The Toasters' clever take on the title of Prince Buster's ska classic "Hard Man for Dead," says it all; this is a band who have soldiered on through thick and thin, determined to complete their mission of spreading ska to the masses. And to that end, the group open a window to the past, although the Buster cover apart, the band don't so much revisit ska's past as the '60s in general.
Initially, the band toyed with titling this set "The Toasters Watch TV", and fabulous versions of two vintage theme songs -- "Secret Agent Man" and "Maxwell Smart" (the theme to Get Smart) -- illustrate why. But the group quickly widened their scope far beyond telly tunes. "Don't Come Running" briefly pays tribute to the British hard rock heroes who emerged at the end of the decade, "Properly" to the rocksteady that raged in Jamaica a couple of years earlier, and "Skaternity" shines that style through a Two Tone prism. But the sounds of the '60s were themselves rooted in the '50s past, and the instrumental "Mouse" marvelously resurrects the jazzy big-band sounds of that decade, assisted by Skatalite saxophonist Lester Sterling. Equally crucial to the ska mix was boogie, and "Speak Your Mind" delves into that style with sheer abandon, with the great Laurel Aitken taking the mic for the festivities. The Toasters even return to their early days, revisiting "Talk Is Cheap," a track from their 1987 Skaboom! album. The group pull past and present together on their musical homage to "Chuck Berry," as Bucket lyrically traces ska's path from American R&B to the shores of Jamaica, sailing off to the U.K., and washing back up on U.S. shores with Two Tone. And the "2-Tone Army" marches on, with its "'90s beats and '50s roots," on this rousing affirmation of the third wave, whose irrepressible riddim would eventually metamorphose into the theme song for the Nickelodeon cartoon Kablam!, bringing everything full circle. With its phenomenal mix of styles old and new, a guest cast of legendary veterans and younger heroes -- King Django, New York Ska Jazz Ensemble keyboardist Cary Brown, and Ventures guitarist Jerry McGee, Hard Band epitomizes the power and glory of the third wave, while continuing to pay tribute to all those who came before.