Easy*Life Ska Reviews

THE ADJUSTERS - Before the Revolution
CD - 1998 Moon Records
review by sharky

Boy Howdy, Before the Revolution has got to be one of the best CDs put out this year. The Adjusters have become one of my new favorite bands on the strength of the disc alone. If you enjoyed the more soulful parts of Willis by The Pietasters, than you will love this disc. In fact, lead singer Daraka Kenric's soulful vocals make Steve Jackson sound like Pat Boone. This CD is really great because every track has its own distinctive style and the Adjusters can pull this off without any missteps. It is worth mentioning that this isn't strictly a ska album, but the tracks that aren't ska based are played so well and will get you moving, that you really don't care.

The first track, "Special Prosecutor", is a slick li'l instrumental steeped in '60's soul and surf. "Number Three" is a damn fine Northern Soul track that gets your head boppin' and your toes tappin'. "People Make the World Go Round" is a great cover of an old Stylistics tune. "Soldier Field" is a nice jam session sounding instrumental. "Toehold" is a great rendition of a Wilson Pickett tune, complete with the funky bass line and horn chorus, plus the Adjusters have their own Pickett sounding number with "Witness". "Mood Red" is a nice Latin sounding track and "Clare Short" is a happy, jazzy little tune that ends the disc. Bear in mind there are 7 other tracks on this CD to sink your pearly whites into, but part of the fun of this disc is hearing the different styles unfold one after another.

The Adjusters Socialist political views are a running theme throughout the CD. However, they are not so in-your-face that you can't enjoy the disc on it's own. In fact, the Adjusters put their political views in their songs so subtlety that unless you read the liner notes, you probably wouldn't know that you're listening to some highly politically-charged songs. The Adjusters succeed in educating and entertaining on every track. Even if your political views don't jibe with theirs (mine most certainly don't), this disc still is one for your collection.

THE ADJUSTERS - The Politics of Style
CD - Jump Up! Records
review by hans & megan

The liner notes of The Politics of Style are like no other ska CD on the market today. Beyond the usual lyrics and thank yous, there's also a great big bite of propaganda. And why shouldn't there be? The Adjusters are self-described Socialists putting the political back into their particular brand of ska & soul, and they do it well. Their lyrics are well-written, with a nice use of imagery, as in "Truth To Power" - "Though cowards march and traitors sneer, we'll keep the red flag flying here". Furthermore, by using a narrative structure in many of their songs ("Our Town", "Tailor") they avoid coming across as preachy or self-righteous. Even if you don't agree with their message, you should be able to appreciate the songs themselves.

Their music is solid too, providing a varied mix of ska, soul & reggae. And yet... something's missing. At times, the music doesn't have the intensity of those other ska/soulsters, The Pietasters. The beat is not strong enough or forceful enough or driven enough. It's missing some intangible element that would keep it interesting. Most likely, this absent energy comes across in their show, and this is definitely a band that we would be interested in seeing live. Listening to the album, we felt we weren't getting the whole Adjusters experience.

Beyond this, The Politics of Style has the same problems and pluses that most albums do. The horns on "Our Town" are a weak and "Speed Queen" features distorted vocal effects that don't work. But then again... the musicianship is solid and the songs complex and interesting. Megan thought "Our Town" not only had a good buildup and lyrics, but was honestly moving, sung with great emotion. And Hans enjoyed the soul throughout the album. All in all, we have to recommend The Politics of Style - we just hope that their next album will have that little extra something.

CD - 1997 Self-released
review by visser

This Italian band produces a good mix of ska, soul, reggae and rocksteady which gives them a sound of their own. Surfin Ska is Agua Calientes third demo, and it only has 4 songs on it. "Tide" is probably my favorite--it is a very energetic organ driven tune with a tight horn line. I also like the vocals a lot. It all seems to fit together like sugar in Kool-Aid. At first I didn't like the next track, "Race", very much because of the harmonic changes in the vocals, but it eventually grew on me. This one doesn't use quite as much organ and has more of a soul/Jamaican favor to it with some 2-tone guitar. At some points it kinda reminds me of an Afro-Latin tune. "Patsy Skaze" starts out with the organ and bass, then breaks into a energetic ska tune that will make you want to dance. But, like all of their songs, it has that rocksteady, dub sound. Finally, " Azul" is a very soft, slow, almost Latin type of tune. The vocals on this one are soft and very soul-like and there's a female singing the whole time. Besides the fact that I have no clue what they are singing, I would have to say that this is a very peaceful tune that would probably put someone to sleep.

These guys are very talented, although their style is a little too diverse for me. "Tide" and "Patsy Skaze" are my favorite songs on this 4-song demo. But, most likely, if you are more into the dub, dancehall, rocksteady type of stuff, you probably would like these guys more than I did.

