A Tribute to the Skatalites
Yes, it’s yet another of the seemingly endless stream of tribute albums. However, this is by far one of the most overdue. See, the Skatalites basically invented ska, which started as a hybrid of mento (a Jamaican folk music), jazz, and American R&B. Literally hundreds, if not thousands of bands of all genres, from ska to hip-hop to electronica, owe these legendary men a debt that can never be fully repaid. Freedom Sounds is a giant step toward settling that debt, as almost every track on it does the Skatalites proud.
Wisely and thankfully, most of the bands here don’t stray far from the source material, which in some cases is surprising. Surely, a lot of fans might shudder at the thought of the Aquabats doing “Ska Ba,” but their version, retitled “Ska Boss,” is quite shockingly traditional, with just a bit of the ‘Bats’ trademark wackiness seeping in. Similarly, Ruder Than You, a band that’s known more for being annoying than anything else, turns in a fantastic take on “El Pussycat.” Even the meowing is cute! Then, of course, there are tracks that I knew, without a single listen, wouldn’t disappoint, such as the Slackers on “Calypso Jazz” and the Scofflaws doing “Dr. Ring-A-Ding.” Sheer bliss.
Of the bands that do play with the format, a few do it quite successfully. MagaDog contributes a “Man in the Streets” that borders on dub, with a slower tempo and lots of cool effects. Otis Reem does a surprisingly strong take on “Ball of Fire,” which threatens to fall over into the abyss of ska-core, but then takes a sharp left turn into swing and jazz instead, keeping the listener on his or her toes. Les Miserabes Brass Band (featuring ex-Bim Skala Bim/current Pilfers t-bone genius Vinny Nobile) takes “Latin Goes Ska” to New Orleans jazz territory, for an interesting hybrid.
As a whole, Freedom Sounds gives the Skatalites the respect and honor they deserve. There are a few duds here (don’t get me started about what Perfect Thyroid did to poor “Phoenix City,” for one prime example), but overall it’s a fun listen and a fitting tribute. Shanachie Entertainment Corp., PO Box 284, Newton, NJ 07860-0284, http://www.shanachie.com