Articles for the Month of December 2014

I Have a Confession to Make…

Not simply content with singing a few 80s cover tunes like many ska bands out there, Rude Boy George only does songs from this era. Despite only being around since 2013, RBG is rich with experience as its members come from several New York area ska acts to include: Bigger Thomas, Across the Aisle, and the Royal Swindle. Rude Boy George also features the creator of the quintessential ska blog, Duff Guide to Ska, Steve Shafer. Let’s have a listen to their debut full length, “Confessions”…

1. “The Metro”(Berlin)- “The Metro” seems to meld not only the glorious synth pop sound of the original, but percussion and horns of a traditional ska number. While the instrumentation is great, it is Megg’s hypnotic vocals that carry this tune. Grade: A

2. “Always Something There to Remind Me” (Naked Eyes)-Comparisons are always made between cover tunes and the originals. It is often difficult to not compare these songs to other bands that have covered them as well. “Always Something There to Remind Me” was also covered by the now defunct ska-synth group The Hippos. While I enjoy both versions of the song very much, it is Rude Boy George that captures more of a catchy, whimsical sound with its ever changing melodies. Grade: A-

3. “Don’t Change” (INXS)- Despite hearing “Need You Tonight” and “New Sensations” probably hundreds of times in my life, I was not familiar with “Don’t Change.” To be honest after previewing it, INXS’s version was just ok for me. However, I really like how RBG turns an otherwise gritty-sounding song, slows things down a bit, and combines the vocal stylings of Megg and Roger. What a gem! Grade: A

4. “(Keep Feeling) Fascination” (The Human League) – This song embodies the wackiness that was the 1980’s. Megg and Roger trade off well vocally to match the original. I also dig the synth and organs. Grade: B+

5. “Talking in Your Sleep” (The Romantics) – Great reggae feel with echo-vocals. There is also top notch harmonization. Check out the guitar and organ solos. Love this tune! Grade: A

6. “Eyes Without a Face” (Billy Idol) – I never was a huge fan of Billy Idol, but as it turns out, I really like this song. Smooth vocals and a sax solo give this tune a little extra oomph. Grade: A

7. “Driving in My Car” (Madness)-A quirky song that has a definite Madness feel to it (I could not find the original to compare this version to). Sorry guys, I’m not feeling this one as much as the others. Grade: C

8. “Tempted” (Squeeze) – RBG adds some much needed pizzazz to this otherwise overplayed song (although the original is a great tune). I really enjoyed the trading off of vocals near the middle of the song. Grade B+

9. “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” (Eurythmics) – Unfortunately it is difficult to remember the original after this song was butchered by Marilyn Manson. This album’s version creates the darker tones with the organ and totally nails that synth solo. The great vocal harmonies at the end make this a great album from start to finish. Grade: A-

Although I typically enjoy songs done by the original artists more than the cover version, I always enjoy a good ska cover song. Cover songs are one thing, but dedicating your entire existence to playing nothing but someone else’s songs? This is my gut reaction when I hear about any cover band, in any musical genre. However, I began to eagerly await this release, and I wanted to be open-minded. When I heard the first track, to be honest, I still wasn’t sure if I liked it. In a way, it felt overproduced, more so than any ska album I have ever heard. It wasn’t until my second listen-through that I really appreciated what Rude Boy George has to offer here. There is a delicate balance between giving each song a ska feel (which a lot of bands do),yet maintaining the essence of the new wave sound as well (which a lot of bands do not). This was created by not only the synthesizers, but studio production as well. The band is certainly not lacking in experience and the vocal double-threat of Megg and Roger is second to none. My only critique is that I wish the band hand either a trumpet and or trombone, to make the horn parts stand out more. I will toss my preconceived notions aside. If ska music has room for hardcore (Mighty Mighty Bosstones), a boyband (Suburban Legends) and even Satanism (Mephiskapheles), than why not a cover band? Rude Boy George has the energy and musical chops to drive a new group of listeners to the often sputtering world of ska. So do not walk, do not run, but rather, skank your way down memory lane! Overall Grade: A-

Ska from across the pond!

It was less than a year ago that I discovered the Dualers. This is a shame as they have released several albums since their inception in 1999. The Dualers are from England and their latest offering is “Back to Paradise.” Let’s have a listen…

1. “Rocking Back to Kingston”- Let’s start things off with a horn heavy instrumental. Although the horns take center stage in this number, the piano and other percussion sounds complete the overall sound. Great Tune! Grade: A

2. “Man Next Door”- The percussion in “Man Next Door” picks up where the last song left off, and then switches to a more traditional ska sound. I really like the vocal harmonies in this song, and is a smooth listening experience overall. Grade: B+

3. “I’ll Take You Over Anybody Else”-I’m not always a fan of slower songs but this song is a definite winner. The vocals harmonize well together and piano adds that extra something. Grade: A

4. “Hurricane”- Danceable beat: check. Prominent horns: check. This song has everything a ska song should have. Grade: A

5. “Botheration”- Botheration is another soulful number with a sweet trumpet solo at the 1:50 mark. This song also features the Dominos, whose backing vocals are subtle , but a nice touch indeed: Grade: A

6. “Puppet on a String”- Another slow song, with more of a groovy feel than that of traditional ska. So far this isn’t my favorite song, but still a great song none the less. Grade: B+

7. “Blazing Fire”- With its darker horns and slightly faster pace, “Blazing Fire” packs more of a punch than previous songs on the disc. So far this is the front-runner for the best song on the disc, but I still have 8 more tracks to go… Grade: A

8. “Carolina”-With more of a whimsical feel, “Carolina” is still a great dancing number. While this song may not be a standout, it fits in well with the other songs on the disc. Grade: A-

