Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Ska Quote of the Day

This little nugget comes from the Louisiana Music and Culture Offbeat's review of The Local Skank's album Collect All Five:
"ska—the music the most white people feel confident dancing to"
Love it!

Random Mainstream Media Ska Reference

I've always been a huge fan of David Rees' "Get Your War On" strip, which started right after Dubya attacked Afghanistan in the wake of 9/11. Always highly critical of the Bush Administration's so-called "War on Terror," Rees ended the strip when Bush finally left the White House. However, since the Afghanistan war rages on two years into the Obama Administration, he's back with some sharp commentary. These two panels are from a great two-page spread in this week's New York Magazine. The ska references are kind of jarring and remind me of the 3rd wave's cheesy, cringe-inducing tendency to wedge 'ska' into words and phrases where it simply didn't belong (Skanksgiving, anyone?), which made people outside of the scene think all the less of us.

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Now for the overtly political segment of this post.

It's surreal to see Rees' strip all these years later and to be reminded of the nightmarish things that went down while the Bush Administration was at the helm (incredibly horrific things like all the people murdered on 9/11--and how the attack might have been averted; Bush, Cheney et al lying that Iraq was behind 9/11 and/or had weapons of mass destruction in order to justify the invasion of that country; all the people on both sides that didn't have to be maimed or die as a result--particularly Iraqi civilians who didn't sign up for combat; the billions upon billions Bush borrowed to finance two wars while simultaneously giving everyone tax cuts--where were the GOP deficit hawks and tea party types during all this extraordinary accumulation of debt? Oh, that's right, a white man was doing it!; the torture--and waterboarding is torture--and indefinite imprisoning of suspected terrorists; the policy of extraordinary rendition; the "unitary executive" and use of Presidential signing statements; the illegal wiretapping of Americans' e-mails and phone calls--and the Bush Administration's deliberate misinterpretation and shredding of our nation's laws; the color-coded fear weekends when everyone bought duct tape and plastic sheeting to keep out the dirty bomb/bio-chemical attack that never came; the fact that Bin Laden escaped Tora Bora and is still at large; and now Bush's blatant attempt to re-write history).

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Since I've gotten all that out of my system, it's time to go back to writing reviews of new ska releases and putting together The Duff Guide to Ska's "Best of 2010" list!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Ken Boothe to Play 2011 London International Ska Fest!

It has just been announced that legendary Jamaican singer, Ken Boothe (AKA Mr. Rocksteady), will be performing at the 2011 London International Ska Festival next April. Mr. Boothe is the first of five old-school Jamaican artists to be announced that will be performing at the ska fest. Here are some highlights of his career, provided by festival organizer Sean Flowerdew:
Best known for his No.1 UK hit 'Everything I Own', Ken started his musical career by winning a singing competition at the age of 8, in his birthplace of Kingston, Jamaica. His debut recording came in the ska-era when he teamed up with Winston 'Stranger' Cole in the duo Stranger And Ken, releasing classic cuts including 'World's Fair', 'Hush' and 'Artibella', before moving onto Clement Dodd’s Studio One label. A series of classic cuts followed including 'The Train Is Coming' (on which he was backed by Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer & BB Seaton of The Gaylads) and 'Moving Away'. In 1967 he toured the UK for the first time with fellow rocksteady legend Alton Ellis. The tour was hugely successful, with Boothe being promoted as "Mr.Rock Steady". The title was also used for his superb debut album the following year, which contained the unlikely but huge selling rocksteady version of 'Puppet On A String'.

Upon leaving Studio One he was in demand with Jamaica's top producers: Sonia Pottinger, Phil Pratt, Leslie Kong, Bunny Lee, B.B. Seaton, Keith Hudson, Randy's, Niney the Observer, releasing many island hits including 'Freedom Street'. In 1974 Ken Boothe teamed up with producer Lloyd Charmers, a pairing and subsequent releases on Trojan Records, that spawned his two biggest UK hits. The aforementioned 'Everything I Own' top the charts for 4 weeks and the follow-up 'Crying Over You' reached number 11. The pair also issued other superb versions of 'Who Gets Your Love', 'Let's Get It On', 'Silver Words' and Ain't No Sunshine'

To this day Ken Boothe tours all over the world and remains one of Jamaica's most loved vocalists with his uniquely emotive and soulful style. In 2003 this fact was recognised by the Jamaican government awarding him the Order Of Distinction for his contribution to Jamaican music.
Also of note, the LISF has launched its own website.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Duff Review: The Hard Times Two Bucks for Bob EP

Whatevski Records
3-track digital EP

With a name that couldn't be more relevant if they tried, NYC's awesome practitioners of Upsetters-inspired boss skinhead reggae, The Hard Times, have dropped an EP of buoyant tracks to temporarily distract us from the swelling ranks of the unemployed among us and the disintegrating social safety net in tatters at our feet. The three stellar instrumental cuts you'll find on the digital-only Two Bucks for Bob EP are on par with those from other early reggae heavyweights on the scene like The Caroloregians, King Hammond, and The Bullets. Truly, this is some sweet stuff.

