything on Understand What Black Is is a bleak reminder of America's Original Sin. There's the lovely tribute to Prince in "North East West South" ("I will try to make sure that no Purple Rain gets stuck in the clouds again") and Biggie Smalls is remembered in "She Is." "What I Want To See" is about envisioning the best for everyone after witnessing the worst ("No prisons no locks no keys no killings no laws/To control the free of us/But a paradise a heaven on Earth/Where everyone can sing and dance/To their own music/And we live only to bless each other"). And "The Music" reminds the listener of an obvious but often not really recognized truth that pretty much all contemporary music that developed in the Americas (gospel, blues, jazz, rock, reggae, rap, salsa, etc.) is Black music with common roots in Africa spread throughout the "New World" via the slave trade.

To quote Max Romeo and Lee Perry, in these "sipple out deh" ("slippery out there") days, as America's Civil War continues to play out in the most grotesque ways, The Last Poets' Understand What Black Is provides a host of reasons to be angry, inspired, hopeful, and aware. It's the protest music that these times demand and good people need if a lasting change is ever going to come.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Duff Interview: Werner Rodríguez Del Toro of Los Pies Negros

Editor's note: Later this month, Los Pies Negros--founded in the early 1990s in Puerto Rico--will be making a rare appearance on the mainland US, with shows in Brooklyn, NY (on 8/31/18 at Brooklyn Bazaar with Mephiskapheles, The Pandemics, Ensamble Calavera, and DJ Ryan Midnight) and Chicago, IL (on 9/1/18 at Reggies with Malafacha, Nahuales Underground, and DJ Chuck Wren). So, we though this was a great opportunity to catch up with Los Pies Negros' bassist and founding member, Werner Rodríguez Del Toro. (Thanks to Chris "Kid Coconuts" Acosta of The New York Citizens and producer of Moon's Latin Ska comps for helping to make this happen!)

Duff Guide to Ska: How did this mini-tour of the US (New York/Chicago) come about? When was the last time Los Pies Negros played in the US mainland?

Werner Rodríguez Del Toro: "The Chicago show came about when we were contacted by someone at a club called Reggies who wanted Los Pies Negros to play a ska festival there. After approximately a year of conversations, it became real.

The last time that Los Pies Negros played in the US was in 1994, when we performed at the Skavoovie festival at NYC’s S.O.B.'s and one event with Spring Heeled Jack in New Haven Connecticut the following day."

DGTS: The band has been in existence for about 27 years now. When you started it back in the early 1990’s, did you think you’d still be playing all of these years later (long enough that your most recent release was called The Grandfathers of Ska)? What has kept you going?

WRDT: "[At that time,] I did not think that in the future I'd be playing in Los Pies Negros. I ignored my thoughts and lived in the moment. I live every moment like it's a song and feel every note from the start to the finish--enjoying every detail, every second of the song. The same goes for my life and my band. And I feel that you can never get enough out of enjoying and playing the music you love, the music you feel. Without music, life has no meaning for me.

I think that what kept me in the music is the love I feel for it. And the reason that Los Pies Negros is alive is because every member is passionate about the band's music--and each of us is not just a member of the band, we are a family.

Regarding our last recording Los Abuelos del Ska (The Grandfathers of Ska), I want to mention that we wrote this single because two of our members became grandfathers and none of us expected ever to be a grandfather and still in a band playing ska music. And the song speaks to that feeling."

DGTS: Many ska fans from the '90s became aware of the band through Moon’s Latin Ska compilations and the Bang movie soundtrack. What have been some of Los Pies Negro’s highlights in the years since then (releases, festivals, etc.)?

WRDT: "After that era, we recorded one of the most recognized albums named Siempre Igual (1996).

We started to play some big events in Puerto Rico, and later with the help of underground distribution, our music was being recognized in Latin countries like Mexico, Colombia, Costa Rica, etc. In 1999, we played our first big show in Mexico with bands like Desorden Publico and la Vela Puerca. Some years ago, we played one of our best concerts ever in Mexico, the "Non Stop Ska Festival." Later we played another big event named "Skatex," in Mexico. We did some recordings like Un Alien me Rapto, Detras de ese Disfraz, etc."

DGTS: What is the Puerto Rico ska scene like? (And how have things been there for you, your family, and friends in the year since Hurricane Maria devastated the island?)

