Boston's Skavoovie & the Epitones continue to defy any attempt at categorization. Fans and critics have tried, but they wiggle out of every label hung round their necks, their delirious mix of music crossing so many boundaries that one is tempted to throw one's hands up in defeat. The Growler, their third set, is no exception, a heady concoction of ska rhythms, punk energy, rock riffs, swing, jazz stylings, and more. Having sprung onto the ska scene with their incredibly accomplished debut, Fat Footin', back in 1995, the group immediately established itself at the forefront on the scene, a position its follow-up, Ripe, further cemented. The Growler is arguably even more adventurous than its predecessors, as the Skavoovies delve deeper into free-form jazz and ever more intricate arrangements. A single song may shift through three, four, or more styles via subtle transitions, or conversely, separate styles may be layered atop each other, creating heady genre blends that are the group's signature sound. It's these constant stylistic shifts that so enthrall audiences and make their records such a pleasure to explore. Skavoovie are obviously musicians' musicians, evident in the individual members' skills and the incredible tightness of the band's sound. Such groups normally excite critical acclaim, but fall flat in the marketplace, but the Bostonians easily connect with their audience by underpinning their songs with irrepressible rhythms, and insuring that their musical experimentations never come at the expense of recognizable melodies. This latter talent comes to the fore on this set, as they move deeper into free-form jazz. But even at their most improvisational, the song structure are never completely destroyed, and the numbers always magnificently coalesce back into digestible verses or choruses. It's a quite spectacular achievement, especially considering the number of musical styles the band incorporates into its sound. So whatever you want to call them -- trad ska, improv ska-punk, swing-core, or any term you invent, the Skavoovies are set to upset your definition and continue to create breath-taking music, complex, fluid, intricate, and dense, yet always light on its dance-feet. And while other bands may occasionally enter this territory, only the Epitones have made it their home. An album sure to remain at the top of every ska fan's CD pile.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Jo-Ann Greene