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Check out ‘The Phonosonics’

Hey everyone, The Phonosonics have just released a new single, in which they have pressed onto green vinyl.  Let’s drop the needle on this one…

 

  1. “Between Two Headphone”- Smudging the line between traditional ska and reggae, this first track is a laid-back “stay in bed” kind of tune. Super soulful vocals with awesome range with the backdrop of a “tinny” guitar (or ukulele, I’m not sure).  Not overlooking any subtleties, The Phonosonics include a pinch of saxophone and just a tad of dub.  Great song!  Grade: A

 

  1. “Dark-Haired Lady”- The B side uses the same elements as mentioned on the first track(mellow saxophone and dub) this song is just as enjoyable as the first.  Another slower tune; this will not make you bang your head or skank in the pit, but rather soak up the methodical rocksteady beat and sweet vocals.  Grade: A

 

With a touch of old fashioned sound, The Phonosonics have released an extremely enjoyable single.  When I say The Phonosonics, I really mean Spencer Cleave, the mastermind behind this entire project.   Spencer recorded this single (the vocals and all of the instrumentation) in his basement.  Listening to the sound quality here, the aforementioned is truly an impressive feat.  Musically, each song was written with the basic ska/rocksteady framework, with much attention paid to detail.  The vocals are refreshing, taking me back to old soul or Motown.  This will be a definite no-go for the ska punk purists but those that dig older or traditional sounds, Spencer is your man.  I thoroughly enjoyed this release; it has wet my appetite for more.  A full length cannot come soon enough!

 

Overall Grade: A

 

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‘Keep It Together’ With the Bumpin Uglies

The last time that the Bumpin Uglies released an album, I praised them for having one of the best band names ever.  This time around, I was blown away by the artwork of their latest release ‘Keep It Together.’  Released in September, the Bumpin Uglies will sure to keep fans happy with this collection of 12 new songs.  Let’s check it out…

 

  1. “All In”-The Bumpin Uglies start things off in this rather chill tune, in the vein of their stoner reggae-rock style. Slight dub elements make this song a real winner.   Grade: B+

 

  1. “Snowflake”- While I don’t understand the lyrics, this is a great tune. Packing more of a punch than the first tune, “Snowflake” turns the rock element up to 11! Grade: A-

 

  1. “Sorry I’m Not Sorry”- I really dig this tune! Start with a ska guitar line; add the beat and some smooth vocals and you have yourself one groovy song.  “Sorry I’m Not Sorry” is proof that you don’t need a horn section to sound great.  Grade: A

 

  1. “Stop the Fall”- I’ve heard plenty of reggae rock and even more punk ska but reggae punk? This song is like nothing I’ve heard before, mixing the aggressiveness of punk and the laid back nature of reggae.  After laying the groundwork mentioned above, The Bumpin Uglies add finishing touches like, vocal harmonies and vocal echoing.    Grade: A

 

  1. “End”- With great attention to detail, this gritty reggae number features a horn section. It just adds that extra something that sets this song apart from the previous songs on this album.  I also really enjoyed how “End” eventually transitioned to a straight up rock song.  Grade: A

 

  1. “Hipster Douchebag”- This is a truly unique song as the band pulls influences from several decades. “Hipster Douchebag starts with a rockabilly guitar, reminding me 50’s rock and roll.  The horn lines put off a 70’s easy listening vibe, juxtaposed with the 90’s third wave sound as well.  Great song!  Grade: A-

 

  1. “Urination Citation”-Pick it up people; it’s time for more ska! While the chorus fell a little flat with me, this is still a solid, hard-hitting number.  Grade: B

 

  1. “Place Your Bets”- Switching between ska and hard rock, this next song falls in line with the others on this album. In other words, there is nothing unique here, just more of the same good stuff you’ve enjoyed during the first 7 tracks.  Grade: B

 

  1. “Load In Load Out”-They waited until the ninth track, but there is finally a song smoking weed and drinking. Wake up stoners from your haze-filled basement and crank this one up!  Grade: B+

 

