Cactus Juice

Moon Ska NYC

Some of the faces in Mobtown have changed since their debut record, The Rhythm of Ska, came out almost two years ago. Apparently, those personnel changes have made a change in the band’s sound, as well — don’t expect to hear much of the smoky Latin-influenced sound that graced such stunners as Rhythm‘s “Cup of Joe” and “Zoot Suit Samba.” That’s not to say that Cactus Juice is a bad record, it’s just a departure from what you might think of as the Mobtown sound.

One of the biggest changes in Mobtown’s sound is an increased focus on Amy Long as the featured vocalist (she previously shared vocal duties). With both the change in musical direction and the spotlight on a female voice, a lot of the tracks sound like second-hand Skalars tunes. That may sound like bad thing, but it isn’t; while there is a superficial similarity on tracks like “Jump Up,” “Sweet Paradise,” and “Remember,” Mobtown’s sound retains a jazzier root (as opposed to the Skalars’ soulful edge) that sets them apart. Still, Mobtown’s “Pets Go to Heaven” could sit next to the Skalars’ “Spoiled Brat” in one of Spy Magazine‘s “Separated at Birth” columns, and you’d swear they were twin sisters.

Another big change is the virtual absence of the steel drums on this record. Previously, they were a big Mobtown hallmark, and since no other ska band really made use of them, they helped make the band almost instantly recognizable. Here, they only really shine on the torchy “Josephine’s Revenge,” and I find myself craving more.

Still in all, there’s a solid record to be heard here. One real standout is “Eazy Rider,” an atmospheric instrumental (with a little spoken word flavor over the top) that will almost put you in the mind of Pink Floyd until the horns kick in. In fact, all the instrumental stuff on Cactus Juice is beyond reproach. A favorite is the smoky saxophone-driven “Silent Happiness” showcasing reed-man Brian Wallace at his best, but tracks like the jazzy “Under Fire,” the hyper-kinetic jumper “Coming to Get You,” and a stylish cover of the Skatalites’ “Bridgeview” fare equally well.

All in all, it’s an interesting change of pace for Mobtown on Cactus Juice. It will be interesting to see where the band goes from here — they’ve undergone still more lineup shuffling since the recording of Cactus Juice, including the loss of Long. Don’t be surprised if their next release is something completely different yet again. Don’t let that hamper your enjoyment of this one, though – it’s sharp, through and through. Moon SKA NYC, P.O. Box 1412, Cooper Station, New York, NY 10276;

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