The high-quality of The Hard Times' songwriting and musicianship really shouldn't come as a shock when you consider the band's lineage--most of them are veterans of the NYC ska scene. Drummer Bob Timm previously was in 90s-era bands The DeFactos and Orange Street (and did a boffo job covering ska for About.com from 1997 to 2005); keyboardist Jerica Rosenblum was a member of The Scofflaws, Mephiskapheles, and The Defactos; now ex-bassist Juan Cardenas was in The Duppies; and guitarist Jacob Wake-Up used to be in Across the Aisle and is still in Hey Stranger.

"Two Bucks for Bob" (what's the story behind that title?) is a moody, reggay-ish cut that introduces you to the band's amazing chops. You might think "Bender of Steel" is a groovy mash note to that irascible, cigar-chomping, beer-chugging, fire-belching, foul-mouthed, thieving (but orphan-loving) robot from 31st century New New York, Bender Bending Rodríguez (from Futurama)--but it's actually an ode to Coney Island strongman Mighty Joe Rollino (RIP). Put "Ricochet Rocker" on the sound system and it's guaranteed to pack the dancefloor with its jerky, propulsive riddims, looping bass lines, and killer melody that's passed back and forth between the guitar and keys like a steaming hot potato. You'll be hard-pressed not to shake your booty to this cut. (Listen to samples of all of these tracks here.)

Two Bucks for Bob is a smashing debut for The Hard Times--this is exactly the kind of music we all need in our lives: tunes to help us to get through the bad times and celebrate the good.

The Duff Guide to Ska Grade: A

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

CT Ska Gig Alerts: Sgt. Scagnetti Thankgiving Weekend!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Sub Rosa Party 5 Year Anniversary

Sgt. Scagnetti Hometown Reunion Show!

with special guest Burnkit 2600

Heirloom Arts Theater, Danbury, CT
$5 adv - $5 at the door
9pm doors, 10pm show starts

Friday, November 26, 2010

Sgt. Scagnetti
Distance No Object
The Nix86
Across The Aisle
Steady Habits

The Space, Hamden, CT
Show starts at 6:30 pm

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Duff Review: 1592 This One's For You All


One of Detroit's most enduring nicknames--the Motor City--underscores how synonymous this city was with great feats of industrial manufacturing, unprecedented economic success, and the American dream; it's permanently linked to the nation's obsession with big, fast cars. Detroit made 'em and we bought 'em. Good jobs with decent union wages and benefits provided by Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler (AKA the Big Three) once allowed hundreds of thousands of poor and working class Americans to become middle class and realize the promise of the American dream (in the 1950s, Detroit had the highest median income and the highest rates of home ownership in the US). But the Big Three's industry dominance was its downfall--the companies that were once innovative became lazy and complacent (leaving expensive but forward-thinking investment in new technological developments to the Europeans and Japanese) and the oil crisis of the late 70s drove it all home. Japanese auto companies in particular were able to capitalize on the new reality, with their inexpensive, highly fuel-efficient, and extremely well-designed and reliable cars (everything the US-made cars were not). Faced with fierce competition (and unable to design and build cars that could compete) and following the trend of other manufacturing industries that placed profits over the people in the communities that had contributed to their success, the Big Three shuttered factories, laid off tens of thousands of people, and exported their jobs overseas (where they could pay rock bottom wages and not worry about providing benefits). This wholesale and permanent elimination of jobs (and Ronald Reagan's anti-urban policies didn't help) caused Detroit's middle class to move elsewhere in search of jobs; the rich to flee for exclusive enclaves in the suburbs; and all this white flight left the permanent underclass (Detroit proper is now a largely African American city with nearly a third of its population living under the poverty line) to eke out an existence in the decaying ruins of a once magnificent city.

From the context of this dying metropolis comes 1592, which has forged a new sub-genre of this familiar Jamaican sound: Detroit Rocksteady--a mash-up of funky Motown, old school garage-rock, and early reggae. Dark, dread-filled, bitter, defiant, yet ultimately hopeful--it's music to help keep your chin up in an ever meaner and bleaker America--where our great diversity is used to divide us, and concern for the common good and empathy for anyone else (forget about the poor and downtrodden, they're not even on the radar!) seems to be in very short supply.

It should hardly be a surprise that This One's for You All is steeped in history--how else can you know where you're going unless you know where you've been? And how can you avoid repeating the same mistakes if you're unaware of the past? The great heavy title track hoists a pint in tribute to many of extraordinary Jamaican musicians who created/defined the ska and reggae that 1592 play so well ("For Alton, Coxsone, Tubby/Perry and the Dragonnaires/Skatalites, Soul Brothers/backing everywhere"). The angry funkified rock-reggae of "Old Crew" bemoans how the values of previous generations that served us all so well seem to have been lost or abandoned over time: "They fought in all the wars/They built all the cars/and left behind a way/for us to live with pride...Whatever happened to the old crew/the ones our father looked up to?/Whatever happened to the old crew?/I sure don't see it in you."

