Thursday, May 6, 2021

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: Eric Blowtorch and the Inflammables "Quality Items"!

Eric Blowtorch stands outside as it snows holding the letters Q and I.
(Review by Steve Shafer)

Quality Items, the excellent new triple-LP (containing 36 songs!) from Eric Blowtorch and the Inflammables (3 x vinyl LPs, Bopaganda! Records, 2021--you can buy it through their Discogs page), brings to mind The Clash's Sandinista (also 36 tracks), not just for the album's length, but for the band's versatility and daring--they're going wherever their creativity and inspiration leads them. Like The Clash, Eric Blowtorch and the Inflammables don't limit themselves to any particular musical genre. There's some really fantastic ska and reggae here, but also a few mix tapes' worth of top-shelf jazz (big band/free form/no wave), soul, bossa nova, pop and rock, even disco (the musically omnivorous Joe Strummer would've been proud). Duff Guide readers will be most interested in the ska tracks "Bad Dream" ("...and you feel so lonely, lonely, alone/Like Margarita with one limp hand stuck inside the trombone/Bad was just a bad dream/This terror must subside/You'll feel better after you have cried"), a version of Leonard Cohen's cinematic and vengeful "First We Take Manhattan" ("...then we take Berlin"), and a different, stripped down take of "Mercy" (which was released as a digital single last year and reviewed by me here), and the reggae cuts "Hatred of Captivity" (a spectacular "Ghost Town"-y instrumental), a wonderfully ragged cover of Marley's "Dance Do The Reggae," and the jazz-inflected "Last Day of School." But less parochial music fans also will find much to devour, including the big band "She's a Pro"; the no wave/free form jazz songs "Set My Woman Free" and "Paz Para Vieques"; the Motown-ish "You Ain't Mad" and "Town for Sale"; the harrowing, defiant, and hopeful WWII/Holocaust (and Peter Ivers-sounding) ballad "Ghetto Resistance"; and the offbeat pop and rock cuts "Best of Times" ("Please pardon the expression/But we've all known great depression/Stop, look, and listen, pity party's out of session--not waiting for your blessing!/These could be...the best of times"), "Guzzling Gasoline" ("The first foot on the pedal seldom touches earth/Millionth customer at Citgo knows what life is worth/'This bucket is my birthright!' cries the bully in the pulpit/Give me the premium, let me gulp it!"), "Every Star in the Sky" (an end-of-the night-slow-dancer), "Never Too Far Away," and "Throw Open Your Arms." There's a lot to digest here (I've only scratched the surface), but like Sandinista, the longer you live with it, the more you discover, and deeper you find your love for it. 

(For a bit more background on Quality Items, check out this interview with Eric Blowtorch in Shepherd Express.)

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Sunday, May 2, 2021

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: David Usma & The Siderens, Joe Yorke & Stand High Patrol!

The paper label for the single features the artist name, imprint (Stand High Records), and illustration of three faces (one looking forward, another left, and the other right).(Reviews by Steve Shafer)

The incredible new single Malé Vol​.​1: Oscuridad (7" vinyl picture sleeve single/digital, Canana Records, 2021; found in the US via Jump Up Records) from Colombia's David Usma & The Siderens is part of a trilogy of releases exploring Usma's process of "healing his wounds" through music (Malé is a woman's name, so draw your own conclusions as to what this is all about). He's accomplished this by composing and recording three sets of songs that essentially go through a compressed version of the stages of grief: Darkness, Catharsis, and Rebirth. The first stage Malé Vol​.​1: Oscuridad (Darkness) features two killer skinhead reggae instrumentals: "Hell Moon" sports an otherworldly ice rink organ carrying a melody that's both beautiful and slightly unsettling, while the sprightly "Darkness" has dubby sections and majestic bursts of brass. I'm sorry for Usma's suffering, but he's making some great music while he's in the process of working it all out.

Joe Yorke & Stand High Patrol's magnificent and haunting new single "Quicksand" b/w "Quicksand Dub" (7" vinyl single/digital, Stand High Records, 2021) is about hidden, lonely suffering and bravely trying to bottle up all the feelings instead of embracing and releasing them (and reminds me of the awful time I had adjusting to boarding school life as a desperately homesick 11 year-old). With an understated but effective rocksteady riddim written by Stand High Patrol's Pupajim (the dub is by SHP's MacGyver) and lyrics by Yorke's frequent collaborator/producer Eeyun Purkins (of The Co-operators--read my review of their latest album Beating the Doldrums here), Yorke's incredible falsetto is brimming with empathy as he sings:

Hey brother, I hope you're doing fine
I know you've been having such a rough old time
When the door is closed and the monsters creep in
You're in the quicksand, feels like you're sinking

Back at school they taught you “boys don’t cry”
The tide is up inside, but no tears fall from your eyes
Brother you know that being big and tough
Means letting the tears flow when times get rough
Rough and tough

It's good advice for everyone to heed (delivered within a terrific song). Highly recommended.

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Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: Maroon Town, Tom Zé & Joey Altruda!

The cover features photos of men and women from the late 1800s; one man has a nuclear mushroom cloud emanating from the top of his head.
(Reviews by Steve Shafer)

It's a shame that we haven't seen much recorded output from Maroon Town since their magnificent Freedom Call album in 2018 (read my review of it here). But it seems like a new and growing collaboration with producer/musician Neil Anderson of Original Gravity Records may be changing all that. This past October, the band issued a killer remix by Anderson of "Bullit" from their Urban Myths LP (read my review of it here) retitled "Bullit (Proof Mix)."  Their latest release is a wonderfully bright and joyful rocksteady instrumental tribute to South African jazz trumpeter and long-time anti-apartheid activist Hugh Masekela titled "Maskela Skank" (Digital, self-released, 2021) that has light touches of Highlife and echoes of Desmond Dekker and the Aces' "Pretty Africa." Here's hoping there's more of where that came from--it's superb--and that some of these cuts receive a physical release (maybe Anderson could issue some of this on Original Gravity?). Also, if you've never heard their deadly cool cover of Prince Buster's "City Riot" produced by The Specials' John Bradbury and released back in 1987 (I still have my 45!), do yourself a favor and check it out on the Maroon Town Bandcamp page. (Fun ska factoid: The Scofflaws covered Masekela's "Grazin' in the Grass" on their Ska in Hi-Fi album back in 1995.)

While he's been busy working in other genres as of late, Joey Altruda hasn't been doing much in the ska realm since his extraordinary run with Jump with Joey (with partner in crime Willie McNeil) back in the 1990s (for you nitpickers out there, he did perform on Western Standard Time's Big Band Tribute to The Skatalites back in 2012). If you don't already have them, the albums Ska-Ba, Generations United (my fave!), and Strictly for You, Volume 2 are essential trad ska-jazz-Latin listening (and are painfully overdue to be issued on vinyl). So, it's fantastic to find the new single from Altruda firmly in ska territory, even if it's a bit of a detour through Brazil! "A Babá Ska" b/w "A Babá Dub" (Digital, Avocaudio, 2021; 7" vinyl single TK--though you have to sign up on the waiting list to get a copy) are versions of Brazilian Tropicália musician/singer Tom Zé's 1972 song, which translates from the original Portuguese as either "The Nanny" or "The Babysitter." The original was released during Brazil's long military dictatorship (1964-1985) and utilizes a children's nursery rhyme form and cartoon film references ("Rockefeller accused Snow White/The dwarfs split/Three yes and three no/But one died of fright/And asked, 'who is, who is'?") to mock/criticize the powers that be ("Who is making nightmares at the head [end or turn] of the century?/Who is putting lice on the head of the century?"). Altruda, who has collaborated with other Brazilian musicians like Seu Jorge, was able to persuade Zé to cut new vocal and guitar tracks for his ska version (interestingly, Zé was unfamiliar with the genre) and the results are pretty spectacular. These tracks feature Roger Rivas (Aggrolites) on organ and piano, Oliver Charles (Ocean 11) on drums, Artie Webb (Tito Puente) on flute, Marlone Sette (Jorge Benjor), and Altruda on bass and production. Everything was expertly mixed by Victor Rice down at his studio in São Paulo. According to Altruda, 100% of the sales of the digital single go to Tom Zé, and this is the first of several more hoped-for collaborations with Brazilian musicians. All I can say is please keep 'em coming! 

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Friday, April 16, 2021

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: The Tellways "Out to the Cosmos"!

The cover features an illustration of Laika, the first dog in space, wearing an astronaut helmet and staring at the Moon.

