Articles for the Month of May 2015

Free Ska! Free Ska! Free Ska!

It’s time that you become familiar with Rarebreed Records.  This record company was formed by Obi Fernandez of Westbound Train and Vinnie Fiorello of Less Than Jake fame.  Anyways, they have released a 15 track compilation and it can be downloaded for free!  Let’s push play…

  1.  “It Happens to Me (Have You Ever)” [Obi Fernandez] – Call it reggae or traditional ska; I call it a great song.  Obi brings the smooth vocals in this number, with the equally smooth backing vocals.  The horns don’t show up until hallway through, but quite honestly the remainder of the song works without them.  Great song!  Grade: A-

 

  1. “A Shakey Truce” [The Pomps] – The Pomps bring on the full ska sound with this up-tempo, 2 Tone-esque ditty.  The horn section is strong, and butt their presence was missed during the majority of the song.  None the less, this is still a solid track.  Grade: B+

 

  1. “I Believe” [Jukebox 101] – “I believe” has more of a reggae sound, mixed with a little gospel and R&B.  The vocals a great and has almost an 80’s/early 90’s vibe to it.  Maybe that’s why I like it so much.  Grade: B+

 

  1. “Out of Siight” [Passafire] – With the help of synthesizers, Passafire has a Bob Marley meets the Hippos sound in “Out of Siight.”  What an interesting amalgamation of different styles.  I dig it.  Grade: B+

 

  1. “I Want Justice” [Western Standard Time featuring Vic Ruggiero] – Ska and big band meet in “I Want Justice,” with just the right amount of Blues guitar.  Good stuff.  Grade: A-

 

  1. “Stranded” [Westbound Train]-Longtime band Westbound train does what they do best in this classic rocksteady number that will make you want to “get up.”  Two thumbs up!  Grade: A

 

  1. “Friends & Business” [The Skints] – If you are not familiar with the Skints, you should be.  They mix reggae and hip hop to create a truly unique sound.  While their sound may not appeal to the ska ore reggae purist, you cannot deny the shear talent they possess.  “Friends & Business is more of a straight up reggae song, leaving the hip hop element to other tunes.  I love this song.  Grade: A

 

  1. “House of Soul” [The Toasters] – You can’t mention ska without also mentioning the Toasters.  Formed in the early 80’s this band has seen it all.  I really enjoy the female backing vocals that complement the singing of the legendary Bucket.  Grade: B

 

  1. “Rescue” [The Movement] – A smooth island jam is found in rescue.  This will be your summer drinking song, I promise.  Grade: A-

 

  1. “Like A Virgin [The Slackers] – Such a classic song, done by a classic ska band.  That being said, I thought I would have enjoyed this more than I did.  Grade: B

 

  1. “Mr. Cop” [Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad] – Get your groove on while listening to “Mr. Cop” and embrace this stoner anthem.  Grade: B

 

  1. “The KKK Took My Baby Away” [The Rarebreed Allstars] – While the lyrics are almost laughable, the Rarebreed Allstars are serious about putting out a great tune.  There are no horns; however the overall sound is complete.  I dig it!  Grade: A-

 

  1. “To Be Hungry” [Penny Reel] – I wished I would have discovered Penny Reel earlier.  If there was ever such a thing as pop-reggae, this would be it.  Grade: A-

 

  1. “Jamaica Bay” [The Brooklyn Attractors] – I knew there had to be an instrumental in here somewhere.  This horn-heavy instrumental is as good as any in the genre.  Grade: A-

 

  1. “I Promised” [King Django]-Ska legend King Django rounds things out with this peppy little number with tight horns and classic ska beat.  Grade: B+

 

Sometimes the word “free” is synonymous with “low quality.”  I might also add that even though I am a huge fan of compilations, there are always a few songs that I usually don’t enjoy.  Neither is the case in this stellar sampler by Rarebreed recordings.  First of all, at 15 tracks, there is a ton of music that will keep you entertained for hours on end.  Each song is a joy to listen to, as Obi and Vinnie have found the “best of the best” to include on this album.  The standout for me is the quality of the vocals-every singer on this album has a smooth quality to their voice which is definitely easy on the ears.  This is in part due to Rarebreed’s focus on only reggae and trad ska outfits.  More punk laden ska bands aren’t necessarily known for having the best voices.  Don’t get me wrong, I cut my teeth on bands like Less Than Jake, Reel Big Fish and The Mighty Mighty Bosstones (which I am still a fan of all of these groups), but I think that Rarebreed has found their niche by focusing on a more traditional sound.  However, despite keeping a narrow focus, there is quite a bit of variety on this album.  So, do not hesitate; download this thing already.  Lookout for Rarebreed to be the next big thing.  I know I can’t wait to see what they have in store for us next!

