Every year, KDHX asks the djs to compile a Top Ten of the past twelve months. I love this exercise! Not only does it give me a chance to spread the word about the best Ska and Reggae currently out there, but I also get to rediscover and reconnect with some of the music that might have fallen through the cracks otherwise.
It was a big year for Ska, with tons of releases. Some of the best material of the year was in the short format of EPs, digital singles and 7 inches, so I’m also going to give these their own list. But first, let’s start with the full lengths-
Best of Ska and Reggae in 2011:
10. The Snails – Kingston to Memphis – Self The Snails’ sound can best be summed up by two of their tunes, the title track, From Memphis to Kingston and the opening track, Rocksteady and Roll. The record truly is equal parts garage rock and organ heavy ska/reggae, creating a sound that comes off as more unique than your standard ska/punk fair. But don’t take my word for it, King Django has recently endorsed the group by choosing them as his backing group on an upcoming tour.
9. Roy Ellis – Boss Is Back – Liquidator Due to a recent resurgence in interest in the Early Reggae of the late 60’s, Roy Ellis, former member of Prince Buster’s The Pyramids and it’s European off-shoot, Symarip, has jumped at the chance to record new material for an eager audience. Boss Is Back is clean, strong and most of all fun.
8. The Ratazanas – Lick It Back: Historical Reggae Vol 1 – Grover The Ratazanas are something of an oddity. They stick to the Early Reggae conventions that are dominating Europe, these days, but they add a decidedly silly flair to the whole thing. Their new record Lick It Back finds the band using world history as it’s lyrical inspiration, but keeps the reggae style in the realm of minimalism, almost Upsetters-esque, with a pinch of randy slack-ness.
7. The Dropsteppers – Get Up In It! – Megalith Here’s a band that just floored me the moment I heard them. The Dropsteppers are playing a soul-amped version of Rocksteady, that sounds completely modern, but without even the slightest betrayal to the Rocksteady tradition. And isn’t that what the world is hungry for these days- respectfully retro, but with a modern approach?
6. Dan P And The Bricks – Watch Where You Walk – Asian Man I loved MU330. I loved Dan Potthast’s acoustic solo records. Therefore, I was already a fan of The Bricks before I even heard the first note. I’m happy to report that my knee-jerk assumptions were justified; Watch Where You Walk is fantastic! It’s a fuller sound than his acoustic work, obviously, and gone is the ‘psycho’ in Dan’s ska. This record has more of a two-tone vibe, if I had to put a finger on it, but this is not some Specials derivative either. Clever lyrics, fast-paced rockin’ ska with smart horns- highly recommended!
5. The Aggrolites – Unleashed Live Vol 1 – Self This is actually the second full length release from the Aggros, this year. While I was under-whelmed by their studio work onRugged Road, I was pleased as punch about this live record. Their raw reggae power comes through loud and clear as they rip through their greatest hits. Organist, Roger Rivas is a standout on the record, as always.
4. Hollie Cook – Hollie Cook – Mr. Bongo Hollie Cook gets a lot of comparisons to the women of Studio One, but I almost think that’s unfair. While I love Doreen, Dawn, Hortense and the rest, the ladies of Jamaica’s past didn’t always hit all the notes, and the tone is inconsistent on a lot of those old recordings. Cook, on the other hand is flawless. Sure you get those old-school Caribbean rhythms, with dark-dubby overtones, but I think Hollie Cook sounds less like the past and more like the future.
3. Hepcat – Live At The Whisky A Go Go 1992 – Whatevski It’s been over a decade since their last record was released. All Hepcat fans have gotten recently is the occasional show in California and the odd YouTube gem- in other words, very little- to sustain us. Suddenly, and without warning, Whatevski records, an all digital label releases this bootleged live set from 1992. This is Hepcat before they were crowned kings of the scene, before saxophonist Dave Hillyard left for NYC, before they even released their first album. It’s like an episode of Hepcat Babies, and it’s amazing.
2. VA – Soul Of Pum Pum Hotel – Grover Located in the heart of a Belgian red light district is a tiny recording studio, The Pum Pum Hotel. The loose collection of musicians that make up Belgium’s Moon Invaders and The Caroloregians provide the foundation for most of the music on this compilation, but the inclusion of guest stars like Dave Hillyard, Mr. T-Bone and Victor Rice, as well as other European groups, allow for an almost endless amount of deviations. This is a record that will appeal to die-hard ska fundamentalists more than your average listener, but there are tracks that will appeal to anyone with toes that tap.
1. Void Union – Higher Guns – Self Last year’s top spot went to the band who I thought had the truest, traddiest sound of the year, and this time it’s no different. The Void Union are playing Real Ska, the realest around. This is their second release and their strongest so far. Tunes like Aiming, Fly-A-Me-Away and Tea Party Girl might give away the fact that this is a contemporary album. However, it’s tracks like the Revenge, Song For Lester and Higher Guns will give you feelings of Skatalites and Baba Brooks. It’s not just authenticity that comes through on Highter Guns, it’s ability, and it’s quality– and it’s killer! That’s why it’s my #1 record for 2011.
To be honest, I was ready to give my top spots to two other records-
Carlos Dingo – Ska Is Dangerous – Megalith
65 Mines Street – 65 Mines Street – Productions Impossible Records
These albums are the absolute best ones I listened to last year, but they were technically released in 2010, so they aren’t in the competition. Still, I highly recommend that you pick these up as they truly raise the bar.
The Best Ska/Reggae EPs and Singles of 2011:
(in no particular order)
-Vic Ruggiero, Maddi Ruthless and The Forthrights – Policeman / Carla – Asbestos
-The Crombies – Blood And Fire – Self
-The Delirians – Move Around – Steady Beat Recordings
-The Fundamentals – Leaving Me Behind – Self
-Jimmy Cliff – Guns Of Brixton – Collective Sound
-Roger Rivas – Organ Versions Vol. 2 – Self
-The Slecter – Big In The Body Small In The Mind – Vocaphone
-The Simmertones – Everything’s Coming Up Ska – Self
-The Forthrights – Camp Birdman – Self