Friday, March 27, 2020

Madness 2020 US Tour Dates Rescheduled to 2021

A highway route sign in the desert displays the 'M" Madness logo and has the word 'postponed' stamped over it.

As we all watch with dread as the coronavirus pandemic spreads across the United States and physical distancing is employed to slow its transmission, it comes as no surprise that Madness has rescheduled their late May 2020 US dates (the bright spot in all of this is that their tour wasn't cancelled outright).

Both the band and Stateside Madness have posted info regarding the new shows slated for late May/early June 2021--and if you've already bought tix they will be honored at the same venue next year; and if can't make the rescheduled date next year, let the venue/point of purchase know and they'll refund your tickets.

So, without further ado, here are the Madness US dates for 2021:

Wednesday, May 26, 2021: New York, NY - Hammerstein Ballroom
Friday, May 28, 2021: Boston, MA - House of Blues
Sunday, May 30, 2021: Los Angeles, CA - The Greek Theatre
Wednesday, June 2, 2021: Oakland, CA - The Fox Theatre
Thursday, June 3, 2021: Oakland, CA - The Fox Theatre

If you snagged tickets for the original dates, hopefully these rescheduled shows still work for you!

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Thursday, March 26, 2020

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: Detroit Riddim Crew and Friends "Detroit Riddim Crew and Friends"

The cover illustration depicts rude boys and girls dancing to music playing on a record player; in a corner, Santa rides on a Vespa sleigh carrying a record with a bow on it.Abbey Productions/Jump Up Records
Red, white, and black vinyl LP/digital

(Review by Steve Shafer)

To my great shame, I'm very late in getting around to reviewing the Detroit Riddim Crew and Friends' stellar debut album and am now abashedly singing its praises to anyone who'll listen! As their name indicates, the Detroit Riddim Crew is a collective of Detroit-area ska and reggae musicians (plus a few from the Anchor/Music works in Kingston, JA) in the orbit of producer-songwriter-musician Eric Abbey (1592, The Dirty Notion, J. Navarro and the Traitors) who first came together to release riddim tracks for others to version or deejay/toast over (see their great "Castle" and "Cane" riddims--the latter appears as "Oh Shephard" here). This record, however, is half secular Christmas tracks on side A (note Santa on his Vespa sleigh in the upper right hand corner of the album cover) and the Detroit Riddim Crew's original ska and reggae material on the flip. So, at least one side of the album works/is appropriate to play all year round!

The Christmas half of Detroit Riddim Crew and Friends is (thankfully) treacle-free with a choice selection of several lesser-trod, ska-ified covers (Roy Orbison's "Pretty Paper" and a really lovely rendition of The Emotions "What Do the Lonely Do at Christmas?"), perennial radio faves ("Rocking Around the Christmas Tree" and "Sleigh Ride"), and two really fine originals: the reggae instrumental "Christmas A Come" and the upbeat "Take Care," which, given the times, could be an anthem for surviving the pandemic and boosting morale ("Time is now to lend a hand and to ask for help/And try to stand in the midst of chaos, darkness, and fear/Be sure to know that this community is here/Take care of yourself and each other"--messages of solidarity and "goodwill toward men" shouldn't be limited to a few weeks in December)! Surely, all of these tracks are destined to be broken out by discerning ska and reggae fans every late November with whatever other tunes they rely on for promoting holiday cheer.

Side B is a collection of sensational tracks that explore a variety of Jamaican musical genres. "Oh Shepard" is moody '70s dancehall cut about seeking divine intervention to survive the predatory capitalism of Babyon ("Oh Shepard, please watch the sheep/The wolves are out for the kill/And they won't stop at anything/They've got to get their meal"). "Trafalgar" is a great, brisk, old-school, big band ska instrumental, while the sultry "Come To Me" and its lively, sax-spotlighting dub version, "Double E Dub," are pop-leaning reggae, like prime early '80s UB40. The militant, roots cut "Smash Dem Down" yearns for a better way of living with each other and the planet ("So break up the hatred/And fix all the mess/There's gotta be a way, much more than this/Find a way to smash them down!"). The terrific Detroit-based group The Tellways are showcased here with their excellent rocksteady track "Friendly" (from their 2019 debut EP Closer to the Fire, also produced by Eric Abbey/Abbey Productions--and he's their drummer), which is about trying to reel in a shy, uncertain romantic partner ("If we never talked before/I want to change that thing for sure/I may seem frightening/But I assure you that I'm charming"). And then there's the hilariously over-the-top toker's hymn, "Smokin' Everyday" ("Dig this...I've been smoking everyday since 1969/Me and my son Chaos, we had a real good time/We smoked downtown, we smoked in the woods/We smoked in the ghetto and expensive neighborhoods...We were smoking everyday/Smoking every way"); this ends up being just shy of parody, except that pretty much everyone knows or has known someone as obsessed with weed as this!

