Reel Big Fish: Fame, Fortune and Fornication

Covers are nothing new to Reel Big Fish. They gave A-ha’s “Take on Me” the full blown ska treatment, offered a doo wop version of “New York, New York” and reggaed Tracy Chapman’s “Talkin’ ’bout a Revolution” on past releases. In 2007, they joined with Zolof the Rock & Roll Destroyer in splitting an EP of covers and offering co-lead vocals on each other’s tracks on the tremendous Duet All Night Long. Fame does make you smile because Aaron Barrett and his merry band of nuts are as funny as they are talented, but if falls short of Duet because too much of it is simply ska versions of very familiar material. They do sound like they are having fun (as they always do), but these versions lack the fire and enthusiasm that the Duet record captures. Highlights of this quick-hitting 30-minute record, which features covers of Poison (two, actually), Van Morrison, John Mellencamp, and Tom Petty, include a reggae-soaked take on the Eagles’ “The Long Run” and the minimalist duet between Barrett and Tatiana DeMaria (from the Rock/Punk outfit Tat) on Poison’s “Talk Dirty to Me,” which is comprised of a rhythm guitar track, handclaps and an excellent and understated vocal performance. Fame has its moments and is more like an after dinner mint then a meal. (Rock Ridge Music)

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Blue Island Tribe: The 5 Hits of Ecstasy

You’ve heard this one before. A group of white guys decides to hit the same path that better groups like Sublime walked years before, and do their own take on the reggae/ska groove. It sounds exactly like you might expect. Take that one part Sublime, adhere a bit of No Doubt, and slap on a coat of old-school Chili Peppers, and you basically have Blue Island Tribe. The only problem is that they are as faceless as all the other groups that tried out this gig and never became famous beyond their local sand bar. Luckily, they didn’t try to attack any dub here, and there isn’t a big horn section to goose them along, which may ultimately make them sound plainer than other groups of their ilk. Good enough, but just, and not really worth getting any more excited over than the same band down your own street that’s doing the same thing. (Spark A Fire Records 2008)

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Science Faxtion: Living on Another Frequency

Bootsy Collins, Buckethead, and Brain join forces with producer multi-instrumentalist Greg Hampton to release the man/robot Orwellian-themed, musically eclectic Living on Another Frequency. As bizarre as the combination sounds, it really isn’t unique. Brain and Buckethead worked together on The Big Eyeball in the Sky, joining Bernie Worrell (who guests on this record), and Les Claypool in the one-off Colonel Claypool’s Bucket of Bernie Brains. Buckethead has worked with Collins before in Praxis. The X factor, and ultimately the weakness of the record, are the whiskey-soaked, cigarette-stained and underwhelming vocals of Greg Hampton who provides the lead voice on the majority of the record. It’s a shame because musically, it is as sophisticated as it is bizarre. It has much more structure than a Praxis project, but still roams all around a futuristic funk rock sound to tantalize the listener. The best tracks are the trippy instrumental based tracks which have weird vocal samples (and no Hampton singing like “Sci-Fax Theme” and “Famous”) or “Life-IS IN-Deliver,” featuring a spacey, Hendrix-influenced vocal by Collins, or a guest spot by the distinct Chuck D on “What It Is.” It’s adventurous and interesting, especially on paper, but much like the 2008 Chicago Cubs, being good on paper doesn’t guarantee success. (Mascot Records)

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UB40: Greatest Hits

Another singles compilation from a band that has already assembled 18 such collections? Yes, and here’s why: singer Ali Campbell, after 30 years with the band, has left the group (his brother Duncan is replacing him), so if you’ve just gotta have that comprehensive – if not exactly definitive – Ali Campbell-led UB40 compilation, this is it. The most shocking thing is how tolerable some of those questionable covers feel today; indeed, the version of Al Green’s “Here I Am (Come and Take Me)” sounds pretty damn good here, though perhaps that’s because it comes after their (ahem, million-selling) cover of “(I Can’t Help) Falling in Love with You” and before they suck the soul out of “The Way You Do the Things You Do.” The originals obviously are the prize moments here, and the band’s best singles are all present (“If It Happens Again,” “Don’t Break My Heart”). UB40’s music didn’t change the world, but they did make it a happier, more peaceful place. Buy this and Labour of Love (the first album, not the second or third), and your collection is complete. (Virgin 2008)

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Lee “Scratch” Perry: Repentance

In which the most influential reggae producer of all time – a man who shepherded sessions for Bob Marley and the Congos (not to mention the Clash) – celebrates his 54th release by hooking up with Andrew W.K., the volume-craving lunatic behind such modern frat-rock classics as “Party Hard” and “We Want Fun.” As the late, great Frank Zappa might say: Great googly moogly. The end result doesn’t alter Perry’s sound as much as you might fear (or hope); the production edges him toward machine-made grooves and away from live ones, but when you get right down to it, Lee “Scratch” Perry is always Lee “Scratch” Perry, and Repentance doesn’t change that. Your mileage will vary based on your tolerance for the non-musical (and the skeevy – “Baby Sucker” is easily one of the creepiest songs to come out in 2008), but only the grumpiest of listeners will be able to make it through all dozen tracks without smiling at least once at Perry’s deranged antics; after all, how can you argue with a 72-year-old man who begs Jesus to give him more pussy? It won’t change the prevailing opinion that Perry’s work has been in decline for the last 30 years, but if you’ve got an itch for some off-the-beaten-path riddims, this’ll cure what ails you. (Narnack 2008)

Lee “Scratch” Perry MySpace page

  

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