Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Duff Review: Horace Andy "Midnight Rocker"

The cover features Horace Andy in profile with grey dreadlocks.
Vinyl LP/CD/digital
On-U Sound

(Review by Steve Shafer)

Like his superb collaborations with Lee "Scratch" Perry before his death (Rainford and Heavy Rain, which I reviewed here and here), Adrian Sherwood's latest effort with Horace Andy yields another masterpiece. Midnight Rocker is easily one of the finest albums in Andy's catalogue and certainly one of the best new roots reggae records you'll hear this year.

At 71, Sleepy's seemingly ageless voice remains in top form--always wonderfully expressive, whether conveying empathy for those suffering or passing along Jah's unyielding judgment on the wicked. He's backed by an all-star band, including Gaudi, George Oban (Aswad), Skip McDonald (Sugar Hill Records house band, Tackhead, African Head Charge), Douglas Wimbish (Sugar Hill Records house band, Tackhead, Living Colour), Horseman (Prince Fatty, Mungo's Hi-Fi, Mad Professor), and more. And Sherwood's virtuoso production--his first for Andy(!)--bathes everything in crisp warmth and life, and leaves plenty of space for Andy to do his thing.

Midnight Rocker contains a mix of new tracks and re-worked versions of Andy classics, some surely chosen for their heightened relevance today. The album opens with a fantastic rendition of Andy's plaintive "This Must Be Hell" (first released as a Tapper Zukie-produced single in 1978), Things may have been bad in the late '70s, but they have nothing on our everyone's-always-at-each-other's-throats times. This more sparse take on "Materialist" (which was originally produced and released by Niney the Observer in 1977) still packs a punch: "Material comes first in this society/You can't afford a car or a house, no one knows you" (and the track also warns of giving into vanity and acquiring too much). Andy's 1976 reggae lullaby "Rock to Sleep" is beautifully and hauntingly updated with cellos. And even Sleepy's much-revisited, Studio One/Coxsone Dodd-produced single "Mr. Bassie" is given a great new spin with this tightened-up take. (If you compare all of these versions to their originals, you'll be pleased to find that Andy has much more control of his singing, and his voice is arguably stronger and more nimble than ever.)

Like the reworked classics, Andy's new cuts are like late-night, pirate broadcasts of hope and warning--a rebel counternarrative for these entropic times. "Easy Money" (penned by Jeb Loy Nichols and Sherwood) is a melodica-driven sequel of sorts to his 1975 Phil Pratt-produced single "Root of All Evil" (key lyric: "It make friends/It break friends/Judas betrayed Christ for it!") that is an oblique critique of our capitalist way of life: "Tell me why/Did I ever start/To make money money/You did me wrong/You been cheating me/My whole life long." The stately "Today is Right Here" (by Sherwood/Nichols/Oban) reminds one that life is tenuous and fleeting, so you need to enjoy/be in the right now ("See that old black bird flying/See that fox on the run/They don't think about tomorrow/'Cause it might never come"). Despite its topic, "Careful" (by Leigh Stephen Kenny/LSK and Sherwood) is a bright and jaunty track about the pernicious disinformation we're swimming in daily ("All that glitters is not gold/All that's written is not so/Pictures, scriptures always told through the eyes of victors, all I know"). With all the turmoil, dangers, and moral quandaries to navigate these days, Andy pleads to Jah--over a Lover's Rock cut (written by LSK/Gaudi/Roydel Johnson aka Congo Ashanti Roy)--to "Watch Over Them." We need all the protection we can get.

