Back With a New Batch
The long-awaited follow-up to Open Season is finally here, and it was worth every minute of the wait. Despite lineup changes and label troubles, the Stubborn All-Stars once again excel at the traditional ska style on Back With a New Batch. While the sound is a bit different, and this record doesn’t immediately grab you by the lapels the way Open Season did, the groove is unmistakably the same.
The most noticeable difference between the two SAS records is that the emphasis is more on the rhythm here, as opposed to the horns. That might sound like a detraction, but it really isn’t; the horns are still plentiful and brilliant, they just aren’t given as much of the limelight. “Glimmer of Hope” doesn’t even HAVE horns, just a guitar-bass-percussion-keys combo that produces a beautiful, simple ballad. Similarly, the straight-ahead reggae number “Crop No Drop” leaves the horns behind (appropriately, since reggae as a whole doesn’t use much in the way of horns). Another beautiful ballad, “I Can’t Touch You,” uses the horns, but only minimally, as the emphasis is on frontman Jeff “King Django” Baker on a soulful, torchy, ’50s-style slow burner.
Other tracks do have the horns in as full effect as the first album did. Prime examples are the big band sound of “Because of You” and the ultra-catchy “Pick Yourself Up,” a great foot-tapping number sure to get you dancing (and singing along with the gang-vocal chorus, supplied here by the Bosstones’ Dicky Barret and Tim Armstrong, Lars Frederiksen, and Matt Freeman of Rancid). Other highlights include both versions of “Tired of Struggling” (especially the dub reggae “Struggling Version,” with guest toasting by the Toasters’ Jack Ruby, Jr.) and the funky title track. Two other tracks are notable in that Django turns over the vocal spotlight; “Dave Helm” (with vocals by, appropriately enough, Dave Helm), and “Thankful” (featuring keyboardist and Slackers lead singer Vic Ruggiero) are both a lot of fun.
All in all, if you liked Open Season, you should love Back With a New Batch. It won’t grab you as instantaneously as Open Season did, but after a few listens, you’ll surely be caught up in the groove. Triple Crown Records, 331 West 57th #472, New York, NY 10019