"Detroit Why"--with its Prince-like guitar lines that seemingly squeal in pain--recognizes all the wasted potential, missed opportunities, broken promises, and dashed hopes contained within the city limits, but posits that the people and place are worth saving ("Why must you break so many hearts/and tear us apart/Detroit why?/Let's stand up to fight/and walk into the light"). Amidst all the rubble and despair also come several wonderful love songs, the almost shockingly bright, sing-along-with-the-chorus "Tomorrow is Another Day," which wants to capture the "everything's perfect" feeling people have when they first fall in love, and the sweet salvation found when love makes all our burdens a bit lighter in "Midnight."

Several other key cuts on This One's for You All are concerned with protecting others from pain and suffering (the Skinnerbox-like "Stepping on a Stone"); the importance of persevering, even if you're confused and your destination's unknown ("That's It"); and a declaration that the status quo just isn't working for us anymore ("It's Time," which has a great heavy metal-like riff, and lyrics like: "The way we construct the notion of self/keeps pushing the boundaries/and destroying all the wealth"--this is not about a loss of material riches, but probably each person's creative potential and ability to make the world a better place for all of us).

The album closes with the slinky and rhythmic "What's Left for Me," which accepts the responsibility that comes with knowing that we are both the cause and solution to our problems: "The more we keep this up/The more we lag behind/The more we keep this up/The more we have to fight/It keeps impressing me/that all hope is not lost/as we try to deal with the path/of the few, that no one takes."

1592's This One's for You All is a complex album full of deep grooves and deeper thoughts for our difficult and sometimes desperate times. But it also offers hope and inspiration--wrapped in stellar songs--to anyone willing to listen.

The Duff Guide to Ska Grade: A

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Here is a live video of 1592 performing "Tomorrow is Another Day" and "That's It":

1592 plays "This One's For You All" here:

Friday, November 19, 2010

"Let's Have a Party" with Kid British

This video here from Kid British seems all the more appropriate as it's the end of the work week (if you have work to do, that is)...

"The economy is falling/You're playing with your mobile/Oh, let's have a party now..."

A "Party at Ground Zero" for the post-Dubya years, kids.

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Fans in the UK were lucky enough to have the opportunity to catch Kid British opening a slew of fall dates for UB40 on their Signing Off 30th Anniversary Tour. I wish Kid British had been along when UB40 played NYC recently.

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And here is Kid British's pretty amazing cover of New Order's "Blue Monday" (surely, one of the greatest New Wave-era songs ever, along with The Smiths' "How Soon is Now?"), which we assume is on their forthcoming album...(KB split with Mercury, who wanted them to go more pop than ska--and are now signed with Manchester digital label Modern English).

Madness Debuting New Songs on Tour--Next Album Due Spring 2011!

Word comes from Suggs via an interview with Wales Online that Madness will debut "six or seven" new songs on their "Do Not Adjust Your Nut" UK tour this November and December. Their forthcoming new album, title still unbeknownst to us, will be released in spring 2011. Here's Suggs in his own words:
“We’re hoping to play six or seven new songs on the tour, and the album will be out in the spring. With Norton Folgate, we recorded 40 songs, but with the next one, we’re concentrating on the 12 or so that’ll make the record, and trying to make something more fun and uplifting too. I think we can do that quite quickly.”
Also interesting to note that Suggs will hit the half century mark on January 13. He looks fantastic, so he must be doing something right!

Madness "Do Not Adjust Your Nut" UK tour dates may be found here. While we're on the topic of gigs, how about coming over to the USA for some dates, Nutty Boys?!?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Duff Review: Bigger Thomas Steal My Sound


When I first listened to the new Bigger Thomas CD Steal My Sound, my immediate reaction--and I'm carbon dating myself here--was how welcome it was to hear a band keeping the late'80s NYC ska sound alive! (What is the definition of this style of ska? Short answer: put on a copy of Moon Records' NYC Ska Live LP or cassette on the ster-ee-erio and listen! Awkward longer answer: it's heavily 2 Tone-influenced, aggressive modern ska, with strong new wave tendencies and some incursions into vintage ska sounds--and with the exception of The NY Citizens, free of ska-punk).

From the start, it's been clear that Bigger Thomas are fanatic devotees of The (English) Beat. You can find all sorts of melodic and rhythmic Wakeling/Cox/Steele DNA strands in Bigger Thomas' music, from their first fan favorite, "Ska in My Pocket" off their wonderful (Wha'ppen-inspired) debut "Red" album, to several tunes on Steal My Sound (most notably, "Kings of the Klub" and "Radics and Roger A Chat"). However, anyone who has followed the band is well aware that Bigger Thomas are much more than Beat imitators.

