Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Lee "Scratch" Perry RIP

Perry sits on a throne with a crown on his head and holds a globe and a scepter in his hands.
The Upsetter
As others have commented, Lee "Scratch" Perry was so full of life and boundless, crazy genius-level creativity and talent that it seemed like he would be walking this Earth forever. So his death on Sunday, August 29, 2021 at 85 feels like a sucker punch to the head (forgive us for taking you for granted, "Scratch").

His musical legacy as producer, songwriter, dub master, and performer is almost unparalleled in the history of reggae music. And the vast body of work he leaves in his wake--surely a daunting endeavor to consume in its entirety--is a magnificent gift that will keep on giving to anyone exploring or rediscovering his music for eons to come (the 1997 3xCD compilation Arkology, which collects the top cuts he recorded at his Black Ark studio, is an amazing place to start).

I'm certainly not alone in thinking that Perry's greatest productions were The Congos' Heart of the Congos ("Children Crying" is one of the most brilliant reggae cuts ever recorded) and Max Romeo's War Ina Babylon (ditto for the title track). I'm also partial to The Upsetters' Super Ape (1976), Perry's Roast Fish, Collie Weed & Corn Bread (1978), and his collaboration with Adrian Sherwood and the Dub Syndicate Time Boom X De Devil Dead (1987).

I reviewed a fair number of Scratch's recent releases and reissues for this blog, which are linked below. While his output in his later years may not have matched the heights of the Black Ark years, it was still incredibly good and often extraordinary. All of these releases are worth checking out.

Lee "Scratch" Perry: Heavy Rain LP (2020)

Various Artists Black Ark Days: Play On Mr. Music LP (2020)

Max Romeo Revelation Time reissue (2020)

The Upsetters with Vin Gordon Musical Bones reissue (2020)

Lee "Scratch" Perry: Rainford LP (2019)

Lee "Scratch" Perry with Peaking Lights and Ivan Lee Life of the Plants EP (2019)

Lee "Scratch" Perry: "Big Ben Rock" 7" (2019)

Lee "Scratch" Perry: The Black Album LP (2018)

Lee "Scratch" Perry: Game of the Throne EP (2018)

Lee "Scratch" Perry and Subatomic Sound System: Super Ape Returns to Conquer LP (2017)

Various Artists: Sound System Scratch: Lee Perry's Dub Plate Mixes 1973-1979 LP (2010)

If you need a refresher on Perry's life and musical career, make sure to read the excellent Perry obituaries in The Guardian by Peter Mason and New York Times by Jon Pareles.

Play on, Mr. Music!

+ + + +

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

NYC Ska Calendar #4/Summer & Fall 2021

Vivien Goldman
Sunday, August 22, 2021 @ 4:00 pm & 7:00 pm (doors half an hour before each set)

Vivien Goldman w/Dunia & Aram, DJ Misbehaviour
IRL Gallery
80 Franklin Street
Brooklyn, NY
Tix: $15 in advance/$20 day of show

Friday, August 27, 2021 @ 7:00 pm-12:30 am

DJ Ryan Midnight Spins an All-Vinyl Ska Set
Otto's Shrunken Head
538 East 14th Street (between Avenues A & B)
New York, NY
No cover

Saturday, August 28, 2021 @ 7:00 pm

Hub City Stompers, The Take, Murderer's Row, Violent Way
269 Norman Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$15/All ages, 21 w/ID to drink

Saturday, September 11, 2021 @ 7:00 pm

Sgt. Scag, Raise the Kicks, Eye Defy, Dubcorps
Bushwick Public House
1288 Myrtle Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
Tix: $10 in advance/$12 day of show

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Bim Skala Bim PLUS the NJ premiere of the "New England Ska Summit documentary film
Randy Now's Man Cave
134 Farnsworth Avenue
Bordentown, NJ

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Bim Skala Bim & Mephiskapheles PLUS the NYC premiere of the "New England Ska Summit documentary film
Arrogant Swine
173 Morgan Avenue
Brooklyn, NY

Friday, September 17, 2021 @ 6:00 pm

The Toasters, Beat Brigade, The Rudie Crew, The Lousekateers, The Monkeychunks
269 Norman Avenue
Brooklyn, NY