One of my favorite tracks on Midnight Rocker is the cover of Massive Attack's "Safe from Harm" from Blue Lines. For all of Andy's past work with Massive Attack, this song from their 1991 debut--inspired by Martin Scorsese's neo-noir nightmare Taxi Driver (it's about Travis Bickle expressing his compulsion to protect the teenage prostitute Iris)--was originally sung by Shara Nelson. Yet hearing Andy singing it in this urgent, slightly futuristic dubstep-reggae setting (that rumbling bassline is ominous!), you don't think of Jodie Foster, but rather whoever means the world to you and you'd be devastated to lose: "But if you hurt what's mine/I'll sure as hell retaliate/You can free the world, you can free my mind/Just as long as my baby's safe from harm tonight."

While Midnight Rocker immediately appealed to me from first play on the turntable, I've been listening to it on and off for weeks now--and still don't think the album has fully revealed itself to me yet.

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Friday, May 13, 2022

NYC Ska Calendar #3 Spring/Summer 2022

Sister Nancy sings into a microphone on stage.
Sister Nancy
Friday, May 13, 2022 @ 10:00 pm

Brooklyn Dub Club, Chapter IV: What a Bam Bam!

Sister Nancy (JA), Mungo's HiFi featuring Gardna (Scotland), Bukkah (Spain), Bent Backs Sound featuring JonnyGo Figure (BK), El Grand Latido Sound System (Colombia), Dub-Stuy & Hilla Bundem (NYC)

Brooklyn Monarch
23 Meadow Street
Brooklyn, NY
Tix: $20

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Saturday, May 14, 2022 @ 7:00 pm

Playing Dead, War Honey, Barbicide, Skappository

Ridgewood Presbyterian Church
59-14 70th Ave
Queens, NY
(Closest subway stops are the Forest Ave. M line or the Halsey St. L line)
$10/All ages

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Friday, May 20, 2022 @ 8:00 pm

DJ Gorilla & Scenic present: Beat Brigade, Eastern Function, Sweet Babylon, Eye Defy

Bushwick Party House
1288 Myrtle Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
$10 in advance/$12 day of show

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Saturday, May 21, 2022 @ 7:00 pm

Authentic Productions NYC & The Kingsland present: Hub City Stompers, The Prowlers (Montreal), The Press, The Ladrones, Execütors

Sovereign SmokeHouse
173 Morgan Ave
Brooklyn, NY
$20 adv / $25 dos

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Sunday, May 22, 2022 @ 5:00 pm

The Apple Stomp presents: Big D & the Kids Table, J Navarro & The Traitors, Sgt. Scag, Brunt of It, The Pandemics

The Gramercy Theatre
127 East 23rd Street
Manhattan, NY
Tix: $25/16+

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Friday, May 27, 2022 @ 8:00 pm

Subway to Skaville presents: Stop the Presses, Flying Racoon Suit, Stuck Lucky, Megawatt (plus DJ Ryan Midnight)

Otto's Shrunken Head
538 East 14th Street (between Avenues A & B)
Manhattan/Alphabet City
21+/No cover, but bring $ for band bucket

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Friday, June 17, 2022 @ 8:00 pm

Subway to Skaville presents: The Freecoasters, Beat Brigade, Donut City (plus DJ Ryan Midnight & DJ Duff Guy)

Otto's Shrunken Head
538 East 14th Street (between Avenues A & B)
Manhattan/Alphabet City
21+/No cover, but bring $ for band bucket

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Thursday, May 5, 2022

Duff Review: Ska Singles Going Steady: Ska Jazz Messengers and Travelers All Stars

The cover illustration features a skinhead girl in a space suit floating in space shooting a ray gun that emits hearts at a skinhead boy in a space suit.
(Reviews by Steve Shafer)

In the wake of their incredible 2020 Introspección LP (which I reviewed here), Venezuela's Ska Jazz Messengers have released a sweet early reggae version (via Lloyd Charmers) of Curtis Mayfield & The Impressions' "It's Alright" b/w their own song "Aunque Todo No Esté Bien," which translates to: "even if everything is not alright" (7" vinyl picture sleeve single/digital, Liquidator Music, 2021; ska fans in the US can order the 45 and other Liquidator releases through Beat Surrender Records in Portland, OR).

