Freetown

Painless

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Here's a rule of thumb regarding modern ska bands: in general, the more reggae they play, the more fun their ska is. Maybe it's because too many modern ska bands are just rock & rollers with guitars chopping out the off-beats -- if the group can pull off a solid reggae groove, it means its members have done their homework and know how to bring more to the table than a superficial rhythmic gimmick. That's certainly the case with Freetown, a London-based trio smart enough to evoke the 1950s American soul music that was such an influence on early ska musicians (listen to the group's bouncy ska&B arrangement of "Tick Tock") but also smart enough not to make all that influence-showing feel academic. "Come Down" has all the sweaty good humor of the Bluebeat original, while "Seize the Day" is old-fashioned one-drop reggae. Most of the originals are great -- "Skinhead Girl" could have been a collaboration between Desmond Dekker and Paul McCartney, and "Skaffic Jam" is a very fine instrumental featuring the legendary Rico Rodriguez on trombone. In fact, the only clear disappointment anywhere on this album is "To Be Mine," a rather limp slab of lover's rock with a weird ska coda. Apart from that, this album is a delight from beginning to end.

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