Saturday, May 30, 2020

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: Ska Jazz Messengers "Introspección"

The album cover features an illustration of a parrot in flight.Liquidador Music

(Review by Steve Shafer)

Even though their home country has been in the midst of economic collapse, political chaos, and social unrest (and, no, I'm not referring to the United States here), Venezuela's Ska Jazz Messengers led by Rafel Frías have managed to pull off a minor miracle with the release of their debut album Introspección--an impeccably produced record filled with gorgeous and superbly crafted ska-jazz tracks.

Many of the songs on Introspección are in an elegant Skatalites/Jamaican jazz vein--see the magnificent "Tunja" mixed by Victor Rice; The Mighty Vikings' cover "Up and Down" with Jump with Joey's Joey Altruda on guitar and double bass; their single "Mil Veces No" (which we reviewed previously); and "Asian Moon" with Desorden Publico's Horatio Blanco on vocals and guitar, and Ego-Wrappin's Takeshima Satoru on alto sax. Others veer into the sophisticated jazz-pop-reggae that Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra does so well, such as the lush, bossa nova-tinged "Una Hermosa Noche" and moody "Bajo la Lluvia" (both with famed Japanese reggae keyboardist Hakase-Sun); the sultry "Cuando te Miro" (which incorporates a bit of Roberta Flack's "Where is the Love?"), and the hopful and ethereal "Al Mundo Recrear" ("Recreate the World")--both showcase SJM's Ruthsy Fuentes' wonderful vocals; and a jaunty version of Emerson Kitamura's "Dokoyukuno" with Kitamura also on organ. Following the mad success of their cover of Pharell William's "Happy," Ska Jazz Messengers tackle another chart-topping hit with their winning version of Bruno Mars and CeeLo Green's "Forget You," which is recast as the pop-jazz-reggae "Sigueme" ("Follow Me"). But the best cover on the album is their take on Carole King's '70 soft rock smash "It's Too Late" with The Delirians' Angel Salgado on vocals--it's absolutely phenomenal.

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Monday, May 18, 2020

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: Prince Fatty featuring Shniece Mcmenamin and Horseman "The Model" b/w "The Model Dub"

The cover features a cartoon illustration of an old computer terminal with depictions of Prince Fatty, Shniece, and Horseman on the screen.Evergreen Recordings
7" vinyl picture sleeve single/digital

(Review by Steve Shafer)

Originally slated for release this past April for Record Store Day 2020 (that is until the coronavirus pandemic hit), Prince Fatty's terrific cover of Kraftwerk's "Das Model" featuring Shniece Mcmenamin and Horseman will now be issued on July 3, 2020. This track, of course, was first released on Kraftwerk's The Man-Machine in 1978, but went stratospheric when re-released in 1981 as the B side to the "Computer Love" single during the height of synth-pop in the UK. (The song has been both criticized for objectifying women and interpreted as a commentary on the commodification of desire, as well as the male gaze and scopophilia.) The wonderful simplicity of "The Model" has lent itself to being easily recast in many genres (name a style of music and there's been a cover version of it done) and its immediate catchiness makes "The Model" an ideal and enduring pop song. In Prince Fatty's boss reggae version, the synths remain artificially chilly and the riddim is rigidly martial, but Shniece's vocals are mighty alluring and Horseman's toasted commentary provides humanizing depth ("She's a modeling queen/'Cause she nice up the scene"). While it was recorded well before Kraftwerk co-founder Florian Schneider's death this past April, this single serves as a fantastic tribute to this incredible musician who was an essential part of one of the most influential bands of all time.

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Friday, May 15, 2020

Reissue of "Absolute Beginners" Soundtrack (Tracks by Jerry Dammers, Laurel Aitken, Smiley Culture)

The cover illustration features a trumpet player; a 1950s teenage couple dancing; and a club singer (Sade) performing--while the background portrays a street riot..
The soundtrack for "Absolute Beginners"--Julien Temple's 1986 film adaptation of Colin MacInnes' cult novel about teenagers and mod culture in late '50s London--is being reissued on July 17, 2020. What's particularly noteworthy for ska/reggae fans is that this soundtrack featured the first post-Special AKA recording by Jerry Dammers (the epic, jazzy "Riot City"), in addition to songs by Laurel Aitken ("Landlords and Tenants", which utilizes The Ethiopians' "Everything Crash" riddim) and Smiley Culture ("So What?").

The CD version of "Absolute Beginners" will include all 22 songs from the soundtrack (the 1986, 1991, and 2010 editions were truncated) and the gatefold, double LP of the album will be available once again (previously, only certain runs of the 1986 LP were issued in this format).

While the film itself received mixed reviews, the soundtrack is excellent.