Apart from the light-hearted lyrical boasting and toasting on a few tracks, Steal My Sound is a serious album filled with tales of crushed hopes and diminished expectations. It mirrors the ugly reality of adult life, when you realize that things aren't going to turn out as you imagined they would when you were younger. But amidst the reconfigured world of middle-age, the band has found a gritty determination to follow their path and find satisfaction and happiness on their own terms. And they make some incredible music in the process.

The fantastically upbeat "I Can't Remember My Name," one of the best cuts on the album, is ostensibly about stumbling around on a summer day so hot that your brain can't function properly. But it's also a metaphor--we're fallible beings making all kinds of missteps as we try to move forward in the blazing heat of everyday life. Yet, the band also is keenly aware that life is a great adventure to be enjoyed: "I never get lost/but I try to every day!"

"Kings of the Klub" (a great versioning of their own "King for a Day" off We Wear the Mask) is a manic DJ clash between Roger Apollon, Jr. and Roy Radics (from The Rudie Crew) for toasting and boasting supremacy that reminds one of "Pato and Roger a Go Talk," with a little Untouchables thrown in the mix ("Make room, make room when they play the rub-a-dub/We rule the dance, we are kings of the club"). It's fantastic. However, if you want to screw with their music, Roger and Roy turn deadly serious on the spare (love the haunting melodica line in there played by King Django, who did a stellar job recording and mixing the album at his Version City Studio) and menacing "Steal My Sound" ("When we come to town/You know we don't mess around/Like a king who holds the crown/Don't steal my sound").

The band's don't-give-a-damn underdog and outsider status is reflected in songs like "Matinee Idol," where Roger sings about pursuing a girl who's "running with the 'A' crowd/My 'C' plus is not allowed/But I've got the nerve/and I hope you're grading on the curve." He pictures himself as an overseas movie star (as opposed to the standard Hollywood leading man) in the "foreign films you do adore/Well, I could be a matinee idol/with the yellow subtitles/But when the subject turns to a date/it does not translate." "Crown Victoria" is a tongue-in-cheek, laid-back ska tribute to trombonist Chris Malone's late model American car that, despite its regal connotation, is not a mode of luxurious transport for the band ("The Crown Victoria/You are my joy and pride/The longer the trip, the rougher the ride/Is that smoke beneath the hood?/You know that can't be good...). In life, sometimes function has to trump style, no? "Permanent Error" is a soulful, reggae-ish lament about e-mailing under the influence, and realizing that there is nothing in the world you can do to patch things up. Just move on.

"Shamokin" recounts how one night on tour the band played a sold-out show in front of thousands on a bill with The English Beat; the next, they were performing for a handful of punk rock kids in this poverty-stricken, no future ghost town of a coal town near Scranton, PA (even though the mines have been closed for years, a funeral pyre-like fire still rages in one of them a mile underground). "Shamokin" is the post-WWII 1950s American dream/teenage rockstar fantasy gone bust. The American manufacturing industries that once employed millions and allowed them to provide a decent and secure middle-class way of life for their families abandonded them in favor of cheap, benefits-free Third-world labor--devastating countless communities in the US its wake (how un-patriotic can you get?). Likewise, the music business, indie or major, essentially has been rendered obsolete by the terrible advent of file sharing--how can you earn a living as a full-time musician if your fans expect to download your music for free and can't tear themselves away from their computer, smartphone, or TV screens to pay a couple of bucks see you play a gig? "Shamokin" is the heart, soul, and conscience of Bigger Thomas wrapped up in one tune: what do you do when you can't do what you love to live?

For Bigger Thomas, the only possible response is to keep on making music, even if they have to "kiss their dreams goodbye": "The good old days we try to chase/they disappear without a trace/I hear the sound that we all make/its joyful noise cures my heartache."

For the forgotten kids and families across the USA stuck in dead-end towns and cities like Shamokin, the answer is far less clear.

The Duff Guide to Ska Grade: A

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Below is a video I shot of Bigger Thomas performing "I Can't Remember My Name"; the others were produced by the band.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

RiceRokit's Pidgin English Dropping in December!

News from Kendo and the RiceRokit camp is that their second album will finally drop around Xmas on Megalith Records (first the holiday-themed free track and Jacuzzi from King Hammond and now this!?).

While RiceRokit's phenomenally good debut album Hang Loose (read The Duff Guide to Ska review here) was full of modern ska/rock/reggae songs referencing "The Shining" (you've got to check out the incredible "Dull Boy" on their MySpace page!), werewolves, "Saturday Night Fever," Ray Bradbury's "Something Wicked This Way Comes," and the horror of death and decay, Pidgin English will be expanding their sound to include what they consider "electro-pop" (listen to the new "Strawberries & Cream" or their take on Bauhaus' "Bela Lugosi's Dead"), which seems appropriate, as this album will include several 80s rock and New Wave favorites of Kendo's.

