Friday, June 17, 2022

Duff Review: Smoke & Mirrors Sound System featuring Roy Ellis "More Than Unites" & "Dub That Unites" b/w Smoke and Mirrors Sound System featuring Monty Nesmith "Start All Over" & "Dub All Over"

10" color vinyl record (blue, red, and
The cover painting features Monty Neysmith wearing sunglasses and a cap.
Jump Up Records/Grover Records

(Review by Steve Shafer)

John Roy and the rotating cast of all-star ska musicians in his Smoke & Mirrors Sound System continue to be on a tear, reliably producing some of the best new ska and reggae music around. The latest proof of this is the stunning double A-sided 10" single that (sort of) reunites two of Symarip's main players, Roy Ellis and Monty Neysmith, both of whom have been releasing their own music as of late.

The magnificently fierce rockers-like cut "More Than Unites" (music: John Roy/lyrics: Tony Devenish of Rebelation UK) features Roy Ellis toasting and Dan Vitale of Bim Skala Bim singing of brother/sisterhood and solidarity in the face of fascism and hate. 

"Don't separate us by our language
For it's the same air that we breathe
No division by color or heritage
Where the skin cuts still it bleeds

For we are all one people
Under one sun and sky
And there is more that unites us
Than divides you and I"

I don't know about you, but in these days of unprecedented selfishness, lust for power, and never-sated greed that threatens to destroy everything (people, nations, the planet), I need as many songs like this as I can get my hands on (I've been listening to a lot of '80s-era Billy Bragg lately, like the Between the Wars and Accident Waiting to Happen EPs).

With "Start All Over" (music: John Roy/lyrics: Monty Neysmith), Neysmith sings--in a terrifically impassioned performance--of surrendering, regrouping, and giving things another go. In this wonderful rocksteady hymn to hope, resilience, and grit, failure is okay if you learn from the experience--and it doesn't defeat you.

"I'm leaving this life behind
I now realize it wasn't all that kind
Today, I see the lights are shining so bright
And it tells me everything is gonna be alright

I'm gonna pick myself up
Dust myself off
And start all over again"

In addition to all of the stellar musicians on these tracks (including Matt Parker, Eric Abbey, Victor Rice, Buford O'Sullivan, and many more), the great Roger Rivas not only worked his keyboard magic here but did the boss mixes and compelling dubs.

Whoever's keeping tally, add this 10" to the list of best new ska and reggae releases of 2022...

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For more about Smoke & Mirrors Sound System, read my reviews of their recent releases:

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Duff Review: The Untouchables "Hooked on a Feeling" b/w "Hooked Dub"

The picture disc artwork features an illustration of a rude boy playing a guitar and kicking one leg up in the air.
Artwork by CHema Skandal!
7" vinyl picture disc single
Jump Up Records/Specialized Records

(Review by Steve Shafer)

Originally recorded for Specialized Records' 2020 charity comp Blockbuster: A Tribute to Glam Rock (but it was delivered too late for inclusion), The Untouchables' new picture disc single is a cover of ("Suspicious Minds" composer) Mark James' "Hooked on a Feeling," which was recorded by BJ Thomas (1968), Jonathan King (1971), and Blue Swede (1974)--and received new life in the 21st century courtesy of the Guardians of the Galaxy movie soundtrack. While it seems like a stretch to put "Hooked on a Feeling" on a glam comp--this is a mega-catchy AM-radio pop track, after all--Blue Swede was tagged as a glam rock band and their version of this song (based on Jonathan King's 1971 arrangement) was a smash hit in the US, Canada, Australia, and the Netherlands.

The Untouchables' excellent, straight-up sincere take on this song is in the same vein as their 1985 hit "What's Gone Wrong?" (which UB40 wanted to buy from them before The UTs recorded it). But the UTs' crack rhythm section and horns really give "Hooked on a Feeling" some real umph--something that's even more evident on "Hooked Dub." Rude boys want to convey messages of love, too, but don't have to be soft about it.

Long-time UTs fans, no doubt, will remember and have collected several picture disc singles ("Free Yourself," "I Spy for the FBI," and "What's Gone Wrong?") spun off The Untouchables' Wild Child LP (which was also released as a picture disc). Their UK label Stiff Records was mad about this format and always paid such brilliant attention to the design of their releases and merchandise. Jump Up notes that "Hooked on a Feeling" is the first Untouchables picture disc released in 37 years. Let's hope we don't have to wait nearly as long for more UTs recordings, 'cause right now they sound so damn good!

