Various Artists

American Skathic

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It's natural to want to root for underdogs, so most ska fans will probably listen sympathetically to this generous collection of tracks by ska bands from the American Midwest. But the hard truth is that, of the 21 bands represented here, no more than a handful have anything approaching an original sound and even fewer know how to write a tune or a lyric. Most of them fall into the standard Ameri-ska trap of making everything too fast and too punky. But there are a few great songs here, among them the Weaker Youth Ensemble's "American Style" (terribly recorded but still great), Skapone's "Trouble Again," and the slow-skanking "Down in Jamaica" by Heavy Manners. Also worth pointing out are the two cover versions on the program: Gangster Fun's sweaty live take on "Shook Me All Night Long," and a hysterical live version of the Ramones classic "Blitzkrieg Bop," performed by Tom Collins and the Cocktail Shakers and hidden after the album's last official track.

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