Articles for the Month of December 2015

‘Drop’ it like it’s Hot!

Well, I’m not really sure how I discovered Drop Steady. Besides hailing from Chicago, I don’t really know anything else about them.  I do know that they have recently (October) released a new LP entitled ‘The Light.’  Let’s check it out…

 

  1. “The Bandit”-This short but powerful song is the perfect opening tract.  At only 1:30 in length, this up-tempo number really gets things cooking!  Grade: A

 

  1. “See”- “See” picks up where “The Bandit” left off. It too has a faster tempo then some of the other traditional fare out there.  Complete with punchy horns and smooth vocals, this song is a winner.  I really dig the backing vocals which add subtle depth to the vocals. I love it!  Grade: A

 

  1. “When You Come Around”- The next song slows things down a bit with more of a reggae feel that the previous songs. The horns here play more of a supporting role to the real star of the show, the backing vocals.  The organ also is very subtle but a key element.  Gold!  Grade: A

 

  1. “Lover in My Mind”- There is a stark contrast between the sweeter reggae undertones and the grittier, guitar parts. Don’t miss the saxophone solo at the 2:00 mark.    Grade: A

 

  1. “Interlude 1”-Rockappela or Gregorian chanting? You decide.

 

  1. “The Light”- A “smooth-as-butter” reggae number with prominent horns and organ. The lead vocalist really  belts things out at one point.  This is another winner.  Grade: A

 

  1. “Tell Me Why”- Get off your seat! With excellent guitar work, this optimistic tune will make your day better. I promise.   Grade: A-

 

  1. “Calm Before the Storm”-Let’s head back to ska territory. Drop Steady changes things up with the pairing of 2 lead vocalists.  Grade: A-

 

  1. “Good News”- I’m not a huge fan of acoustic numbers, so I was a bit relieved when the rest of the band kicked in. “Good News” is a slower groove with much of the good stuff found on the previous songs.  Grade: B+

 

  1. “Souls Alive”- Starting out with a nice little trumpet solo, this is another traditional ska number with great harmonies. Grade: A-

 

  1. “Interlude 2”- Hey it’s another interlude!

 

  1. “You Got Me”- With the low-roaring organ, this is a rather stripped down song as compared to the others. The horn section is there to accent, but not to overpower in this soulful little number.  Grade: A

 

  1. “Step Closer”- Put on your board shorts and your flip flops and get ready for this classic beach-cruising song. Sweet grooves.  Grade: A-
  2. “Run and Come”- Not much new here, which is a good thing! Drop Steady brings more of the sweet reggae sound. I really dig how they borrow lyrics from a few older songs.  Grade: A-

 

  1. “My Way Home”- The beat has a Hawaiian island feel, while the horn lines remind me of a few songs that came out of the 1970’s. The longer the song goes on, the more I dig it!  Grade: A-

 

 

 

As legend would have it, ska eventually blossomed into the much more popular genre know as reggae.  Considered to be 1st cousins in the music world there are still enough differences between them to make them stand strong on their own.  Never has there been a band that more beautifully melds the two than Drop Steady in their latest offering.   They certainly dish out a heapin’ helping of tunes with a whopping 15 tracks, giving the listener hours of enjoyment.  Each song is a definite winner, making it difficult for this listener to pick a definitive favorite.  Because of reaching this near perfection mark with each and every song, the only weakness that this album may possess is that there are very few standouts, as each song is fantastic in its own right.  This lends itself to each song sounding somewhat similar after a while.  This is being nit-picky to say the least as this album is certainly amazing.  I could really tell the care and craftsmanship that went into each tract with all the moving parts working together as one well-oiled musical machine.  I really love the organ driven nature to many of the songs as well as the horns that do a fine job at both leading and accenting the rest of the tunes.  On the vocal side of things, this is one of the strongest leads I have heard, and is pure joy on the ears.  The vocals are so smooth and soulful, yet have the range to pull off any musical style you throw at them.  Overall, I cannot say enough good things about ‘The Light’ from Drop Steady and it’s near perfect package of songs.  If you have not listened to it yet, you, my friend are missing out on one of the best albums of 2015.