Don't wait for the next holiday season to roll around to enjoy these sounds--pick up Detroit Riddim Crew and Friends' awesome album now!

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Sunday, March 22, 2020

Stateside Madness (the US affiliate of the Madness Information Service)

The members of the ska band Madness have been inserted into a print of the US founding fathers signing the Declaration of Independence.
Nutty train coming through!
While at this point in time, it remains very unclear as to whether Madness' upcoming late May tour of parts of the United States (Boston, NYC, LA, Las Vegas, Oakland) will actually happen (I think the odds are most likely slim to none, sadly; Dave Wakeling, whose version of The Beat is slated to open for them, stated yesterday that it's looking like the tour will be postponed), American fans of The Nutty Boys can buoy their spirits by checking out the fantastic and relatively new Stateside Madness blog (and Facebook group), which is the United States affiliate of the Madness Information Service (the band's official fan organization).

Recent posts have included a page listing all of Madness' US releases, tours, and television appearances (they played The Mudd Club in Manhattan in 1979!); info about the new, US-only Madness greatest hits album (that will mark the first-ever physical release of "Bullingdon Boys") that is being issued to coincide with their maybe happening US tour; an excerpt from the 1982 book A Brief Case History of Madness by Mark Williams; and a great personal recollection by Stateside Madness' Donald Trull about being introduced to the band in 1983 via their smash American radio/MTV hit "Our House" and tracking down a cassette featuring both One Step Beyond... and Absolutely to hear more of the band's music.

Make sure to go to the bottom of the Madness Stateside home page to sign up for email updates, so you never miss a new post! This is essential reading!

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Also, to help pass the some of the hours indoors, Madness' newish book Before We Was We: Madness by Madness is a terrific, engrossing, and funny read--check out The Duff Guide to Ska review of it!

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Saturday, March 14, 2020

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: Various Artists "Scorcha! Skins, Suedes and Styles from the Streets, 1967-1973"

The cover of this box set features a young, suedehead couple dancing, as well as the paper labels from some of the singles in this collection.Trojan Records/BMG
10 x 7" singles

(Review by Steve Shafer)

All of the tracks on this phenomenally good box set of 7" singles from the late '60s/early '70s skinhead reggae era were selected by Paul 'Smiler' Anderson and Mark Baxter to accompany their forthcoming book "Scorcha! Skins, Suedes and Styles from the Street, 1967-1973" (Omnibus Press), to be released on July 23, 2020. As the title suggests, their book focuses on the rise of the original UK mod, skinhead, and suedehead youth subcultures--and this brilliant collection of both well-known and you-had-to-be-there obscure tracks documents and highlights some of the truly incredible music that was fueling these scenes.