The track listing is below:

‘Absolute Beginners’ – David Bowie
‘Killer Blow’ – Sade
‘Have You Ever Had It Blue?’ – The Style Council
‘Quiet Life’ – Ray Davies
‘Va Va Voom’ – Gil Evans
‘That’s Motivation’ – David Bowie
‘Having It All’ – Eighth Wonder ft Patsy Kensit
‘Rodrigo Bay’ – Working Week
‘Selling Out’ – Slim Gaillard
‘Riot City’ – Jerry Dammers
‘Boogie Stop Shuffle (Rough And The Smooth)’ – Gil Evans
‘Ted Ain’t Dead’ – Tenpole Tudor
‘Volare (Nel Blu Dipinto Di Blu)’ – David Bowie
‘Napoli’ – Clive Langer
‘Little Cat (You Never Had It So Good)’ – Jonas (24)
‘Absolute Beginners (Slight Refrain)’ – Gil Evans
‘Better Git It In Your Soul (The Hot And The Cool)’ – Gil Evans
‘Landlords And Tenants’ – Laurel Aitken
‘Santa Lucia’ – Ekow Abban
‘Cool Napoli’ – Gil Evans
‘So What? (Lyric Version)’ – Smiley Culture
‘Absolute Beginners (Refrain)’ – Gil Evans

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Thursday, May 14, 2020

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: Prince Fatty featuring Shniece Mcmenamin "Disco Deception" EP

Evergreen Recordings

(Review by Steve Shafer)

As of late, Prince Fatty has been mining his and his collaborators' shared love of soul music (for instance, see the awesome covers of The Temptations' "Get Ready" and William DeVaughn's "Be Thankful for What You've Got"). Of course, since black American musical forms like rhythm and blues, soul, gospel, and early rock 'n' roll significantly influenced the Jamaican musicians who created ska and its descendants (and there were a host of soulful rocksteady and reggae singers, like Alton Ellis, Ken Boothe, Delroy Wilson, Phyllis Dillon, Susan Cadogan, Marcia Griffiths, Jimmy Cliff, Toots Hibbert, and many more), it makes sense that many soul songs are ripe for being repurposed as reggae cuts (and there are numerous examples of such from the '60s onward). Rocksteady and reggae's slower tempos open up the space for soul singers to do their thing over tight, propulsive Jamaican grooves custom-made to pack dance floors--and the tracks on Disco Deception will do just that. For his latest release, Prince Fatty and singer Shniece Mcmenamin (of The Drizabone Soul Family, who's also worked with Chaka Kahn, Chic and Nile Rodgers, Sister Sledge, Aswad, Mungo's Hi-Fi, and The Last Poets) select some incredible tracks to cover: Lyn Collins' 1974 hit "Take Me Just as I Am," Gwen McCrae's 1974 single "90% of Me Is You," LaVern Baker's "Love Me Right" from 1957, "Fever"--first recorded by Little Willie John in 1953 who had a #1 hit with it, and Tina Turner's "You Got What You Wanted" from 1968. As always, all of the performances captured on Disco Deception are top-notch; Shniece's singing is never short of spectacular (and she makes it seem so effortless); and Fatty's production is impeccable. "Take Me Just as I Am" (with the great Horseman toasting), "90% of Me Is You," and "Love Me Right" are particularly wonderful and effective, though their stellar version of "You Got What You Wanted" (" you don't want what you got") has moments that will make the hair on the back of your neck stand on end. It's hard to match Turner's heart-wrenching performance (and, given her abusive relationship with Ike Turner at the time, horrifically true to life), but Shniece comes tantalizingly close.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: The Players Band "SKAMÖRGÅSBORD"

The cover features a close-up on the keys of an electric piano, which have the title of the album overlaid on them.


(Review by Steve Shafer)

I'm not sure how I missed The Players Band's previous albums during the first half of the 2000s--SKAMÖRGÅSBORD is their fifth release!--but I'm grateful for finally being clued in on this really excellent band. Comprised of members of Baltimore and Washington, DC-based ska and reggae acts (The PietastersThe Scotch BonnetsKill LincolnJah WorksBumpin Uglies, and Unity Reggae), this supergroup plays a mix of '60s ska, rocksteady, reggae, and post-2 Tone/modern ska masterfully--and the diversity of ace musicians involved in this group is their secret weapon, as it results in a compelling variety of songwriting styles and musical sounds.

