The Midwest has long been synonymous with ska-core, but like most musical stereotypes, although there's a whiff of truth to that generalization, it ignores the larger picture. Minnesota's Suspect Bill is a perfect case in point. In fact, if their debut album, Bill Me Later..., is anything to go by, this octet never heard a rock album, never mind a metal one. But what really sets Suspect Bill apart from their third wave compatriots who begin with ska and cross it with another genre is that the Suspects work the other way around, using jazz as the core of their sound and melding Jamaican elements around it. This is not merely semantics, as the band's version of the Israeli folk song "Hava Nagila" makes clear. It's presented in jazz style with a Latin flair, with only a slight syncopation to the rhythm, emphasized by the rhythm guitar. In fact, the bulk of Bill Me Later... is built around versions of big-band and jazz standards from such legends as Count Basie, Louis Prima, Benny Goodman, and Billie Holiday, all retaining much of their original jazz styling but rearranged in ska fashion. Counterintuitively, the arrangements owe nothing to the Skatalites; Suspect Bill's are much more subtle, and on "Sing, Sing, Sing" so much so that -- bar just a tinge of emphasis on the offbeat -- ska barely exerts itself. On "Undecided," the group pushes the bassline to prominence and add a sharp reggae guitar riff, but that just gives further oomph to the song's original swing styling. A similar tactic is employed on "Bathtub Gin," where the group adds a jaunty air to this jazz classic, and to equally great effect on "Drum Boogie," with only guitarist Matt Bertrand's adamant strums on the offbeat giving this boogie a flamboyant flick of ska. Each and every one of these numbers are further enhanced by Heather Leache's blues-tinged vocals. The group's own compositions follow a similar pattern, but several, like "Raucous State" and "Black Cat Burglar," are more ska-based, as the bandmembers briefly throw themselves into a more 2-Tone milieu. All told, these Suspects have a truly unique sound, and on Bill Me Later... offer up a jazz-fueled, ska-flavored set of reinvented classics.
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AllMusic Review by Jo-Ann Greene