(Review by Steve Shafer)

The laid-back, almost understated mid-tempo ska and rocksteady of The Tellways might remind one--and I'm carbon dating myself here--of Easy Big Fella, The Allstonians, Skavoovie & The Epitones, or The Skalars. They're not flashy, but they've really got it going on. In particular, lead singer Rachel Stokes' wonderfully pure alto voice (Chuck Wren is spot on when he describes it as "old timey and sultry," like she's a singer in a classic film noir), and her masterful and seemingly effortless control of her instrument helps make this ace Detroit band stand head and shoulders above the fray. The Tellways excellent debut album Out to the Cosmos (LP/digital, self-released, 2021; also available through Jump Up Records) contains seven new tracks (all by guitarist, keyboardist, producer Eric Mazurak), as well as new recordings of the five songs from their fine 2019 EP Closer to the Fire. Top 2021 tracks include "Anxious" ("If we were living in peaceful times/Then we should all have peaceful minds/Instead, we're anxious"), a theme song of sorts for several people in my household, though in our case I think it's more genetic than environmental; the Calypso-ish "I Don't Need to Tell You," which is about the object of your affection not picking up on your non-verbal clues at all; and the boastful reggae make-'em-dance cut "Tellway Stomp": "Pull the lever on your fever/Burn you up, burn you up/Making you a true believer/Heal you up, heal you up/Transmitter to receiver/Pick it up, pick it up/Treatin' you like you were Caesar/Stick it up, stick it up!" 

My favorite cut on the record is "Space Force," which is less about that wacky new division of the armed forces and more the Space Race era (note the illustration of Laika on the album cover) with a bit of Ren & Stimpy's "Space Madness" in the mix:

Come onboard our rocketship
On an interstellar trip
Out to the cosmos
We don't need intros
You know that we're the Space Force

Our captain's a genius
Tries to appease us
Dark, disconnected
Don't ask him questions

He tore up our charter
Salted our water
We can't step outside
That don't matter in the mind
Of the Space Force

The re-recordings of their 2019 material sound really great. You may have caught the terrific "Closer" on Happy People Records' Rudies All Around, Vol. 2 comp (which you should really check out, since there's so much good stuff on it!), but I'm still most partial to the soul-ska of "Friendly." All in all, this an outstanding debut album.

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Thursday, April 15, 2021

"Do You Remember the Good Old Days Before the Ghost Town?"

I recently came across several videos I shot at the last Electric Avenue show that I organized at Characters NYC before the pandemic. (Sadly, Characters shut down last fall--another victim of the plague. Linda and Finn made it a great place to be. Thank you for everything!). The Electric Avenue bill on July 26, 2019 featured Barbicide (read my review of their Fresh Cuts EP here), The Twilights (read my review of their Hear What I Say EP here), The Rudie Crew, and Beat Brigade (read my review of their Tomorrow's News EP here).

As you can see from the following videos, it was an amazing night of ska and reggae! Barbicide were terrific right out of the gate (it was their first show). The Twilights' version of Max Romeo and Lee Perry's "Chase the Devil" was epic! The Rudie Crew's "Radics in Space" tribute to the still very much missed Roy Radics really got the crowd going. And make sure to watch Beat Brigade's "Battle Cry" ("This is not a warning/This is not a test/Armageddon's coming...")--one of their newer (and brilliant) tracks--all the way through. Dave Barry and Ramsey Jones' performances in particular are mind-blowing.

These videos will whet your appetite for live shows. Hopefully, we'll start having them again later this year (go get your vaccine shot, if you haven't already!).

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Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: The Bakesys "You Are Leaving The American Sector" b/w "Bernauer Straße Dub"

(Reviews by Steve Shafer)

My wife and I just started watching the TV series The Americans, which is about two deeply embedded Russian agents who live in the suburbs of Washington, DC (next to an FBI counter-intelligence agent) and are raising their American-born kids (who have no idea of their parents' true identity) while they spy on the Reagan Administration during the Cold War 1980s. In a funny coincidence, the incredible new single from The Bakesys "You Are Leaving The American Sector" b/w "Bernauer Straße Dub" (Digital, Do the Dog Music, 2021) is about this very same era--and the Berlin Wall in particular. "You Are Leaving The American Sector" is, appropriately enough, a crisp, tightly-wound late-'80s-sounding instrumental track that bends trad ska with modern production techniques, and might remind the listener of something off Maroon Town's High and Dry or Potato 5's True Fact albums. The cut also includes all sorts of clips of interviews of people reacting to the Wall going up in 1961 (and the subsequent attempts of East Germans to escape to the West); one man in the street wonders, "What have we got that they are so afraid of?" Its terrific version, "Bernauer Straße Dub," refers to the street in Berlin where the Wall went up and the East German authorities bricked up all the windows of the apartments that faced the West so their citizens couldn't jump to freedom. Both tracks capture the tension and apocalyptic paranoia of that time, which, in some ways, has never dissipated. On a related note, the late video and multimedia artist Dieter Froese--a wonderful family friend who digitally edited the Super-8 footage I shot for The Toasters' "2 Tone Army" music video at his Dekart Video production house in NYC's Chinatown--had helped a good number of East Berliners escape to the West via a tunnel under the Berlin Wall before he came to the US in 1964.

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Monday, April 12, 2021

Rico's "Jama Rico" To Be Reissued on Vinyl for the First Time Since Its Release in 1982!

The album cover features a carved, wooden African mask.
As part of 2 Tone/Chrysalis's 40th Anniversary program, Rico's positively stellar Jama Rico LP is finally being reissued on 180 gram heavyweight vinyl on June 25, 2021 (pre-orders can be made through Dusty Groove in the USA or Juno Records in the UK, and elsewhere). This is the first time this relatively hard-to-find record has been reissued on vinyl since the album was originally released in 1982 (it was recently made available on CD via the Two Tone: The Albums CD box set, which I reviewed here). Rico's That Man is Forward is also being reissued by 2 Tone on the same day, though this great album has been easier to find, since Reggae Retro reissued it on CD and LP in 1998

Here's an excerpt of what I wrote about Jama Rico from my book The Duff Guide to 2 Tone:

"But on this day, the gods of vinyl were good to me. I snagged one of the rarest 2 Tone releases (at least, on this side of the pond)—a near mint copy of Rico Rodriguez's Jama Rico (1982), which is filled with phenomenally good vintage ska and reggae instrumental cuts. 2 Tone's parent label Chrysalis never opted to release this album in the US, and I wonder if any specialty shops here even bothered to import copies of it; in all my many years of digging through the crates, this is the first time I've ever seen it. There is also very little written about it, either online or in the reference books on ska and reggae in my bookshelves; even George Marshall's The Two Tone Story gives it short shrift. 2 Tone ska's flame-out in the UK, no doubt, had a lot to do with the album's scarcity and the dearth of info about it, but Rico and this brilliant album deserved much better.

Recorded both at Joe Gibbs Studio in Kingston, JA and in London, with various tracks produced by Dick Cuthell and Jerry Dammers, Jama Rico featured some of the finest Jamaican and British musicians around, including Tommy McCook (tenor sax), Felix "Deadly Headley" Bennett (alto sax), Ansell Collins (organ), Winston Wright (piano, guitar), Earl "Chinna" Smith (guitar), Jah Jerry (guitar), Sly Dunbar (drums), Robbie Shakespeare (bass), and other top performers—plus several members of The Special AKA: Jerry Dammers (organ, piano), John Bradbury (drums), Sir Horace Gentleman (bass), and Dick Cuthell (cornet, flugel horns, funda drums).

Ska fans who love Rico and The Special AKA's "Jungle Music" will immediately take to the stunningly evocative ska and reggae of "We Want Peace," "Jam Rock," "Love and Justice," "Some Day," "Do the Reload" (which is a cover of Rico's dear friend and mentor Don Drummond' awesome "Green Island"), and "Easter Island" (written by Japanese saxophonist Sado Wattanobe)—all of which follow the expected song structures for this genre of music. Those open to more musical paths less traveled will enjoy the jazzier, looser experimental takes on Jamaican music on "Destroy Them," "Distant Drums" (with Rico on vibraphone and funda drums!), and "Java."

According to Paul "Willo" Williams in his fantastic biography of The Specials (and 2 Tone Records) You're Wondering Now: The Specials from Conception to Reunion, Rico's "Jungle Music" single and the Jama Rico album failed to gain any traction and climb the charts due to the rise of the New Romantics in the UK (Ultravox, Spandau Ballet, Duran Duran, etc.). It was all a matter of unfortunate pop-culture timing (one can't blame Rico's material or the performances, as they're brilliant). The UK record-buying public's massive infatuation with ska music was over by 1982."

2 Tone is also reissuing The Selecter's Too Much Pressure on April 23, 2021 (read all about that deluxe reissue here) and a half-speed remaster of The Specials' Ghost Town EP on June 4, 2021.

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Saturday, April 10, 2021

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: Desorden Publico & Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra "Ska Mundo Ska," Travelers All Stars "Don't Give Up" b/w "Sabata"!

