CD Review: The Rough Guide to Ska

Various Artists

The Rough Guide to Ska (World Music Network. RGNET 1083, 2003)

There have been many introductions to this energetic music and there are some overlaps. A few of the artists present here show up on other compilations, for example, the 3cd Trojan Ska Box Set. The material though is not duplicated. This set comes solely from work produced by Vincent ‘Randy’ Chin between 1960 – 64 and includes the usual suspects ; The Skatalites, The Maytals, Roland Alphonso, Don Drummond and Rico Rodriguez, among others.

It is always a real pleasure to hear Rico’s warm, melodic trombone and there are three samples from 1961, including Rico’s Farewell, recorded before he left for the UK. It features some fine ensemble playing as well as each soloist offering a personal goodbye. But there is also some fine inspired playing from the man himself on the shuffle, Rico Special, especially when he begins his solo and the drummer’s brushwork springs into life to crisply underline his fluent blowing. There is a lot of magic crammed into 3 minutes worth of playing.

The Skatalites produced their own kind of magic too and it isn’t surprising when you consider that the line-up included players like Tommy McCook amd Roland Alphonso on saxes, Drummond on trombone and Jackie Mittoo on piano. Their fondness for re-working tunes from different genres is evident here on Ska-Racha, adapted from the Mexican song, La Cucharacha, and Baby Elephant Walk, based on the theme from the movie, Hatari. They produced some of the most driven ska from fairly unlikely sources.

There are plenty of vocal tracks too though I’m not sure that Alton & Ellis is really ska, it’s more like doo-wop. Lord Creator’s vocal style was cool and mellow and Don’t Stay Out Late is a suave, urbane piece of advice to his underage date. A little tingue in cheek too ! Bunny & Skitter only produced a couple of tracks for Chin but their steady shuffling A Little Mashin’ is worth hearing as is the lesser known Basil Gabbidon’s Iveree. Both show the influence of blues and r’n’b.

The quality of a few tracks suffers from deteriorating master tapes but overall the selection sounds great, a reminder of the energy and freshness of this music.

Buy The Rough Guide to Ska.

Author: Paul Donnelly