It’s been said that The Skatalites are less of a band and more of an Institution. How does a band that has spawned countess genres and sub-genres continue to hone it’s sound, after 40 some-odd years? How does the group retain the sound and groove of the original band, while still growing musically in very subtle ways? Granted, the many line-up changes, and untimely deaths that The Skatalites have endured over the years have left a mark on the overall sound, but not always for the worse.
The new album, On the Right Track, is a great example of how this Institution should continue. Original members Lloyd Knibb and Lester Sterling have recruited veteran Jamaican musicians to fill in the sound of this presentation of all new material. The record was made in Australia, where The Skatalites immediately found inspiration for new tunes and rhythms. This is evidenced by song titles such as, Outback Ska and Uluru Rock.
Lloyd Brevett was suspiciously missing from this record, which is disappointing. I’ve always seen Brevett (along with Knibb) to be the heart of the group. It’s their bass and drum that defined ska, and I’m more than a little surprised that they would go on without him. That being said, Reggae studio bassist, Val Douglas does a great job filling Brevett’s shoes on Right Track. If anything, he’s less restrained than Brevett. In a similar scenario, the album’s finest moments come from it’s least recognized original member, Lester Sterling.
Lester was always my favorite part of the stage show, not just for the great solos, but the inventive/silly dances he’d make up on the spot. But Sterling’s legacy has been obscured by the horn giants he’s played with. Don Drummond, Tommy McCook and Roland Alphonso were tremendously influential to Jamaican music, and anything ever written about The Skatalites puts these heavies at the forefront. But Sterling stands above all others on this record, and wrote two of the tracks.
Tracks of note:
Right Track – A funky carnival organ jam with Vocals by Doreen Schafer
Doreen Special – A soft but up-tempo Ska love tune
Little Irene – One of the Lester Sterling tracks that I mentioned. Like a boat on the ocean, the song bobs and floats… so relaxing.
One Armed Bandit – There’s something comical to the mood of this one that made it stand out.
Margueita’s Lament – A Latin style Ska that you can almost Waltz to. Very serious.
Outback Dub – Dub version of Outback Ska that is not to be missed.
All in all, not the finest work by The Skatalites, but far more vital than I would have expected. Every song is fully realized and belongs on the album, which is not something I can say of every new ska record. So, despite the many line-up changes and the decades behind them, they stay The Skatalites by staying on track and always moving forward.
Comments (1) Oct 03 2007