The more popular songs here, all impeccable choices, are Symarip's "Skinhead Girl," Desmond Dekker and the Aces' "It Miek," The Melodians' "Sweet Sensation," Phyllis Dillon's "Don't Stay Away," and Ken Boothe's "Freedom Street." But it's the lesser-known gems (the originals of which are mostly mega pricey or near impossible to find) that make Scorcha! Skins, Suedes and Styles from the Street, 1967-1973 invaluable to any fan of rocksteady and skinhead reggae (I, for one, am so happy to have these tracks on 45s!). These include Freddie Notes and The Rudies' version of "Guns of Navarone" (think of The Upsetters with Dave Barker 's exhortations); Keith Hudson's "Shades of Hudson" with deejay Dennis Alcapone; The Jay Boys' "Can't Get Next to You" (a mind-meltingly good funky reggae cover of this Temptations track, produced by Lloyd Charmers); Errol Dunkley's "The Scorcher" (which is a cooly understated, but deadly menacing rocksteady classic produced by Joe Gibbs that he recorded when he was just 16: "I am The Scorcher and I'll put the pressure on you!"); The Versatiles' "Worries" (featuring a certain Junior Byles); Clancy's All Stars "C. N. Express (Part 1)" with Clancy Eccles, Lee "Scratch" Perry, and Count Sticky on vocals; Cool Sticky's "Train to Soulsville," (which is a version of The Ethiopians' "Train to Skaville"); Lloyd Terrel's hilariously suggestive "Bang Bang Lulu" (which is actually based on a much versioned traditional American folk song that during both World Wars had military cadences that implied explicitly lewd rhymes, but never actually deliver them: "...Lulu has a bicycle/The seat's on back to front/Every time she sits on it/It goes right up her.../Bang bang Lulu/Lulu's gone away/Who's gonna bang bang Lulu while Lulu's gone away?"); Lyn Taitt and The Jet's "Soul Food" (penned by Perry; Sir Lord Comic might be the vocalist); and Cornel Campbell's fantastically sultry and soulful "Girl of My Dreams."

Trojan did a bang-up job producing this box set. Each side's label is a reproduction of whichever Trojan imprint originally released it (Big Shot, Amalgamated, Dr. Bird, Duke Reid, Blue Cat, GG Records, Grape, Harry J, etc.) and the insert includes a lengthy excerpt from the book with first-person recollections of what it was like to be a part of that era--and sure to make one want to pick up a copy of it. Scorcha! Skins, Suedes and Styles from the Street, 1967-1973 is one of the finest releases from Trojan in recent memory. Don't miss it!

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Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: Prince Buster "Roll on Charles Street"

Rock A Shaka

(Review by Steve Shafer)

Just the other day, I pulled out all of the Prince Buster albums and comps that I have on vinyl and found that it's a decent and sizable collection (fifteen LPs in total, most of them represses)--yet it's merely a fraction of his output from over the years, much of which has never been reissued (Blue Beat Records released over 600 Buster productions in the UK during the 1960s!). While I jump at the opportunity to obtain any new collection of his work--like Rock A Shacka's fantastic new Roll on Charles Street compilation or the recent and extraordinary Africa - Islam - Revolution compendium--Prince Buster is more than deserving of a comprehensive box set (or series of box sets!) documenting his extensive and often groundbreaking work as performer and producer. One hopes that whatever legal and/or financial barriers that are preventing this from happening are overcome someday, so the world will have a much fuller understanding of his career and vital contributions to Jamaican music, and can finally hear all of his music that has been out-of-print for decades. Bring back The Prince!

Roll on Charles Street features Buster productions and performances from 1961 through 1966, a good number of which are previously unreleased tracks or unreleased alternate takes, and the music ranges from swing jazz (check out the unreleased "Pink Night" with solos by Baba Brooks, Roland Alphonso, and Lester Sterling; or the unreleased version of Duke Ellington's "Take the A Train" with solos by Alphonso, Sterling, and Don Drummond), to Jamaican rhythm and blues (see the unreleased "I'm Sorry" or Buster's cover of Huey Smith's "High Blood Pressure"), to full on ska with some or all of The Skatalites performing in the backing band (and it should be noted that all of these recordings are sourced directly from the master tapes and the liner notes and and track-by-track commentary are provided by reggae expert/historian Steve Barrow).

Ska fans have much to devour here, including Roland Alphonso's moody "Roll on Charles Street" (previously unreleased); the lovely Derrick Morgan and Patsy (Millicent Todd) duet "Raindrops are Falling" (unreleased); the original and hard to find--and apparently Buster-penned--"Stop that Train" by The Spanish Town Skabeats (AKA The Spanishtonians); the Buster All Stars' jaunty "Charles Street Cowboy" (unreleased) and an alternate take of their powerful "Prince of Peace" instrumental; and two ace Don Drummond performances with The Skatalites, "Sudden Attack" and "Vietnam" (both tracks surprisingly bright and upbeat, given their titles).

