Easy*Life Ska Reviews

THE B-3s - Devil's Blubeat
CD - 1998 Jump Start Records
review by megan

It seems funny to call an album that's such good, clean fun Devil's Bluebeat, but while this 7-song CD may not be full of hell, it is full of great songs, great music, and solid bluebeat.

The first track, "Sharpshooter" gets the album off on the right foot. A mid-tempo tune with nice horns, the song comes alive when the singer kicks in. His vocal style reminds me of J. Church (a sort of sing-speak thing going on), and while that may seem an unlikely style to use in a more traditional ska band, it works beautifully here. There's something almost maudlin about it, and "Sharpshooter" does a great job of conjuring up a specific feeling.

From there it's into "Devil Blues Boogie", which accurately describes the song. You could skank to it or swing to it, but regardless it makes you want to dance. "Smith Kidd" is a bit less interesting than the other tunes on the album, but not unpleasant - it's a lengthy, straight-ahead instrumental with a standard beat. "New Orleans", a great driving song for a long road trip, brings back a little energy & adds a sing-a-long chorus. "Puddy's Gone", a seedier instrumental, shows off the 3-man horn section and guitars nicely, though it also drags slightly. "Last Call" is a swingy little traditional number that gets your feet moving again, just in time for "Lift Me Up" to send you off with a slow groove.

Devil's Bluebeat is one of those pleasant surprises that you pray for as you wade through the dreck at your local record store. It's modern trad with energy, originality, & cleverness. The only thing I could have asked for would have been more songs.

BAD MANNERS - Heavy Petting
CD - 1997 Moon Records
review by megan

As the liner notes to Heavy Petting point out, Bad Manners is a band that will not die & this is a very, very good thing. Somehow Bad Manners has been able to create ska music for 20 years that is fun without becoming a joke & is still musically complex. While I still think the sadly out of print The Height of... is their best album (that I've heard), Heavy Petting very nearly surpasses it. The album begins with the excellently spooky "Don't Knock the Baldheads" and "Black Night". From there it's straight into "Down Berry Wood" - a straight up ska love song. You'll also find "Lager Delirium" here (last heard on Moon's Skankaholics Unanimous compilation) & a bizarre song called "Randy Scouse Git" which sounds like what would happen if the Doors had played ska. But my favorite song off the album, "Heavy Petting" epitomizes Bad Manners to me. It begins with a sweet, poppy instrumental intro, joined first by horns, then by Buster Bloodvessel's raspy voice singing "I know you're kinky, you're a kinky girl/You make me shiver, you make my liver quiver/You're a kinky girl." A chorus of high female voices joins him on the chorus "Give me/heavy petting/Heavy heavy petting". The 3rd verse features one of the band members singing in french, then back again to that wonderful chorus. It's a song that in the hands of any other band would just be a joke but by paying attention to each individual part of it, the catchy melody juxtaposed against Buster's voice verses the female background vocals coupled with the simple lyrics, Bad Manners turns it into one of the best songs on the album. Every collection needs a Bad Manners album to make it complete, & you can't go wrong with Heavy Petting. As Noah Wildman writes in the liner notes, "To have a band like Bad Manners doing it for real - for the love of the music - since before 2Tone...is a symbol of the authenticity, the strength, the very essence of ska music." And Heavy Petting is the essence of Bad Manners.

CD - 1999 Fork in Hand Records
review by andrew galante

Bringing ska-core to new levels in Boston and Massachusetts, Big D and the Kid's Table have rocked fans with their talented skills and acrobatic jumps. A lot of people don't like these guys, and I was once like that until I saw them play and really listened their music on disc. They are talented, funny guys, both on stage and on record.

This time around Big D uses more of the fast 12 punk beat, tighter songs, and less jammy solos. You can understand the lyrics more too, and there are definitely sing-along songs like "She Won't Ever Figure It Out," "Dirt Lip," and "Find Out. These songs are more third wavish (because of the B3 Organ, which works well) than skacore, and definitely danceable. Big D expand their songs and style with slow and steady paced third wave tunes as well as more 70's-80's guitar solos and licks. You would be impressed with Good Luck, as this is an explosive and well-rounded album. Big D have improved and they are only getting better!

CD - 1999 Eclectica Music/N*Soul Records
review by megan

To be a band with a message, whether it be religious, social, or political, is to set yourself up with a heck of an obstacle. Which comes first, the message or the music? There are some bands that have struck this balancing act, writing strong songs that impart their message without being preachy, songs backed by quality, original music. Unfortunately, Big Dog Small Fence isn't one of them.

Generic 4th wave ska, Big Dog Small Fence sounds like the rest of the ska chaff out there. Songs go too long and become repetitive ("Finite", "Circus Mirage"), horns are weak ("Human", "Finite") and there's the token bad toasting/rapping thrown in for good measure ("LA"). Not to mention that the horn parts of "Shrimp Gumbo" are eerily close to Mr. Cranky's "Ring of Fire", or the fact that the band disses my favorite talk-show diva in "Rikki Fake".

On top of it all, the lyrics aren't that great, and for a band putting forth a message (in this case, Christian Ska), that's the kiss of death. There's a lot of bad phrasing here ("Circus Mirage", "Pass The Buck") and the lyrics come off sounding very smug. Only "Human" manages to deliver its message without condescension.

