Isaac Green

Skoolin' With the Skalars

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Unusually, and contrary to their name, Isaac Green & the Skalars is a female-fronted band, one of only a handful of women-led groups to be found in the third wave. Even more uniquely, not only are three-quarters of their excellent brass section women, but all the band's singers also double as horn players. As for Isaac Green himself, he is the band's skanking and crowd-pleasing MC.

So it's no surprise then that the Skalars are as indebted to the American R&B scene, who gave the nation to so many stellar female singers, as they are to ska's Jamaican originators, and the Brits that powered up the style during the Two Tone years. The band's choice of cover songs reflect those first two influences, diving back into early-'60s R&B for the Marvelettes' "Beechwood 4-5789" and Wynonie Harris' "Bloodshot Eyes," and crossing the Caribbean for the Heptones' "I Love You." In contrast, the Skalars' own numbers swing from Two Tone skankers with R&B undertones to the big band jazz and swing that reflects their love of the Skatalites, and on occasion, as with the instrumental "Special K," the more Latin-flavored stylings of Tommy McCook & the Supersonics, all delivered at a suitably jumped up pace. But for all the high energy ska numbers, there are also slower, sweeter reggae songs, like the haunting "High School" or the riff driven, bass heavy "Don't Count." Both these tracks take their cue not from early reggae, but the more muscular, throbbing sound of the mid-'70s, and are heavy with atmosphere and lit with emotion. It's an unusual stylistic mix, and the band deliver it with panache. School's started, and the Skalars are raring to go. This, their freshman album, suggests they'll be star pupils.

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