If you're a ska fan whose musical tastes are omnivorous, you'll definitely want to pick up these records! Stay tuned for more details soon...

Saturday, November 13, 2010

New Free Track From King Hammond: "Rudie's in Jail for Christmas"!

Despite what the calendar may read, the Xmas (or whatever you celebrate/observe) season is here! Gather around, kids! The good King Hammond has bestowed a magnificent gift upon us in the form of "Rudie's in Jail for Christmas"--a new free track that can be downloaded from King Hammond's website.

Here's a video from KH featuring the cut, plus it also serves as a retrospective of all that King Hammond has been up to over the past year...(hint: a lot!):

While you are visiting KH's site, you also might want to pre-order his new Jacuzzi album, which should be dropping any day now.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Long Island Ska/Reggae/Dub Gig Alert: The Hard Times, The Frighteners, and The Small Axes This Saturday Night!

The Hard Times are playing a gig this Saturday night (11/13/10) at Porkey's Sports Bar in Floral Park, NY (details on how to find your way there are listed below). Also on hand will be The Small Axes (reggae and ukuleles!) and The Frighteners (roots reggae and dub).

This will be the last time bass player Juan Cardenas performs with The Hard Times, as he's moving to L.A. in December. Also, the band will be announcing details of our their official EP, Two Bucks for Bob, available very soon on Whatevski Records (check out some of the new tracks on their MySpace page).

The show starts at 8:30 pm, with The Small Axes up first, followed by The Hard Times, and then The Frighteners.

Porkey's Sports Bar
144 Tulip Avenue
Floral Park, NY
(About 30 minutes from Manhattan by car, or 40 minutes by train)

By Car:
Take Grand Central or the LIE to Cross-Island Parkway South.
Take Cross-Island to exit 27E Jamaica Avenue/Jericho Turnpike.
Go about four or five traffic lights to Tulip Ave (just after the KFC on the right--King Hammond would be happy!).
Right on Tulip (fork to the left) then take Tulip down and "Main Street" strip is just after you go under the train tracks.
Porkey's will be halfway down on your left.

Take the Hempstead line to Floral Park station. Tulip Avenue runs underneath the station. Come down steps and walk a block or two south on Tulip (toward the retail- Main Street strip.

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Here are The Hard Times performing original tunes "Forward March," "Boss a Go Go," and "Samba Skank":

This Are The Small Axes...

Here are The Frighteners covering "Feel Like Jumping":

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Duff Review: Prince Fatty: "Insane in the Brain" b/w "Insane Dub Mix" and "Christopher Columbus" b/w "Dry Your Tears"

Mr. Bongo Recordings

For anyone who hasn't been introduced to Prince Fatty yet, it's a reggae collective that was originally assembled by producer Mike Pelanconi (who, amongst other things, helped engineer Lily Allen's brilliant ska-reggae-pop confection Alright Still--check the credits and you'll find a certain Victor Axelrod on keys!) for recording a single, "Nina's Dance," to promote Stussy's 25th anniversary. Their one-off was a minor hit in the UK, so they decided to make a go of it as a group. Prince Fatty's debut, Survival of the Fattest (Rasa Music, 2008), was one of those left-field surprises that the a-hole, snobby music-nazi in me almost dismissed outright as some sort of pop perversion of reggae (the sticker on the album boasted that "Milk and Honey" had been featured on an episode of the sudsy, doctor make-out fest "Grey's Anatomy"--a definite turn-off).

Survival of the Fattest is full of sprightly and stunningly good original roots reggae that sounds like it's straight outta mid-Seventies JA. Of course, it helps to have incredible Jamaican greats like Winston Francis and Little Roy sharing duties on the mic (plus the fantastic Holly Cook, daughter of Sex Pistols drummer Paul Cook and member of the reformed Slits). The album is a mix of playful instrumentals like "The Fat Panther" and the Rico-inspired "Switch Blade"; soulfully uplifting, make-you-smile cuts such as "Curious" and "Don't Give Up"; the drop-dead, heart-thumping-in-your-throat sexy "Milk and Honey" with Hollie Cook on vocals; and the stoned and on the prowl "Gin and Juice" with Horseman toasting under the influence. If you don't already have this record in your collection, you really should.

Prince Fatty is now back with a pair of vinyl singles to help promote the new Supersize album (which also features the legendary Dennis Alcapone): "Insane in the Brain" (featuring Horseman) b/w "Insane in the Brain Dub Mix," and "Christopher Columbus" (featuring Little Roy) b/w "Dry Your Tears" (featuring Winston Francis).

"Insane in the Brain" is a maddeningly good cover that betters Cypress Hill's 1993 hip hop original (which was featured in the excellent Warren Beatty liberal political comedy "Bullworth"). Horseman's toasting is fast and furious and top-notch (note the whinnying at the start of the track!). You'll have a hard time knocking this one out of your noggin. The dub is a somewhat reworked version of the A side instrumental track--nice to have, but not essential.

