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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