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To read more about The Untouchables, check out The Duff Guide to the Untouchables. Also see my introductory chapter "1985: The Year American Ska Broke" to Marc Wasserman's book Ska Boom: An American Ska & Reggae Oral History.

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Friday, June 10, 2022

Duff Review: Victor Romero Evans "At the Club" b/w The Detonators "Lift Off" reissue

The paper label indicates the song title, band, and label (Special Request)
12" vinyl single
Special Request
1980 (2022 reissue)

(Review by Steve Shafer)

Remastered and reissued for the first time since 1980, the John Collins-produced/co-written 12" single featuring Victor Romero Evans' "At the Club" and The Detonators' "Lift Off" should be of interest to Specials' fans, as it's forever linked to their most brilliant release--the Ghost Town EP.

Back in the day, after the Evans/Detonators record was played on Radio One's "Roundtable" program and favorably reviewed (it also was #1 on Black Echoes' reggae chart at the time), Collins received a late-night call from Jerry Dammers asking him if he might be interested in producing The Specials' next recording. The band was very impressed with Collins' production (recorded on a four-track in the front room of his house and released on his own label) and, in the wake of More Specials' not completely welcome excursion into muzak/lounge and the hi-tech 24-track studio it had been recorded in (that offered Dammers too many choices!), The Specials wanted to capture a more authentic reggae sound for these new songs in a much simpler fashion. And they believed Collins was their man.

When The Specials' met John Collins, they didn't expect him to be white. Lynval Golding and Neville Staple told him, "We were expecting someone like Lee Perry; a wild rasta smoking ganja." Indeed, the seductive Lovers Rock of "At the Club" and mysterious outer space dub of "Lift Off" seem as if they could have come from the mixing desks of Dennis Bovell or Mad Professor, two of the top UK reggae producers back then--and now. (Trainspotters will be interested to know that Victor Romero Evans also played the part of Lover in Franco Rosso’s stellar 1980 film Babylon--an updated Thatcher-era The Harder They Come shot in South London, with a boss reggae soundtrack by Bovell, Yabby U, I-Roy, Cassandra, Aswad, Vin Gordon, and Michael Rose.)

Of these two tracks, the wonderful dub instrumental "Lift Off" is clearly the sonic blueprint for what Dammers wanted for "Ghost Town." It sports a clean, warm, roots reggae sound with electro percussion and trippy synth effects (shades of every B 1950s sci-fi film you've ever seen)--and features the same ghost synth that is later used to open and close "Ghost Town." (To these ears, John Bradbury's drumming on "Ghost Town" and "Friday Night, Saturday Morning" sounds like its programmed, even though it's not; but I think it's a combination of how Brad is drumming--reportedly influenced by Gregory Isaacs' "Night Nurse"--and how Collins recorded him.)

Specials' completists will want to snap up a copy of this (I ordered a copy through, but the Victor Romero Evans "At the Club"/Detonators "Lift Off" 12" is worth having in its own right. It's a fantastic slice of early '80s UK reggae that stands the test of time. 

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Thursday, June 9, 2022

NYC Ska Calendar #4, Spring/Summer 2022

Friday, June 17, 2022 @ 8:00 pm

Members of The Beat dressed in Harrington jackets, sport coats, and jean jackets are lined up along a fence facing the camera.
Strictly love and unity with The Beat

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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Friday, July 8, 2022 @ 7:00 pm

Vive Murak 2022 with Royal Club with special guest Deals Olan, Tone Zone Ska, The End Times, Mutate plus Boss Selektah Diana and DJ Garrido

173 Morgan Avenue
Brooklyn, NY
Info: (929) 414-3586

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Friday, July 15, 2022 @ 8:00 pm

Subway to Skaville presents: Dunia & Aram's "Bedfellows" album release party, plus Bachslider, and TBA (pluse DJ Ryan Midnight and Boss Selektah Diana)

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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Saturday, July 23, 2022 @ 7:30 pm

Subway to Skaville presents: Buford O'Sullivan & The Roosters, Ensamble Calavera, Not From Concentrate (plus DJ Ryan Midnight)

Bar Frieda
801 Seneca Avenue
Ridgewood (Queens), NY

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Tuesday, August 2, 2022 @ 6:00 pm

DJ Gorilla presents One Last Ska Punky Reggae Party featuring Joystick, Skappository, Dub Corps, and Eric Daino

Bar Frieda
801 Seneca Avenue
Ridgewood (Queens), NY

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Saturday, September 24, 2022 @ 6:30 pm (boat departs at 7:00 pm sharp!)