  1. “Rules Be Damned”- Due to the stripped-down nature of this tune, it really gives a chance for not only the guitar, but also the smooth vocals to shine. More or less a relaxed song, there is a little rocking out near the end.  Grade: A-

 

  1. “Keep Moving”- Woah! What a change in direction, for what is mostly a punk number.  Throwing their own touches into the mix The Bumpin Uglies pull this style off as well.  What a nice change of pace.  Grade: A-

 

  1. “All That I Need”- The ever cliché “last song acoustic number.” Sorry guys, this one does nothing for me.  Grade: C-

 

 

I must first mention how impressive it is to two full length albums only a year apart.  It is always disappointing to wait several years between albums (yeah, I talking to you Mustard Plug).  While I’m not innately drawn to the stoner rock genre as much as say traditional ska or even ska punk, The Bumpin Uglies are the best in the business.  They have been cranking out albums steadily since 2011, they have their style pretty well dialed in.  Although they stay true to their “original recipe” there is quite a bit of variation amongst these songs.  “All Thant I Need” could have been left off of the album, but other than this, every other song is pure joy.  Switching between ska and reggae rock, The Bumpin Uglies pull off these variations with ease.  They even draw inspiration from others in the gem that is “Hipster Doucebag.”  To pick one standout would be impossible, as there are many on this album.  With 12 songs, this will give long-time fans, and new fans alike, hours of re-playability.  So in short the Bumpin Uglies ‘keep it together’ and knock another one out of the park.

 

Overall Grade: A-

 

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‘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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Best Band Name Ever!

Representing Annapolis, MD is the one and only Bumpin’ Uglies.  This 3-piece plays a blend of reggae, ska and punk and bring their stylings to the new EP entitled ‘Sublime with No One.”  Let’s get rockin’…

  1. “Warning”-   The opening track borrows elements of both ska and rock with slightly more emphasis being placed on the latter.  Excellent vocals carry this catchy tune.  Musically speaking, it reminds me a lot of “Me, Myself and I” from Culture Cry Wolf (sans the trumpet and rapping vocals).  A great start!  Grade: A

 

  1. “Social Ladders”- Classic third-wave guitars, pair nicely with the more laid-back vocals (and backing vocals) in “Social Ladder.” I’m diggin’ this slow groove of a song.  Grade: A

 

  1. “Nostalgia”- Overall, “Nostalgia” has a darker feel than the previous tunes on this album. Awesome guitars and just the right amount of dub make this s song a winner.  Grade: A

 

  1. “Maturity”- this was the only song where I thought that the missing ingredient was a strong horn presence. As soon as this thought popped into my head, the brass came onto the scene.  Overall this tune blends stereotypical ska sounds with alternative rock of the 90’s.  Grade: B+

 

  1. “Fuck It”- Based on the title alone, I was half expecting a change in directions with a straight up punk number. True to form, the Bumpin Uglies lay down more of the reggae-laced vibes they are known for.  Another solid tune.  Grade: A

 

Although ‘Sublime With No One’ follows a string of releases dating back to 2011, I must admit this is my first exposure to this great band.  I mostly prefer bands with full horn sections and an organ, so how could a measly trio stack up?  After the first track I was instantly hooked.  The Bumpin Uglies make quite an impression over the course of only 16 minutes.  While there are only 5 tracks, the listener gets a definite feel for what this band is all about.  Each song has a distinct sound from the one before it, yet does not venture far away from the overall the sound that is band seems to have pretty well dialed in.  Musically speaking this is a cohesive unit that sounds better than a lot of bands twice its size.  In the sea of countless ska-punk, reggae-rock and just straight up “chlll-reggae” bands, the Bumpin Uglies rise to the top with ‘Sublime With No One.’  What makes this such an exceptional album is just how polished each song is, not to mention the strong vocals by Brandon Hardesty.  The vocalist alone can sometimes determine whether I love a band or hate a band.   Brandon has great range vocally and has certainly perfected his craft.  I really can’t say enough positive things about this album, only that I am thirsty for more.  So get bumpin’ and check out ‘Sublime with No One from the Bumpin Uglies!