SKAMÖRGÅSBORD is almost evenly split between fine originals and nicely selected covers that blend together well. Their version of Peter Gabriel's Stax-inspired and sexual innuendo-filled 1986 hit "Sledgehammer"--with Lady Hatchet on vocals--is positively epic; the horn section shines here, as it does throughout the album. In The Players Band's hands, The Rolling Stones' "Loving Cup" (a song from Exile on Main Street, which equates having sex to a high) becomes an interesting hybrid of Eagles-ish California rock married to reggae. Their marvelous and vibrant cover of Jackie Mittoo's classic "Hot Milk" shifts some of the keyboard melody to the horns, while Harry J All Stars' enduring skinhead reggae hit "Liquidator" features jazzy improvisational solos in breaks floating over that riddim that just won't quit. The Skatalites' "Nimrod" (AKA "Dreams of Fueman") has some nice spaghetti-Western reggae touches, and if you didn't know who was playing, you'd swear that their blistering take on Nat Adderley's jazz standard "Work Song" was by Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra.

On the original material tip, the driving modern ska track "Player's Anthem" incorporates all sorts of Baltimore references and name checks ska bands from both Charm City and The District (much like The Toasters' "East Side Beat," though without the street menace and police oppression): "Rolling down Fayette, cruising with my baby/Warm summer night, ska music in my tape deck/Pump it up loud, so the people on the street/Can hear I'm rocking steady to The Mobtown Beat/Going down to Greektown, music in the park/Jah Works are the headline, jamming after dark/Now it's EST and I'm feeling alright/It was hot with The Scotch Bonnets on the stage that night..." The rocksteady track "Wet Noodle" expresses frustration with how the right wing is seemingly hell-bent on tearing apart the country with division and racism ("This situation is out of control/Two minutes to midnight...Why, oh why is it so hard to speak liberation and truth?/You spread so much misinformation/And hatred passed down to our youth"--note the Doomsday Clock reference in there), but seeks some sort of path forward ("Let's find a table and hash things out, once for all"), even at the risk of things being unproductive (see the song title). As its name suggests, "Jackie Mittoo" is wonderful tribute to the Keyboard King with Natty Roc (of Jah Works) on vocals: "A big star creator/A musical innovator/He was a trailblazer/The common denominator/Sound champion/Radio station/Studio One was the foundation/And Jackie, he just a play 'pon the ivory." However, the best of the original cuts has to be the awesome Toasters-doing-their-version-of-ska-punk "Get in the Van" with The Pietasters' Steve Jackson on vocals. It's an anthem for all of the bands who put up with all of the miserable indignities of getting from point A to point B in exchange for the chance to play their music and have some fun: "Hours later, stumble back to the place we call home/Don't know its name, gotta check it on my phone/Never worry, nevermore/8 AM time to rise, hit the road, yeah, more in store/Do it again, do it again/Gotta get in the van...Ready to ride/Do it again/If you wanna live high, you gotta do it again!" To cap things off, the album also features several superb dubs by Victor Rice (who also mixed the record), particularly "Sledgehammer Dub" and "Hot Milk Dub."

All in all, The Players Band's SKAMÖRGÅSBORD is a thoroughly enjoyable and satisfying album that offers the listener much to feast on.

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Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Jerry Dammers Working on New Album!

Details are scant, but according to a March 29, 2020 article in the British version of GQ, Jerry Dammers is in the midst of (finally!) recording a new album. This long read, titled "The Origins of The Specials’ ‘Ghost Town’ (and Why It Eerily Resonates Today)," provides an in-depth look into the political and economic circumstances that led to the widespread rioting in 1981 that occurred just as "Ghost Town" climbed to the #1 spot on the UK charts. But this piece pretty much buries the lede by leaving news of Dammers' forthcoming album to the very last paragraph:

"Jerry Dammers is in the middle – or thereabouts – of recording a new album, down in his studio in South London. He has hours of material “in the can”, as he says, but needs time to get it into shape. With all his DJing work cancelled for the time being, he is wisely using this period to try to finalise output he’s been tinkering with for years. “I’ll get there in the end,” he says. “I’m not a perfectionist but I want this to be good. I think it is good, but I want to give it my best shot. Once and for all.” I spoke to him for this article a few days ago and he is as disconcerted by the current crisis as all of us. Up until the lockdown he had been working late most nights, regularly seeing the crazies who still stalk the streets in the early hours in these desperate times and still freaked out by the desolation. “It’s quite spooky walking about at night. I would come back from the studio in the middle of the night and worryingly there would be the odd lunatics walking the streets. It’s only the most extreme people who appear to still be out there. It’s strange times.”"

What's most frustrating is the lack of any info regarding what this album might consist of--tracks Dammers recorded about a decade ago with Rico Rodriguez and Dick Cuthell or the Sun-Ra inspired free form jazz of The Spatial AKA Orchestra or something else entirely? Many fans want to know!

May Dammers use his time during the lockdown wisely and work expeditiously.

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