(Reviews by Steve Shafer)

If you're not already doing so, it would be wise to keep Del Corazón Music on your radar. For the unfamiliar, they're an indie label out of San Francisco that re-issued Laurel Aitken's En Español LP in 2019 (which I reviewed here), as well as a single from that album--and they recently issued two amazing singles that I almost completely missed from Desorden Publico (with Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra) and Traveler's All Stars. The Desorden Publico single features two versions of "Ska Mundo Ska" (from their extraordinary Bailando Sobre Las Ruinas LP, which I reviewed here)--one, a ska take with TSPO (which is so infectious you won't be able to get out of your head for days); the other a great spirited ska/mariachi version with Big Javy from Mexican ska band Inspector. The song itself celebrates how ska music is popular among diverse people on a "planetary scale" (Del Corazón's motto is Sin Fronteras--without borders) and the wildly upbeat music video from a few years ago features reflects that with guest spots from TSPO, The Busters, Buster Bloodvessel, Dan Vitale of Bim, Oi-Skall Mates, Neville Staple, Alex Desert and Greg Lee, Mark Foggo, Jesse Wagner, Fred Reiter, and many more. As you can see from the image above, Del Corazón Music devotes an incredible amount of attention to the design and packaging of their releases. The Desorden Publico single features an actual obi strip (a nod, of course to TSPO), the paper label notes that the music contained in the grooves is Latino Ska, and it comes, as all of the label's 45s do, with a jukebox strip (if you're old enough to remember what those were used for)! The Travelers All Stars single (marked as Reggae Gordo or Heavy Reggae on the paper label--which also pays tribute to the Doctor Bird paper label design) features the bright and hopeful skinhead reggae cut "Don't Give Up," while the more hard-driving "Sabata" was inspired by the 1969 spaghetti Western of the same name, directed by Gianfranco Parolini and starring Lee Van Cleef. If you can find these singles (Liquidator still has them), don't hesitate to grab them!

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Thursday, April 8, 2021

New Single from Rhoda Dakar: "Everyday Is Like Sunday" b/w "Everyday Is Like Sunday (Dub)"!

The cover features an illustrated version of Rhoda Dakar sitting in a booth at Pearl's Cafe, holding a cup of tea, and staring out the window at the ocean.
(Preview by Steve Shafer)

During the dark early months of the Covid-19 pandemic, when everyone was struggling with the new reality of lockdowns, living in isolation, and trying desperately to avoid the virus (with even the hint of vaccines many months away), Rhoda Dakar, like many of us, sought out music that reflected the times and what she was feeling in response. One of the tracks that she found particularly resonant was Morrissey's "Everyday Is Like Sunday" (from his 1988 Viva Hate album; lyrics by Moz, music by Stephen Street), which is about longing for release from drab sameness, unending boredom, and loneliness. 

While the original refers to being in a decaying seaside town in England on a Sunday when all the shops and diversions are closed, the emotions of the original were--and still are--painfully relevant to our pandemic times. 

Everyday is like Sunday
Everyday is silent and grey

Hide on the promenade
Etch a postcard:
"How I Dearly Wish I Was Not Here"
In the seaside town
That they forgot to bomb
Come, come, come, nuclear bomb

Moz imagined collective deliverance from ennui through The Bomb--the very scary Cold War was still on back then--but our threat of armageddon is more personal. With this plague, we've been faced with the prospect of a never-ending line of individualized, isolated deaths on ventilators tended by medical staff in space suits. Goodbyes to loved ones said over cell phones held by nurses. Thankfully, our release from this nightmare can be found through trust in science and public health--getting a vaccine shot or two and wearing a mask. Not too much to ask to save yourself and everyone around you, is it?

Rhoda Dakar's really great reggae take on "Everyday Is Like Sunday" plus its dub version are being released digitally on April 21, 2021--and an already sold-out 7" single is being issued on Sunday Best Records on July 2. She's backed here by several of her LoTek Four collaborators (read my reviews of their terrific Volume 1 and Volume 2 EPs), including Lenny Bignell (Pama International, Sidewalk Doctors), who also produced the single and dub, and Terry Edwards (The Higsons, Madness).

And do make sure to take a closer look at the single's picture sleeve artwork by Pete McKee and note that the illustrated version of Rhoda is sitting in Pearl's Cafe--a nod, of course, to her duet with Terry Hall on the Dammers-penned More Specials track of that name, also about desperate loneliness: "It ain't easy when there's no one to lean on/It ain't easy when there's nobody there" (plus the song contains these immortal lines: "It's all a load of bollocks/And bollocks to it all!").

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Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Ska and Reggae Record Store Day 2021 Releases of Note: Jerry Dammers, Desmond Dekker, LKJ, Madness, The Selecter, Blue Beat, Jump Up, Studio One, and More!

The cover features the paper label with the title; and the sleeve features Walt Jabsco, an illustration of a rude boy in a sunglasses, suit, tie, loafers, and trilby.
As always, the Record Store Day offerings for ska and reggae fans in the UK are simply better and more plentiful that they are in the US. And with the insane cost of shipping LPs from the UK to the US these days, even if you are able to track down a UK-only RSD release you want for more that you want to spend, you're going to get absolutely killed by postage.

The only bright spots for US fans are domestic releases from The Selecter, Desmond Dekker, and two Soul Jazz Studio One compilations.

Please note that Drop 1 is on June 12 and Drop 2 is on July 17.

Blackbeard (Dennis Bovell): I Wah Dub (LP, PLG, UK only, Drop 1)

Joseph Cotton, Winston Reedy, Barry Isaacs, Vin Gordon: Kiki Kiki EP (7" single, Room in the Sky Records, UK only, Drop 1)

Jerry Dammers: At The Home Organ: Demos 1980-82 "Ghost Town (Original Demo) b/w "Theme from The Boiler" (10" single, 2 Tone/Chrysalis, UK only, Drop 2) These two previously unreleased tracks are Jerry’s home recordings made on cassette in 1980/1982. This is a rare glimpse into his working practice, including The Specials' most famous recording "Ghost Town," which celebrates its 40th Anniversary in July this year (and is being reissued by 2 Tone in both 7" and 12" formats).

Desmond Dekker: The King of Ska Live at Dingwalls (2xLP, Burning Sound, UK only, Drop 1)

Desmond Dekker: King Of Ska - The Ska Singles Collection (10 x 7” box set, BMG/Trojan, US & UK, Drop 1)

George Dekker: "Run Dem" b/w "Foey Man" (7" single, G.D. Records, UK only, Drop 1)

George Dekker & The Inn House Crew: "Nana" (7" single, Room In The Sky Records, UK only, Drop 1)

Jah Floyd: "20 Years Inna Leaky Boat" (7" single, Jamaican Recordings, UK only, Drop 1)

Owen Gray: Sings (LP, Burning Sound, UK only, Drop 1)

Linton Kwesi Johnson: Making History (Color vinyl LP, UMC, UK only, Drop 1)

Jump Up Records: Chuck Wren is releasing four LPs for RSD: Bim Skala Bim's new album Sonic Tonic; a reissue of The Skatalites' Bashaka; an anthology from Skanking Lizard; and the first-ever vinyl edition of The Scofflaws' fantastic debut album originally released on Moon Records in 1991!

Madness: I Do Like To Be B-Side The A-Side Vol 2 (LP, BMG, UK only, Drop 1)

Freddie McGregor: "Never Run Away" (12", Greensleeves, UK only, Drop 1)

Mungo's Hi Fi: Antidote (LP, Scotch Bonnet Records, UK only, Drop 1)

Lee "Scratch" Perry: Roast Fish Collie Weed & Corn Bread (LP, VP Records, US & UK, Drop 1)

The Selecter: Live In Coventry ’79 (Clear vinyl LP, 2 Tone/Chrysalis, US & UK, Drop 1) This is the vinyl version of the live concert included in the forthcoming 3xCD reissue of Too Much Pressure. Read about this concert and this reissue here.

Millie Small: "My Boy Lollipop"/"Something's Gotta Be Done"/"Don't You Know It"/"Until You're Mine" (7" Island/UMC, UK only, Drop 2)

Toots & The Maytals: Funky Kingston (LP, Get On Down, US & UK, Drop 1)

Various Artists: Legends of Blue Beat: The Blue Beat Label (LP, Blue Beat Records, UK, Drop 2)

Various Artists: Soul Jazz Records Presents Studio One Ska Fire! (5 x 7" box set, Soul Jazz Records, US & UK, Drop 2)

A: Bob Marley and The Wailers – "Rude Boy"
AA: Derrick Morgan – "It’s Alright"

A: Don Drummond – "Don D Special"
AA: The Maytals – "A Man Who Knows"

A: The Skatalites – "Something Special"
AA: Lee Perry – "Open Up (aka Cook Book)"

A: The Regals – "Shammy Back"
AA: Bob Marley and The Wailers – "Diamond Baby"

A: Jackie Opel – "The Mill Man"
AA: Ethiopians – "I Am Free"

Various Artists: Studio One Soul (2 x LP, Soul Jazz Records, US & UK, Drop 2)

Wailers & U-ROY: My Cup Runneth Over (LP, Tsosume Records, UK only Drop 2)

Wailing Souls: Wailing (2 x LP, 17 North Parade, US & UK, Drop 2)

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Updated 4/8/2021.