Saturday, October 16, 2021

The Pietasters Booze Cruise
The Lucille--Rocks Off Concert Cruise
23rd Street and the FDR Drive
Manhattan, NY
Doors at 6:00 pm, boat departs at 7:00 pm

Saturday, December 18, 2021

The Slackers and The Aggrolites
Irving Plaza
17 Irving Place
Manhattan, NY
Doors open at 7:00 pm

+ + + +

Saturday, June 4, 2022

Madness and The English Beat
Manhattan Center--Hammerstein Ballroom
311 West 34th Street
Manhattan, NY
$55 and up
Doors at 8:00 pm

+ + + +

Sunday, August 15, 2021

The Specials to Release "Protest Songs 1924-2012" on September 24, 2021

The CD cover is solid red with the band's name and album title printed over it.
The Specials (Terry Hall, Lynval Golding, and Horace Panter, plus collaborators) have announced that they are releasing their follow-up to 2019's Encore (read my review) on September 24. The album is called Protest Songs 1924-2012 (Island Records/UMG) and, as its title indicates, it consists entirely of covers of powerful and still relevant folk, blues, spiritual, soul, rock, reggae, and new wave/post punk protest songs. Unless you're well-versed in this genre of music, particularly anti-war and civil rights songs, you may not recognize many of these amazing tracks apart from Bob Marley's "Get Up, Stand Up," and Talking Heads' "Listening Wind" (for a great overview of this history of protest music, check out Dorian Lynskey's 33 Revolutions Per Minute). 

The tracklist for Protest Songs 1924-2012 is as follows (with links to the original songwriter/performer's recording in parentheses):

1. "Freedom Highway" (The Staple Singers)
2. "Everybody Knows" (Leonard Cohen)
3. "I Don't Mind Failing In This World" (Malvina Reynolds)
4. "Black, Brown And White" (Big Bill Broonzy)
5. "Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Us Around" (The Freedom Singers)
6. "Fuck All The Perfect People" (Chip Taylor & the New Ukrainians)
7. "My Next Door Neighbour" (Jerry McCain)
8. "Trouble Every Day" (Frank Zappa with the Mothers of Invention)
9. "Listening Wind" (Talking Heads)
10. "Soldiers Who Want To Be Heroes" (Rod McKuen)
11. "I Live in a City" (Malvina Reynolds)
12. "Get Up, Stand Up" (Bob Marley)

The Specials have a short snippet of their cover of The Staple Singers' "Freedom Highway" up on their Facebook page (and it sounds quite good). 

And you can pre-order the CD now from the Universal Music store (no word on when the LP can be ordered). 

+ + + +

Duff Review: Danny Rebel & the KGB: "Toss It Up"

The cover painting features a large statue of a lion between two apartment buildings. Lasers shoot out from its eyes across a churning river toward the title of the album.
Limited edition LP/digital
Stomp Records

(Review by Steve Shafer)

It might be a bit grandiose and/or passé to call Danny Rebel a Renaissance man, but he's such a gifted singer, songwriter, musician, performer, and painter (who the cap fit...). His latest album with the KGB, Toss It Up, doesn't disappoint. It features five new super-catchy, funky-reggae-rock (and rocking!) songs about love, lust, and lust for life, and a corresponding number of dubs--all of them spectacular--by Victor Rice.

Everything opens with the wickedly dangerous title track (what a heavy groove!) that's part throw down ("Been waiting here too long and I’m about to grab the mic/Got to lick the spoon clean always put up a fight"), part mission statement (you'll never make anything of your short time on Earth if you don't at least keep hammering away at whatever it is that you love doing).

Imma start this off with a blank fuckin’ canvas
Rip that shit toss it different colors by the masses
If you don’t do anything brother nothin’ will happen
Eat the paint daily to keep from being distracted

The plaintive but resolute "Move" is about being completely fine with leaving a bad relationship and all of its baggage behind ("Time to walk on from you/You’ve been a dark cloud on me"), and while "Ugly" is not a Fishbone cover, it concerns a similar hideousness/nastiness hidden from the world inside one's heart.