 

Overall Grade: A

 

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Another Fine Mess

Irish ska? That’s right kids; The Bionic Rats hail from Dublin, Ireland and have released a new full length entitled, ‘Another Fine Mess.” This follows ‘…Should Be Seen & Not Heard, Vol 1’ (2012) and ‘Return of the Bionic Rats (2009). Let’s have a listen…

1. “Red, Gold & Green”- I know these guys are from Ireland, but the instrumentation takes on a Middle Eastern feel at times. Otherwise, this is a straight-up reggae number complete with horns, dub and vocal harmonization. Great stuff! Grade: A-

2. “No Bottles, No Milk”- Starting out with a flute, “No Bottles, No Milk” is more of a light-hearted tune. It definitely has an Irish feel, but I’m not sure if it is reggae or ska. Regardless, this is a fun song! Grade: A-

3. “Bored to Tears”- This downhome brassy number will certainly not bore. I really dig the use of organ in this one as well as the jazzy trombone solo. Grade: B+

4. “Information Overload”- I am catching a slight 007 vibe in this number. This is by far the edgiest song thus far on the album. While staying true to the reggae vibe, this song rocks! Grade: A

5. “Hooked on 45’s”- The Bionic Rats mix some blues with traditional ska in this next number. Once again, the organ does a nice job at backing while the horns and vocals take center stage. It reminds me of Madness, with less of an 80’s feel. Grade: A

6. “Blame it on the Weather”- This song, much like “No Bottles, No Milk” is tough to categorize. Vocally it reminds me a little of the Kaiser Chiefs or Franz Ferdinand, but done in a sing-songy style. Grade: B

7. “Lazarus”- With just the right amount of dub, this is great example of big band mixed with traditional ska. The horns have that old-time feel and vocals have an echo-like quality. Grade: A-

8. “Another Fine Mess”- The organ and horn section make their collective presence known on this title track. Vocally, this is very Jamaican sounding mixed with Tim Armstrong of Rancid fame. Grade: A-

9. “Ah No, More War”- This intro sets the tone nicely for what is about to come…Grade: B

10. “Distant Drums”-”- Overall, due to its subject matter, this is a very dark and gloomy song. There are not a ton of lyrics, but it is a solid tune none the less. Grade: B

11. “Fly on the Wall”- Another whimsical song is found in “Fly on the Wall” with its buzzing and ‘shoo’ ‘shoos.’ It’s not my favorite song, but I also can’t seem to get it out of my head either. Grade: B

12. “Keyboard Warriors”- It’s time to bust out the acoustic guitar for this toned-down version of a pub song. Grade: B+

13. “Dubbed on 45’s”- While I like the original version just a tad more, this is still a great ditty. Grade: A-

14. “You Never Called”- This is a slower reggae number, bringing a little more of the dub action. Way to finish strong! Grade: B+

There are a whole heap of bands out there that blend different musical styles. This is nothing new, but in most of these cases, I can pick out the different musical styles and genres from which they borrow from. This is not the case with ‘Another Fine Mess.’ Several of the songs have a definite ska or reggae feel, while others on the album I have a difficult time placing which genre they fit into exactly. I obviously have an affinity for all aspects of the ska and reggae sounds; however, it is refreshing to hear something different for a change. Overall, the vocals are pleasant and not laden with the stereotypical, loud raucous, Irish pub sound. The instrumentation is a great match, making use of a fully stocked horn section as well as keyboard. Another strength of this album is that each song sounds distinctly different from the rest. I really enjoy this album and you will too if you are looking for something just a tad different from the usual. It’s time to get “messy” with the Bionic Rats!

Overall Grade: A-

Check them out here:
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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-

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Tune Your Dial to “FM” with the Skints!

Who are the Skints you may ask? They are a 4 piece band from London, blending several musical styles including ska (of course). This latest release entitled “FM” follows an EP released last year and two full lengths. Let’s have a listen…

1. “Fm: DJ Mr. Versatile Breakfast Show”-[Alright, we are tuning are radios, now get ready for the show].