WRDT: "In Puerto Rico, the ska scene is very small. Only a few people follow ska as a lifestyle. But we have a lot of fans that are not necessary only into ska. We have fans from different genres like punk, reggae, rock, Latin rhythms, etc.--because I think our music is different. We have followers of all ages. We've played everywhere and have met people at our shows who had never heard of us and after seeing our show started to follow us. The events in Puerto Rico are for a few people, but are very interesting because the people here feel the music when we play.

The first months after Hurricane Maria were very difficult, but now we are good. As a country, Puerto Rico is a fighter and we are rebuilding it again with or without the 'mainland' help."

DGTS: What is the significance of the band’s name?

WRDT: "The band's name means liberation from slavery. Los Pies Negros (Blackfoot) symbolizes the two feet released from involuntary labor, abuse, and discrimination."

Thanks to Werner Rodríguez Del Toro for taking the time to do this interview!

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Los Pies Negros' current line-up is: Werner Rodríguez Del Toro (bass/founder), Wilmer Laboy Del Toro (guitar/songwriter), Mario Montalvo (guitar/backing vocals), Iván Salaberry (drums), Robert Ramirez (trombone), Ramón Acevedo (saxophone), Diego Borges (lead vocals), Luis Rodriguez (vocals), and Leonel Crespo (trumpet).


1993: Los Pies Negros
1994: Moviendo los pies
1995: Siempre Igual
2004: Detrás de ese Disfraz
2005: Latin Ska Force II (split CD with los Vicios de Papa)
2009: En vivo y sin Disfraces (a live CD)
2011: Un Niño Solo (EP)
2012: Un Día Normal (EP)
2013: Kamikaze (split CD with Los Fiskales)
2015: Un Alíen me Raptó (EP)
2016: Los Abuelos del Ska (EP)
2017: Siempre Igual (Single)

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Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The Duff Guide to Punk: The Blankz "(I Just Want To) Slam" b/w "Baby's Turning Blue"

Slope Records
Yellow vinyl picture sleeve single/CD single/digital download

There's a brilliant purity to The Blankz's sweetly dopey and immensely fun late '70s/early '80s New Wave-ish American punk (think a combo of early Devo, first-three-albums Ramones--each member's last name is Blank, too!--and bands from the LA/San Francisco punk scenes, like The Zeros, The Normals, The Bags, The Units, The Offs, your fave band here, etc.). This ain't no arch parody act (thank god), but a band of talented believers in the music and attitude of that unparalleled era. Like many of those groups, there's no hidden agenda, it's WYSIWYG. The Blankz sing about wanting to slam dance in "(I Just Want To) Slam": "Now I'm full of rage/Flying off the stage/Landing on the floor/Ready for some more/Pogo in the pit/Shoot a gob of spit/Full of energy/Ready mentally!" While "Baby's Turning Blue" is what they consider their "anthem of the opioid epidemic"--about someone who hasn't been seen at the methadone clinic for a bit because they've OD'd (sung by a 13+ years sober Tommy Blank). Of note, Cris Kirkwood of the Meat Puppets (Up On the Sun was a fave of mine in the late '80s) and fellow Phoenix resident did a bang-up job of producing these terrific wham-bam songs--and this is the second single in a planned series of nine (!) that The Blankz are releasing (the debut issued last month was "White Baby," about Tommy Blank's real-life experience growing up after being adopted as an infant by a Mexican family: "White baby/Brown mommy/White baby/Brown daddy/Why am I so confused/Around all these brown dudes?").

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Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: Reggae Roast Soundsystem Featuring Tippa Irie "Real Reggae Music"

Trojan Reloaded
7" vinyl single/digital download

(Review by Steve Shafer)

The first physical release on Trojan Records' new imprint Trojan Reloaded (created in celebration of the label's 50th anniversary to release new reggae music, as opposed to reissues of classics) sports two versions of Reggae Roast Soundsystem's winning "Real Reggae Music" featuring Tippa Irie. This summery, King Jammy-like digital dancehall cut (the DJ Madd Remix has more boom and bite to it, by the way) is a smart way to kick off this label, as both the Reggae Roast Soundsystem and Tippa Irie have been long-standing and popular champions of the London dancehall scene ("Inna London, inna yard/Reggae make you party hard"). Trojan Reloaded also has released the fantastic digital-only Murder EP (which deserves a physical release) from Reggae Roast Soundsystem that includes versions of the riddim by Charlie P and Brother Culture, and Natty Campbell. Trojan Reloaded's off to a cracking start--here's looking forward to more quality releases soon...