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Friday, April 2, 2021

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: Various Artists "Peter Gunn EP" and "30-60-90 EP"

The title of the EP appears within a series of repeated squares.

(Reviews by Steve Shafer)

Since I missed out on their first pressings last year, I eagerly snapped up the Original Gravity reissues of the Peter Gunn EP and 30-60-90 EP. If you're late to the game like I was and unfamiliar with the label, Original Gravity is run by musician and producer Neil Anderson, who has a deep love of '60s soul, funk, blues, R&B, Latin, ska and reggae. He has been releasing a series of extraordinarily good singles and 7" EPs of late with what appears to be a rotating cast of collaborating acts, but in reality are Anderson himself performing under different aliases (with several other studio musicians?). Each of these EPs focuses on a choice instrumental cut from the '60s--Henry Mancini's wickedly sinister 1959 theme song for the private eye TV show "Peter Gunn" (which was reworked a bit in 1960 for the theme for the cartoon series "Courageous Cat and Minute Mouse"--I watched it in late afternoon reruns when I was in grade school) and Willie Mitchell's strutting 1969 soul-funk workout "30-60-90"--as interpreted in four different musical styles.

Straight off, all four versions of "Peter Gunn" are smoking hot. Néstor Álvarez's take has all sorts of incredible Latin percussion running beneath the melody carried by the horn section and piano. If R&B's your thing, Chris Baker & The Braveheart's wild version is all buzzy, echo-ey bass and guitar with Booker T.-like organ really working it on top. Prince Alphonso & The Fever turn in a raucous ska version that sounds like something that Prince Buster might have produced with his All Stars had he covered this track. And the lead instrument in Melvin Craig's amazingly funky psychedelic ride is the sitar played by Chinthrinie Wijayakulathilaka, giving the cut a pleasurably intense '60s vibe. 

Prince Alphonso & The Fever give "30-60-90" a stately ska makeover (think The Skatalites with Justin Yap producing), while the Brentford Rd Soul Rebels lay down a cool skinhead reggae riddim for Dennis Alcapone to make his exhortations over. Néstor Álvarez again mixes big band horns with jazzy and Latin sounds and rhythms with wonderful results. But it's Curtis Baker & The Bravehearts' Stax-like version that's fearlessly badass and scorching. 

These cracking EPs are tailor-made to be part of the soundtrack for your next party or DJ night--whenever those can happen again. (Both singles can be bought via Original Gravity's Bandcamp page or Juno Records in the UK.)

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Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: Roddy Radiation with The Skabilly Rebels, Bailey Dee with The Kingston Affair, and Travelers All Stars!

The single's paper sleeve features the band, song title, and label imprint (Jump Up), as well as an illustration of a couple dancing.
(Reviews by Steve Shafer)

The latest single from Chuck Wren's Jump Up Records, Roddy Radiation with The Skabilly Rebels' "Sea Cruise" b/w Bailey Dee and The Kingston Affair's "Sea of Love" (7" color vinyl single, Jump Up Records, 2021), is a throw-back of sorts that deftly underscores how Black American R&B and early rock 'n' roll directly influenced the birth of Jamaican ska music. Both "Sea Cruise" and "Sea of Love" were originally released in 1959--the same year that Laurel Aitken issued the Chris Blackwell-produced, R&B originals "Little Sheila" b/w "Boogie in my Bones"--and it makes complete sense that these marvelous ska covers by Roddy Radiation and The Skabilly Rebels and Bailey Dee and The Kingston Affair work so well, since these are from that peculiar time when the border between the established genre and its about-to-be-born descendant was blurred. For anyone who's a proud, card-carrying member of Gen X, it's likely that your introduction to Frankie Ford's 1959 rock 'n' roll hit "Sea Cruise" (written by Huey "Piano" Smith) came via Rico's cover of it on his wonderful 1980 2 Tone single (though according to, he's not backed by The Specials, despite the common misperception otherwise). This terrific version (has Roddy ever sounded happier?) comes from Roddy & The Skabilly's 2016 CD EP Fallen Angel, which also had been featured on a Jump Up freebie comp that was given out through mail-order. And most ska and reggae fans know likely Phil Phillip's classic (and only) hit "Sea of Love" via The Heptones' version. This marvelous take is by the awesome Chicago retro rock 'n' roll singer Bailey Dee, who is backed by The Kingston Affair, which features members of Deals Gone Bad, (who are, of course, referencing the original name of Neol Davies song recorded with drummer John Bradbury and t-bone player Barry Jones which became The Selecter's "The Selecter" and was released on the flip side of The Specials' "Gangster" single). If that rock thing doesn't work out for Ms. Dee, she certainly has a future in ska. This record comes in a variety of cool colors--mine is white--but whichever shade suits your fancy, just don't miss out on this top notch single. 

The cover features the surface of the Moon with a sky full of stars above it.
If you were wise enough to have snagged a copy of Happy People Records' Rudies All Around, Volume 1 comp a few years ago (read my review of it here), you would have been introduced to the amazing, keyboard-centric original early reggae from Mexico's Travelers All Stars. When you crack open the cellophane on their latest single Reggae Gordo for Days and Extra Days! (Orange vinyl picture sleeve single, Chez Nobody Records, 2020; both tracks were mixed and mastered by Roger Rivas), you'll find a small sticker with this quote from my favorite gutter poet Charles Bukowski: "And when nobody wakes you up in the morning, and when nobody waits for your at night, and when you can do whatever you want. What do you call it, Freedom or Loneliness?" The Travelers All Stars' A side answers that question--it's a sprightly, Harry J-styled instrumental skinhead reggae cut called "Sweet Loneliness" (the kind you only can find moon-hopping in space or in pandemic era lockdowns?). The more urgent "Space Invaders"--more and more aliens keep descending from the sky!--pays tribute to that blockbuster late-'70s arcade game (featured on the single's back cover) that swallowed up a lot of my brother's quarters and time back in the day. This single's title translates to (and promises) "heavy reggae..." and the tracks certainly deliver. This great 45 is available in the USA through Jump Up and can also be ordered from Chez Nobody via Bandcamp (a die-cut arcade version of the sleeve is available that also comes with a patch and enamel pin!).

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Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: The Cascadians and Crazy Baldhead featuring Maddie Ruthless!

The cover features a large sedan from the 1970s.
(Reviews by Steve Shafer)

The Cascadians' super Windows Down (Digital, self-released, 2020) came out at the end of last year and was lost in my holiday craziness, so forgive this tardy write-up. The Cascadians have a striking and compelling sound going in Meg Nye's powerful, emotive soul singing that floats over the band's sharp '60s-style ska and rocksteady. The sultry lead and standout track "Windows Down" is about someone so knock-out gorgeous and magnetic that you'd be happy to sell your soul (and your grandma's, too) just to be in their presence: "I got the windows down/I'm driving my girl around town/I got the windows down/She said that she'd long to go dancing by now/How could I turn her down?/Oh, that girl is so cool...No one's even watching the band/They're under her spell, watching her dance...I got the windows down/I'm driving my girl back home right now...Her eyes say everything without making a sound/How can I turn her down?" It'll resonate deeply if you've ever had the good/bad luck to be in the singer's shoes. Ever get annoyed by how people talk over and ignore bands while they're playing? "Rudy Come Lately" is a somewhat subtle but increasingly pointed and frustrated jab--complete with all of crowd noise competing with the sounds coming from The Cascadians--at the people there solely for the scene ('cause it's cool, right?) and not the music and bands ("Rudy come lately/Rudy smoking a bud...But Rudy never come home...")--and "Old School" is a boss, dubby instrumental. Things then shift gears for a terrific, jazzy cover of Smokey Robinson's "Quiet Storm," and "Discover Me," a catchy AM-pop-soul-ska tune that's a "Tears of a Clown" plea for someone to see and love the person beneath the persona. And there are three great dubs--a more reggae take on "Quiet Storm," a mega-deconstructed "Old School," and the stellar "Two Face Dub," which I don't think is a version of anything on this album (and has these snippets of vocals: "Rude boy smashing up the town...My freedom is almost gone...No, I don't wanna go...I want another beer"). Highly recommended.

I'm slowly going broke keeping up with all of the extraordinarily good singles--thick as dinner plates--that are being issued these days from Happy People Records. (To be fair, the cost of the singles isn't this issue, it's the overseas shipping that's killing me.) The latest 45 to grace my mailbox and turntable features two killer productions from Crazy Baldhead (full disclosure: I actually pre-ordered a copy directly from Agent Jay and only paid domestic shipping!). The moody but deadly cool and defiant "Take a Lick" (7" vinyl single/digital, Happy People Records, 2021) features The Far East's Maddie Ruthless fiercely challenging the wicked who are tormenting her brother and sister and other good people to "take a lick [hit]...but we come down for more/More than you bargained for..." Her siren song-like vocals unwind over Crazy Baldhead's loping, King Kong-earth-shaking riddim that's bound to knock some plaster loose from your walls and ceiling if you play this loud. Its version "Take a Dub" is even heavier and ready-made for aspiring deejays' use. (Also, make sure to check out my review of The Far East's awesome Lover's rock EP New York is for Lovers; and my write ups of other Happy People Records singles from Capitol 1212 featuring Earl 16, Joe Yorke and The Eastonian Singers, Perkie and The Co-OperatorsRoger Rivas, Pama InternationalThe Caroloregians, The Dreamlets, Carroll ThompsonFlying VipersKitma, and more TK, as my pre-orders are fulfilled!)