 

Overall Grade: A/A-

 

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Tune into ‘Tropical TV’

Taking his name, presumably from his stomping ground of Escondido, CA, Esco Chris has been bringing his amalgamation of early reggae, ska and rocksteady to the people since 2000.  Released in November, is his latest offering entitled ‘Tropical TV.’  Let’s give it a listen…

 

  1. “Beach Cruising”-The name of this tune certainly embodies the overall spirit of this opening track. The organ sets the mood in this laid-back instrumental.  Grade: B+

 

  1. “The Boardwalk (feat. The Duppies)”- Traditional ska at its finest! The horn section really kicks this one up a notch.  “The Boardwalk” features excellent solos from the trumpet, sax and organ.  I really dig this one.  Grade: A

 

  1. “Buried Inside”- What do you know, another instrumental. The strength in this song is the usage of both organ and traditional piano, which is truly unique in this genre.  Great stuff!  Grade: A

 

  1. “Cool Feelings (feat. The Duppies)”- From the opening notes, you can tell that the Duppies had a hand in this. At its very core, this is a ska song; however, it has a certain 70’s flare to it.  The raspy vocals are a great touch.  Grade: A

 

  1. “Feel Alive”- Devoid of any horn section, the organ is front and center in “Feel Alive.” Again, the vocals here are the icing on the cake.  Grade: A

 

  1. “Lonesome Man”- The lead vocals fell a little flat with me, but overall this is a solid tune. The strongest part of this song is actually the backing vocals and sweet guitar solos.  Grade: B

 

  1. “Love and Affection”- Sure it has the traditional ska beat you’ve heard a million times, but this song is a winner. Once again, excellent use of both piano and organ here.  Style-wise, this reminds me quite a bit of the Dualers.  Grade: A-

 

  1. “No Running Boy”- This is not my favorite tune on the album. Instrumentally, Chris uses the tried and true ska/reggae elements, however lyrically; I just did not resonate with this one.  Grade: C

 

  1. “One Fine Day”- Chris keeps it short and sweet in this enjoyable instrumental. With the absence of a horn section there is more of a focus on the guitar here, which by the way is fantastic.  Grade: A-

 

  1. “Reggae Imposter vs The Aval- Clear away the smoke because this psychedelic infused ska number is a hit. The limited vocals only add fuel to the fire.  Think Boss Capone (’69 Reggae Bonanza album) meets “Ghost Town” from the Specials.  Great song!  Grade: A

 

  1. “Rocksteady Vacation”- There is nothing new or novel here, but rather a solid laid-back number, much like the others found on the rest of the album. Grade: B+

 

  1. “Rollin On”- If ever there was a radio-friendly song on this album, this would be the one. With the fantastic use of piano, crank this up to 11 while rollin’ in your Caddy!  Grade: A-

 

  1. “The Storm”- While not as strong a song as “Reggae Imposter vs. The Aval,” they are pretty similar, musically speaking. Both are instrumentals with a few vocals shouted in the background.  A decent way to close things off.  Grade: B

 

Thank you internet for allowing me to discover new bands and musicians effortlessly, allowing me to appreciate the fruits of their musical efforts.  While Esco Chris is certainly not new to the music scene, he is new to me.  If like me, you are new to the musical stylings of Chris, than you are in for a real treat with his newest release, ‘Tropical TV.’  This truly unique album takes the traditional ska and reggae framework, and makes subtle changes to enhance the experience, but not in a gimmicky way.  Truly West-coast at its core, this is a great album.  Not having a full-on horn section, allows for both the guitar and organ to truly shine.  Whether used during a guitar solo, or the dueling keys found in “Buried Inside” these instruments are used in ways that I have not seen in the ska genre before.   This being stated, I really enjoyed the few glimpses of blaring brass found on “The Boardwalk” and “Cool Feelings” from the Duppies.  The addition of the Duppie’s sound adds to but does not distract from the ‘Esco Chris experience.’  Finally, great songs are found in both the instrumentals as well as those with vocals.  This is not your skanking type ska, but rather the type you would listen to while hanging out with your bros at the beach.    Although I enjoyed almost every song on this album, I feel that this is one of those albums that will grow stronger with time.  I urge you to find out for yourself, and give these 13 glorious tracts a listen!

 

Overall Grade: A-

 

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X Marks the “SKASpot”

 

 

 

 

Any rabid fan of the ska genre has been to skaspot.com.  The website is the brainchild of Andy Jeter and devotes itself to the promotion of the ska scene.  Aside from the website, Andy has been hard at work with the Skaspot radio app as well as a new compilation album in which he crowdsourced through Kickstarter.com.  This Compilation entitled ‘ SKAspot Selections: Vol. 1’ features bands from across the globe.  Let’s give it a listen…

 

 

  1. “Shake and Move” (The Duppies)- Off of one the  best ska albums of 2015, The Duppies put together a traditional number that will make you want to “shake and move your body” for sure.  The horn section takes center stage with fantastic solos from the trumpet and saxophone.  Great song!  Grade: A

 

  1. “Love You Crazy” (Rude King)- If you love female-fronted ska than look no further than Rude King.  The soulful stylings of lead songstress Vicki Tovar matched with the on par horn section make this one enjoyable tune.  Think easy listening+ ska.  Awesome!  As a side note, see these guys live, they rock.  Grade: A

