Monday, December 10, 2012

MOTB Reviews The Year In Ska 2012

I always enjoy year end wrap-ups and 2012 was another banner year for ska music . There was an unbelievable cornucopia of local shows, national tours and festivals, books, new albums and music to enjoy. In fact, the amount of ska related developments came so fast and furious at times, it was hard to keep up because there was so much to digest and write about.

My good friend Steve Shafer, the man behind the always excellent Duff Guide To Ska blog and my co-conspirator in booking and promoting our monthly Electric Avenue ska/reggae nights at Characters NYC is currently posting a great series titled "2012: The Year In Ska". He has reached out to a vast and diverse group of ska loving people to get their thoughts on the year that is about to end. He was also kind enough to ask me about my opinions on the state of ska this past year which he has posted on his blog. I am also re-posting the year in ska thoughts I shared with him here on my blog along with video of some of my favorite albums and live shows. Please be sure to visit the Duff Guide To Ska to check out all the other great year end wraps.

Without further ado, here is what made 2012 for me...

My top 5 favorite ska releases in 2012

1.The Ultrainfidels EPChris Dowd appears to be a man possessed with the musical spirit again. Nearly a decade out of the musical limelight, the ex-Fishbone singer, keyboardist and trombonist is back with a new ska band -- The Ultrainfidels. The band's new six song EP is dynamic, diverse (he has dubbed the band's sound as The Specials meets Yes and Metalica), thoughtful, intelligent and incredibly danceable. Even better, Dowd isn't shying away from embracing his Fishbone roots or his love of ska. One song in particular, "Cubicle" could have come from Fishbone's frenetic first EP originally released in 1985. It chronicles Dowd's time when he had a straight, 9 to 5 job. It moves from hyper ska to a Beatles-like psychedelic bridge that reveals Dowd's self awareness. The emotionally soulful "Time Ain't Long" (like many of the best tracks from Fishbone's classic "Truth & Soul") celebrates life while noting its impermanence and the difficult but essential lessons it offers us as we travel from youth to middle age.

2. The Skints - Part & Parcel: The mean streets of London have proved to be a fertile breeding ground for gritty ska and reggae songs for many years. The Clash, Madness, The King Blues and now The Skints have emerged from the city armed with bittersweet tales about surviving in the rough and tough neighborhoods across the English capital. While reminiscing about his roots in one of these neighborhoods on "Rise Up", vocalist Joshua Walters Rudge warns of the dangers of growing up there on "Live East Die Young". His lightning-quick cockney chat is complemented by the sublime vocals of Marcia Richards, particularly on the excellent "Ratatat". This is a modern day dub, ska, reggae and hip hop-inspired classic and The Skints could be the 21st century version of The Specials we have all been waiting for.

3. The Frightnrs EP: I found myself listening to this brilliant six song EP of authentic rub-a-dub reggae from the Brooklyn-based band a lot this year. The songs have a timeless quality and the band have done a fantastic job of recreating the rockers phase of early 70's reggae to a tee drawing influences and inspiration from Alton Ellis, Horace Andy and Sugar Minott. Its clear that the band members live, breathe and love early dancehall, 70's reggae and rocksteady. This devotion shines through, making this an absolute must listen for all fans of reggae and ska.

4. Tim Timebomb & Friends: Tim Armstrong from Rancid remains a musical force to be reckoned with. I also love that he is a music fan at heart. His latest project is to record and post some of his favorite cover songs including an incredibly diverse mix of ska, country, rockabilly and rock songs that have particular meaning for him. He took a crack at a number of 2-Tone era covers, but his best may be his acoustic cover of The Beat's "Save It For Later" which gets to core of the song's bittersweet center and his emotional and moving rocksteady take on The Faces "Ohh La La" may be one of his best songs ever.

5. Phoenix City All-Stars - Two Tone Gone Ska: This inspired and unbeatable collection of mostly instrumental versions of classic 2 Tone tracks that you know and love so well have been taken back to the future from whence they came -- namely 1960's Jamaica. Each song sounds like it was recorded in a small, 4-track circa 60's Kingston studio. The inclusion of legendary guest vocalists Dave Barker (the voice of Dave & Ansell Collins) on Elvis Costello's "I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down" and AJ Franklin (The Federals and The Chosen Few) on Smokey Robinson & The Miracles/The Beat's "Tears Of A Clown" complete the musical circle.

Top 5 favorite live ska shows in 2012

1. The Ultrainfidels - December 1st, Bordentown, NJ (Video from a show in NYC a few nights earlier)

2. Madness at Coachella - April 14th, Indio, CA (Live Coachella stream on YouTube)

3. Jimmy Cliff at Coachella - April 14th, Indio, CA (Live Coachella stream on YouTube)

4. Destroy Babylon/The Frightnrs - October 13th, New York, NY

5. The Beat Brigade - September 15th, New York, NY

My favorite ska-related merchandise/items purchased in 2012 (shirts, badges, stickers, books, used vinyl, etc.)

I'm a t-shirt freak! So I always try and pick up shirts for the many bands I see or my band Bigger Thomas plays with. Its also a great way to get some cash into the hands of bands who are getting paid a lot less than you think! I was finally able to grab a classic Beat Girl t-shirt at a show we played with The English Beat this summer which replaced the shredded original I had from 1983. I also got a classic Clash t-shirt (showing my age and roots here!)

My top 5 ska regrets—things I wished I could have seen/picked up or done in 2012

1. Missing the London International Ska Festival 2012 was a huge regret. My band Bigger Thomas was in the running for a fan vote to pick one band to perform at the festival. We finished in the top 3, but we were disappointed to miss playing. I plan to attend the 2013 version as a fan!

2. For a lot of very personal reasons, I was very sad to miss the Rocks Off Halloween Boat Party with Mephiskapheles, Inspecter 7 and Step2Far at the end of October.

3. Hurricane Sandy ruined my debut as a DJ alongside DJ Duff (Steve Shafer) at the The Toasters show at the Knitting Factory in early November. The good news was the show went on and Chuck Zilla (The Frightners) and Maddie Ruthless (The Forthrights) ably filled in for us.

4. Missing the Lee Perry's show at the Gramercy Theatre here in NYC which is a short bus ride from my apartment. I'm kicking myself for not going to see a reggae legend. Still have to see him live at some point.

5. Letting a little rain dissuade me from going to see Jimmy Cliff kick off his U.S. tour in Prospect Park in Brooklyn this past summer.

My Top 5 ska wishes for 2013

1. I have very high hopes for the Electric Avenue ska and reggae shows I co-book and co-promote with Steve Shafer of Duff Guide To Ska. I think we are making progress on establishing a monthly destination in Manhattan/NYC for ska fans to come and check out the very best bands from all over the east coast of the U.S. and beyond.

2. My band Bigger Thomas is celebrating our 25th anniversary in 2013 and we are planning to release an EP of new music. I hope we can play out a lot more in 2013 to mark our quarter century of playing ska and that we can finally record more of the songs we have written.

3. To be part of the backing band for King Hammond on his U.S. tour in November 2013. It would be a real honor and thrill to learn his songs and to play live with him.

4. That The Specials come back to do a proper tour of the U.S. in 2013!

5. Go see more shows. Listen to more music. Play more music. Write more songs.  Write more blog posts on MOTB. Meet more ska-loving people!

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