Tag Archives: Ska

Reel Big Fish – Life Sucks…Let’s Dance!

REEL BIG FISH
Life Sucks…Let’s Dance!
Rock Ridge Music

Life Sucks…Let’s Dance! is the latest release from the everlasting Orange County ska-punk band Reel Big Fish.  It’s their first full-length studio release since 2012’s Candy Coated Fury. What has the band been doing during those six years between records? They released Happy Skalidays (a six-song holiday EP in 2014), and they toured…and toured…and toured a little more. Reel Big Fish averages over 250 live shows a year spanning the globe, so it’s easy to forgive them for taking extra time to put out another record. No fear, Life Sucks…Let’s Dance! is well worth the wait.

The entire album sounds more like classic Reel Big Fish than previous efforts, and that’s no more evident than with the title track which opens things up. “Life Sucks; Let’s Dance” sounds like it could have been pulled straight from the pre-Jive Records era Reel Big Fish. With its bouncing horns and cheerfully depressing lyrics, “Life Sucks; Let’s Dance” sets the tone for a fantastic record.

The first single for the record, “You Can’t Have All Of Me,” tells the tale of a man trying to save a bit of life for himself amongst the demands and responsibilities of everyone around him. It is a solid offering and a great taste of the sound of the rest of the record.

Life Sucks…Let’s Dance! has all the staples for a Reel Big Fish record that fans have come to expect. Want a sappy love song? Try “In Love Again.” Need a song with a higher alcohol percentage? “Another Beer Song” is for you. Reel Big Fish even threw in a couple of covers for the die-hards with re-recordings of two Forces of Evil songs: “Ska Show” and “The Good Old Days.” The band closes out the record with a surprisingly laid-back instrumental about lead singer Aaron Barrett’s dog called “Walter’s Highlife.” Incidentally, Walter has his own Instagram account 

Reel Big Fish Life Sucks Lets Dance
Life Sucks…Let’s Dance!

I’ve been a fan of Reel Big Fish since 1996 when my friend Dave played their Teen Beef split 7” with Goldfinger. 22 years, 9 studio records, a live recording, 4 EPs, and a slew of compilations later, Reel Big Fish has cemented their legacy as the ambassadors of ska. 2018 has been an excellent year for ska, and Reel Big Fish has ensured the year ended on a 2-tone beat with Life Sucks…Let’s Dance!

You can buy the new record here or on iTunes.  The band starts touring, again, in January 2019.

Featured image by: JodieCunningham

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The Hempsteadys – Séance! Séance!

THE HEMPSTEADYS
Séance! Séance!
Self-released 2018

At first, I wasn’t sold on Séance! Séance!. I don’t know why, but the record didn’t click with me when I listened to it. I had never heard of The Hempsteadys and probably wouldn’t have if one of the band members, saxophonist Cody Freedom, hadn’t reached out to me after reading my Boss Riot review. That’s not a slight against the band; that’s just the reality of living in the middle of Kansas. It’s challenging to stay current with new music when the radio only picks up country music, and the nearest decent concert venue is an hour and a half away.

I ended up coming back to the record a few days later because I felt like I needed to give it another chance. It was after the second listen that I realized that Séance! Séance! was a good record. It took a third spin to realize that it was an excellent record.

“Still Life With Woodpecker” is the first single from Séance! Séance!, kicking things off with a frenetic opening drum beat that sets the tone for the rest of the record. “When Dead Are Undead,” one of two instrumentals on the record, features Vinny Noble (The Pilfers, Suicide Machines, Bim Skala Bim) absolutely killing it on trombone. The other instrumental, “Temple of Boom,” has a two-tone sound that will make you swear that you heard that song on an older Specials record. A later track, “The Well,” sounds like what would happen if you tossed Rancid and Bruce Springsteen’s The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle into a blender and hit puree.

The comparison to Rancid doesn’t stop there. The gravelly dragging vocal style expressed on the record will immediately call apt comparisons to Tim Armstrong. That might have been my barrier to liking this record at first, as I am not the biggest fan of Armstrong’s vocals. Musically I loved what I heard, as the band makes use of multiple genres across the record and giving each song its own identity. The sounds are wonderfully mixed, and none of the instrumentation is buried, which is a problem I have with some ska records. The horns are front and center on Séance! Séance!, but not at the expense of the rest of the band.

Séance! Séance! should be an automatic addition to your ska collection. Not only do I look forward to hearing what The Hempsteadys put out next, I look forward to discovering their back catalog as well because right now I can’t get enough of this band. The Hempsteadys will be touring Connecticut throughout the fall. You can get Séance! Séance! and their other works at thehempsteadys.com

Featured image by Mattias Lundblad. 

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Boss Riot – Lace Up Straight

BOSS RIOT
Lace Up Straight
2018 Jump Up Records

I first discovered Boss Riot when I purchased Jump Up Records’ compilation collaboration with Ska Brewing Co., Drink the Ska. The song was “Hearts and Hands,” and I was hooked. Sadly, I had to wait a few months until I could listen to the band’s first full-length record, but it was well worth the wait. The soul/ska sound promised in “Hearts and Hands” was fully delivered on Lace Up Straight.

This six-piece outfit formed in Dallas, Texas in 2015, and is comprised of Vicki Tovar on vocals and melodica, Jake Olsen on lead guitar and vocals, Ryan Reeves on rhythm guitar, Chris Casey on organ, Mike Burke on bass, and Rob Tovar on drums and percussion.

The lead track on Lace Up Straight, “Bad Man,” starts the album off with a thumping beat that’s reminiscent of Sam and Dave mixed with The Selecter. “Chisholm Trail,” a wonderfully inviting instrumental that blends ska with a little bit of the ’60s surf sound, reminded me in particular of the interstitial music played during episodes of Kids In The Hall.

(Because when I think ska, I think Canadian sketch comedy)

Kids in the Hall Blown Speakers Boss Riot
Courtesy of The Broadway Video Group, Inc.

Little Things” projects a nice Bossa Nova vibe, while the previously mentioned “Hearts and Hands” has a great old-school 2 Tone sound.

It’s difficult to talk about Boss Riot without singling out the delightfully soulful, swaggering vocals of Vicki Tovar. When mentioning female ska singers, it’s easy to make comparisons to Monique Powell of Save Ferris, Elyse Rogers and Karina Deniké, or even Gwen Stefani, though I would say that Tovar’s fantastic vocals are more in the vein of Amy Winehouse or Lisa White of the Radiation Kings.

You can stream the album and buy a digital copy at the band’s website. You can also pick up a physical copy from Jump Up Records.

Boss Riot is currently touring the west coast, with shows in CA,  NV, TX and AZ.

Featured image by Rafael Badillo. 

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