"Crossfader" is soulful and sincere love song that pledges love and fidelity, with some self-aggrandizing lyrics thrown in so she knows what she's got (and to warn off any contenders for the throne):

Musical sound’s called crossfader
My guitar is my Deathstar and I’m the lyrical Darth Vader
Riddim maker, KGB-wise
Watch the fire burning through my eyes
If one and one makes two, then I will never make you blue
And baby don’t you know that I will never turn my back on you
This old heart of mine, don’t need no riddim or no rhyme
Will be with you as long as I live, yeah I know I will never leave you alone
Even if you don’t answer your phone, I will be there

Released as a single earlier this year and employing a term for female genitalia that I've never encountered before, "Whispering Eye" is unapologetic in its direct and unadorned expression of lust ("We don’t need this love (I’ll save you the pain)...You don’t have to call (just call out my name)...All I really want is your whispering eye"). As one wry FB commenter replied to Danny about his new song at the time: "rent a room!"

Danny Rebel & the KGB's Toss It Up is on my list of top 2021 ska releases--and should be on yours, too. 

+ + + +

Want more? Read my reviews of Danny Rebel & the KGB's Lovehaus, For Babylon's Head, and Spacebound.

+ + + +

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Duff Review: Aggrobeat Single Reissues from Laurel Aitken, The Freedom Singers, The Gladiators, The Royals, Tiger, The Versatiles, and Winston Groovy

The paper label features the artist's name and the song's title.(Review by Steve Shafer)

Since 2020 and continuing through this year, Aggrobeat Records in the Netherlands has been reissuing a series of fantastic skinhead reggae vinyl singles both from and written/produced by the incomparable Laurel Aitken--all of which fans of this era of reggae music will desperately want safely nestled in their 45 box(es). (Disclaimer: The Aggrobeat shop is carrying copies of my book The Duff Guide to 2 Tone.) 

Laurel Aitken (who was then based in the UK) was particularly prolific from 1969 through 1971 (see the truly extraordinary 5xCD compilation Skinhead Train Pressure Drop/Cherry Red released in 2020 containing every Aitken cut and production he released in 1969 and 1970--138 songs in total!). During this time, Aitken issued dozen upon dozens of singles for Pama and its imprints Nu Beat/New Beat, as well as the Trojan subsidiary Doctor Bird (some of my faves from this period include his essential High Priest of Reggae LP and some of his greatest singles: "Heile Heile (The Lion)," "Fire in Mi Wire," "Skinhead Train," "Rise & Fall," "It's Too Late," and the sublime "Reggae Prayer,"--the perfect fusion of the sacred and the profane--which will be played, appropriately enough, when I slip this mortal coil decades from now).

Aggrobeat's reissue series features Aitken's 1969 blank label/promo single for Nu Beat "Benwood Dick" b/w "Apollo 12." The A side is a hilariously rude--but never explicit--cut about "a man with a long, long cukumaka stick" (though Pama got cold feet, benched this single, and instead issued the less overtly rude, but still slightly naughty, "Mr. Popcorn": "Some like it hot/I like it warm/That's why they call me Mr. Popcorn!"), while the flip is his moon stomping classic "Apollo 12" (one of several skinhead reggae sides inspired by the first lunar landing, including Derrick Morgan's "Moon Hop"), which sets another goal for humanity (which we haven't quite achieved): "Skinhead moon invasion/Leaving from shantytown, Brixton/It's not black/It's not white/It's what's right/Everything will be alright/If we just unite!" (Back in 2011, Jason Lawless (RIP) also licensed "Apollo 12" for his excellent Moondust series of singles, though the flip was "Moon Rock.")

Originally released as a blank label through the Trojan imprint Ackee in 1969, the Winston Groovy "Skinhead Wreck the Town" b/w Laurel Aitken's "Moon Rock" single features two great tracks written and produced by Aitken. Winston Groovy (whose most famous song is probably "Please Don't Make Me Cry," which was famously covered by UB40 on their first and best Labour of Love LP) decries skinhead thuggishness on this anti-rude boy violence cut that borrows a bit of Desmond Dekker's "007" (see the Trojan compilation Rudies All Round for more "rude boy records"). "Moon Rock" continues the late '60s pop-culture fascination with the moon landing with Aitken's offbeat imagining of what one would do with one ("When you smoke the moon rock/You say, "Sistah, I am your mister!...Why, what a ting, like this moon rock/Strong like a lion/Make you feel to go back/To Mt. Zion!"). Aitken's friend Rico Rodriguez contributes a lovely trombone solo, too.

