Rekindled Ska Fire

Blue Riddim – Ska Inferno
Blue Riddim

Ska Inferno (Markosa Records 2010, 2009)

The idea of a white reggae band is one that would raise no eyebrows nowadays, but such wasn’t the case a quarter-century ago. Kansas City’s Blue Riddim Band were trailblazers whose 1984 album Alive in Jamaica featured them triumphing as the first American band at Jamaica’s annual Sunsplash festival with a set of covers and originals that ranged from a ska version of “Chariots of Fire” to their backhanded compliment to the first lady of the time, “Nancy Reagan.”

That LP and their studio album Restless Spirit became favorites of mine, and when they came to my former home base of Albany, New York to play at a small club, the city’s reggae massive, black and white, turned out and packed the place. After a stretch of inactivity following the deaths of two original members, a reconfigured lineup has returned with a moniker one word shorter and a sound as authentic and blazing as ever. True to the disc’s title, hot ska is the mainstay here even though the group slows it down to a reggae tempo a few times.

Their horn and riddim sections rival the tightness and expertise of any first, second or third wave ska outfits and they make the classic sound their own through additions like the vibraphone tones of “Rosedale Ska,” kalimba-like sounds punctuating “Afrodesia,” jazzy asides on “13 Steps” and “Tuxedo Junction,” the harmonica work of Jimmy Becker (a vet who’s played with many notable Jamaican reggae artists) and a bit of topical smirk on “Osama Bin Forgotten,” the only track with vocals.

Apart from a cover of “Take 5” (favored by many a ska band), the tunes here are all originals composed and arranged by tenor saxophonist Jack Blackett. Let’s hope he and the rest of the Blue Riddim crew are back to stay, given how inspired and reinvigorated they sound on this very fine comeback.

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