On the bitter and defiant "Christopher Columbus," Little Roy plaintively sings, "Why did he go" to the New World and deliver such misery (enslaving the native peoples he encountered and opening the door for the horrific, genocidal slave trade between Africa and the Americas) and wreak such havoc (plundering the indigenous people of their riches and their land's natural resources): "Him go away and him come again/bring Babylon on ya/Him go away and him come again/but Natty wouldn't give up!" Little Roy originally wrote and recorded this superb track in the 70s--and it can be found on a 1998 collection of his singles compiled by Pressure Sounds on Tafari Earth Uprising, which is definitely worth tracking down. (The companion piece to Little Roy's "Christopher Columbus" might be The Toasters' "History Book," a ska tune written from the point of view of the Old World invaders: "South Devon pirates, buccaneers on the Panama coast/With a cargo of potatoes and Indian princes, but what they want the most/Is to fill that hold with Spanish gold and make proud their boast/That England will smile on their piracy while they drink Elizabeth's toast...Arab traders ply their weapons on the Africa shore/And hapless victims bound in chains on the galleon floor/That their blood may be spilled in the land of Brazil/And they'll see their hopes forlorn/History will be cruel as it uses its tools/To shame the New World more.")

The gorgeous rocksteady track "Dry Your Tears" is an ace cover of "Dry Up Your Tears," originally sung by Bruce Ruffin (of The Techniques). Winston Francis' captivating voice will seal the deal if you desire to seduce someone who's on the rebound ("I know he's done you wrong/It's a good thing I came along/To dry up your tears")--it's powerful stuff.

The Duff Guide to Ska Grade for "Insane in the Brain" b/w "Insane in the Brain Dub Mix": B+

The Duff Guide to Ska Grade for "Christopher Columbus" b/w "Dry Your Tears": A

[These singles can be tracked down at Ernie B's Reggae.]

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(Please note that there is one shot in the fan video for "Insane in the Brain" that is NSFW.)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Jamaica Farewell

There is a fascinating article in the Jamaica Observer ("J'can Lock-Out - Foreigners Dominating Jamaican Music Form") lamenting how dub and ska music have been abandoned in the land of their birth, while these genres have taken root and are flourishing (to some degree) in Europe and the U.S. (and I would add Japan and Latin America). The writer refers to the dominance of non-Jamaican acts on the iTunes reggae charts as proof of this development.

Since we're concerned with all things ska at The Duff Guide to Ska, here's a pertinent passage from the article:
Dub music is one form which Jamaica has all but forgotten. Stakeholders have also lamented on the absence of Jamaican ska bands to profit and influence modern ska. There are currently hundreds of ska bands internationally but the musical form is dormant in the land of its birth. Up to Saturday ska music was charting in one territory on iTunes reggae charts via a compilation album entitled Ska Mania. Ska, however, is more popular in the rock than reggae categories.
They do note, however, that Jamaica's Jolly Boys have staged an improbable comeback for mento:
Surprisingly, mento a local genre which waned in popularity in the '50s received some international acclaim last month when The Jolly Boys, a mento band (produced and managed by Geejam based in Portland Jamaica), beat all living reggae and dancehall artistes to top the international reggae charts. They are supporting the album with a prolific tour across Asia, Europe and the US.
The Jamaican government is aware of the decline in this aspect of their cultural heritage (and what is arguably Jamaica's greatest export) and is taking action to bolster this musical form:
In February, minister of culture, Olivia Babsy Grange, asserted that Jamaica was losing a grip on Reggae. She called for creative initiatives which emphasise training for the development of a stronger infrastructure to support the music and to recognise the new paradigms that have emerged with the convergence of popular culture and digital technology.
Back in the 90s, I remember either reading or talking with someone about how in Jamaica ska was considered an old-fashioned musical form--something kids' grandparents had listened/danced to when they themselves were teens (and apart from the original 60s ska artists playing out for 2 Tone and 3rd wave ska audiences, to my knowledge, no new Jamaican ska acts had formed since the genre evolved into rocksteady and reggae). So, certainly ska's uncool factor in the minds of Jamaica's youth will be something that any new practitioners there will have to overcome when attempting to revive the genre.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Ska Flames Added to the 2011 London International Ska Festival Line-up!

London Calling: Sean Flowerdew has just announced that The Ska Flames are the latest addition to the 2011 London International Ska Festival line-up. This premier Japanese traditional ska outfit is probably best known in Europe and the U.S. for their fantastic debut Ska Fever album, which Gaz Mayall produced and released on his label in 1989...

Saturday, November 6, 2010

NYC Ska Gig Alert: Big D & The Kids Table, King Django Septet, The Drastics, Across the Aisle TONIGHT!

