Easy*Life Ska Reviews

THE PARAGONS - My Best Girl Wears My Crown
Record - 1992 Trojan Records (Reissue)
review by hans

This collection of greatest hits chronicles the career of one of the most successful rock steady bands of the 1960's. These songs, produced by Duke Reid, are classic rock steady genre pieces. Laden with thick vocal harmonies, the Paragons appear to be heavily influenced by the '60's Motown sound (the group began by covering tunes by the Drifters). Musically the Paragons aren't particularly gifted singers; in many songs they have a great deal of difficulty harmonizing to each other, & the dissonance can border on painful. But towards the end of those problematic songs, they tend to find their pitch, & the tunes work well in spite of those difficulties. Constant harmonizing, sparse horns, & a light but steady rhythmic pulse comprise these lilting songs.

Some of the tracks will probably be very familiar to people not already acquainted with the Paragons. "The Tide Is High" should ring a bell, and this version contains an energy that the more popular one doesn't capture. Other stand out tracks are "I Wanna Be With You", "Mercy Mercy Mercy", "Wear You to the Ball", "On the Beach", and "You Mean the World to Me". I preferred side 2 of the record, which has most of their hits, and you may want to start with this side. But all in all, in spite of their sometimes rough edges, this Paragons album is a must have for rock steady fans.

PARKA KINGS - Bienvenidos!
CD - 1997 Jump Up! Records
review by megan

Like many things in life the Parka Kings release, Bienvenidos!, has its good points & bad points. Good points are tracks like "Juliette", which effectively paints a picture of broken hearts, "Slow Me Down", which picks up on a great tempo & couples it with intelligent lyrics, & "Midnight Sails", which is what would happen if the Pogues played ska.

Yet for every interesting, original song there was a less than stellar one. The lyrics to "Souled", for instance, are overly melodramatic & "Shocks" sounds a bit too much like "Come On Eileen" for comfort. Then there's "Kidnapped", a song that repeats its one musical phrase endlessly. If that weren't bad enough, it's immediately followed by "Dubnapped", a 7 minute dub version of THE EXACT SAME SONG.

More points go to the band for the full sound they get from their horns & for the hidden track, which is one of the best on the album. But in the end I'm not sold. Out of 16 tracks I liked 7, actively disliked 4, and was ambivalent about the rest.

CD - 1997 Hellcat Records
review by megan

It's time to put my money where my mouth is. For the past year I've been moaning to anyone who'll listen aobut how boring most ska had gotten - ska/punk was fast and repetitive, trad ska was slow and repetitive, & I wanted something different.

So along comes Willis. Most of the people I've spoken to about the album, the Pietasters' first Hellcat release, don't know what to make of it. I didn't either at first. The album starts with the insane "Crazy Monkey Woman", a song that sort of fuses hard rock and ska and surf and maybe ten other things. From there it's open season. There are the slow (some may say traditional) style Pietasters tunes we've all come to know and love (many songs will be familiar to those who've seen the band in concert) such as "Ocean" and the more up-tempo "Out All Night". And there are the insane free-for-alls like "New Breed" and the aforementioned "Crazy Monkey Woman". What seems to unite most of the songs is their influence - the Pietasters' sound has always been heavily influenced by soul, and no hwere is that more apparant than on Willis, where every horn line sounds like it just popped out of a James Brown number (check out "Stone Feeling" if you need proof).

I'm still not sure how I feel about all of this. I know I love some songs ("New Breed", "Without You", "Ocean") but the album I'm still undecided about. I suspect it's one of those things that just grows on you like a fungus. Every time I hear the album straight through, I like it a bit more. I have to be honest though and say that it's not for everyone (I've already heard one debate over whether or not it's really a "ska" album). I will, however, recommend Willis on the sheer fact that it doesn't sound like everything else on the market these days, a distinction the Pietasters should be proud of.

THE PIETASTERS - Awesome Mix Tape #6
CD - 1999 Hellcat Records
review by megan

Admittedly my expectations weren't high for Awesome Mix Tape #6 - while I liked the Pietasters last album, Willis, as a concept, it hadn't taken too many trips round the CD player since I first reviewed it. It was experimental and interesting, but not what you reach for when you reach for ska. Awesome Mix Tape #6, on the other hand, is prime Pietasters and a great album.

Primarily about broken hearts and broken hope, the album's sound is both soulful and modern. The band is strong, and unlike Strapped Live!, the high quality of the music isn't bogged down with any anti-girl crap this time (unless you count the nipple-heavy front cover, but that's up to you). My favorite cuts off the album include the traditional tunes "Crying Over You" and "Take Some Time"; "What I Do", which adds pop-friendly 3rd wave to the mix; and, far and above, the no-ska-punk-rock "Somebody". But hell, the whole albums got great songs all through it, so consider Awesome Mix Tape #6 the one to buy this month.

THE PILFERS - Rude By Association
5-Song Cassette - 1997
review by megan

The Pilfers, the newest effort from Coolie (ex-Toasters) and Vinnie (ex-BimSkalaBim), are much more reggae-influenced then their lineage might indicate, and while ska/reggae isn't usually my thing, the Pilfers do it extremely well. The band is tight and original, with the coolest bass player I've ever seen (she makes it look so easy). My favorite songs off of the cassette are the BimSkalaBim sounding "SAGA", featuring Vinny on lead vocals, and "Hypnotized" with excellent lyrics and Coolie doing soem really interesting vocal lines. My othere favorite, "Roller Coaster", is great live, but unfortunately loses some of its energy on cassette.

Of course, no tape can match actually seeing their high-energy shows - they all seem like they're having so much fun that it can't help but be infectious. But for the downtime between those shows, "Rude By Association" is a must-have.

For ordering info, contact The Pilfers.

POT SHOT - Pots and Shots
CD - 1997 Asian Man Records/California Roll
review by megan

Despite all the ska/punk out today I've never heard a band that's come close to the fathers of the genre, Operation Ivy. And while Pot Shot doesn't succeed in attaining Op Ivy perfection, they are one of the better bands of the bunch.

Pot Shot has a few things going for it that many of today's ska/punk bands don't. First, they manage (most of the time) to keep their songs from getting repetitive. This is my biggest complaint with ska-punk (& traditional ska too), which seems to think that a few chords repeated over & over again at top speed equals music. Pot Shot appears to know better, & succeeds in making songs like "Clear", "Someone to Lean On", & (my favorite) "Mexico" both hard-driving & catchy. And their rendition of "Tears Of A Clown" is, surprisingly, a really good cover.

Second, they're lyrics are halfway decent, which is even more of a feat considering that the band is Japanese & the songs are in English. "Time goes on/Catch up with/the World never stays itself for long" goes "Time", and while some of the grammar may be off the message still gets across.

Last but not least, they can use their horn section. There's too many bands slapping a (bad) horn line or 2 over an otherwise straight-up punk rock song, thinking that & a ska beat makes a ska band (think Sublime). Pot Shot gives their horn section enough interesting things to do to warrant the instruments & add something to the music. While it's certainly not the best horns you'll ever hear, it does add positively to the band's sound.

If ska-punk's your thing you could do a lot worse than spend your money on Pots and Shots. While it may not be exceptional music, it's solid entertainment.

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