Obviously, Roll on Charles Street is an essential release for Prince Buster fans to pick up, but really anyone interested in '60s Jamaican ska should have this in their collection.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: The Prizefighters "The Prizefighter Beat" b/w "A Fistful of Credits"

The cover of this single features a DJ spinning 45s next to a set of speakers with "Prizefighters Hi-Fi" inscribed on the side.Self-released
Digital single

(Review by Steve Shafer)

The awesome new single from Minneapolis' The Prizefighters--"The Prizefighter Beat" b/w "A Fistful of Credits"--has an interesting back story to it. "The Prizefighter Beat" was one of the band's first, never-quite-finished compositions from back in 2006 that was occasionally broken out for encores over the years when they were out of other songs to perform. At some point, this band theme song became a sort of inside joke between The Prizefighters and some of their oldest, diehard fans, who would shout out requests for it during gigs. But The Prizefighters just never got around to completing/polishing up the track and committing it to tape.

Recently, one of The Prizefighters' friends who's been a fan of the band since their earliest days (and has been one of the people yelling loudest for "The Prizefighter Beat") was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. So, in support of their friend, The Prizefighters finally put the finishing touches on "The Prizefighter Beat," recorded it, and have released it as a benefit single on their Bandcamp page--100% of the proceeds will be donated to The Sladjana M. Crosley Fund for GCT Research, a zero-overhead organization dedicated to the eradication of ovarian cancers.

"The Prizefighter Beat" is a terrific, spirited vintage ska cut (featuring sweet upright piano and trombone solos) that is essentially about having a great time dancing to live ska music (and you'll have a hard time resisting the urge to grin and move your body to this riddim!): "People get ready, we're in for a fight/Don't need no gun, no you don't need no knife/Listen to me, this is all that you need/Fire in your soul and the soles on your feet/Let's get a bit rocking (yeah, yeah, yeah!)/Everybody moon stompin' (yeah, yeah, yeah!)/Let's get a bit movin' (yeah, yeah, yeah!)/Everyone gets groovin' (yeah, yeah, yeah!)." With a song like this in your corner, surely you can't be defeated! The b side is the wittily titled "A Fistful of Credits," a fantastic, spot-on spaghetti Western reggae take on the theme song to the "Have Gun--Will Travel"-ish "Star Wars" universe series "The Mandalorian." (Somewhere out there, Jason Lawless is smiling.) Hopefully, both of these tracks will make their way to vinyl some day--they're more than worthy of it!

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Saturday, March 7, 2020

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: New Singles from Flying Vipers, Pama International, and Kim Yul-hee and the Soul Sauce

(Reviews by Steve Shafer)

Released on 02/20/20, Flying Vipers' "Two Twenties Clash" (Digital single, Music ADD Records, 2020) marks the first single from their forthcoming album (their most recent release was last year's incredible dub version of Black Flag's Nervous Breakdown EP). One new aspect of the Vipers' '70s roots sound is the welcome addition of horns (Andy Bergman on sax, Brian Paulding on trombone, and Rich Graiko on trumpet, from The Macrotones, Kotoko Brass, and The Void Union, respectively). As might be expected, "Two Twenties Clash" is an unsettled instrumental reggae track; the martial-like drumming and relentlessly busy bass riff are an undercurrent pulling constantly against the majestic horn lines, and neither dominates. It's a great teaser for what is sure to be a compelling album.

"I Can't Get No (Satisfaction)" b/w "Feel Like Jumping" (7" heavyweight vinyl, Happy People Records, 2020) is the first double A-sided single off Pama International's most recent album, Part Two (a continuation of where things left of with The Altruistic Soul Sound of Pama International aka Stop the War on the Poor). If you're familiar with these albums, you'll know that the band is currently in the midst of exploring their deep love of soul music (and singer Jewels Vass is the not-so-secret ingredient in their success). The deft arrangements of both of these classics are sure to appeal to the ska crowd (Marcia Griffith's "Feel Like Jumping" by Keith Anderson and Jackie Mittoo is now Northern Soul, while The Stones' classic is given a Stax revamp), and the powerhouse performances captured here are top-notch.

