Back in 1993, a fresh-faced, pork-pie-hatted band stood backstage at Boston's Metro club eyeing the Skatalites, the headliners of the Skavoovie festival, nervously waiting for the right moment to go over and pay homage to their idols. A decade on, and the Allstonians are no longer Beantown babies,
but they're still paying tribute to their heroes.
Bottoms Up takes them back to their roots -- and the roots of reggae, of course -- with an album that bows to the early Skatalites, but is delivered in the group's own unique style. It's a heady mix of instrumentals and vocal tracks, with the former particularly pinned to the past.
"Mikey Dee," an ode to the Boston DJ, is a breezy delight, as is its dub companion, "Clockwork Dub." It's centered around a bubbly keyboard line and sharp, cymbal-led beats, with the brass soaring overhead and a complex arrangement that brings the horns into harmonic unison, than deftly separates out into individual solos. "Sean Connery" is a tongue-in-cheek takeoff on the old Jamaican habit of titling songs after famous people and films while firmly refusing to acknowledge the fact musically. The Allstonians take the joke one step forward, filling their sizzling instrumental with a faux-interview with an ersatz Connery chatting along in the background. Elsewhere, the driving "Aldo Moro" barely hints at the Italian statesman's fate at the hands of the Red Brigade.
In contrast, the vocal numbers stray far afield from the Skatalites' domain, with the exception of "Morpheus," which captures not just the group's jazzy-R&B hybrid sound, but resurrects the kind of vocals that fronted the band on-stage before they even had a name. Many of the other tracks vocally move into the pop realm with hints of C&W, which creates a rather startling cross with the band's own purer ska styling, but this is what makes the Allstonians so special. From the bouncy romance of "One Day" to the driving, claustrophobic mod-ska mix of "Fear & Loathing," Bottoms Up will have you coming back for seconds, and thirds.