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Note: If you've already ordered/bought the impressive new Trojan 50 box set, the "Real Reggae Music" single is included; otherwise, the more budget-minded or long-time Trojan collectors will be able to pick up this 45 for considerably less!

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Thursday, August 9, 2018

Duff Review: NY Ska-Jazz Ensemble "Minor Moods" (Reissue)

Brixton Records
Vinyl LP
Available in the USA through Jump Up Records

(Review by Steve Shafer)

I missed this album the first time round in 2002, not too long after the crash and burn of the so-called Third Wave ska scene in the United States (which, no doubt, is why it was only released in Italy and Spain). So, it's great to have a chance to be introduced to this really fine record over fifteen (!) years later. If you don't know this band, NY Ska-Jazz Ensemble began back in 1994 as a super-group of sorts, made up of members of The Toasters (Fred Reiter, Jonathan McCain, and Rick Faulkner), The Scofflaws (Victor Rice, Carey Brown), and The Skatalites (Devon James), all of whom wanted to highlight jazz's considerable influence on/relationship to traditional ska music. Minor Moods is NYSJE's fourth studio album (and by this point in the band's history, only "Rock Steady" Freddie Reiter remained from the original line-up).

Like all of NYSJE's albums, Minor Moods contains both more than credible ska interpretations of jazz standards (in this case, Thelonious Monk and Denzil Best's "Bemsha Swing"--its title is from a nickname for Best's home of Barbados--and Miles Davis' Middle Eastern-sounding "Nardis") and top-notch ska-jazz originals. In particular, "Zinc," "This I Like," "Brain Freeze," "Kaneho," and "Sticks" all have memorable melodies and hooks (in addition to Reiter, guitarist Andy Stack, and keyboardist Peter Truffa each composed several tracks for this album); two cuts here are also reprised from earlier records: "Mouse," Reiter's tune inspired by the theme to "Mighty Mouse" first appeared on The Toasters' Hard Band for Dead; and a cracking live version of their own "Buttah" is from the 1998 Get This album). The vocal tracks are a bit weaker--this is really an instrumental group (and their musicianship is off the charts!), but they do get major points for the pro-multiculturalism/pro-immigration song "Streets of NYC."

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Sunday, August 5, 2018

Trojan Records in MOJO!

Apologies for no new posts over the past two weeks--I was on holiday with the family. On our last day in Dublin, I picked up a copy of the September 2018 issue of MOJO at Tower Records (!) for the airplane ride back to the USA. In it is a great feature on the rise and fall and rebirth of Trojan Records (in recognition of their 50th anniversary) by reggae journalist Dave Katz that provides more info on co-owner Lee Gopthal than I've previously encountered. Plus, the giveaway CD Reggae Nuggets sports both classic and lesser-known Trojan tracks by Alton Ellis, The Heptones, Prince Far I, Ricky and Bunny, Dennis Brown, Phyllis Dillon, Johnny Osbourne, The Ethiopians, The Inspirations, The Beltones, Val Bennett, Ken Boothe, Lee Perry, The Crystalites, and Lester Sterling and The Skatalites (MOJO also has a list of what they consider to be the 50 greatest reggae albums up on their website--discuss amongst yourselves). Also on my reading list for the journey home was Margo Jefferson's fascinating cultural history of Michael Jackson, On Michael Jackson--check out the Guardian's interview with her; and Mark Andersen and Ralph Heibutzki's incredible We Are The Clash, the now-definitive history of the post-Mick Jones/Topper Headon Clash (Joe Strummer, Paul Simonon, Nick Sheppard, Vince White, and Pete Howard), which managed to achieve some legitimate triumphs--many blisteringly good live shows, like their 12/6/84 benefit show for striking union coal miners at the Brixton Academy (with a number a great new tracks in the set like "Are You Ready for War?," "Three Card Trick," "North and South," "Dirty Punk," "Jericho," and "This Is England") and their daft-but-brilliant, have-guitar-will-travel busking tour of the north of England--despite Strummer's struggle with depression/self-medication and Bernard Rhodes' absolutely ham-fisted hijacking of what could have been a pretty great album of new songs: Out of Control.

On our travels around Ireland, I managed to miss the chance to see Madness perform twice. They played Galway a day before we arrived and were in Dublin while we were in Galway! (I did catch a BT advert that uses their cover of "It Must Be Love" on TV a few times, but it's not the same.) And Jerry Dammers did a DJ set in Dublin while we were on a brief detour to the (brutally hot) continent. So it goes...

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