The Pietasters

Rocks Off Concert Cruise
Skyport Marina
2430 FDR Drive (at 23rd Street)
Manhattan, NY

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Wednesday, September 28, 2022 @ 7:00 pm

Hollie Cook

599 Johnson Avenue
Brooklyn, NY

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Monday, June 6, 2022

Duff Review: Norwood, Angelo, and Chris Meet Eric Blowtorch and the Bodyguards "Too Many Dues" b/w Eric Blowtorch and the Bodyguards "Mercy"

The 45 sleeve features photos of Norwood, Angelo, Chris, and Eric.
7" vinyl single/digital
Bopaganda! Records & Tapes

(Review by Steve Shafer)

Fishbone's 1988 masterpiece Truth & Soul was largely an exposition on what it was like to be a Black American living in an unrelentingly racist America (see most of Truth & Soul's side two: "One Day," "Subliminal Fascism," "Slow Bus Movin' (Howard Beach Party)," "Ghetto Soundwave," and "Change"). When the album was recorded, a lot of the good that had resulted from the brutally hard work of the Civil Rights Movement and America's attempts at building an equitable and just Great Society was being rolled back during the regressive Reagan '80s. "Slow Bus Movin' (Howard Beach Party)," in particular, was written and recorded in response to the horrific 1986 death of New Yorker Michael Griffith, who was hit and killed by a car as he attempted to cross the Belt Parkway in Queens while fleeing a mob of white teenagers trying to attack him (acts of racial terror didn't only happen in the Jim Crow South). According to The New York Times:

"The events in Howard Beach began when Mr. Griffith, a construction worker, and three black companions traveled from Brooklyn to Queens to pick up his paycheck. Their car broke down late on Dec. 19 on a desolate stretch of Cross Bay Boulevard, and three of the four began walking into Howard Beach. As they were crossing the street, they were nearly bumped by a car in which several white teenagers were riding. Racial slurs were exchanged. The teenagers, joined by other young whites, confronted the black men outside a pizza parlor, New Park Pizza, and chased them.

Timothy Grimes, who was 18, escaped unharmed. Mr. Griffith was killed by a car on the Belt Parkway. Cedric Sandiford, who was 36, was beaten with a bat and other weapons...

...Jon Lester, Scott Kern and Jason Ladone were convicted of manslaughter and assault."

Flash forward 30+ years later and--while some things have changed for the better--much has not. Members of Fishbone (Norwood Fisher, Angelo Moore, and Chris Dowd)--plus Eric Blowtorch and the Bodyguards--still feel compelled to write and record songs about America's unrelenting racism and its abuse and murder of Black people. The terrific "Too Many Dues"--co-written by Eric Beaumont and Norwood Fisher--is an ironically chipper ska/jump blues cut that conveys some real anguish over the high profile murder of Breonna Taylor and permanent disabling of Jacob Blake (10% of the single's profits are being donated to Black Lives Matter). But it's also about the tragic inability of America to live up to its ideals and treat all people equally in every aspect of life--and under the law (we fought a bloody civil war over it and amended the Constitution several times in attempts to do so). 

"Breonna Taylor was a healer, but the jailer
Just had to invade her, viciously assail her
Every, every day here to the cross we nail her
The great experiment is a failure

What does a brother have to do
To reap respect already due
To stop the spiteful spew
To not be turning blue?"

On the flip side is the excellent 2 Tone-ish ska track "Mercy," which is a plea for the salvation of humanity, a mantra for our thoroughly horrific times, particularly in these fragmented United States of ours: "Mercy in destabilizer stormtroop’s face/Mercy, mercy when your blood boils over/Mercy to the driver in the bulldozer." It's a mournful track, like something off the Ghost Town EP, but interspersed with joyous and hopeful funk-soul breaks in the choruses. And it's protest music that's not about casting blame, but searching for something that can heal what's broken inside of us, so we won't be at each other's throats, and might even be able to begin to start caring for one other again.

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