This end of year Top 10 Albums malarkey is proving ever more difficult…….. so far we have posted 279 reviews covering Americana, Country, Alt. Country, Cow Punk, Soul, Blues, Rhythm & Blues, Rock, Blues Rock, singer-songwriters, Folk, Alt. Folk, Nu-Folk, Ska AND Reggae! Each individual album is here on it’s very own merits and we wrote about them because we liked ’em and passionately believed they needed to be heard around the world (speaking of which…….. we had visitors from 371 different countries during 2018!!! 371???? I didn’t know that there was that many!) At one stage the spreadsheet for my Top 10 featured over 50 titles; such has been the quality of releases in 2018; but after a lot of deliberation and heartache, here is my own personal Top 20 albums that were released this year and each ‘surprised or fascinated’ me when I first heard them……….. sorry if you aren’t included.
Kim Richey – Edgeland
Malcolm Holcombe – Come Hell or High Water
Big Boy Bloater – Pills
Stephen Fearing – The Secret of Climbing
Curse of Lono – As I Feel
Gem Andrews – North
Ruby Boots – Don’t Talk About It
Bennett Wilson Poole – Bennett Wilson Poole
Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite – No Mercy
Prosecco Socialist – Songs From Behind Bars
Kid Ramos – Old School
John Hiatt – Eclipse Sessions
Susie Vinnick – Shake The Love Around
Abe Partridge – Cotton Fields and Blood For Days
Dave Alvin & Jimmie Dale Gilmore – Downey to Lubbock
Skapones Skapones A Go-Go! (Single) Cosa Nostra Records
You know we like a bit of Ska here at RMHQ; especially of the 2 Tone persuasion so I can’t tell you how excited I was when this arrived in the E-Mail box earlier today! The Skapones are local lads to me; well….. Darlington is technically in the North East, but in the Deep South (…..hahaha) and have been regulars on the scooter and club scene for a couple of years now, and have re-mixed this track from their recent Cradle to the Grave album (*watch this space!) alongside the ultra-rare Live It Up! track as downloads ‘only’ for the Festive Party season. Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think!! Plus, the lads have been invited to play in NYC in 2019 and have opened a Crowdfunder page to help them get there……
A Top Quality Two Tone Tonic For Lovers and Dancers Alike.
On the day after I received this from Bon Viveur, man about town and editor of the influential Ska Fanzine DO THE DOG Kev Flowerdew, a mate called me to say he’d been to see two great bands the night before in town; and guess what……one of them was only bloody Cartoon Violence!
As is his won’t Kev told me bugger all about the band in his accompanying note, but their Facebook page lets us know that these Krazy Kids come from Welsh Wales, don’t appear to have surnames and have evolved from the amazing 3 Minute Warning and Smoke Like a Fish with a Toaster on drums. ….. but hey; it’s all about the music, isn’t it?
Yay Yay and thrice YAY! Opening track Insincere is a fabulous and frantic bittersweet love song, revolving around some mighty fine keyboard playing from Chuzz who also sings as if his life depends on it!
Quite an attention-grabbing start, it has to be said.
As I’m prone to do, a quick scan of the song titles showed what a wicked sense of humour the band have; with Social Animal being a bit of a rye look at the modern world and all its internet bound pitfalls; when just talking to each other is easier and cheaper. Much Ado About Nothing is even cooler than the title would suggest with Sash (a lady) sounding fabulouso as the band belt the living daylights out of their instruments in the background; and it has to be said; Cartoon Violence aren’t afraid of a melody or a catchy chorus too.
Somewhere in my collection I have a great version of a song called Black Sheep by one of the genres originators; but this song is their very own and Jason Childs strong songwriting proves that Ska can still punch a hole in your heart when it wants to; and he does it again with the fast and furious Out With The Old and Careful too…… don’t just dance…..LISTEN!