South Korean reggae act The Soul Sauce (formerly NST and the Soul Sauce) have been collaborating with sorikkun (or pansori) singer Kim Yul-hee in recasting this form of traditional Korean folk storytelling, music, and movement in a modernized reggae setting. Their latest release, following last year's Version album, is "(Who Knows) Swallow Knows" b/w "Swallow Dub" (Digital single, Eastern Standard Sounds, 2020)--a lush mix of funk, modern jazz, and reggae supporting Yul-hee's recounting of a swallow's adventures (translated from Korean: "When this swallow came to Boeun-pyo Park/I'm just looking for a nice view/I have to get to the end of my eaves/How swallows cry honey"). I don't pretend to grasp the meaning and significance of everything that's going on here, but it's beautiful and it works.

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Friday, March 6, 2020

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: The Red Stripes "Made in Hong Kong"

The cover features a 1950s-style illustration of a boy and a girl playing a record on a turntable.Mod Sound Records
CD/LP/digital (available in the USA through Jump Up Records)

Digital release: March 30, 2020
Vinyl release: April 6, 2020

(Review by Steve Shafer)

For their terrific second album Made in Hong Kong, The Red Stripes made the inspired choice of enlisting the great King Zepha (who released one of 2019's best ska albums himself) as producer and guest performer. Recorded exclusively on analogue gear with the band performing live together, King Zepha has captured The Red Stripes at their best and given these traditional-leaning ska tracks a warmth, clarity, and vibrancy that helps showcase the band's formidable chops and their collection of incredible new songs. (The Hong Kong-based Stripes are all British, Canadian, and Aussie ex-pats: Fred Croft and Sarah Watson on vocals, Matt Davis on drums and marimba, Paul Stripe on bass, Peter Longe on guitars, Billy Goldring on keys and vocals, Cameron Otto on tenor sax, Simon Nixon on trumpet, Hugo Busbridge on t-bone and vocals, and Maninder Kalsi on percussion.)

With its great sing-along chorus, "Innocent" is partly about being in the privileged position where you can follow your dreams beyond your birth country's borders and contrasting that against the experience of migrants who are pursuing similar goals, but being treated as menacing invaders by heads of state; it's also commentary on being led to disaster through governmental austerity policies: "A great many tears cried all the years/We sang and danced in a fire of fears/It made the London train go off its rails/From a dog that's starved at his master's gate/Predicts the ruin of the welfare state/They look at you as the whole thing slowly fails." So, the chorus of, "Innocent/You may be innocent," is a subtle, but cutting barb aimed both at Trump and May/Johnson for their heartlessness and cruelty toward the most vulnerable among us. The infectious and compelling "Do the Ska" is akin to Byron Lee and The Ska Kings' "Jamaica Ska" (of course, most famously covered by Fishbone and Annette Funicello) and features the lyric, "When you dance the ska/You forget where you are!" While music (and dancing to it!) always offers an escape from one's troubles and day-to-day dreariness, one wonders if this also is a furtive reference to wanting a temporary reprieve from the HK police clampdown in reaction to the roiling pro-democracy protests...

"Mercy (Show a Little...)" is a sensational Motown-influenced ska stomper about knowing things are coming to an end and the singer insisting on exiting on her own terms: "Let me down slow!" While it sounds like a ska song (a lovely one at that), thematically "Don't Build Twice" is more of a calypso track, as it's a humorous cautionary tale that urges the listener to not make the rash, ill-considered decisions that the song's protagonist does (in this case, building one's house illegally on government land, which inevitably will be razed, and need to be rebuilt elsewhere; love the marimba on this track, too). With its unusual yet winning mix of rhythm and blues, melancholy '70 AM pop, and reggae, "Train Wreck" is about the arc of a relationship--it starts out rocky (and maybe always is), but finally clicks and feels really good ("Only bright days spent in the sun/Even though it was mid-December/And you/You had a smile/Woah, that would knock me off my feet!"), but by the end of the song, another more devastating realization is dawning: "Could it be you're pulling me down?" The album closes with the fantastic instrumental "Made in Hong Kong Dub," which opens with video-game sounds and effects hinting at factories and warehouses constantly buzzing with manufacturing and commercial activity, has an awesome, driving bass riff, and features King Zepha on melodica.