 

  1. “Simma Down Rudi” (Urang Matang)- A sleepy little tune is found in “Simma Down Rudi”  While this is definitely a slower number, it is enjoyable none the less.  Grade: B+

 

  1. “The Hydrogen Jukebox” (The Snails)- There is some great organ work on “The Hydrogen Jukebox” paired with and old-time rock and roll feel.  It is not really a dancing song and is slightly more up-tempo than the usual slower fair.  Grade: B

 

  1. “Appreciation” (Bullbuckers)- Well, this is my first exposure to the Bullbuckers.  Drawing its inspiration from the Dixieland jazz sound, “Appreciation” quickly changes to the more familiar ska sound with varying tempos.  The horns and vocal harmonies here are fantastic, along with the slight dub element as well.  Grade: A-

 

  1. “Love Flame” (Chris Murray Combo)- After hearing some of Chris Murray’ songs on other compilations, I have never been that much of a fan. “Love Flame” however is a simple little tune with well-placed backing vocals.  Void of any horns, this is your bare-bones ska song, which just seems to work.  Grade: B+

 

  1. “Hard Headed” (The Pandemics)- The east-coast ska sound shines through from these New York natives. Lead singer, Chris Malone lends his raspy voice to this big-band take on the genre.  Grade: A-

 

  1. “Rudies Don’t Care” ( Rude City Riot)- Why have I not listened to Rude City Riot earlier?  I really dig the 90’s third wave sound with punchy horns and an organ to boot!  This is a cross between Suburban Legends and The Crombies.  Grade: A-

 

  1. “Shut Your Mouth” (The Ska Vengers)- Musically, this is a “Coffee shop” take on  the ska genre.  Vocally,  the female lead reigns supreme with her hauntingly hypnotic voice.  Put those two together, and you have yourself a truly fantastic song.  Grade: A

 

  1. “Nelson Mandela” (Amsterdam Faya Allstars)- Based on talent alone, The Amsterdam Faya Allstars are some of the best musicians in the genre.  Their use of horns is second to none.  This being stated, with the nonsensical lyrics, is one of my least favorite songs from these guys.  Grade: B

 

  1. “Copenhagen City Reggae” (Leo and the Lineup)- I love Leo and the Lineup!  Organ heavy ska meets soul in this and all of  their other tunes.  Alone they are a great ska band, however it is the female backup singers that really set them apart.  Grade: A

 

  1. “Swim” (The Freecoasters)-After announcing their Kickstarter campaign, I instantly became excited about this newer band. Most the songs featured in the campaign were more up-tempo but “Swim” is a pleasant surprise.  I really love the power female vocals in this slower song.  Grade: A

 

  1. “Easy Man” (Pilfers)- For some reason, I never really got into the Pilfers either.  Maybe it’s because I have no idea what Coolie Ranx is saying most of the time.  Musically, however, this song is solid.  Grade: B

 

  1. “My Day” (Bargain Bin Heroes)- The most punk infused song thus far has a little bit too much going on for me. The Bargain Bin Heroes are a great band, but this song does not do it for me.    Grade: B-

 

  1. “Life in Limbo” (The Resignators)- The gruff vocals and organ in “Life in Limbo” make this one feel like a song that should be played on Halloween night.  Let’s not forget to mention the horns—top notch!  Grade: B+

 

  1. “Checkered Past” (The Apes FLA)- And you thought you could make it through an entire compilation without an instrumental? Guess again.  The Apes lay down a scorcher with this one.  Grade: A

 

  1. “Lon Chaney” (Western Standard Time Ska Orchestra)- What a way to end an album. This is another horn-heavy instrumental that will not disappoint.  Grade: A-

 

 

 

The main reason I like to listen to compilations is to discover new bands.  With the exception of the Bullbuckers I had at least some familiarity with every other band featured on ‘SKAspot Selections: Vol. 1.’   To the fair-weather ska fan, this album is an excellent way to familiarize yourself with some great ska staples found right here in the US of A as well as some possibly lesser known international acts as well.  For the ska diehard such as myself, this is still as essential album to get.  This compilation is jam-packed with top-notch songs with no fillers.  This album also does not fall into the trap that many other compilations have: trying to appeal to everyone by offering several of other musical styles such as hardcore and straight up punk.  No, this is purely a ska album, without apologies.  If you are a ska-punk purist, you may be a little disappointed as this sub-genre is represented in only a handful of songs.  For those that prefer your sound more on the traditional side, this is a rare treat that you must download right away.  Thank you Andy for this great comp and I am looking forward to SKAspot Selections: Vol. 2!”

 

Overall Grade: A-

 

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