9. “Big Shot”-With horns blaring, this song makes me feel as if I am on a Carnival cruise. Nice backing vocals on this one, however the main lyrics are redundant. Grade: B+

10. “Stop Waiting for Your Curtain to Fall”- This has as classic reggae feel. Although this has a slower tempo and the horns are not as “in your face” as other tracks, this is a great song. Grade: A

11. “Too Bad”- Much like “Blazing Fire” this is a great overall dancing song and a close tie for best song. Grade: A

12. “You Should Know Me By Now”-This one sounds a lot like many of the other songs on this disc. Again, not a real standout, but still a solid tune. Grade B+

13. “Wonderful Tonight”- “Wonderful Tonight” is a slower, smooth jam with a “Motown with horns” feel to it. Grade B+

14. “Amelia”-Wait, it’s time to start grooving again is this horn heavy number with a great solo at the 2:00 minute mark. Grade: A-

15. “Red Light”- I really like the use of the organ in this song. There are also some excellent vocal harmonization is this one as well. Nice way to round out the album. Grade: A-

“Back to Paradise,” is an album from a band that has truly mastered its craft. There are a lot of great things going on here; smooth vocals, prominent horn melodies and solos, as well as catchy organs and percussion. Also at just over one hour of music, this album will keep you skanking for quite some time. While there were not any songs that I disliked, (these are all solid tunes), they all kind of sounded the same after a while. That is my only criticism for this otherwise great collection of tunes. This is a must have for any ska traditionalist. Overall Grade: A-

Release The Apes!

Aside from their Facebook page, I know relatively little about The Apes FLA. What I do know, is that they play a blend of traditional ska and reggae and are from Tampa, Florida. They have been signed to Citrus Records and have dropped their debut album this past September. So without further ado, I bring you “Release The Apes”…

1. “Ape Theme”-A drum-heavy intro gets your heart poundin’ from the get go. I dig the smooth guitar as well as the backing horns. The monkey noises are a definite plus. In my opinion, every band needs its own theme song. Grade: B+

2. “Ape Bomb”-This song kicks things up to second gear. With prominent brass and a more subtle saxophone in the background, this song is dripping with soul. Watch out for the sweet sax solo at 3:30. The only thing I didn’t like about “Ape Bomb” is that the lyrics are redundant which makes the song feel way too long. Grade: A-

3. “Mountains”-This is a cool, groovy number. Sweet harmonies and a guitar solo, make this an enjoyable, laid-back listening experience. Grade B+

4. “Checkered Past”- As the name suggests, “Checkered Past” is a straight up skankin’ song. A fine use of saxophone which is contrasted with the more prominent brass instrumentation. I dig this one a lot! Grade: A

5. “Boogie With the Taliban”- The lyrics are kind of lame and redundant much like the first song. On the other hands, I like the instrumentation of the song. All in all this is a fairly decent song, just not my favorite. Grade: B-

6. “Don’t Do Me Like That”-This is a mix of swanky horns with a traditional Jamaican vibe. This song may not make you want to get up and dance, but certainly it will make you excitedly tap your toe with a brew in hand. Grade: B

7. “Apes Take Miami”- Wait, put that beer down, and start dancing to this instrumental number with a great horn solo at the 1:28 mark. This song has traditional ska written all over it and is a definite winner. Grade: A

8. “Great Communicator Reggae”- This song has a dark, dirty, “I recorded this in a woodshed” sort of feel. Also at 1:35, it is the shortest track on the disc. To me this is a filler song that I just did not enjoy. Sorry guys. Grade: D

9. “Duppies Following Me”-This one starts out with a 90’s ska kind of feel and then slows the tempo a bit. The female backing vocals certainly add a lot to this number, and are a nice contrast to the raspiness of the lead singer. Grade A-

10. “End of the Story”- Normally I am not a huge fan of using effects (autotune and the like) on vocals, but for “End of the Story” it just works. This is a big-brassy song with a slower tempo. So far this is the best song on the disc. Grade: A

11. “With Love from Django”- This is a stripped down song featuring only vocals, guitar and a drum beat. The Apes did an excellent job at creating a song that feels as if it could have been on the actual Django Unchained Soundtrack (which I am a huge fan of by the way). Nice job! Grade: B+

12. “Apes Take No Prisoners”- I was half expecting another instrumental, but alas, another groovy number which features not only the lead singer, but a female vocalist as well. She is excellent and makes me want to listen to this one over and over. Grade: A

13. “Apes Take Manhattan”- Here is the instrumental that I was looking for with a “Guns of Navarone” kind of feel. Another scorcher with awesome trumpet and sax solos. Grade A:

14. “Ape Noise”- A collection of Ape songs from movies (Planet of the Apes?). Certainly not necessary, as this is not a song, but it adds to the overall motif of the album. Grade: B

Clinging to the theme of their namesake, “Release the Apes” is an album you experience rather than listen to. While there are certainly a few snags along the way (The Greater Communicator Reggae), this a great mix of both great instrumentals and vocal songs as well. The horns are prominent and in your face during most of the songs. While I did not resonate with the lead vocalist at times (personal preference), I can draw comparisons to similar vocalists in the ska business (The Aggrolites and Soul Pains). My only other gripe with “Release The Apes” is the awesomely smooth female vocals found on “Apes Take No Prisoners” came as bit of a surprise, as she is not featured prominently in any other songs. She can be heard backing several other songs on the disc, but she certainly shines as a co-lead vocalist. Don’t keep this musical weapon bottled up! I would like to hear more of her on future albums. In short, this is a great debut from a band that shows much potential. I look forward to listening to this one over and over again. So should you! Overall Grade: B+/A-

So what did you think? Share it my friend!

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