Saturday, November 6, 2010
Brooklyn, NY
The Knitting Factory
361 Metropolitan Avenue Brooklyn, NY 11211
Tel: (347) 529-6696

11:00pm - Big D & The Kids Table (from Boston)
10:00pm - King Django Septet (NYC via NJ)
9:00pm - The Drastics (from Chicago)
8:00pm - Across the Aisle (NYC)

$12 in Advance, $14 day of show. ALL AGES.

MOJO Does UB40's Signing Off and New Lee "Scratch" Perry Book

It's once again time for The Duff Guide to Ska's wrap-up of ska and reggae coverage in the latest issue of MOJO Magazine. The December 2010 issue contains a very positive four-star review of Jeremy Collingwood's book "Lee 'Scratch' Perry: Kiss Me Neck," which reviewer/reggae expert Dave Katz dubs "an indispensable guide to the iconoclastic producer's recorded output." There are few artists whose catalogue is as extensive and bewildering as Perry's, so this is a welcome development. (It should be noted that Collingwood provided the excellent liner notes for the recent Sound System Scratch dubplate comp from Pressure Sounds.)

Also, the 30th anniversary collector's edition of UB40's seminal debut, Signing Off, receives four stars from MOJO. While the band is now more famous for its reggae covers, back in 1980 UB40 was revolutionary (in every sense of that word). MOJO reviewer Ian Harrison sets the scene: "they wore Fred Perrys and played strident, punky-attitude reggae slamming the Tories; truly, they were the 2 Tone band that never was. Signing Off--a reference to the old dole claim form that provided their name and debut's sleeve--has retained much of its fire, with songs railing at capitalist inhumanity, racism and the legacy of colonialism..." (Catch some videos I shot of UB40 performing several cuts from Signing Off at their recent NYC gig here.)

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While we're on the topic of UB40's Signing Off, check out the excellent review of the album by Real Gone.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Duff Review: Mr. Symarip - The Skinheads Dem a Come

Jump Up Records (US) 2008
Liquidator Music (Spain) 2006
CD/Double LP

Editor's note: Since Roy Ellis recently played several high profile gigs in the U.S., we thought it might be good to give a review to his most recent release (even if it is a few years old)...

While Mr. Symarip (AKA Roy Ellis) will forever be associated with his stellar, ultra-popular skinhead reggae group Symarip, it comes as a bit of shock to discover that The Skinheads Dem a Come is a flat-out Skatalites-style vintage ska album--there's not a lick of early/"dirty" reggae to be found here. (Indeed, one album that I'm immediately reminded of in terms of its sound and quality is Lord Tanamo's incredible collaboration with Dr. Ring Ding and the Senior Allstars, Best Place in the World.) Skinhead reggae fans pining for the sounds of '69 might be disappointed by this news, but they should definitely not despair. Mr. Symarip is in top form on The Skinheads Dem a Come, performing fourteen terrific original ska tunes, all backed by spot-on session men.

Dubbed the "Pied Piper of skinheads" by a certain well-known ska insider who has witnessed the extraordinary loyalty exhibited by Roy Ellis' fans (on the red album cover, the skins are not trying to beat him, but chasing him down to sign their copies of Skinhead Moonstomp--they're showing him the love!), The Skinheads Dem a Come largely celebrates and/or name checks reggae skinhead style and culture. For proof, check out songs like "Wang Yu," which mines the skinhead reggae obsession with martial arts (championed vigorously by Lee "Scratch" Perry back in the day) by envisioning Buddhist skinheads in China ("Some people says you find skinheads in the east of Nepal/But I man saw skinheads in the Shaolin Temple/Wang Yu, your boss is asking you/Can you do the kung-fu, Wang Yu?"); the title track ("With the Dr. Marten boots a-stomp the floor a bum bum/The found out I'm the boss, they say forever I'll last/So them rush the stage, and they started to dance/Ska music starts to play, them jump up and prance"); and the sartorially-focused follow-up to "Skinhead Moonstomp," "The Skinheads Them Crash the Moon" ("I've my shirts, my Ben Sherman shirts/When we storm into the rocket/Put on them shirt we gonna stomp all over the moon").

The Skinheads Dem a Come also features a number of sweet love songs for that special someone, including the seductive rocksteady of "Come on and Dance with Me," "My Sugar Dumpline," and the sultry "My Caravan Queen." The broken-hearted can commiserate with "I'm Gonna Knock, I'm Gonna Knock" ("Do you remember, night in September/The stars was shining for me and you/And now you tell me to go away/"I think I never see another day"), the swinging, jaunty "I Don't Want You, I Don't Need You Anymore," and Ellis' versioning of the traditional African American spiritual "Amen Amen," which becomes "Say When, Say When" ("Say when we have this fuss and fight/Say when I'm never home at night/Say when I didn't hold you tight...I give you everything you need in life/And now you want to tell me I should pay the price...").

