Various Artists

SkAuthentic

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The small California indie ska label Steady Beat established their stellar reputation with the seminal Blackpool's Skampilation series, a trio of cassette-only compilations, all recorded live. After the 1995 release of the third and final Skamp, Steady Beat moved up in format to CD for the following year's SKAuthentic. Unlike its predecessors, this fulsome set -- 14 bands, 20 tracks -- left the stage behind and entered the studio. And what a revelation it is. Of course some of the excitement is dissipated, an inevitable result, but the polish and sound quality more than makes up for that, providing an unbeatable showcase for every band within. Virtually all the groups are Skamp veterans, with only Unsteady and a re-formed and refitted Yeska making their debuts. As the roster and the set's title makes clear, this compilation includes most of the cream of the contemporary California trad scene. As the bulk of the set comprises instrumentals, fans are given ample opportunity to truly appreciate the phenomenal arrangements and superb musicianship of all these top-notch groups. Each beautifully resurrects Jamaica's early ska style, while giving free rein to the big-band sounds so integral to the island's sound. But even as the groups pay tribute to the past, they give ska a distinctly Californian twist. This is particularly noticeable in the Spanish influences many of the bands bring to their music, the freer-ranging jazz sounds, and a more egalitarian approach to the arrangements. Bands sporting vocalists are occasionally even truer to the past than their island counterparts, Seespot and los Hooligans both preferring the silky smooth deliveries of American big bands to the more emotive soul stylings of Jamaicans. King Willy, however, mixes it up with an almost sing-jay delivery, while Hepcat revisit Jamaica via Memphis, with their Stax-goes-ska "Thank You." There's not a mediocre number within, nor a less than stellar performance, and Skauthentic remains one of the best snapshots of the scene circa 1996, and with info provided on each of the bands within, the perfect piece of memorabilia.

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