The Slackers

Better Late than Never

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Given the fractious relations between the Slackers and the Moon Ska label, it might rankle the band to be told that Better Late Than Never was their best album. But as of early 2000, that's still the case. Opening with a ska arrangement of Nat Adderley's hard-bop composition "Work Song" and ending with a cameo from the ageless ska queen Doreen Schaeffer (actually, there's one more instrumental after her gently powerful rendition of "Our Day Will Come," but she should have been the closing act), this album proves once and for all that New York City ska is the best. Keyboardist Vic Ruggiero and sax man Dave Hillyard both write great songs, with the slight edge going to Ruggiero, whose "Sarah, I'm always thinking of you/ I'm so sorry I can't make you my wife, this life" trumps Hillyard's "I see the bucket full/ I want my food!" The rest of the band is responsible for the best old-school ska and rock-steady grooves this side of the Stubborn All-Stars. "Sooner or Later" is one of the most compellingly singable ska songs written in the last 20 years, and "You Don't Know I" rolls and bounces like a barrel of skanking monkeys. Victor Rice's production is just bass-heavy enough without sacrificing clarity or definition. Essential.

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