2. “This Town (feat. Tippa Irie & Horseman)”- Smooth vocals begin this mixture of reggae and hip hop, while Marcia Richardson’s voice cuts in early to rap over top. The drum machine beats and effects add to the overall feel, with some dub thrown in for good measure. To close, I enjoy the guest vocalist as he could be a dead ringer for Shaggy. Grade: B

3. “In the Night (feat. Horseman)”- More of a reggae number is found in “In the Night.” The vocals here are oozing with talent, both alone, as well as when paired with harmonization. Horseman adds that extra something near the midpoint. I love, love, love this song! Grade: A

4. “Come to You”- The organ creates a quirky traditional ska number with Marcia leading the way on the microphone. Definitely more on the soulful side; this song shines on every level. Grade: A

5. “My War”- This is your classic reggae number with smooth melodies and excellent male vocals. The organ rises to the challenge once again producing tones not found in traditional ska or reggae songs. Great stuff! Grade: A

6. “Fm: Dancehall Dilemmas with Dr. Ranking Pegasus”- [Another radio show track].

7. “Friends & Business”- The Skints rock it in this true-to- form ska song. There is no horn section, but they get the job done with the low roar of the organ and guitar solo. Also the la-la-la part is a nice homage to “Ghost Town” by the Specials. Grade: A

8. “Where Did You Go?”- Like “This Town,” there is a nice mix of reggae and hip hop, but the hip hop in this track is more subtle. This is a cool summer jam to be listened to with drink in hand. Grade: A

9. “Tazer Beam (feat. Tippa Irie)”- To open the song, the “tazer-like” organ compliments the guitar. This song works beautifully without Tippa, however he doesn’t take away from the song either. Grade: B+

10. “The Forest for the Trees”- So I am beginning to think that the flute is more commonplace than I thought. This is the third review that I’ve done that has used this underrated instrument. Marcia, Jamie Kyriakides and Josh Waters Rudge all share the singing spotlight in this slower jam. Also the dub factor is not overdone. Grade: A-

11. “Fm: Grime Hour with Rivz”-[Another radio show track].

12. “Eyes in the Back of My Head (feat. Rival)”- Smooth as silk vocals are paired with the rapping of Rival. Overall, it is a pretty solid number, but not my favorite because it leans more towards hip-hop then to ska or reggae. Grade: B

13. “Got No Say”- This is another great example of great harmonization as well as switching between male and female vocalist. “Got No Say” has kind of an island vibe to it. I dig it! Grade : B

14. “Fm: DJ Mr. Versatile Evening Session”- [The last of the radio show tracks]

15. “Tomorrow”- Soul mixed with just the right amount of hip-hop. The Skints finish with a bang! Grade: A-

I must admit, I had not heard of the Skints until a couple of months ago. My first exposure was the single “This Town,” and I thought, “Okay, this is a rap group with a reggae beat. Not really my thing.” I could have just ignored this album altogether, but I decided to review it anyway. I am so glad I did. First of all I love albums that try to create an experience rather than being just a collection of songs. The Skints do just that. From the artwork to the several radio show tracks throughout, you feel as if you are part of a live broadcast. This band also blends several musical styles from rock, reggae, ska and hip hop/rap to create a truly unique sound. It is true that I am no fan of rap or hip hop, but the Skints are not downgraded for this, as this is personal preference. In addition, even the rap elements (in my opinion) are never overbearing, as they complement the rest of the song perfectly. There is also a certain smooth quality to the straight up reggae and ska tunes. Instrumentally, this is a joy to listen to but the Skints greatest strength lies in the vocal trifecta of Marcia Richardson, Jamie Kyriakides and Josh Waters Rudge. A vocalist can be the deciding factor whether I enjoy a band or not, so to find a band with three talented voices is almost unheard of. The Skints have found a new fan in me. “FM” may not be for the ska purest, but I urge everyone to open their minds (and their wallets) to pick up this latest effort by the Skints.