"It's Alright" was, of course, featured in the Pixar movie Soul (and was performed by Jon Batiste) and follows a string of great SJM covers of pop tracks by Pharrell Williams ("Happy"), Bruno Mars/CeeLo Green ("Forget You"), and Carole King ("It's Too Late").

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Mexico's Travelers All Stars' new single "Love in the Stars" b/w "Weekend Lover" (7" vinyl picture sleeve single/digital, Chez Nobody Records, 2022) is another fantastic set of luminous, organ-drenched, instrumental skinhead reggae cuts (read my review of their "Reggae Gordo for Days and Extra Days!" single here). Spin these space-age reggae tracks to brighten your mood (or get in the mood) or shake some action on the dance floor!

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Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Duff Review: Perkie & The Co-operators "(Mumma Was a) Bankrobber" b/w "Dubbers Delight"

The single's paper label includes the Happy People Records logo, as well as the name of the act and title of the song.
(Reviews by Steve Shafer)

I'm always crazy for well-done Clash covers and the boss new single from Perkie & The Co-operators, "(Mumma Was a) Bankrobber" (7" vinyl single, Happy People Records, 2022), is no exception. According to Tony Fletcher's book The Clash: The Music That Matters, after London Calling--which was a bit too America-centric and American-sounding for many UK fans and some in the British music press (though the record was a bit hit in the USA because of it all)--The Clash intended to release a series of singles in 1980 in the UK to placate all the disgruntled naysayers.

Initially (and bizarrely), CBS refused to release "Bankrobber" as a single and only did so after it appeared on a B-side in Holland and sold rapidly as an import in UK record shops. Once it was issued as an A-side in the UK, it shot up the charts to the #12 position. Sadly, The Clash decided to scrap the rest of the series of singles, even though they were vindicated in their selection of "Bankrobber." Instead, they then decamped to NYC to record the magnificent, if messy, triple-LP Sandinista.

As much as I love "Bankrobber," I have to admit to never examining the lyrics of this song closely (I could always make out the chorus, but Strummer's oftentimes ragged enunciation obscured some of the verses for me--I always thought "someday you'll meet your rocking chair" was "someday you'll meet your rocketeer" and couldn't make out the rest of that verse!). In addition to being another in a long string of Clash rude boy/rebel/outlaw-glorifying tracks (see "Guns on the Roof," "Rudie Can't Fail," "Guns of Brixton," "I Fought the Law," and many others), "Bankrobber" slips in a fiercely anti-capitalist message about the exploitation of workers--which sort of provides a rationale for the banditry, but definitely gives it much more depth and meaning. (And the bankrobber's gender has been switched for this cover because women can be just as equal opportunity bad-ass and rebellious as men...)

Mumma was a bankrobber
But she never hurt nobody
She just loved to live that way
And she loved to steal your money

Some is rich, and some is poor
And that's the way the world is
But I don't believe in laying back
Sayin' how bad your luck is

So, she came to jazz it up
Never learned to shovel
Break your back to earn our pay
Don't forget to grovel

Old girl spoke up in a bar
Said, "I never been in prison
A lifetime serving one machine
Is ten times worse than prison"

Perkie's laid-back/matter-of-fact and almost delicate delivery can be read as world-weary--certainly not a bad thing since it contrasts so well with the crisp, bright 'n' brisk music underpinning it.

The flip, a take of sorts on "Rockers Delight," is a sweet dub version of the A-side, with long instrumental stretches ripe for toasting over when the soundsytem is set up, should anyone be up to the task.

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Additional reading: Check out my reviews of Perkie & The Co-operators' "Concrete, Steel, and Stone" single, The Co-operators & Friends' LP Beating the Doldrums, and the Phoenix City All-stars' LP Clash Version Rockers

Fun fact: Tony Fletcher also wrote the liner notes that appear on the back of The Toasters' Thrill Me Up LP.

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