 

Overall grade: A-

Check then out here:

https://www.facebook.com/rarebreedrecordingcompany/timeline

http://www.rarebreedrecordingco.com/

 

Here Come the Bluebeaters!

Have you heard of the Bluebeaters? Even though they have been around since 1994 (that’s right, 20 years), I must admit this is my first exposure to their music. They have just released a new LP entitled ‘Everybody Knows.’ I think it’s time we had a listen…

1. “Somebody Has Stolen My Girl”- ‘Everybody Knows’ opens up with your classic rocksteady tune. Sweet saxophone solos and sprinkling of piano make this opening track an instant winner! Grade: A

2. “Hungry Heart”- Unless you have been living under a rock, you have heard this song. Originally done by Bruce Springsteen and covered by countless other acts, it is difficult to perform a rendition of this song that can be taken seriously. The Bluebeaters give this song the ska-meets- piano- bar treatment. I dig this rendition! Grade: A

3. “True Confession”- this is an obscure song performed also by the Silvertones. It is pretty close to the original in the sense that it is a traditional ska song. This aside, this version breathes some much needed life into the original. Catch the organ solo halfway through. Grade: A

4. “Roll With It”- Until I looked it up, I did not know that this is an Oasis song. Despite never being a huge Oasis fan, this song is great on all levels, from the backing horns to the ever present organ and smooth vocals. Grade: A-

5. “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere”- this song blasts the pure Jamaican sound, complete with falsetto vocals. Neil Young & Crazy Horse would be proud of this slow-skanking rendition. Grade: A

6. “The Model”- Originally performed by the electro punk? Group Big Black, this version is a big improvement. Keeping some the darker tones of the original, this ditty was in definite need of a ska makeover. Also the trumpet gets its time to shine in this one. Grade: A

7. “Catch That Teardrop”- Another obscure song, done first by the Five Royales, is covered nicely by the Bluebeaters. There are not a lot of changes musically over the original, but it is given a well-deserved modern feel. Excellent horns show up once again. Grade: A

8. “Girlfriend in a Coma”- Sure I’ve heard of the Smiths, but I never had heard any of their music. After previewing “Girlfriend in a Coma, it fell a little bit flat with me. So I figured any cover had to be an improvement. While the original is somewhat monotone, the Blue Beaters inject just the right amount of Jamaican pep into the song. So far this is my least favorite track on the disc, not because of the lack of musical talent, but rather what they had to work off of from the original. Grade: B

9. “Glad”-What would a ska album be without a toe-tapping instrumental. Each instrument gets its time in the spotlight. The piano is the real scorcher in this song. Grade: A

10. “Teenage Kicks”- Although the original version of this song was performed by the Undertones, which sounds like the name of a ska band, it is actually more of a rock tune. I really like the use of the mellow saxophone and the vocal falsetto. This new version is a skankin’ good time! Grade: A-

11. “Toxic-One Drop Version”- Instead of covering lesser known bands and songs, The Bluebeaters switch things up by covering a singer that everyone knows; Miss Britney Spears. Typically I don’t like covers of super popular songs, but with its swanky feel, this version is fun, fun, fun. Grade: A

12. “I Don’t Know”- “I Don’t Know” has that classic, old time swing or big band feel. Musically it is on par with the rest of the album, but with an old-fashioned flare. Grade: B+

13. “End Titles”- What can I say. Right here you have another fine example of how an instrumental should be done. Grade: A-

14. “La Mia Geisha”- As the name would suggest, this final number blends ska with Asian flavor. Musically, there is a lot going on here. This song does not disappoint. Grade: A-

As you may have guessed from my scores given to each song, I really loved this album. In general I am really leery about cover songs, done in any genre. This holds even more true in the ska world, as it is almost cliché that if you are a ska band, that you have to play at least one cover song (usually from the 1980s). No matter how much I like a remake, I typically still enjoy the original more. This was not the case for this album. Where this album truly shines in my opinion is that the Bluebeaters picked songs and bands that that average music listener may not be familiar with. In the few cases when they did cover a more popular band or singer (Oasis and Britney Spears), the songs are so well done that you forget about the originals all together. If punk ska is your thing, this is definitely not the album for you, as the Bluebeaters have perfected the traditional ska sound on every song. Instrumentally, every song is well arranged and the horn section is crisp. There is also great use of piano in most of the songs as well. Many times the vocals can make or break a band for me. That being stated, these boys can sing! The smoothness of the vocals is pure audio candy. This is a fantastic album that should be in everyone’s collection. Do not miss a (blue) beat and give this disc a listen!

Overall Grade: A

 

You can check them out here:

https://www.facebook.com/thebluebeaters?fref=ts

Another album review, just for the halibut!

