BY MARY LEARY
Ardently as I want the Skatalites’ surviving members to be free of financial concern, I was disappointed by the seminal ska band’s latest album (after nearly 50 years, several deaths, and numerous changes, that’s no reflection on the band’s enduring body of work). Which is an opening statement that may only make sense to other ska fans. Maybe I should just say that the timing of the second album from Kobo Town – which is centered around the writing of Trinidadian émigré (to Canada) Drew Gonsalves – seems intuitive. While its first/2006 release, Independence, apparently helped the band finds its groove and gather steam, it seems to have excited minimal interest outside the world music listening pool.
Jumbie in the Jukebox is looking to be a whole ‘nother story. Kobo Town has come into its own; radiating the kind of chemistry from which legends emerge – or from which legends emerge if the songs are well-structured, with pertinent lyrics and variety sufficient to hold interest for the length of an album. Well: Check. Check. Check. Gonsalves’ infectious compositions are executed masterfully. They’re mixed creatively (by Ivan Duran, who, per Gonsalves, brought “guitars with that twangy 1930s sound, horns with a monophonic quality; stuff that matched the sounds of calypso from the ‘50s and ‘60s” to the process). Nearly every track jumps straight into mix tape and party status, with several also demanding accompaniment by morning espresso. Politically pointed lyrics about conflict, poverty, and various characters are delivered with the sort of exuberance that can’t be faked or manufactured. Gonsalves’ melodic narratives shift style and tempo often and organically, easily justifying the album’s 11-song length.
Kobo Town’s likely to bring some bounce back to the steps of ska, reggae, soca and calypso acolytes. I won’t be surprised if it also pulls a fat crowd of hip hop fans onto its new wagon; that it might be fed by stimulating sounds, happy tones, and lyrics implying it’s never too late for social involvement. Only a couple of tracks feel “extra,” or as if Gonsalves has stuffed a few too many syllables into the lines. And when we’re talking about musicians (two guitarists, a bassist, several horns, and a kit and conga player) that can start and stop on a dime – while maintaining a convo with the vocals, lyrics, and each other – those are rather inconsequential quibbles. Especially when the band seems to be having as much fun as I am.
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