When this disc arrived in the mail, my first thought was “huh?” I’d heard nothing about this at all, and had no idea who Coyabalites are. Investigating the liner notes, I discovered a line-up that just about knocked my socks off. Coyabalites is a supergroup of Jamaican reggae and ska legends, including the vocals of Justin Hinds, Ernest Ranglin on guitar, Harold Butler on keys, and Bob Marley and the Wailers’ horn section (Vin Gordon on trombone, David Madden on trumpet, and Glen DaCosta on saxophone). Having discovered this, I was stoked to hear an album full of covers of Jamaican ska classics played by some of the founding fathers.
The album gets off to a great start with a medley “Coyaba Ska” and Justin Hinds’ own classic “Carry Go Bring Come,” that sets the tone for the album. Like Jazz Jamaica, another Jamaican supergroup, Coyabalites lean heavily toward the jazzy side, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but definitely makes for more of a relaxing background music feel than a Jamaican dance party extravaganza. On tunes like the Don Drummond compositions “Occupation” and “Eastern Standard Time,” this works especially well, and tracks like “Tear Up” and “Purpose” might just put you in the mood for a good snifter of brandy. On other tracks, like the Toots and the Maytals classic “Monkey Man,” and Millie Small’s worldwide smash “My Boy Lollipop” (the first ska record to hit number one on the US charts), it doesn’t work at all (of course, neither track is sung by Hinds, which adds to the disappointment in them). A take on “Bonanza,” the theme to the TV series of the same name, is just annoying. Tracks like the uptempo “Bridgeview” and the smooth jam “Reggae Medley” more than make up for these minor shortcomings.
As a whole, Unhinged succeeds at showcasing the abilities of the stellar talents that make up Coyabalites. It’s always good to see the old-school masters still at work, and hopefully this collaboration will lead to new original material from these giants of Jamaican music. Shanachie Entertainment Group, P.O. Box 284, Newton, NJ 07860-0284, http://www.shanachie.com