The Resignators, who come from a land down under, have dropped their latest album; a six song EP entitled ‘Fish Outta Water.’ This is certainly not their first trip to the rodeo, as the Resignators have 5 other albums to date. Let’s sit back and listen…

1. “Fish Outta Water”-The title track of this EP is chock full of powerful vocals and catchy horns. This song is a little bit more upbeat than some of their previous material and pays tribute to another great ska band; Reel Big Fish. Grade: B

2. “Life in Limbo”-This next tune builds up slowly with screechy guitar and loud/ brash percussion. The horns and especially the organ add a little pep to the otherwise dark, dirty ska-rock number. Great song! Grade: A-

3. “My Pal (God Cover)”- From the moment this song starts, you know you are in for a full out ska punk melee. This would be a great song by itself, but once again, the organ and horns set this song apart from the countless other harder rock songs out there. I also enjoy where the Resignators slow things down a bit before mounting their next attack. Grade: A-

4. “Lest We Forget”- Vocally, this is the catchiest song so far, but this is not pop-punk by any stretch. This song still is still in line with the Resignator’s harder sound. I really enjoy the extra vocalist in this song as well. Grade: A

5. “Blackjack Swing”- Taking a little bit of a turn in direction, The Resignators mix things with this swing number. This is not the swing your grandparents listened to or even the chart-topping neo swing from the late 1990’s. This brand of swing is loud and in your face and a helluva good time. Grade: A

6. “Buy More Shit”- Musically, this is another ska-punk number, but I just don’t resonate with the singing in this one. Grade: C

After 10 years and 6 albums, the Resignators have their style pretty well dialed in. They certainly bring the hard punk ska sound they are known for on every track of “Fish Outta Water.” The vocals are aggressive and at times gravely, but never a strain to listen to. The guitars are loud and punchy, whether playing punk power chords or classic ska guitar. The horn section is a major player in every song as well, not content with keeping it low key in the background. Next I must mention the organ. The organ is a staple in traditional ska outfits, but for some reason is more of a rarity in ska punk (or a self-proclaimed psychoska) bands. I would have enjoyed an organ solo or two; however, Stacey’s ivory- tickling efforts have not gone unnoticed. Overall, I really enjoyed this collection of songs, but like many EPs, I am wishing for more. This, my friends is the catch of the day!

Overall Grade: A-

Find them here:

https://www.facebook.com/theresignators?fref=ts

http://theresignators.bandcamp.com/

How Many Days Until Tomorrow?

Two Days Until Tomorrow’ from Youngstown, OH have just released a 5 song EP entitled “Obstacles: Part 1.” This 6-piece band has been rocking the scene since 2011. This current release follows 3 other EPs. Let’s take a listen to “Obstacles: Part 1.”

1. “Stay Out a While”- I am a sucker for a good instrumental, and this is no exception. A traditional ska beat leads the way while the horn’s blare makes this opening song a winner. There is also a slight dub feel near the end of the song created by the fading in and out effect. Grade: B+

2. “Father’s Day”- What starts out as they type of ska song that I have heard hundreds of times before by countless other bands, takes a fresh turn by the emotional slowed down moments in the song. The horns pack a punch once again, especially near the conclusion. This is a new and exciting take on a true ska staple. Grade: A-

3. “Searching”- “Searching,” with its slower pace, takes more of a reggae feel and then the tempo picks up. TDUT also adds a little surf rock and some Latin horn parts into the mix as well. Overall this song draws from many influence and just plain works. Try to get this one out of your head! Grade: A

4. “Temptation”- Combing a little hard rock and dub to the ska groundwork, this edgier song is fantastic. The vocals are a nice contrast in this darker song. Grade: A

5. “The Path Between the Virtues of Good and Evil”- Time to punk it up in this closing track. I really enjoy the sparing use of acoustic guitar and vocal harmonization. Crank it up! Grade: A

First I must admit two things. First off, up until recently, I have not been familiar with Two Days Until Tomorrow. Second, I’ve never been a big fan of EP albums. After my initial listen to this new album, I can now say that I am a fan of both. Of the EPs that I have reviewed, it’s seems that because there are less songs than found on an LP, bands bring their best stuff to the table. TDUT does just this in ‘Obstacles: Part 1.’ Like many bands, there is an amalgamation of several genres and on this release it is done effortlessly. There is a the familiar ska-guitar that we all know and love, but then there is also elements of punk, but even hard rock and surf as well. What is most striking to me is the vocals. There are many bands that flood the ska punk market with aggressive (and often crappy) vocals. Frank Toncar, the lead mic-man is a breath of fresh air with the vocal quality of any boyband member, past or present. This softer vocal styling is a nice contrast to the peppy or even harder guitar parts. I can proudly say that I am a new fan of Two Days Until Tomorrow’ and salivating already for their next release (Obstacles: Part 2?)

Overall Grade: A-

Check them out here:
https://www.facebook.com/TwoDaysUntilTomorrow

http://twodaysuntiltomorrow.bandcamp.com/album/obstacles-part-1

So what did you think? Share it my friend!

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