It’s actually a pleasant surprise these days to say that Cartoon Violence to some degree are re-treading the original Two Tone path, with nods to not just Jerry Dammers era Specials but also the Bodysnatchers and even Madness in the way they hide a kitchen sink opera behind a catchy tune; which brings me to the RMHQ Favourite Song here; Annie; which had it been released in 1980 would have been a Top 20 hit; but sadly this amazing song is destined never to be played on National Radio, which makes me very, very sad indeed.
There’s another song that could and should have also been a massive Hit and that’s the rip-roaring Serpico which had me not only skanking around the living–room but even shuffling in the driving seat of my car as it boomed from both stereos!
While I love most of the music I play and review, but nothing beats some quality up-tempo Ska as a way to shake the cobwebs off after a crap day at work and judging by this, their third album……. Cartoon Violence really are TOP QUALITY.
As is my won’t sadly; when Madness and The Specials were Top of the Pops I not only hoovered up everything I could that was even marginally 2 Tone; but immediately delved back into the Ska back catalogue and history books; and that is where I discovered The Skatalites and my life changed over night.
Hopefully if you are reading this you already know who these cats are and why they are so important; so I won’t bore you with a history lesson apart from saying this was first released in 1964 and because The Original Skatalites were an ever moving ensemble; vocal performances came from a vast array of young singers who went on to international success in their own rite. BTW original copies now change hands for inordinate amounts of money ….. but, onto the music!
The powerful and cinematic Freedom Sounds featuring Tommy McCook will blow your mind, as it did mine when I first heard it. You have to remember that when these tracks were first recorded the band were being influenced by American music; particularly Jazz and that’s the thread behind this luscious stomp with a wonderful saxophone leading proceedings.
That ‘Jazzy’ vibe pervades throughout; but we don’t have to wait very long for the Skatalites trademark ‘bounce’ to appear; with Roland Alphonso on Full Dread still sounding so very exciting over half a century later.
I only know two tracks from this collection, and when you hear You’re Wondering Now you know why it has subsequently become a staple of every Ska band over the last thirty odd years and the other being the red hot and skanking Lee Harvey Oswald who was obviously in the headlines when they were in the studio; hence the title.
Part history lesson and part groundbreaking benchmark; there are some amazing songs and tunes here with The Maytals and Heaven Declare showing us how Ska evolved out of Bluebeat and Jazz; and Ska Ba sounds just like it could be from half a dozen current American Ska bands I can think of……funny, that!
Listening 54 years after these songs were first recorded it’s fascinating to listen to the words in Brown Skin Gal and realise who so little has changed in this department across the world, and the way Delroy Wilson executes Sammy Dead is a forerunner for a whole host of songs in my collection.
In choosing a Favourite Song I could have been uber-cool and gone for Lee Perry singing Mother in Law; but no, I’m choosing Turn Your Lamp Down Low by Jackie Opel simply because when I played this album for the first time last week……I danced to it. I couldn’t help myself, first the hips then the feet and before I knew it I was Skanking in the kitchen, much to Mrs. Magpie’s amusement but when I pressed ‘repeat’ she joined in…..and that is what Ska Music was, is and always be about……dancing!
As it’s a major milestone for me on Friday April 20th I thought I’d do a sort of Top 10 of songs that have influenced me over that 60 years; or 55 years in musical terms!
As regular readers will know I have very eclectic taste which probably started in my childhood as the youngest of four brothers in the 1960’s.
My Mam loved Glenn Miller and the like and my Dad who had a good baritone voice, liked a good singer on the TV; but was very sceptical of modern ‘long haired’ music (cue Stereotype jokes).
Norman, my oldest brother was a Teddy Boy and played Elvis, Cliff and Marty Wilde 78’s whenever he was home from the Navy.
Brian was a bit of a Folkie who eventually introduced me to Blues Music via his massive record collection.
Melvyn was a Mod who loved the Who, Yardbirds and Small Faces then evolved into a Dylan fan and the Singer-songwriters of the 1970’s…..which was an open door for what was to come in my later life.
