A Radio Benefit CD of Chicagoland Ska
Jump Up! Ska
Perhaps this CD should be subtitled “thanks for all you do, Chuck Wren.” Along with being the head of the Jump Up! label (best known for the American Skathic series of comps), Chuck Wren is one of the chief cheerleaders for ska in the Midwest. It’s safe to say that if it weren’t for Chuck, there wouldn’t be such an active scene in that area. Everything Off-Beat (the compilation) is a benefit for one of Chuck’s many projects, Everything Off-Beat (the radio show). On the air since 1989, the show recently moved to a high-powered commercial station to increase its reach. The catch: in order to retain 100% creative control over the show, they have to pay for the airtime! As the liner notes detail, advertising only covers half the cost of keeping the show on the air, hence, this benefit CD gives the Midwest bands a chance to give back to the man that’s given so much to them.
Unfortunately, a lot of Midwest ska falls into the ska-punk category, and while there are bands that can do this well (for example, the Midwest’s own Mustard Plug and MU330), too often it’s simply an excuse to play sloppily and not take the time to learn your instrument. There are some here that do fall into the rarified company of the former. Hot Stove Jimmy lead off with the tight “Downsides Ahead,” and while “The Day From Hell,” from Skali Baba & the 40oz. Horns treads that same territory, it throws in a swingy element for good measure. The Monsignors’ “Introducing Razor Ramone” is a bit hard to listen to, but they do get points for starting it as a cover of Anthrax’s “I’m the Man.” Others, though, fall into the generic company of a million faceless bands. The Tardies have an appropriate name; their horns are late and out of pace throughout their track. Luke Skawalker’s “Macho Sexist Piece o’ Trash” can only be considered ska by the broadest of definitions. Alderman’s track is just painful. Some of the others are so generic, I couldn’t even remember their names long enough to type them.
Some of the brightest spots on the comp are the bands that don’t play what is considered the typical Midwest sound. The prime example is Space Heaters, whose “The Girl Next Door” is a jazzy delight that wouldn’t be out of place on an Articles or Skavoovie & the Epitones record. The Skabeatles set down an amazing bass line that drives “Just Get By,” a really original and fun soulful number, and while they could use a little work vocally, they definitely shine here. The only other track that breaks the Midwest stereotype, “It Won’t Die” from the MIBs, isn’t quite as good, but does provide a nice change of pace.
Everything Off-Beat is certainly a good cause, and well worth supporting. I just wish some of the Midwest’s stronger bands had turned out to prove as much. Still, if you’re into ska-punk or the Midwest sound, you can’t go wrong here, and even if you aren’t, the $5 price makes it worthwhile just to support the cause and get the Space Heaters and Skabeatles tracks. Jump Up! Records, 4409 1/2 Greenview, Suite 2W, Chicago, IL 60640; http://www.mcs.com/~jumpup/WWW/homepage.html