LAUREL AITKEN - The Bluebeat Years
CD - 1997 Moon Records
review by hans & megan

The latest release from the acclaimed "Godfather of Ska", The Bluebeat Years features many of Aitken's signature tunes & sounds and it should be one of the safest bets for your dollar. Unfortunately, the album doesn't live up to expectations. The main problem is that Aitken has redone these classics specifically for this release & most don't match up to the originals. The rhythms across the board tend to sound like they came from a synthesizer instead of drum set, & every song is longer than necessary, repeating musical phrases without any progression. Take, for instance, "It's Too Late", my all-time favorite Laurel Aitken tune. The original had soul; this remake has a generic ska beat & a marching drum beat that's out of place. There's no energy in this cheap remake. "Roll Jordan Roll" is an example of just plain bad reggae. The horns in the song have no direction, the solos aren't good, & if I have to hear that shaker one more time I think I'll lose it (of course, if you replaced it with jingle bells it would be perfect for Christmas).

But while the album doesn't live up to expectations, it isn't bad. Despite the over-synthesized sound there are some good songs that break through. "Hey Bartender" is by far the best (it also appeared on Moon's Skankaholics Unanimous compilation), showing the most emotion & soul. I also really like "Rudi Wedding" (& not just 'cause I'm getting married). Perfect tempo, an excellent use of background vocals, & horns that actually have something interesting to do (not just providing the song's texture, but augmenting it) make this one of the best cuts on the album. And songs like "Sugar Sugar", "Sally Brown" and "Little Sheila" (with its mix of blues & a samba beat) are all nice songs to listen to but great songs for dancing.

While its not surprising that Aitken would have lost some of his groove (he is over 70 after all), he still has enough left to put almost every ska band today to shame. And while this CD may not be his best, it's still nice to hear a legend keeping on.

CD - 1999 Moon Records
review by megan

You can't go wrong with the Skatalites (the "Founding Fathers of Ska") or Laurel Aitken (the "Godfather of Ska"), and you can't go wrong buying Ska Titans. All the hits are here - "Mood for Ska", "Same Old Song", "Sugar Sugar", "It's Too Late", and on and on. And the sound quality is fantastic - the vocals and instruments are well-mixed and strong and none of it's watered down. You also get three live versions recorded during the Ska Splash '96 in Amsterdam, and while I'm usually not in favor of putting the same song on an album more than once, it works here and gives the listener the chance to hear the stylistic differences. Plus the added bonus of getting Doreen Schaffer for "Sugar Sugar".

For folks with an extensive early ska & rocksteady collection, Ska Titans is probably redundant, but for anyone else the album provides a quick intro to the roots of ska and a chance to hear some great artists at their best.

ANIMAL CHIN - All the Kids Agree
CD - 1997 Kingpin Records
review by megan

It took me awhile to finally listen to Animal Chin's All The Kids Agree, since I wasn't looking forward to sitting through another modern ska-punk debacle. But surprise, surprise. All The Kids Agree is tight, infectious, and more ska-influenced hardcore (think Samiam) than '90's ska-punk. Thank god.

Animal Chin is three people (guitar, bass, and drums) and it's this minimalism that works to their advantage. Imagining a horn line thrown over a clean song like "Prove Me Wrong, Prove Me Right" makes me cringe. On the more overtly "ska" songs like "Twentysixzeronine" the guitar picks up the ska beat just fine, with nothing wanting.

The lyrics are decent and socially aware (a plus in my book) and while the male vocals are pretty standard, they don't detract in any way from the songs. Their instrumentals ("F.D.T.B.", "Station 57") and hardcore songs were more interesting to me than the ska-ier stuff, but that's more a personal opinion than a criticism. In the end, I wasn't wowed by All The Kids Agree at first, but the album grew on me the more I listened to it (especially "Even If" and "All The Kids Agree"). An all around solid effort that's musically interesting.

THE ATWOOD 9 - Self-titled
CD - 1998 Self-released
review by megan

This 5 song, self-titled CD is the debut of the next big thing. Don't believe me? Pick up The Atwood 9 and listen to true 3rd wave ska played as it should be - with talent, energy, professionalism, and a point of view. Like The Pilfers, Atwood 9 is made up of musicians who've been kicking around the ska scene for more than a few years (including vocalist Tierney from the dear departed New York Citizens). This comes across clearly in the quality of the music and the songwriting, which is exceptional.

Because the album is so short, I'll just go down track by great track. "Go, Man, Go!" starts the CD off with poppy horns and a quick upbeat tune that belies the depth of the lyrics. "The Pacific Northwest" moves into ska-punk territory but fortunately the band can do Rancid's sound just as well as Rancid can. "Bargain Basement Debutantes" slows things down without becoming watered down traditional or boring 3rd wave. My favorite track on the CD, "Republicans, Guns and Glory" mixes terrifically good social lyrics with a kickass tune that is most reminiscent of early NYCitizens. This song alone is worth the album price. Finally, "Don't You Think I Know That?" is a sweet, not sappy, romance, following in the best tradition of ska love songs. All I can say about The Atwood 9 is buy it buy it buy it. This is modern ska at its absolute best.

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