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Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: Mato and Mr. Kingpin!

The cover illustration features a creepy graveyard in the foreground with a forbidding castle in the background.
(Reviews by Steve Shafer)

At first glance, it might seem like a kind of a tired and gimmicky concept--a dub cover album of horror and sci-fi movie and TV theme songs--but Mato (French producer Thomas Blanchot--I reviewed his awesome 2020 single "Also sprach Zarathustra" b/w "Maiden Voyage" here) pulls it off brilliantly with his Scary Dub collection (LP/digital, Stix Records/Favorite Recordings, 2021; available through Juno Records in the UK). These are imaginative, evocative, and fun re-workings of embedded-in-our-brains theme songs (plus three fantastic originals!) that convey the dread, mystery, and menace of their corresponding films/shows quite effectively. Mato's impeccable work here may remind the listener of Henry "Junjo" Lawes' crisp, warm, and minimalist productions--it turns out he's one of Mato's fave producers--and surely the Lawes horror-themed dub album he created with Scientist back in 1981 was an inspiration for Scary Dub.

The album starts with "The Exorcist," whose unrelenting keyboard line creates an almost unbearable tension with the track's reggae underpinnings (a similar result is achieved with an excellent version of John Carpenter's "Halloween," which also has that maddening repeated keyboard line)--and Mato has added a short vocal part: "Sweet exorcist here guard little girl in danger..." (in addition to the cellos working overtime, there's also a vocal line in "Jaws Dub": Young shark, your teeth are gonna break next time you bite!"). "Dracula's Dub," a terrific Upsetters-sounding Mato original (Frankenstein, Dracula, and The Mummy films have have no universally recognized theme songs, but are essential to the genre, so Mato wrote his own), opens with J.S. Bach's "Toccata and Fugue in D minor" (which long has been associated with horror films from its use in 1931's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and 1962's The Phantom of the Opera) and has a great early '70s Hammer horror vibe to it (the scream sound sample seems like the same one that was used for WLIR's "Screamer of the Week" back in the 1980s!). There also are killer versions of the Nightmare on Elm Street, The Twilight Zone, and X-Files themes.

I absolutely love "Return of the Living Dead Dub" (it's my favorite gut-churning, freak-out zombie film--the re-animated cadaver on a hook in the medical supply walk-in fridge, "Send more cops!," Tarman!) that lends the cheesy but effective original cut some dramatic majesty with the use of great synth horn lines and makes you feel the movie's terrifying inevitability that we're all gonna be zombified, have our brains eaten (the only thing that stops the pain of being dead!), or end up sliding ourselves into the crematory oven. Another awesome Mato original, "Frankenstein's Dub" employs mad scientist sound effects, such as bubbling test tubes, zaps of electricity, a grunting monster ("I'm alive!"), and theremin-ish keyboard melody. Plus it borrows some knowing dialogue between the blind hermit and the Monster from the 1935 film Bride of Frankenstein

Hermit: "We are friends you and I! Friends!"
Monster: "Friends!"
Hermit: "Before you came, I was all alone. It is bad to be alone."
Monster: "Alone. Bad."
Hermit: "And now for a smoke!"
Monster: "No, no!"
Hermit: "No, no, this is good. Smoke! You try!"

Perhaps the greatest track on the album is "The Thing Dub" (I never realized this was written by Ennio Morricone), which sports incredible synth washes and sounds like it could have come off Mad Professor vs. Massive Attack's apocalyptic No Protection. Scary Dub is an album you'll want to listen to any day of any week, not just around Halloween. (Do yourself a favor and make sure to watch the mindblowingly good animated videos for "Dracula's Dub,"  "Return of the Living Dub," and "Halloween Dub"!)

The cover features a cartoon version of a man in a suit and fedora next to bowling pins, some of which are knocked over.
Released as a teaser for his forthcoming album Introducing...Mr. Kingpin on Jump Up Records, Mr. Kingpin's incredible new skinhead reggae single "Think Again" (Digital, self-released, 2021) opens with the cool and deadly warning, "What were you drinking/If you were thinking/That you could roll the dice and fool me twice/It won't work anymore...So now it's my turn/To watch your world burn...You thought that this was over/You'd better think again!" He makes it crystal clear that the payback/blowback for messing around will be dire. Guest musician Roger Rivas' Hammond organ playing on this track is nothing short of stellar and makes the cut sound like it could have come off King Hammond's classic Revolution '70 (Nick Welsh's stellar tribute to the keyboard greats Harry J, Jackie Mittoo, Winston Wright, Glen Adams, Ansel Collins, et al). If the rest of the album is anything like this track, Introducing...Mr. Kingpin is going to be on a lot of top 10 albums of 2021 (make sure to check out the video for the song).

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Sunday, March 14, 2021

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: Chinatown Ska "Chinatown Ska EP"!

The cover features a stylized Asian dragon with blood pouring out of its closed eyes.(Review by Steve Shafer)

Led by Pablo Jara, Chilean traditional ska act Chinatown Ska's excellent new single Chinatown Ska - EP (7" vinyl picture sleeve single, Canana Records, 2021; available in the US through Guerrero Records, in Mexico through Spinning Riot, and Aggroshop and Copasetic in Europe) is dedicated to the 270 protestors whose eyesight was lost or injured by police rubber bullets and/or tear gas grenades during The Social Outbreak in 2019 (note how blood pours from the closed eyes of the dragon on the picture sleeve cover)--which consisted of widespread, mass demonstrations against the Chilean government in reaction to enormous income inequality, privatization of government services, and political and corporate tax-evasion and corruption scandals. Side A of the single directly addresses The Social Outbreak with a melancholy Jackie Mittoo-type instrumental cover of cumbia slum singer Dany Lescano's "El Hijo del Botón" ("Son of a Button"), which became an anthem of the protests (see/hear a version performed on the street on tuba) because of relevant (and ominous) lyrics like these: "Hitting poor people is your profession/And thus you give the rich protection/You will see the people who back you up will run/They will see the bullets that they threw at us will return." Chinatown Ska has retitled their version "Las Balas" ("The Bullets"). The flip side contains "Oasis Ska," a lovely jazz-ska cut that has a slight Far East sound to it. (Thanks to Canana Records for bringing us ska sounds from Mexico with The Ska Contenders, Argentina with Green Torrejas, and now Chile!)

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Saturday, March 13, 2021

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: Madness and T-Killas!

Various members of Madness in an assortment of costumes from their many albums appear in the windows of an old brick mansion, as well as in a car in front of it.Under a field of red and black stars, a skeleton kneels down before a masked girl with her fist in the air.(Reviews by Steve Shafer)

As my friends at Stateside Madness recently pointed out, even though there have been loads of Madness compilations released in the UK over the years, only four have been issued in the USA--and none of them have included tracks past 1986! So, the release of the twelve song Our House: The Very Best of Madness (CD/LP, Union Square Music, 2021) is more than overdue and will help the casual Yankee Madness fan catch up on what they've been missing as of late. There are cuts from 2009's outstanding The Liberty of Norton Folgate (read my review of the album and film) and 2016's Can't Touch Us Now (read my review of it here)--wot, nothing from 2012's Oui Oui, Si Si, Ja Ja, Da Da?--plus the 2019 digital single "Bullingdon Boys" (read my review here), which has never previously received a physical release! Even though I have all of their albums, I'll sheepishly admit that I picked up this comp just to have "Bullingdon Boys." Such is the life of an obsessive vinyl collector. (Also make sure to check out Stateside Madness' brilliant interview with Madness guitarist Chris Foreman!)

I'm not exactly sure why Germans have such a knack for making really great ska. But if you like The Busters, No Sports, The Frits, The Butlers, El Bosso und Die Ping Pongs, Bleichreiz, Skaos, The Braces, Dr. Ring Ding, The Senior Allstars, Bluekilla, Masons Arms, Yellow Cap, etc. as much as I do, make sure to add T-Killas to the list. Their incredible new album Awareness (CD/LP, Fire and Flames Music/Grover Records, 2020; and available in the USA through Jump Up Records) is a mash up of melodic 2 Tone/early '90s Krautska (particularly The Busters/No Sports/The Frits), and The Clash, The Jam, and The Adjusters (and note that those last three bands were fiercely leftist). In the midst of seemingly everyday songs about going out and having fun, pursing women or men, and just trying to earn enough to get by in life, T-Killas pointedly include messages that are anti-fascist, and pro-socialist and gender equity. Ska fans longing for new protest songs to address some of the many injustices and evils out there have another album for their arsenal!