The Red Stripes' Made in Hong Kong is not be missed--do everything you can to track this one down!

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Thursday, March 5, 2020

Record Store Day 2020: US and UK Ska/Reggae Releases!

The 7" single sleeve and paper label feature checkerboards, a stylized illustration of Peter Tosh as a rude boy, and the 2 Tone Records logo.
UPDATE: Record Store Day 2020 has been moved to Saturday, June 20, 2020, due to the coronavirus pandemic

The list of releases coming out on Record Store Day 2020 in the USA and UK has just been issued--and I've combed through them to see what might be of interest to The Duff Guide to Ska readership. As always, the UK offerings far outpace those in America (sigh), but so it goes. The big headline for 2 Tone fans is a new Specials 10" featuring three previously unreleased dub versions of some of their classic songs, plus reissues of Dance Craze and This Are 2 Tone. Click through the links below for details on each release...

US List:

The Skatalites: Ska Voovee LP + 7" (Jump Up Records)

The Specials: Dubs (“Gangsters (Clangsters Dub)”/“Too Much Too Young (Piano Instrumental)”/“Why? (Dub)”) 10" (Chrysalis/2 Tone)

The TennorsDo the Reggay Dance LP (Sutro Park)

Various Artists: Dance Craze LP (Chrysalis/2 Tone) - Half-speed remaster; first time reissued on vinyl since 1981.

Various Artists: From the Vaults, Volume 2 2xLP/CD (Studio One)

Various ArtistsSoul Jazz Records Presents Studio One 007: Licensed To Ska! James Bond and other Film Soundtracks and TV Themes 7" box set (Soul Jazz Records)

Various ArtistsStudio One Rockers 2xLP (Soul Jazz Records)

Various Artists: The Ska (from Jamaica) LP (BMG/Trojan)

Various Artists: This Are 2 Tone LP (Chrysalis/2 Tone) - Half-speed remaster; first time reissued on vinyl since 1983.

UK List:

Clint Eastwood and General Saint: "Stop That Train" b/w "Talk About Run" 7" (Greensleeves)

The Heptones: Back on Top LP (Burning Sounds)

Lee Perry and Black Ark Players: "Guidance" 12" single picture disc (VP Records)

Lee "Scratch" Perry and Daniel Boyle featuring Max Romeo: Dub Starship Through the Horror Zone LP (Upsetter)

Linton Kwesi Johnson: Bass Culture/LKJ in Dub 2xLP (UMC/Island)

Madness: Work, Rest, and Play EP 2x7" triple gatefold sleeve (Union Square Music/BMG)

Mungo's Hi Fi featuring Marina P., Dennis Alcapone, Tippa Irie: "The Beat Goes Ska!" 7" (Scotch Bonnet)

Operation Ivy: Energy LP (Epitaph)

Peter Tosh: "Buk-In-Hamm Palace" 12" (Spaziale Recordings)

Prince Fatty featuring Shniece Mcmenamin and Horseman: "The Model" 7" (Evergreen Recordings)

The SpecialsDubs (“Gangsters (Clangsters Dub)”/“Too Much Too Young (Piano Instrumental)”/“Why? (Dub)”) 10" (Chrysalis/2 Tone)

Various ArtistsDance Craze LP (Chrysalis/2 Tone) - Half-speed remaster; first time reissued on vinyl since 1981.

Various ArtistsFrom the Vaults, Volume 2 2xLP/CD (Studio One)

Various ArtistsA Mikey Dread Production: His Imperial Majesty 10" (Music on Vinyl)

Various ArtistsSoul Jazz Records Presents Studio One 007: Licensed To Ska! James Bond and other Film Soundtracks and TV Themes 7" box set (Soul Jazz Records)

Various ArtistsStudio One Rockers 2xLP (Soul Jazz Records)

Various ArtistsThe Ska (from Jamaica) LP (BMG/Trojan)

Various ArtistsThis Are 2 Tone LP (Chrysalis/2 Tone) - Half-speed remaster; first time reissued on vinyl since 1983.

Winston Reedy and the Inn House Crew: Black Pearl LP (Room in the Sky)

Xterminator: Earth Feel It 7" box set (Xterminator)

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I will update this list if additional releases are announced.

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