Music Reviews

Ska American Style

Various Artists

Jump Up! Ska

The title of this comp is a bit of a misnomer. Not everything here is ska, strictly speaking. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. The bands that are contributing non-ska stuff do play ska, too, and play most of their gigs with ska bands, so the CD is still a fun look at the Midwestern ska scene, and well worth a listen. National distro by the folks at major label Universal ensures that these bands are going to get some serious exposure, and most of them rise to the task admirably.

Some of my favorite tracks on Ska American Style are the aforementioned non-ska tracks. Suspect Bill’s two tracks deliver some great female-fronted old-school swing that had me ready to dance, especially “Café Trichter.” The always fantastic Adjusters contribute an amazing soul number (“The Way You Move,” which really emphasizes the girls in the band) and a tasty reggae tune (a cover of Bob Marley’s “Rebel Jam”). The main focus is definitely on ska, though, and it’s here in abundance. Gangster Fun’s 2Tone-y “Date with Density” is a definite highlight; it’s one of the catchiest ska tunes this side of the Madness classic “Baggy Trousers,” with lyrics just as nutty as anything the Maddies ever came up with. Telegraph’s “American Way” is a catchy Less Than Jake-y ska-punk singalong. “Box,” from the Exceptions, has the same singalong qualities, but is far less punky, with smooth horn riffs reminiscent of the late, lamented Skunks. Deals Gone Bad’s moody, atmospheric “Elephants” is another stand-out, with a hauntingly original sound all its own, thanks to some smooth organ and bari sax work. With the exception of Deals Gone Bad (unfortunately, I’d have liked to have heard more), each of these bands gets a second song, which is also worth a listen in each case. For that matter, so is the rest of the comp, except for two misguided attempts at fusing ska and hip hop, Skapone’s “Tracy” and Rhy Memaster’s “The Ska Machine.” Both are perversely catchy, but fall short of the high standard set by the rest of the record.

Overall, though, there’s a lot worth checking out on Ska American Style. While you will need to keep an open mind about what constitutes ska, if you give this comp an honest chance, you’ll be glad you did. I’ve heard that Vol. 2 is already in the works, and if this is any indication of what to expect, I can’t wait to hear it! Jump Up! Ska, 4409_ N. Greenview, Suite 2W, Chicago, IL 60640;

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