Me? Born in 58 I was a child of the 70’s starting with T Rex and Slade singles which begat ‘Big Boys Music’with the Faces, Rory Gallagher and the Rolling Stones (which was actually a thread for all three younger siblings).
When you get to #1 on Friday you will realise that there are well over 100 other songs that have influenced me at one time or another but these 10 really are cornerstones to what you read on the Rocking Magpie on a daily basis.
So; here goes with # 3
The Specials – Too Much Too Young.
WOW! As a teenager the cheap This is Reggae and Trojan VA albums were regulars at parties and Youth Club discos but nothing prepared me for the rawness and dancebility of the Specials……OI wore one copy of this EP out and had to buy a second.
OK Madness can sell out football stadiums and many of their peers were pretty much one or two hit wonders; but this song and each Specials LP has the staying power of a nitro powered Ford Escort. Loved it then and still love it in 2018 #Keep The Faith Brothers and Sisters.
Capone and the Bullets
THIS IS FUSION
A Cracking Album of Sparkling and Sparky Skatastic Songs From Scotland.
Where I live in NE England there are 3 or 4 Ska covers bands doing the rounds of the pubs and clubs to pretty much packed houses and a good night is had by all; but take away the Madness and Specials greatest hits alongside a couple of Bad Manners songs there ain’t much left; certainly nothing original.
Yet In Scotland there is and always has been a thriving scene with at any time 5 or 6 bands (with intertwining members) supplying their own original twist on all things Skatastic and not necessarily just the 2 Tone blend.
One of those bands is Capone and the Bullets and I can’t believe it was in 1998 that I bought their debut album on Jam Down Records from the Do The Dog website……20 years? Ye-Gads where does the time go?
With world domination looking ever more unlikely they split the following year; but due to popular demand they reformed in 2012 and have subsequently played numerous festival and Scooter Weekends to huge acclaim; and here have the ‘difficult follow-up album’.
To a Ska aficionado like myself opening track Freedom Train #1 is a really exciting instrumental that blows the speakers off their stands; very much in the style of originators like Harry J’s Allstars
and their ilk……a power-bass, swirling Hammond organ, sparky guitars and enough trumpets and trombones to bring down the Walls of Jericho…..what a start!
That Classic Ska sound prevails throughout the album; with ‘Fusion’ being a very apt description as there are definite elements of Soul, R&B throughout and even Power-Pop on Good Times and perhaps Hypocrite with both are as skankingly danceable as the rest.
Biff! Bop! Pow! Cruel To Be Kind and Love Story are the type of 100mph sing-along/dance-along songs that made The Specials famous and the stories interred inside both sets of lyrics are every bit as thought provoking and sharp as anything Coventry’s finest ever recorded too.
Then there is Detective, a deep Ska-Noir instrumental, and now that the tune exists we need someone like Ian Rankin to invent a Jamaican Detective who solves crimes in the hinterlands of Airdrie and Falkirk for this to be the theme tune. #Fact.
As I inferred earlier This Is Fusion is a perfect description of Capone and the Bullets ‘sound’ and nothing defines that better than our favourite song here, There’s a Light That Never Goes Out. Yes, that one …..the Smith’s classic and a long time favourite of me and my football buddies; but now Skanked Up and Slowed Down to become an edgy Ska love song; seriously it’s amazing, and if a band has the temerity to cover such a powerful song there’s no point in copying the original is it?
So, is the world finally ready for Capone And The Bullets? I certainly hope so as this is a cracking album of sparkling and sparky songs from a bunch of musicians who obviously love what they do….and you will too.
To most people I know Ska starts and ends with Madness; although a few still ‘remember’ the Specials and…..sadly they run out of ideas at that stage.
But; there is still a very strong and vibrant British Ska scene bubbling under the surface and has been for over thirty years to my knowledge, playing to sold out halls (large and small) every weekend of the year; all of which can be found in the magnificent magazine Do The Dog who have been chronicling albums and gigs from around the world for many, many years.
