Cruel Tutelage

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From the woozy horn-spiked intro of the opening "Summertime Sun" onward, it's clear that San Francisco's Monkey isn't your average ska band. Unlike the vast majority of third- and fourth-generation ska bands, Monkey's collective knowledge of ska history goes well beyond the first set of 2 Tone singles: there's no punk or new wave influences to speak of in these ten songs, but Monkey isn't quite a bunch of old Studio One revivalists, either. Though the songs are built around singer Curtis Meacham's stabbing Hammond organ fills and Kevin Miller's fluid, deep-toned bass, with occasional leaps into dub-style atmospherics (see the moody "Unity Pub"), Cruel Tutelage sounds unexpectedly fresh and modern. By going back to ska's Jamaican roots and skipping the homages to the Specials and the Selecter, Monkey has, somewhat paradoxically, made the least tradition-bound and most enjoyable pure ska album in quite some time. Particular highlight: the comic "Trailer Park Love," which also features Meacham's best lead vocal and an incredibly catchy chorus.

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