In what is clearly the single of the album (that I first heard through the Do the Dog Ska-A-Go-Go, Volume 3 comp), the irresistible knees-up singalong "Dandy and Rude" gleefully trades in bad-ass myth-making while celebrating rudies/workers' unity and purpose:

'Cause tonight I'm out with the most special one
When he's out he spills entire bars and more
He burns whole blocks dancing to the rebel sound
He roars like a lion until he sleeps on the ground

He's so dandy and rude--you will never get this fool!

'Cause tonight I'm out with the most special one
When she starts to rumble, the jungle is gone
She drinks the enemy's blood out of her red bowl
Who says you got to be tall to kick the shit out of an asshole?

Fight, drinking all night long
Chanting beloved workers' songs
Crew love, AFA skinheads
Nothing to prove--black and red

"Rudie's Struggle" challenges gender stereotypes--particularly rude boy/skinhead machismo: "'She's so soft and she's so sweet'/You think she's not a street warrior, oh please...He or she/Poor categories/Do you want to preserve the classic roles?/Or a counterculture without sexual harm for all?" Maybe a little is lost in translation, but you get the gist. "Gonna Go" is a sweet reggae love song about that special someone you can always rely on. "Riot Ground" sounds like a Billy Bragg/Joe Strummer punk rock collaboration sending up a flare to the powers that be to take note that not all is hunky dory with the masses: "You give 'em hope, you give 'em peace, education and disease/But is going on--if there's a fucking wake up call?" And perhaps the most powerful track on the album is the anti-capitalist/pro-socialist and shout out of solidarity with the workers of the world mod cut "Calling for Stars":

I don't get no money for my rent
I just keep on slaving till the end

This is another good goodbye
To our empty life
It's another calling for the black, black star
And it's another calling for the red shine
It's another calling for the red, red star
And it's another calling for the black light

As someone living in a country plagued by white supremacy and enormous income inequality--and where far too many people fear and don't understand--and don't care to understand--what socialism and antifa actually mean, it's both striking and heartening to hear catchy, positive songs about both. We really need them, so keep 'em coming!

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Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Duff Guide to Ska Fast Takes: The Skapones/Detroit Riddim Crew "Eyes of a Child" b/w "Look Around" and The End Times "The End Times"

The single's sleeve features the bands' logos on a brick wall (The Skapones' logo is a cartoon version of Al Capone; Detroit Riddim Crew's logo is of the front of a Vespa scooter).(Reviews by Steve Shafer)

"Eyes of a Child" b/w "Look Around" (7" vinyl picture sleeve single/digital, Cosa Nostra Records, 2021) is the terrific second split single from The Skapones and Detroit Riddim Crew (read my review of their first 45 here). The Skapones' cut is a surprisingly lush, slow-burning ska tour de force that reminds the listener how vital it is for adults to empathize with kids and shield their innocence as they learn and grow--to defend them from what they're not old enough to know might harm them: "You look at the world through the eyes of the child/Imagine it is all meek and mild/It's now that you start to realize, to do what's right/When you gonna learn that sometimes you have to fight?" When you flip the record, you'll find that the Detroit Riddim Crew's "Look Around" is a brisk, determined reggae track about keeping going on (through music and unity, of course), even as everything around us seems to be coming apart: "The world's aflame/And has a dying light/But we come together to find some fight/To the music that fills our souls/Dance, dance, 'till we overflow!"

Forged from members of NYC/NJ area bands Inspecter 7 and The Rudie Crew (RIP Roy Radics), The End Times produce a '90s ska sound that's a fierce mix of trad, modern, and punk-ish ska with blistering, Lee Ving-like hardcore vocals troweled on top (and the contrast works surprising well). Call it Armagideon ska. Their self-titled debut EP (digital, self-released, 2021) is pretty fantastic--and its first several tracks, in particular, are stellar. The EP is clearly a product of having lived through the horrendous Trump/MAGA years and all of its lies, corruption, gaslighting, and hate. But it also speaks to the disintegration of American civic society and how a major political party and around a third of our fellow citizens have embraced white supremacy and authoritarianism. In the uncompromising, "Eye for an Eye" (which takes "Racist Friend" a couple of steps further), The End Times spell out what they think it's going to take to take on the nazi goons in our midst: 

Eyes on the future what do you see?
Is it inclusive to people like you and me?
Or do we have to raise hell and bring them to their knees?
Yeah, we could just stand by and watch them cheat and steal and lie right through their teeth
What good’s your freedom, man, when they’re free to squash your liberty!

Eye for an eye!

We want justice! We want peace! We want your attention, so take a knee!
We gotta take a good look and acknowledge what they’ve become
And if you think they’ll listen and reason with our plight... Here’s a shovel
Start digging your own demise

You kick my shin?
I break your leg
And that’s the way it’s gotta be!

Gandhi may not like it ("An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind"), but, then again, look what it took the last time to beat back the fascists (hopefully, we're not headed down that path). "The Melt" was recorded before the despicable seditionist insurrection on January 6 but is still very much about it, since it's about the enemy within--the call's coming from inside the house:

It started today
Digital bullies flex their muscles through broadband shields
And I’m sorry to say
Their wholesale market of belief won’t impress you
Oh, say, did you see?
It’s like they drew it up on blackboards in Hollywood
And they defined where the truth lay
Then redefined it ‘cause they could...

...Now it’s melting and we can’t escape ourselves.

"Black Hat" (what you'd call a malicious hacker) is a terrific Scofflaws-like instrumental, while the full-on punk track "Vampires" calls out the MAGA/Fox/right-wing media ecosphere that profits mightily off the garbage, gaslighting, and conspiracy theories that are spewed out daily, and reminds their followers that, "You don’t need a lie to believe in/You don’t have to lie to believe some one." The message is unlikely to be received, but it's definitely worth transmitting. Make sure to tune into The End Times.

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Friday, February 26, 2021

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Duff Interview: Author Daniel Rachel on Writing the Liner Notes for the Deluxe Reissue of The Selecter's "Too Much Pressure"

If you haven't heard yet, on April 23, 2021, 2 Tone/Chrysalis is releasing a deluxe reissue/remaster of The Selecter's debut 1980 album Too Much Pressure as a three-CD set and LP + 7" single + 7" single live EP (each edition includes previously unreleased material and super-fans will likely want both). My ears pricked up when I spotted that music journalist Daniel Rachel had written the liner notes for this reissue (included only with the CDs), as he is the author of Walls Come Tumbling Down: The Music and Politics of Rock Against Racism, 2 Tone and Red Wedge and co-author of Ranking Roger's I Just Can't Stop It: My Life in The Beat (which I reviewed here)--two of the best and most essential books about 2 Tone ever published. So, I was eager to speak with him about this reissue and what he might have uncovered during his research. Daniel was most generous with this time and spoke with me earlier this week on a fairly wide range of topics related to The Selecter's Too Much Pressure and the 2 Tone era. Please note that the transcript below has been slightly edited for clarity and length (though it's still a long read...).

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Duff Guide to Ska: So, a couple of years ago, I had the pleasure of talking to Neol Davies about recording Celebrate the Bullet. But he mentioned that he had tried to get his hands on the original tapes for Too Much Pressure, because he wanted to do a remix. And I remember reading how the band felt rushed when they recorded the first album and really weren't always happy with the results. Do you know if they're happy with this new remaster. And were they involved with it? 

Daniel Rachel: Well, I think with the first album, the problem was the choice of the producer. Charlie Anderson brought in Errol Ross, and not all of the band agreed with his choice. Neol, particularly, wanted to stay with Roger Lomas, who had recorded "On My Radio" and "Too Much Pressure." But with that change and experience in the studio in December '79 made the experience fraught for them, I think. Pauline didn't get on with Errol at all, and there was a mixed reaction to Errol's approach to production. And added to that was the cantankerous nature of The Selecter, in which they kind of existed because of their differences. Of course, their differences caused a lot of the antagonism between them, which would eventually erupt and cause them to split in summer of 1980.

So, the album was rushed. Even though it was in a tight period, The Selecter were well played in by that point. They'd done the 2 Tone Tour and had done a fair amount of their own touring. But, at the same time, they had only existed as a band for a little more than six months, if that. You know, you're talking June, July, 1979, and then they're recording an album in December. And if you take into consideration the gestation time of a band forming, having to get to know one another as musicians, having to write songs, agree on songs, rehearse songs, get them tight, form a musical relationship--that's an incredible demand on any set of musicians. The fact that they were even up and running within literally weeks is quite astonishing. 

(l-r) The Selecter's Arthur "Gaps" Hendrickson,
author Daniel Rachel, and The Selecter's Pauline Black
So, then in answer to your question, the original master tapes were found, and they had been remastered, not remixed. Who's heard the tapes? Neol's heard it, Pauline's heard it. And that may be it at this point. I think all the other members of the band, except for Desmond, were invited to be involved in the project and to a greater or lesser degree, they did or didn't.

Duff Guide to Ska: And were you able to interview all of the band members?