The best tune on the album is "Joel's Song", a fun instrumental with stronger horns and a definite early 3rd wave/2 tone feel. Some other songs, like "Stand Tall" with it's Jamaican groove and "Impossible" with a good use their female vocalist, also rise above cliche, but unfortunately, a few decent songs do not an album make.

BIM SKALA BIM - Universal
CD - 1997 BiB Records
review by megan

There's something about Bim Skala Bim that moves me to the bone. Maybe it's their tempo, which tends to be quicker & tighter than most ska bands. Maybe it's their variety, the way they go from a calypso style ("Same Mistake") to a soulful cover ("Shakin' All Over") to a ska rock song ("Red Eyes"). Maybe it's the fact that, after six years, I've never had a bad time at a Bim show. Or maybe it's just the fact that Bim Skala Bim are first & foremost great musicians.

After the loss of the inimitable Vinny Nobile (to his own fabulous band, The Pilfers) on trombone I was a tiny bit worried about my favorite band. I was a fool. While no one can replace Vinny (or dance like him) Mark Paquin is a great addition to the band. The trombone sound is strong as ever on Universal, & after a recent show at Coney Island High, Mark proved to be as much of an onstage presence as his predecessor & the rest of the band. As mentioned before, Bim has a variety of styles in their repertoire, & they do them all well. "Three Legged Dog" is classic Bim Skala Bim style ska (circa 1990's How's It Goin') with a steady beat that's not too fast, not too slow and "Skaloop" #1 and #2 are unexpected little interludes that are a lot of fun. But my favorite tunes, "Freeman" & "Johnny O'Reilly" are frenetic numbers that, despite their speed, are still tight, controlled, & musically innovative, proving Bim's versatility.

Often overlooked amidst the MTV ska hype, Bim Skala Bim are one of the few bands that deserve every bit of publicity they get. And what better way to reward such an innovative ska mainstay than by going out & buying Universal, an all-around great album.

BIM SKALA BIM - The One That Got Away
CD - 1998 Beatville Records
review by megan

The One That Got Away is a 13 track kind of "best of", spanning 10 years of Bim. A nice intro to the band for those who've never heard them before, the CD includes 7 unreleased tracks and 2 remixes. There are also detailed liner notes giving the history of each song, making it a must-have for collectors and rabid fans. While 7 of the 13 tracks were unreleased, they are still as polished and well-put-together as you'd expect from Bim Skala Bim (and many songs may already be familiar to those who've seen Bim in concert). From the Mento "Run Joe" to the slower "Rain and Pour" to the more 3rd wave "Line To You" and "Set Me Up", Bim plays a ton of styles and plays them all well.

Of course having said that, I still prefer 1997's Universal. That was a more upbeat, full steam ahead album, while The One That Got Away is overall slower, more melancholy. With songs about lost love and environmental destruction I'm not surprised that the album has a darker feel. But with such top notch musicianship and innovation, this CD can't help but be a one of my picks.

CD - 1997 Moon Records
review by sue

My new favorite CD is soooo great. It's called Dance With Me by those rockin', ska hoppin', bee-boppin' Bluebeats. As their first CD, it's filled with all of their most excellent songs, though they are creating new great ones all the time, I'm sure (I hope).

The Bluebeats play ska - bluebeat style with lots of RockSteady mixed in there; they are cool-old school style. They play slow, steady, and dancey, happy music with drums, 2 guitars, bass, keyboards, and the oh-so-sexy Mike Drance, who has moved on from the Scofflaws and created another great band - yup, the Bluebeats.

Some of the lyrics to the songs, like "Dance With Me", are sweet and sometimes even mushy, but don't let that put you off! They are great songs. Another favorite is "The Hardest Working Man", which is about all of those people who are in denial of work (which I will be in a few months) and they work over-time at keeping themselves unemployed. The CD is great because you can go home after a show and keep on dancing all night long, even though in "Dance With Me" they say you should dance "just for a little while".

The Bluebeats play live around NYC at all the hip and happenin' ska shows. You should check 'em out at a ska show near you. And pick up the CD with the cute dancin' picture on the front.

BLUE MEANIES - Kiss Your Ass Goodbye!
CD - 1999 Asian Man Records
review by visser

Kiss Your Ass Goodbye is a really old Blue Meanies release which is now out of print. Mike Park being the great man he is, decided that he didn't want anyone to go on without this CD, so he re-released it on Asian Man. Now if I had one word to describe this band it would have to be crazy. I really do not know what to think when I think of the Blue Meanies. They mix everything from jazz to punk to polka and beyond into one song like a melting pot. Almost every song has a different type of beat and style to it, though most of their songs lean towards the very heavy, metallic area.

This is one of bands that you either love or you just can't stand. I would have to lean more toward the can't stand side, although I do like some of their songs, like "It Doesn't Matter" and "Acceleration 5000", which seem to grow on you. But it seems as the album goes on, it just keeps getting wackier and sounds like one big mess. If you were thinking about getting this CD, I recommend that you listen to most of it before you buy, because you never know what to expect with these guys!

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