The Versatiles "Pick My Pocket" b/w The Freedom Singers "Freedom" 45 was released in 1970 on Nu Beat and features more amazing Laurel Aitken compositions/productions. "Pick My Pocket" is a supremely catchy tune warning all who can hear about being taken in by a pretty girl whose sole intention was to rip him off (and the song briefly and deftly quotes Toots and the Maytals' "54-46 (Was My Number)"). The almost hypnotic "Freedom" is simultaneously about deliverance from slavery/Babylon and repatriation ("I wanna go back") to Zion.

Another "rude record" featuring Aitken compositions/productions, The Versatiles "Give It To Me" b/w Tiger & The Versatiles "Hot" issued on New Beat in 1971 is full of suggestive lyrics to titillate. "Give It To Me" is exactly what you think it's about ("You say you want it now/Well, I'm gonna push it up!"), while "Hot" is more boastful than bad: "My love is like quicksand/The more you're in it/The deeper you'll sink!" (Later that year, Tiger had a hit with the Aiken production "Guilty," which UB40 also covered on Labour of Love.)

The two non-Aitken produced singles in the Aggrobeat series (so far!) are The Gladiators' rocksteady tracks "Socking Good Time" b/w "I'll Take You To the Movies" issued by WIRL in 1968 with a blank label (the latter has some sweet harmonizing), and The Royals "Pick Out Me Eye" b/w "Think You Too Bad (AKA Mind Yourself)" released on Trojan in 1969 (the latter is a version of The Pioneers' "Jackpot," which, of course, was covered by The Beat).

Each limited-edition single was pressed on recycled vinyl at a green powered pressing plant (!) and includes terrific, lengthy, and incisive liner notes by Aggrobeat label-owner Paul Benschop. 

This is an incredible opportunity to obtain some high-quality vinyl reissues of some rare and wonderful skinhead reggae music. Don't let it pass you by.

+ + + +

Friday, August 6, 2021

Duff Review: Jerry Dammers "At the Home Organ: Demos 1980-82 (Ghost Town & Theme from The Boiler)"

(Review by Steve Shafer)
The single's cardboard sleeve features Walt Jabsco, a stylized illustration of a rude boy (based on Peter Tosh) in a suit and pork pie hat; the paper label is worn and mildewy, and features the song title and artist.

Issued in the UK as part of the second 2021 Record Store Day drop (cue the evergreen complaints about RSD), Jerry Dammers' At the Home Organ: Demos 1980-82 (10" vinyl single, 2 Tone/Chrysalis, 2021) is as advertised--these are his DIY instrumental demos of The Specials' "Ghost Town" and Rhoda Dakar with The Special AKA's "Theme from The Boiler" performed on his "home entertainment type organ." These recordings, mastered from their cassette originals (and which feature pretty good audio fidelity), are really for Specials completists, as there's nothing immediately revelatory here. Having said that, there's something wonderfully intimate and thrilling about hearing Dammers' playing this early, more muzak-y version of his masterpiece "Ghost Town" (think "Stereotype, Part 2"--yet it's also B-horror movie-sounding) that doesn't yet include the bright, major key "Do you remember the good old days before the ghost town?" bridge. We weren't ever meant to hear this--but it's fascinating to compare it to the studio recording and note how producer John Collins helped shape the extraordinary final product. And this demo of "The Theme from The Boiler" with John Shipley (The Swinging Cats, The Special AKA) on guitar is unexpectedly fleshed out and pretty fantastic. Since the bloodcurdling "The Boiler" was only meant to be heard once, this 45 is rarely pulled out to play. Which is a shame, as I've always thought that the studio version of "The Theme from The Boiler" is a superb and jittery dance floor-filling cut that should be spun frequently. Hopefully, this demo's inclusion will bring some renewed attention to this gem.

The paper label for At the Home Organ doesn't feature Walt Jabsco (the cardboard sleeve does), though it's designed to look worn and slightly mildewy, as if these faux demo-only singles were recently rescued from a forgotten box in a damp cupboard--a nice touch. As a Specials/2 Tone fan, I'm quite happy to have Dammers' At the Home Organ in my collection. Get 'em while you can.

+ + + +