This Is Ska!

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

I can’t get enough of ska. It’s happy music, and I rarely listen to anything I would categorize as such. Ska, though, does it for me in a way that few other genres do. It’s soothing and uplifting and there is almost never a time when I would turn down the opportunity to listen to it.

What I Think of This Album

A pretty good ska comp with, I think, only very little overlap with the other ska albums I own. I already have the Desmond Dekker songs (not sure why they put two of them on here and both on the first half of the comp, too, though the pair – “Shanty Town” and “Pickney Gal” – are great songs) and the Dandy Livingstone original “Rudy, A Message to You.” Almost everything else is a delightful education.

For starters, the Ethiopians’ “Train to Skaville” – which borrows the horn part from June Carter’s “Ring of Fire”  – features remarkable, sighing harmonies. The Ethiopians also get a second track, “The Whip,” with jaunty horns (of course) and a glass/metallic percussion sound. Jimmy Cliff is represented by “Miss Jamaica,” which adds a pop element to the ska sound. “Guns of Navarone” by the Skatalites is a classic, well known to fans of the Specials, who covered it; those triumphant horns are amazing, as is the guiro rhythm.

The fat bass on Roland Alphonso’s “Phoenix City” from 1965 is sturdy enough to hold its own against the insistent horns (what a trumpet solo!) and the excellent percussion (once again, with a guiro that won’t quit); saxophonist Alphonso was a founding member of the Skatalites. The Upsetters (formerly Gladdy’s All-Stars) were Lee “Scratch” Perry’s house band and eventually morphed into Bob Marley’s Wailers. They contribute steamy instrumental “Return of Django,” written by Perry.

Lord Tanamo sings “I’m In the Mood for Ska,” which is a ska version of 1935’s “I’m In the Mood for Love” (which has been sung by, among others, Darla and Alfalfa of the Little Rascals, Mae West, Rod Stewart, and Fats Domino); I am pretty sure the Skatalites are the backing band here.

There is a strong soul element to 1964 instrumental “Man In the Street” (credited to trombonist Don Drummond, again with the Skatalites as the band). Derrick (Morgan) and Patsy (Todd) perform cute duet “Housewife’s Choice,” which was originally called “You Don’t Know,” and was a hit in Jamaica in 1961 and led to a feud between Prince Buster and Leslie Kong.

The weakest song is probably “Double Barrel,” and probably because it is from 1970, well past the heyday of ska (though the tune was a hit in England for Dave and Ansell Collins). This song is the first recorded appearance on drums by Sly Dunbar of Sly and Robbie. “Carry Go Bring Come” is known to fans of the Selecter, here in its original 1964 version by Justin Hinds and the Dominoes.

Also pretty well known is “Long Shot Kick De Bucket” – about an unfortunate racehorse – by the Pioneers (who provide wonderful vocals); this 1969 song was covered by the Specials. The disc closes with the Baba Brooks Band’s “Watermelon Man,” which is a song title that I really can’t endorse, but the tune is pretty cool, with bright, dramatic horns that break apart and intertwine in fascinating ways.

The Best Thing About This Album

The original “Guns of Navarone.”

Release Date

1997

The Cover Art

The yellow is hideous and the white font is difficult to read. I am in favor of the graphic element and the dancing silhouettes. I could do without the song titles.


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