Editor of Do The Dog, Kevin Flowerdew also has a popular, (but only occasional) Beat Combo all of his own too; The Bakesys, and I am still a proud owner of their 2011 debut album; funnily enough called….The Bakesys!
Due to popular demand (?) the original trio have finally pooled their pocket money and recorded this brand new EP.
Taking their lead from 60’s Jamaican Ska legends like The Skatalites, Tommy McCook and The Dragonaires The Bakesys’ ‘sound’ is a lot slower than the latter 2-Tone movement, and opening track Anything & Everything with it’s ‘tough times ahead’ and anti-austerity message sets the groove perfectly for what I want from my favourite Ska Band.
That theme carries through the next song, If You Ain’t Got It (You’ll Never Get It) and you quickly understand why the guys felt the need to write about what they see around their neighbourhoods every day; and the end result is well worth hearing……and spreading around.
I will nip past track #3; as it is my ‘favourite track’ and tell you about When The Zombies Come. Can you guess what it’s about? Yep; a couch potato who spends all day playing video games and The Bakesys warn him that he needs to up his game and get fit……because ‘when the zombies come/you better run Rudy run!’ Hahahahaha……it is what is and I likes it a whole lot.
The EP comes to a an all too swift conclusion with track #5 No Time For Counting Sheep; about the way many, many people feel these days with a work/sleep/work/sleep conundrum to make ends meet…..and the way the electric organ keeps going fuzzy really does represent the way I/we feel some days when you can’t remember if it’s Tuesday or Sunday!
Whoosh…..let’s slip back to track #3 Your 10ft Smile, easily my ‘favourite track’ here. In another life this tale of a ‘cheater’ being caught out on a gut-punch of a Broken-hearted love song, could have been a Country Song; but the Bakesys chunka-chunka Ska beat and judicious use of electronic effects makes it Classic Ska of the finest vintage.
Not only is MORE BAKESYS danceable; it most certainly is; but more importantly the guys have something to say about the state of the country (and world) and say it ever so eloquently.
Do the right thing……buy it; you won’t regret it.
I haven’t been this politicised since the cusp of the 1970’s and 80’s when my country was going to Hell in a handcart and me and mostly my family were collateral damage in Maggie Thatcher’s Broken Britain and I’m devastated to find the same and perhaps worse (Food kitchens!!!!!!!) conditions prevail in 2017.
I’ve been endlessly promoting the recordings of Quiet Loner who has put my political feelings and those of many of my friends in song.
Jump back to those heady days 40 years ago and one of our anthems was Stand Down Margaret by the Beat which quickly became the riotous encore at RAR and Support The Miners concerts, but more noticeably for me….. Geordie legends Arthur 2 Stroke and the Chart Commandos closed every show with it.
A couple of days ago a friend told me about this wonderful re-worded song by another Ska band ….Captain Ska.
As I type this LIAR LIAR! A cool Ska footstomper full of righteous indignation and razor sharp observations about the snivelling twists and turns from our new Illustrious Leader Theresa May (and featuring some of her snide sound bites) is on the cusp of the Top 40!
A little push from me urging you to squander 100 British penny’s on the download will surely get it into the charts and……onto mainstream radio! (Oh…all profits go to 2 great charities too so its a Win-Win situation)
Come on guys……you know it makes sense.
The Beat (featuring Ranking Roger)
Fresh Faced Reggae-Ska Fusion With a Bit of a Message Deep in the Grooves.
Ranking Roger has been proudly flying the Beat flag for many years now; and while the live shows feature all the original hits; ‘this’ band has actually developed and evolved their very own sound and songs over 30 years on the road.
The album opens with the infectious Walking on the Wrong Side; which carries the trademark Beat ‘chunka-chunka’ Reggae-Ska chops; and Roger’s voice has never sounded better on a tale of the dangers black youth face on a daily basis.