One of the more unusual tracks is the wonderfully confessional "I was Busted" that continues the Prince Buster "Judge Dread"-type tales of running afoul of the law: "I was busted in the bar last night/I was busted because I started a fight...a hungry man is an angry man/And a flirty woman give jealous man/That's why I was busted, busted last night"). The song opens with some great spoken dialogue between the singer and a bobby ("But wea di babylon a hold me up? I didn't do nothing man! Just get your black ass up against the wall..."). There is also an urgent, driving plea for peace in "I'm Talking About Love," and what is perhaps the greatest tune on the record: the joyfully optimistic "Take It As It Comes" ("You don't need to worry about money/as long as that life is happy and funny"). The album concludes with the very Potato 5-ish "Eastern Star" instrumental.

The ska world has been particularly fortunate to have had so many first generation Jamaican artists composing superb new music and performing well into their later years--someone's got to show the kids how it's done properly, right? Mr. Symarip continues to school us all with his musical mastery.

The Duff Guide to Ska Grade: A

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Check out videos for "I Was Busted,""Eastern Star," and "Wang Yu" below:

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Free Four-track Download from Madness!

To help promote their upcoming "Do Not Adjust Your Nut" tour of the UK, Madness are offering a FREE download of four songs recorded during last year's winter tour (the cuts are "NW5," "It Must Be Love," "House Of Fun," and "Night Boat To Cairo"). Click here to make it all happen!

Is it Christmas already and I forgot to buy my friends and family their gifts?

Review of "Ska with Laurel" Exhibition in Leicester

There's a short but very positive review of the "Ska with Laurel" exhibition at the New Walk Museum in Leicester (UK) from the Socialist Worker Online. Not surprisingly, the reviewer was particularly struck by Laurel's lyrical take on social and economic injustice (most likely in songs like "Landlords & Tenants," "Everybody Suffering," "Freedom," "Suffering Still," "People of the World Unite," "Stop the War in Vietnam"--but probably not "Pussy Price Gone Up").

It's also interesting to note that there is a lot of public programming related to this exhibition sponsored by the museum, including interactive art projects, musical performances (by Kingsize, El Pussycat, and Red Stripe), and more.

Monday, November 1, 2010

New Music from Rico, Dick Cuthell, and Jerry Dammers?

According to this extraordinary thread on the Specials Fan Site bulletin board, before a performance by Rico Rodriguez and his frequent musical partner Dick Cuthell at Gaz's Rockin' Blues last Friday (10/19/10), Jerry Dammers (who was in the crowd--see the photo on the board) had asked Gaz to play a new track that was a collaboration between JD, Rico, and Dick Cuthell (an "honorary" member of The Specials--check the credits on just about any Specials release and you'll find that he either played brass on it and/or helped produce it; he also worked with the Potato 5 and The Deltones amongst many others)! Apparently, the new tune was well-received by the crowd and was, according to the poster, "the most radio friendly thing Jerry's been involved with for a couple of decades."

Can't wait to hear it! And can I just mention how jealous I am of the ska fans in and about London who can attend gigs like this at Gaz's?

Duff Gig Review: The Toasters Live at B.B. King's (10/29/10)

I've been doing a lot of freelance work from my light-deprived apartment lately (and feeling like how Jerry Dammers depicted a depressed and withdrawn Terry Hall in "Housebound"--a record I've been playing a lot lately), so it was good to have the excuse to go be among other people at The Toasters' terrific gig at B.B. King's in Manhattan.

Since this was an unusually early show (for NYC at least), I missed the first two acts (Royal City Riot and Hub City Stompers), as both of my kids had friends over after school. I did make it in time to see The Pietasters (who played a surprising number of songs from their somewhat fractious Moon Records days, like "Biblical Sense" and "Girl Take it Easy" off Oolooloo). However, as their set went on, the sound levels were pushed to ridiculously high levels, so much to the point that it was hard to distinguish any melodies or what was being sung. (I guess the band wanted it that way, as everything was set to more discernible levels by the time The Toasters hit the stage). Despite all that, the kids on the dance floor seemed more than happy with The Pietasters' set.

Having seen several different iterations of The Toasters hit the US shores over the past several years, I can safely say that this batch of musicians that Buck had backing him for this tour were among the strongest I've witnessed--they were really smokin'! (Thad Merritt from Westbound Train was on bass; Logan Labarbera was on t-bone; Anant Pradhan from Void Union blew sax; Jesse Hayes, also from Void Union, was on drums--and ex-Toaster Dave Barry played keys and Westbound Train singer Obi Fernandez accompanied Buck on "Pirate Radio" and "Matt Davis.")

The set opened with a killer new tune, "House of Soul" (which, according to Buck, will be released as a 7" single at some point down the line; sorry that I didn't capture it on video for you), and then The Toasters ran through a long string of super-charged versions of their hit songs, touching on most of the albums from their deep catalogue. I may have gone a bit overboard with videotaping most of their set, but The Toasters were so damn good this night that I wanted to document it for posterity...