It’s great to get a recording from this sensational hard working ska band. It can be purchased as a memento of a great evening watching these geezers play live (and I heartily recommend that you do so) but it could equally be a great pressie to give to a ska-lovin’ friend (or yourself) because it is an essential compendium of the best of Ska music reaching back more than five decades. The SkaSouls describe themselves as a collision of musicians from very different backgrounds; brought together to create a unique party sound, with more energy than you can shake a stick at. Lee is on lead vocals and rhythm guitar. Ben’s on lead guitar and Huw’s on bass guitar. The brass section is Nick on trumpet and Allan on trombone. Carl is on drums.
There are 16 great tracks on the ‘Rude’ album, and not one of them is a dud.
Kicking off with ‘Pressure Drop’ this 1969 song (originally by The Maytals) is still considered to be one of the finest Trojan tunes. This glistening cover keeps those rumbling & rolling chords and emblazons them with crafty horns and icicles of guitar that cling to the surfaces of the sounds, as the jogging rhythm helps build up stamina and put on the style. The vocals are spot on.
The Sir Lancelot number ‘Shame and Scandal’ has fat slugs of trombone and a reggae beat, pulled tight into your chest, with thick wodges of chords that are pliant and reliable. The calypso vocals – although feeling a little ponderous- are clear and meticulous.
I am not fond of ‘Paolo Nutini’ so the inclusion of his ‘Ten out of Ten’ (from Sunny Side Up) is a challenging choice for me, but the boys from Staines have pulled it off rather grandly. The original Nutini version is casual and cheerful, you can hear the sea and feel the salt-spray in your face. The SkaSouls version is more of a ‘knees-up down your local’ type affair, with big brassy lumps of sound and a fairly lugubrious beat. Darkly licorice vocals add a smoky atmosphere to the overall sound. And produced this way, this number is a lot of fun.
Next up is ‘Sally Brown’. Well we all know that slick chick Sally boogies down the alley – but I have always wondered what the heck is a cuckoo maga stick? This interpretation of this formidable Laurel Aitken standard has all the flavor, spices, naughtiness and that satisfying rolling energy of the original. A surging, humorous beat and infectious vocals add shine and life to this old masterpiece. It is brilliant stuff.
‘Monkey Man’ is a Maytals song that is believed to be ‘taking a shot’ at their (Maytals) influential producer, Leslie Kong. Although Kong was a legend in his own life-time and an enormous influence on ska – taking it world-wide – he was also known as a bit of a user and abuser. He was even, allegedly, cursed by ‘The Wailers’ Bunny Livingstone. This song examines those cringing feelings you get when you see your girl turning onto a big, greasy, hair-ball character like Kong. It explores the inevitable feeling you get when you realise that you can do ‘eff all about it. Because guys like Kong have all the power. It has a twanging, gurning guitar to start with, before the shining ska beats slide in like drifting waves, reaching back and forth across a pebbly landscape. This version vividly portrays the anguish caused by the lack of power. The words and the pogo rhythms bounce along to add merry energy to the desperate state of mind.
‘Rudy Got Married’ is one of the most recognisable of the ‘Laurel Aitken & The Loafers’ numbers and this fine cover has some peerless muted trumpet and some excellent bass vocals. An elegant rendition.
The Skatalites song ‘Guns of Navarone’ is the kind of song that really suits the SkaSouls sound best. Plenty of jerky brass bombast and shellfuls of energy and fire. This is, in itself, an impression of the Tiomkin composition – but when filled with the warm air and that lazy Caribbean sensitivity, this coconut island piece is a pleasure for the ears. This SkaSouls version is more powerful and more jubilant than even the Skatalites version, and sees the lead guitar take place of the intricate patterns created by trumpet in the original version. Splendid fun!
‘Poison Ivy’ is rubbery and pliant. Like the loose knicker elastic that may be a contributory factor towards eventually, inevitably, catching ‘a dose’ from the kind of lay-around lady that grubby Ivy has become . ‘The Coasters’ version had more chucka-chucka beat than this rendition, and lighter sketched vocals. But the SkaSouls approach retains that ‘big picture’ quality and a sense of the grand hall school dance days- when laying around with the wrong type of gal could seriously damage your health.
“Time Bomb” is a meritorious cover of the Rancid ska punk song… this song reveals that, at their heart, the SkaSouls have proper punk tendencies … this song feels more alive than some of the other songs on the album, as if it was eager to be recorded. The guys sound like they had a serious amount of fun creating this one!
The Symarip two-tone number ‘Skinheads Dem a Come’ explores a jamboree of juicy sounds and playful vocals. And the Justin Hinds cover ‘Carry Go Bring Come’ contains some exuberant and fresh trombone. When this is set against the almost-dainty beats, with those elegant guitar fringes, it becomes a fitting monument to the man and his music. A sumptuous and vital rendition.
Monty Neysmith’s ‘Skinhead Girl’ was brought to prominence by the The Specials. The SkaSouls have managed to retain all the qualities found in that original version and have also managed to retain that sense of nostalgia and bubble-gummy loss.
Next up is the Desmond Dekker (and Kong) masterpiece “Israelites”. The offbeat chords and syncopation is spot on. Desmond Dekker’s vocals were, of-course, teetering so high and veering so close to the edge. Trembling and ready to fall. The SkaSouls vocals are perhaps more mundane, but this can only be expected. A very difficult song to do justice to, but this is as good as any workaday cover you will find of such a magnificent song.
‘Oil in My Lamp’ is the kids favourite hymn and the Sally Ann staple (Sing Hosanna) but brought to the fore, in this form, by Trench Town Eric “Monty” Morris (vocalist for The Skatalites). This SkaSouls version has all the vibrancy and energy of the original and is undoubtedly one of the finest pieces on this album, and my favourite track. Terrific vocals and gigantic horns with piles of shimmering jazzy trumpet and oodles of thick syrupy bass. The percussion is also superb, full of rhythm and lightness, but precisely given when needed.
‘You’re Wondering Now’ has been rejuvenated and smartened up by Amy Winehouse of late, but this Specials track is angular and motif driven. The SkaSouls vocals are a bit down-at-heel grubby at times, but the head-skanking rhythms and percussive fireworks are all present-and-correct. Yes, this is a sad-song, about misbehaving badly and the consequences of doing so. But the song has grunt and attitude. It is also a song about ‘getting over it’. Maybe the SkaSouls could have employed a more scintillating guitar (like they did in ‘Guns of Navarone’) to add potency to the mix. But, nonetheless, this is a fitting tribute to The Specials and to Amy.
© Neil_Mach December 2011
The Ska Souls Album Launch Party is Saturday, 17 December 2011 at the Town Hall, Staines