Various Artists - Skarama
Dub Store - #DSR CD 503 - September 01, 2007
Put on Your Dancing Shoes
Reviewed by MightyZ on October 31, 2007
Last Thursday at 10:30 I took over on the decks to commence my DJ set. The dance floor had been pretty quiet and there seemed little hope of me changing that. Nevertheless, I had 30 minutes of my trademark ‘Blazing Horns Ska’ set lined up, so I dutifully kicked off with ‘Teenage Ska’. The transformation began, the people started to move and the dance floor ceased to be empty. One guy came up and asked us – who is the trumpeter on this track? The answer was Baba Brooks.
So what has this got to do with Skarama? Well, Skarama is not about Blazing Horns. In fact, there are no instrumentals on the album at all. It is a collection of vocal offerings. At first, I confess I was a little disappointed. After all, I love those brass instrumentals! Having said that, the sleeve notes mention Baba Brooks as being the common thread that unites all of these tracks, describing him as “…the man behind the Ska scene – more than any other responsible for the surge of general Jamaican acceptance of the Ska…”. So whilst there are no brass instrumentals, there is plenty of classy brass work for us aficionados to enjoy! Almost 28 years ago Oswald ‘Baba’ Brooks played a key role in converting me from Two Tone Ska to original Jamaican Ska with the tunes ‘Teenage Ska’ and ‘Duck Soup’. So seeing his name linked to this album made me eager with anticipation.
What better way to kick off a Ska vocal album than a rousing tune from The Maytals? The album contains two tracks from The Maytals, possibly the biggest vocal harmony group of the Ska era and one of the biggest throughout the Reggae times also. The tracks ‘My Daily Food’ and ‘One Look’ are typical of Maytals cuts from this period. Tight vocal harmonies with a heavy dose of Gospel influence set to a background of driving Ska. It is almost impossible to sit still when these tunes are playing.
Good as these are, the best is yet to come. The second track is a rousing number from The Techniques – ‘I Love You’. I’ve always associated The Techniques with classic Rocksteady tunes on Treasure Isle, such as ‘Travelling Man’. More recently, I’ve been pleased to discover that they have made some pretty fine Ska recordings too!
After this comes the first of two soulful offerings from Dobby Dobson. These, like the Group Singers ‘My Dream’ later on the album, are representative of the Jamaicans’ attempts to echo the Rhythm and Blues sounds of the US singers who helped to influence the birth of the Ska era. It is quite normal to have one of these tracks on a Ska compilation; perhaps three is a bit too many though. Having said that, they are growing on me and are better than many of the ‘Doo Wop’ style offerings I have heard from Jamaica (sorry, but I think the Americans did it best!), with Dobby’s ‘Tell Daddy’ being the best.
Other highlights on the album are Eddie Perkins with ‘My Darling’ and Eric Morris singing ‘There’s a Place’, more rousing Ska vocals set to a solid Ska rhythm. The best two tracks for me, however, are the two duets on the album that feature Patsy.
Millicent ‘Patsy’ Todd specialised in duets in the style of popular American artists like Shirley and Lee, and Brooke Benton and Dinah Washington. The most famous of which is probably her duet with Derrick Harriot ‘You Don’t Know’, better known as ‘Housewives Choice’ after it was renamed by a Jamaican disc jockey due to its popularity with the female listeners. It is one of the first original Ska tracks I grew to love and I still love it just as much today. Naturally, I was looking forward to hearing her two duets on this album. In the first ‘Word is Wind’ she is paired with Stranger Cole (so named because, when born, he didn’t look like any other members of his family!). This track is pure magic; I’d be singing this constantly if it wasn’t for the other duet. The second duet is by Eddie and Patsy (I assume Eddie is Eddie Perkins, but I’m not 100% sure on this one), ‘Take These Chains from My Heart’. What can I say about this track except that it has gone straight in alongside ‘Housewives Choice’ as one of my all time favourites? I have been singing this non-stop.
To sum up, if this album doesn’t have you singing along and dancing all manner of crazy dances (can-can, skabot, running against the wind – all have made an appearance in my house this week thanks to Skarama!) then I can only assume that someone has switched off your life support machine. I wish I’d had a vinyl copy of this for last Thursday’s set because several tracks on it would have got an airing!
If you are new to the world of original Ska this would be a good place to start your education. If, like me, you were sold on the original stuff many years ago, here is another great you should add to your collection.
MightyZ - Roots Archives, October 2007
Edited by leggorocker