Overall Grade: A-

Check them out here:

http://www.theskints.co.uk/

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

Have You Heard of Steady Legend?

I’m super stoked to be reviewing the self-titled debut album from the Austin based septet, ‘Steady Legend.’ Although this is their first release, Steady Legend, with its female-fronted line-up, has been rocking the scene since 2011. Let’s get this started…
1. “No Troubles”- Well, this isn’t a ska song, but I will give credit where credit is due. This is a fantastic soft rock number complete with horn solos and the subtle backing piano. Lead vocalist Deb Love’s voice is a true gem and certainly carries the tune. Grade: A-

2. “Wrong Road”- Steady Legend changes focus in this edgier rock song. With Deb’s more power vocals and super catchy horn lines, “Wrong Road” is a definite winner. Grade: A

3. “Catch On Fire”-What starts out as what seems to be another rock with horns song, quickly shifts to a ska/reggae feel. The organ finally steps out into the spotlight at one point with the already horn-driven number. Grade: A-

4. “Answers”-“Answers” starts with a piano and then to the stripped down vocal pairing of D. Love and Mike Mancuso. Skank-worthy in every way, this song has one killer trumpet solo. Try not clapping (or skanking) along to this one! Grade: A

5. “Longshot Redemption”- A slow grooving number is found is “Longshot Redemption.” The horns, along with the vocals give this song a nice sultry feel. I dig it. Grade: A

6. “Marble Swing”- As the name implies, this is a swing song. A decade too late, the neo-swing movement of the late 90’s could have used a female influence such as this. What can I say, this is a great song. Grade: A-

7. “Mirrors”- Rock meets reggae in this dark tune. I am a huge fan of horn sections, but I think it would have been overkill; so kudos for leaving them out. This song has a haunting feel and I love it. Two thumbs up! Grade: A

8. “On the Bright Side”- The harmonization between Deb and Mike is pure joy to listen to. There were even a few glimpses of Mike singing as a stand-alone which is a refreshing change. Call it reggae or call it more traditional ska, it doesn’t matter; it’s a solid song no matter how you slice it. Grade: B+

9. “Big Town Rock”- First the organ and then the horns build tension before getting into the punchy remainder of the song. The guitar shows off in the well appreciated solo which compliments the otherwise ska vibe. Grade: A

10. “The Best For Last”- Ironically enough “The Best For Last” is probably my least favorite song on the album. This is another swing number, and with an album with so many great tunes, they can’t all be my favorite. Deb’s vocals are spot on again and the horns are top notch as well. Grade: B+

To say that ‘Steady Legend’ is a ska band is not only misleading, but also an understatement. Certainly not to degrade those bands that stick within the confines of one genre, it is an impressive feet to not only play in various styles, but to play them well. Steady Legend does just that in this debut album which incorporates not only ska, but reggae, swing, soul and rock as well. This may seem like a recipe for disaster from a rather young band, but every song is arranged perfectly and is a pure joy to listen to. While it is true that I am a sucker for female vocalists, a lot of them tend to sound the same. Steady Legend bucks this trend as well. They have found a star in Deb Love who can deliver vocals that are powerful, sultry and sweet, all at the same time. Let’s not forget the rest of the band. While the horns are certainly the standouts in most songs, the guitar and organ set the stage. Pardon the cliché, but Steady Legend has a bright future and I can’t wait to hear more from these guys. Although this is their first release, this album will be LEGENDary!

Overall Grade: A-

Check out Steady Legend here:

http://www.steadylegend.com/

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

The ’69 Reggae Bonanza” is here!