The skanking continues with a vengeance over the next couple of songs; but The Beat enter heavy Bluebeat territory on Avoid The Obvious; a marvellous song just crying out for a Heavy Dub remix…..in my humble opinion.
My copy doesn’t make it clear; but I presume the dancelicious Talkin’ About Her is a duet between Ranking Roger and son and heir Ranking Junior (aka Matthew Murphy) and it works a treat; brining a little bit of Jamaican sunshine into my damp Summer.
To some degree I wish Roger hadn’t released this album under The Beat franchise; as he is selling himself short because this is very much is ‘his album’ with tracks like Work, Work, Work and My Dream owing more to Orange Street than New Street; and being all the better for it.
The endearing Reggae-Ska beats and melodies on offer here are all as fresh as a daisy; and only ever offer a nod to the past, with My Dream being a great example of a band being as tight as a badgers bum and top producer Mick Lister bringing the very best out of the crew.
Favourite track? Walking on the Wrong Side is the obvious choice for a single; but I love the heavier Roots of Close The Door which bookends the album and again features Ranking Junior Toasting in between Ranking Roger’s sweet voice on some fairly hard hitting verses.
While the album flows along very sweetly; two songs do stand out – Side to Side and My Dream, with both having a slightly heavier sound; and when you read that they were mixed by the legendary Dennis Bovell you will nod knowingly….. and I wouldn’t mind him having a go at remixing the whole album; or is that being greedy?
While I had my reservations when I first received this album; Bounce has been a delight from start to finish and has rekindled my love for Ska and Reggae music…..thank you Roger.
PS. The first time I saw this version of The Beat a young band from Leeds were third on the bill, and were laughed off the stage by us cool kids for ‘trying too hard’……whatever happened to the Kaiser Chiefs?
The Cut Throat Razors
Motown’s Lost It’s Soul (EP)
Ska-Soul Hybrid With a Cutting Edge.
What is it with Scotland and Ska music? To my reckoning there are currently at least 6 excellent Ska bands currently plying their trade in the People’s Republic; each with between 6 and 10 members at any given time, loaded with songs and tunes to satisfy even the toughest of critics.
The Cut Throat Razors only crossed my radar via the Twitter when this EP was being advertised by Glasgow’s Love Music Record shop.
A message was sent and 48hrs later the shiny new CD was in my player and I shuffling my feet and bum in time to opening track Motown’s Lost it’s Soul.
Less a denunciation of the Motown Record label (although that would be fair) and more a sharply observed comparison between the decline in the Detroit motor industry and singer Scott Crawford’s home town of Paisley on the outskirts of Glasgow. Sadly the sentiment throughout this cool dance tune will resonate with far too many people in the UK Heartlands North of the M25. Play LOUD and often!
Losing my mind is a full on foot stomping floor-filler, with a killer bass line. There’s a story in there about unrequited love; but this is a song for a night out and bouncing around too with gay abandon.
Track three opens with some sparkling electric piano as the band breeze into another slice of uber-cool Ska with a hook that would snare Moby Dick. A modern day love song between two Mods and by far my favourite track here. Reminiscent of Secret Affair in their prime, by the way.
Politics comes back to the fore with the final cut here; A Beautiful Day. How can that be, with a title like that you ask? Well; dear reader this song was written the day after Lady Thatcher died. If that sentiment makes you feel uncomfortable you are reading the wrong website!
To the rest of us (Up North) its a glorious ode to the dawning of what we thought was going to be a New Era.
For what it’s worth the day that ‘the announcement’ was made I was sitting in a cafe in Mexborough, South Yorkshire when an old man burst in, and shouted to no one in particular “The witch is dead! Thatcher is dead!” I sat in amazement as the 6 or 7 people shook hands and hugged each other before I was drawn in; by deed of being a Durham Coal Miners son.
We have long memories; don’t we?
Four cool slices of Pop-Ska with a soulful underbelly; and all bodes well for a forthcoming album.