Various Artists

License to Ska

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This decidedly mixed bag (in every sense) bounces over the years, from studio to stage and across the Two-Tone spectrum. It says something, although who knows what, that some of the weakest tracks on License to Ska come courtesy of the genre's greatest heroes. The Special Beat is a particular disappointment, and this band deserves a better pick than the mediocre live recording included here. The Selecter, too, come off poorly, their delicate "Coming Up" wilting under the pummelling from Bad Manners' live "Wooly Bully" that precedes it. Sequencing does matter. But the mighty magistrate Judge Dread fares better, and his "Reggae and Ska," the title track of his 1980 German-only album, is a welcome inclusion. The 4-Skins, meanwhile, are resurrecting Two-Tones' better days with a sizzling number that marries Madness' keyboard mayhem to the Specials' moodiness. But if it's real atmosphere you want, you can't do better than Natural Rhythm's intense, trumpet-driven instrumental. Elsewhere, the Skadows offer an older take on that format with a jumping Skatalites-inspired number. Mark Foggo's Skasters offer up an amusing groover about a dog, while Arthur Day wryly pleads with the DJ to "Play My Record." One Hundred Men know their's doesn't have a chance at all, not with a track that's barely demo quality, even if it is catchy. It's never too late for the Loafers' stellar "Too Late Rudy," and elsewhere the Riffs pump away and Case makes a rather intriguing case for the musical marriage of Oi! and ska. Arguably, the two best tracks belong to the Hot Knives and Maroon Town. Not since the days of the English Beat has melody featured so richly in a number as on the Knives' "Please Don't Go Away," while Maroon's "Average Man" is a phenomenally inspired midtempo collision of rap and moody, Two-Tone-esque sound. So, a few flaws aside, this is an enjoyable compilation that covers much of the length and breadth of the genre.

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