Playing more in the style of reggae vs. ska, I thought I would show some love to Boss Capone. Residing in Haarlem, (Netherlands?), Boss Capone is a 4 piece that have recently dropped their latest effort entitled “’69 Reggae Bonanza.” What started out as a solo project of The Upsession’s lead singer Boss van Trigt, has turned into not only a follow up to their debut album “Another 15 Dance Floor Crashers,” but also touring around Europe as well. Let’s take a little listen to “’69 Reggae Bonanza” shall we?
1. “Capone Come Strike (Reggae Time)”- A smooth rocksteady number is found in the first song on this album. What this song lacks in number of lyrics, it more than makes up for with Von Trigt’s vocals and familiar ska/reggae beat. Grade: B+

2. “Tight Spot”-The percussion and piano sounds add much to this song about a certain area of a women’s body. Again, there are not a lot of lyrics to this song, but the overall layed-back feel make “Tight Spot” and enjoyable experience. Grade: A-

3. “Mr. Jone’s Teahouse (Oh What a Calamity)”-Rock the tambourine! This track has a bit of Jamaican ghetto type feel to it. What impressed me most about this song is that despite this being a rather “stripped down” style of music, there is still a lot going on instrumentally. Grade: B+

4. “Jesse Fox (Virginia City)”-With its spaghetti western vibe, Jesse Fox is one groovy instrumental, while still incorporating the reggae style. This song’s biggest strength is found in the organ instrumentation. Grade: A-

5. “Cinderella”-I appreciate the backing harmonization and guitar solo in this one, but overall, I didn’t resonate with this song quite as much as some of the others. Grade: B

6. “Tommygun Reggae (AKA The Tommygun Skank)”- True to its name, this is a definite dancing song. Like other songs before this one, excellent use of backing harmonization is used. The overall whimsical nature make this just a fun song. Grade: B+

7. “Toughness Injection (Version)”-Although I didn’t really understand the intro, I dug the overall creepiness of it. All in all this is a pretty solid instrumental that showcases the talent of the organ player once again. Nice job men. Grade: B+

8. “Count Me Money”-A true upbeat reggae number; this song is great! This, my friends should be your new summer jam! Grade: A

9. “Don’t Love Me”-This is a slower song, much like “Cinderella,” but I found myself enjoying this one a little more. The smooth vocals contrast nicely with the harsher drum sounds and organs. Grade: B+

10. “Eat My Candy Sweet”-Hit the dance floor again! This song will get you outta your chair. Grade: A

11. “Boss Capone ’69 Reggae Bonanza”-Ahh yes, the beloved title track. This one seems to drag a little. Grade: C

12. “Rudeboy Galore”-Another straight up reggae number, but with unconventional organ melodies. Another solid track from Boss Capone. Grade: B+

13. “Funkey Donkey (AKA Do the Funkey Donkey)”- How can you not love a song called Funkey Donkey? To me this song is a cross between traditional reggae and early Motown. I love it! Grade: A-

14. “What a Grind (Oh What a Grind)”-Not really a standout song, this is still an enjoyable number which incorporates a lot of the sounds familiar to the rest of the album. Grade: B

To be honest, I really wasn’t sure if I was going to enjoy this after the first few minutes of listening. I typically like my music with more horns and this record had that “recorded in a tin shed” sort of feel to it which I normally can’t stand. As I listened on, I really began to appreciate this album for what it was; a stripped down version of reggae which is a departure from the fuller sound of the Upsessions. But just because the overall feel is more “tinny” and features fewer instruments, it did not take away from the listening experience. With 14 songs, “’69 Reggae Bonanza” will keep fans happy for quite some time. Boss Van Trigt’s vocals are easy on the ears and were a nice contrast to the paired down instrumentation. Speaking of instrumentation Boss Capone works nicely as a 4 piece, adding much variety to each and every song. The percussion and organs are the stars here, giving each song a distinct feel, all while sticking to the traditional reggae sound. Although putting out a decent record is serious business, there is nothing serious about some of the subject matter sung about. Boss Capone creates a lighthearted musical ride in such tunes like “Tight Spot,” “Funkey Donkey” and Eat My Candy Sweet.” These tracks are some of the best on the album and prove that music can be fun and at times even silly. I feel this album will grow on me even more, even after my already positive review. (Oh What a Calamity) it would be to be without this album, so check it out!

Overall Grade: B+

Check them out here:

http://www.bosscapone.com/

https://www.facebook.com/pages/BOSS-CAPONE/339810032797247

So what did you think? Share it my friend!

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