Daniel Rachel: No. The invitation was sent out to every member of the band, and some declined, didn't want to contribute. Pauline didn't want to, even though I know Pauline and get on with her well. I have the strange experience where I can chat her, but we didn't chat about the album. But that's her right. Desmond is not in a healthy place, I understand, for him to be involved. And the connection was never directly with him, it was through a family member. And I've spoken to everybody else.

Duff Guide to Ska: When you were putting together the liner notes for this reissue, did you learn anything from either your research or speaking with the band members that you didn't know back in 1980 or that surprised you?

Daniel Rachel: An enormous amount. Before I got involved with writing the sleeve notes, I'd started writing, and am currently writing, the story of 2 Tone Records, with an attempt to try and lay down a definitive version of events by revisiting everything I can find in the archive--and coupling that with attempting to speak to every member and backroom staff member of 2 Tone/Chrysalis that is possible to this day. So, I've spoken to already more than 60+ people and laid down a lot of research. So, yes, as I get inside The Selecter, I've uncovered an incredible amount of stories, and try to get to the bottom of what was going on with the recording of the album. And that was incredible. 

Of course, some members of the band don't often talk or haven't talked for a long time. So, their experiences haven't been put on the record. Whereas, Pauline will often talk about that period and Neol will, it's a lot rarer to hear H talk or Compton, even. Both of those people have got fantastic memories and fantastic opinions. As a fan of the band, and if you're a fan of 2 Tone, what you most probably want is to hear the rounded version of events. As you well know, with seven people involved from the band, with their producer making eight, and I spoke to Errol as well, they've all got their eye on how it happened, and some of those stories concur and some of them are vastly different. And that's the joy of history. There's no one simple truth that can exist at one time, right? 

Duff Guide to Ska: Yes, absolutely. Were you a fan back in 1980? Were you a 2 Tone fan, a Selecter fan?

Daniel Rachel: In 1980, I was 10 years old. I was a fan through through magazines, and I was a fan through BBC Radio One and Top of the Pops. I think the first record I ever heard was "Too Much Too Young" by The Specials. And I remember learning the lyrics to those songs as an 11 year-old and performing them in school with a bunch of mates in front of the class. Then I seriously got into 2 Tone increasingly with each year through "Ghost Town." And I then I continued with it, so I was really into following stories about Special AKA in that period as well.

Duff Guide to Ska: As a side note, I'm a fan of your book with Ranking Roger and then your other book Walls Come Tumbling Down. The latter book is amazing--I've called it the best history of 2 Tone that's out there. But did you did you ever come across George Marshall's Two Tone Story back from the late '80s?

Daniel Rachel: George Marshall's book is fantastic. It was originally part of The Compact 2 Tone box set, and you could buy it on its own from ST Publishing. It's really great and so important because at the time it was written in the early '90s. So it's only less than 10 years on from the events, and it's got the spirit of George Marshall as a fan. As he writes, I think it's in his introduction to his book on Madness, he doesn't claim to be a writer or an author. He's just writing from passion. And I love that as much as I love the book Total Madness he wrote.

He can write and really got in great detail. And I think that set the template for 2 Tone books. But, of course, I don't think a lot of material was necessarily available to George Marshall at this point that he wrote it. And subsequently you can find now the full stretch of UK fanzines and all the music papers, from Sounds, New Music Express, Melody Maker, Look In, Smash Hits. You know, there's so many places where all of the 2 Tone bands did interviews. Fanzines, for example, is where musicians were historically looser with their tongues because at that period in '79, '80, '81, you didn't think if you did an interview in a small town somewhere in the United Kingdom for a fanzine anybody was going to read it beyond that. You get a lot of honesty, right? Likewise, there are a lot of musicians subsequently that, as they reflect back on that period, have got an important distance. They are freer to tell stories that they wouldn't have told you at the time--or their memories can be sparked by different archive material. And you get different perspectives and the newer versions of older history, I guess. So, George Marshall, great template, but there's a great depth and exciting narrative to reveal.

Duff Guide to Ska: This reissue features a fair number of unreleased live tracks from The Selecter. Do you know where they've been all this time? Where were they sitting for the last 40 years? 

Daniel Rachel: I think they've been sitting in record company archives, because the ownership of the label has changed so many times, originally from Chrysalis to EMI it was, at one point. One of the guys at Chrysalis now, Dermot James, he's great because he's a real fan of the music. And that's why there have been all of these reissues, and certainly more possibilities now for 2 Tone stuff to come out, and unreleased stuff, because he's prepared to dig in there and find it.

He gave me a load of different track sheets of what was in the archive and asked me what's there that would be brilliant to release. So, I went through all of that. And then you can get rough mixes done of different concerts. So, I had those done up. And then coupled with that, Neol had a few tapes of Selecter concerts either originally from those 2 Tone archives or board mixes from a couple of gigs. So, my job was to go through all of the live tapes from '79 and '80, and say, "this is what's great, and we could use this, and this would be brilliant." And then it had to exist on multi-tape, so that it could be properly mixed. So that was just so exciting--I loved it!

Duff Guide to Ska: That's amazing!

Daniel Rachel: Wow, some really amazing revelations--like, who has ever heard, unless you were at The Selecter gig in 1979 or early '80, who has ever heard them playing the song "The Selecter"? It's really brilliant. It's got Gapper toasting over the top of it. And then there's the brilliant version of The Upsetters "A Live Injection." So, you get an instrumental version, as it was, of "A Live Injection" really showcasing Desmond Brown's organ skills that then cuts momentarily as a link into "Mony Mony," that Tommy James & The Shondells track, which seques into the beginning of "Too Much Pressure," and then comes "Too Much Pressure." And all of that put together, which is about nine minutes, is just great! And then they started the gig with "Soulful I," the [Lee "Scratch" Perry] instrumental.

And so things like this were really, really brilliant to hear. And then just the fact that we then get to the Too Much Pressure tour, the second 2 Tone Tour in February, March 1980, they've really played in the tracks that they were laying down on the album two months, three months before. And so there's a new energy in the tracks. There's only about, I think, four of those recordings on this.

But the key recording is The Selecter at Tiffany's, which was the key venue in Coventry, which they played in December 1979 at the end of the 2 Tone Tour. And they support The Specials. You can just feel the raw, visceral energy of the hometown audience throughout the whole gig. There's a run on tickets, because there's been some forgeries. So, there's massive queues to get in--a demand, and feeling of those lucky ones that were in Tiffany's. They just explode as the band come on stage and The Selecter played great. Everybody knows that's a 2 Tone fan, the B-side of The Special's Live EP, the "Skinhead Symphony," which is from that gig, which sounds like one of the greatest concerts ever. On the flipside of The Selecter single "Missing Words," "Carry Go Bring Come" is from that gig and, as a fan, who's ever not wanted to be one of those members of that audience? And here's now the whole concert.

Duff Guide to Ska: Oh, that's extraordinary! Do you know if 2 Tone/Chrysalis have plans to do sort of a deluxe reissue of Celebrate the Bullet?

Daniel Rachel: I don't know. If there's demand...

Duff Guide to Ska: I'm curious because fans definitely consider that part of the 2 Tone canon.

Daniel Rachel: It's not, though.

Duff Guide to Ska: I know technically it's not. But personally as a fan, I've always felt that it is. Do you know if they're thinking about doing any of Rico's albums? 

Daniel Rachel: Well, Rico's albums were released this last year, weren't they, on that 2 Tone box. Jama and That Man is Forward were included on that. What I would love to hear is the tour that Brad, Horace, and Jerry did with Rico. Wouldn't you love to hear that? You know, the tour when they backed him?

Duff Guide to Ska: Yes, I don't remember the exact date, but I do remember that they did that tour. Yeah. Oh, that'd be extraordinary. When would that have been?

Daniel Rachel: Rico Jama came out just after the split. Well, I think the tour was '81, wasn't it?

Duff Guide to Ska: The tour was probably earlier. Yeah. So it's probably '81. So, they're still just at their height.

Daniel Rachel: I'm getting confused at dates. I've looked at too many dates today. I've got numbers running in front of my head to all kinds of things. Jerry keeps on saying to me, "you know more about 2 Tone than I do, Daniel. Just tell me what happened on this date."

Duff Guide to Ska: But that's probably true, right? Because you're getting all the other viewpoints and conversations and memories that he didn't necessarily have access to.

Daniel Rachel: The mad thing about talking to Jerry is that, of course, you forget as a fan, that they were busy doing their own thing. So, at the time, they don't necessarily know what the other bands are getting up to. They hear bits and pieces, but you kind of think that they would know it all inside out. But, the reasons why The Selecter decided to split, I don't know how much Jerry knows about stuff like that.

Duff Guide to Ska: Well, it's so crazy when you think about how intense and brief a period it actually was. The Selecter was only around for about two years.

Daniel Rachel: The Selecter in their original incarnation was 12 months. It was the summer of '79 and they split in the summer of 1980. And then they continue with two new members. So, that's just an extraordinarily short period of time, isn't it? 

The Bodysnatchers were together for 11 months. And that's mad, from their first gig in November '79--and they rehearse for a bit before--and then they split 31st of October, 1980. That's 11 months. And, yet, Rhoda [Dakar] has probably been asked about it every single day of her life since. It must drive her mad! 

Duff Guide to Ska: Did you hear the album that she recorded a few years ago?

Daniel Rachel: Of course, I hang out with Rhoda a lot, and drive her mad with asking her questions about The Bodysnatchers. Oh, she's great. Horace played on that album and Lynval added a bit of guitar.

Duff Guide to Ska: That was a great album. [I reviewed it here.]

Daniel Rachel: You know, the thing is, you can't replicate what a band did--it's all the individual components of that band that make up the total sound. Although they were doing the songs of The Bodysnatchers, which Rhoda rightfully credited the album as Sings The Bodysnatchers, it's not The Bodysnatchers. You can hear that by listening to the John Peel sessions, Kid Jensen sessions. You can hear what the original Bodysnatchers sounded like. And it's not what the album is.

Duff Guide to Ska: It was still nice to have, particularly for fans in the United States. I had never heard some of those songs before. So, it was nice to have even if it wasn't the full Bodysnatchers experience.  But it definitely gave a fan like me a really good idea of what they were about, because in the United States, they're really just their two singles.

Daniel Rachel: That's all there was to hear. Plus, what was on Dance Craze.

Duff Guide to Ska: When should we be expecting your book on 2 Tone or are you still in the depths of research?

Daniel Rachel: I really don't know. I'm in a very strange, but exciting position. This year, I have four books coming out in my name, two of which have come out before and two are new. So, by doing that, I've really struggled to keep going with the 2 Tone book because my attention is just being demanded by the other releases.

Duff Guide to Ska: What are the two new books?

Daniel Rachel: The old one's a paperback of Don't Look Back in Anger and a new, slightly edited version of Ranking Roger's book. The new books are both coming out in August. One is Oasis: Knebworth, the text I've written, and the photography is by Jill Furmanovsky, which is about the Oasis weekend at Knebworth in August '96, which was, for this country, kind of the defining cultural moment of the decade. And then at the end of the month, I've written a book called Like Some Forgotten Dream, which looks at if The Beatles hadn't split up, what would have been the album they would have recorded in late '69, early 1970.

Duff Guide to Ska: Do you want to give a little hint of what the answer is or should people wait to buy the book?

Daniel Rachel: I'm happy to. The first quarter of the book just looks at all the "what if" moments, mainly starting with the "Get Back" sessions in January 1969, and looking at why that was an incredible, productive time for The Beatles--and how all of Let It Be and more than half of Abbey Road were written in that time. There were quite a lot of songs that would become solo records for each of The Beatles a year later were in some form or other rehearsed in that initial period. Things like "Gimme Some Truth," "All Things Must Pass," "Another Day." Then it looks at some of the moments where, had it been for just slightly different circumstances throughout that year, '69, they could have kept it together. And then based upon John Lennon in a meeting at Apple in '69, saying, "how about on the next album I do four songs, Paul does four, George does four, and Ringo does two?" He proposes that. I take that argument to say at that exact moment, if they had agreed, here are the songs that were written, were being written, or could conceivably have still been written in the next six month period--and it kind of formed an album. I take each of those songs and tell the back story to how they came about, and really get underneath the involvement of how they were written. So, there were lots of arrangements, say, for the song "All Things Must Pass" that Paul and John did--vocal arrangements, bass arrangements, musical arrangement. Really exciting stuff. Or how Paul worked with John on "Gimme Some Truth." Lots of stories like that. So, it was really exciting to do.

Duff Guide to Ska: I see the the great appeal in doing that and why people would want to read it. For music fans, there's always that "what if?" You see, after a band splits, where they go, and one faction does this, the other faction does that, and you're like, "that could have all been back together, and on one album with one band."

Daniel Rachel: Have you ever done that with The Specials' In the Studio? Can you imagine "What I Like Most About Your Girlfriend," if Terry had sung that? And, of course, Jerry used to write for Terry's voice. And then what if The Specials had done "The Lunatics...", which [Fun Boy Three] had demoed when they were members of The Specials with the view of giving the song to The Specials?

Duff Guide to Ska: Yeah, it's really tantalizing.

Daniel Rachel: I mean, it's kind of a form of madness, but at the same time irresistible. You can't help to sometimes listen to those songs and just imagine the organ solo in "The Lunatics..." if Jerry had got hold of it. Wow.

Duff Guide to Ska: It's extraordinary. I'm interested in the newer version of the Ranking Roger book. What was revised or added?

Daniel Rachel: Oh, to be honest, it's hardly anything really. It was because the publisher Omnibus are publishing what's known as a "B format" book, which I think just means it's slightly smaller. It just gave me an opportunity to correct a few things that were not right in the text. My final edit, that I went over with a kind of a fine scalpel, I'm not sure made the final publication, so it just gave me an opportunity to tighten up a few sections.

I think I might have found three more gigs for the gigography. I mean, it's really, really hard to find out what The Beat did in the US in the latter years. To nail down for certain every single date.

Duff Guide to Ska: For something I'm writing, I was trying to look up a gig The English Beat did at Roseland in New York in '81, and it's hard to find, it's hard to figure out.

Daniel Rachel: I wrote that gigography for Roger's book originally just because I needed reference for myself to try and make sense of the story. And then as I was giving it more and more, I realized, well, this doesn't exist and nobody's ever done it. And there's that great Specials' gigography in Paul Williams's book. And I thought, if I've got it at home here, the least I could do is share it, and accept the wrath of people going, "you didn't say about this gig I went to, it was the best one of my life, you charlatan!"

Duff Guide to Ska: Oh, I think it's fantastic. And I think people will be referring to it for years, I'm sure. So, any final thoughts or things you'd like to share about the liner notes for The Selecter reissue?

Daniel Rachel: I guess the only thing is really, in one sense, is because it's a record company release, there is a certain reserve about how much people can be critical of one another. Or the experience of making the record. It's not the right place to do it, because the release is a celebration of Too Much Pressure, not a condemnation of the record. And so there's a hell of a lot of conversations I had with members of The Selecter that I now intend to use for my book and not for the liner notes.

Just from a personal point of view, the joy that my name might be on something that is a kind of a semi-2 Tone release is unbelievable. 

Can I give a mystery to your readers for them to try and solve?

Duff Guide to Ska: Yes, please.

Daniel Rachel: On the second CD of the release is the single version of "On My Radio." When Roger Lomas mixed "On My Radio" and "Too Much Pressure," he did two versions of each song. They're almost identical, and then one of those then became the cut for the single. But the two versions I heard--I'm convinced--are not the version on the 2 Tone single that I own.

There's something slightly different on Pauline's vocal, on the effect. I can't work it out... It's real trainspotter stuff.

Duff Guide to Ska: I'm sure there is someone out there that will have the answer. Because the fans really know their stuff and are so deep in the minutiae. They will know.

Daniel Rachel: There's something of an effect that Roger put on Pauline's voice, where it goes "radio-oh-oh-oh-oh" and the effect is on the i-o of radio. And that part of the track is throwing me.

Duff Guide to Ska: I think what so perfectly encapsulates everything about The Selecter is how they would have these staged fights during their performance and people thought they were real. And I think there was real emotion behind the aggression that was expressed. And I totally agree with your assessment that, even though a lot of them were always at odds at each other, it really made for an amazing band.

Daniel Rachel: I remember writing about that in Walls Come Tumbling Down. The idea of presenting the theatrical idea of fighting is--it doesn't achieve anything, or it shocks the audience who are fighting to go "hold on, why have they all dropped their instruments, why are they laying into each other?" And at the same time, it became this excuse to pile into one another and throw a few punches.

Juliet De Vie is brilliant to talk to about that. She's the original manager of the band and co-ran the 2 Tone London office with Rick Rogers. Juliet was pulling her hair out trying to manage these eclectic, divisive people. She's great. I think her contribution to Walls Come Tumbling Down was brilliant.

Also, the other thing that's on this release is the "Cool Blue Lady" track. That, as you know, is on Celebrate the Bullet. From the evidence I've seen, that's played by the original members of The Selecter--unless the bass is Roger Lomas. It comes out of the same session as "The Whisper" and "Train to Skaville."

Duff Guide to Ska: Those were recorded when they got back from the U.S. tour, is that right?

Daniel Rachel: Yeah, in the summer of '80. 

Duff Guide to Ska: Then right after that is when Charlie and Desmond left to form The People. 

Daniel Rachel: Well, I don't I don't think they left to form it. I think they formed it as a result of not being part of The Selecter. It's a subtle choice of words there that has a separate meaning.

Duff Guide to Ska: Yeah, absolutely. OK, well, unless you have anything else to share...

Daniel Rachel: No, I mean, it's great fun to talk to somebody across the pond who's a 2 Tone fan. Wow, what a great thing to do.

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