The Rhythm of Ska...

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Mobtown's own musical goal is made clear on this, their debut album's inner sleeve, "These songs try to capture the original Jamaican ska with the hard driving energy of today's music," and the group proceeds to do just that across the 13 tracks within. But the big-band sound that the veteran island sessionmen used as a launching pad into ska is only part of the Mobtown sound. Although highly indebted to the Skatalites (indeed they offer up a superb cover of that group's "Freedom Sounds"), the Californians also take inspiration from a later aggregate, Tommy McCook & the Supersonics. The Supersonics, the house band at Treasure Isle, brought a Spanish flavor to many of their arrangements, a styling that Mobtown bring to the fore, reflecting too the Latino sounds that have ripped and riffled across their state. In addition, the Californians add steel pans, an instrument rarely used on the original ska singles, giving the group a unique twist all its own. Their inspired blend of stylings is beautifully showcased on "Postcard from Amy," a number mailed from a magical Caribbean island where steel pans, Spanish horns, and ska beats all combine to make for an unforgettable, lilting getaway. "Amy Sings" is faster paced, dappled with streaming lead guitar, brash brass, moodier horn passages, and Amy Long's husky, bluesy vocals, all tied together by the irrepressible ska guitar. Back in the early '60s, the brass ruled supreme, and guitarists had little chance to shine, but Mobtown are more egalitarian, with Wally Caro strutting his stuff through many of these tracks, with a particularly sumptuous solo to be found on the suave jazz-inflected "24th Anniversary." And suave is the perfect description of this band, as they deftly shift from a big-band samba through pure jazz styles, into ska, and, in the case of "Goldfinger" (not a cover of the Bond theme), 2 Tone. Most of the set comprises stunning instrumentals, but the handful of vocal numbers, delivered by various bandmembers, are their equals. True to the past, but mindful of the present, Mobtown's inspired arrangements, exceptional musicianship, and polished sound make The Rhythm of Ska... one of the most accomplished debuts of any of the bands on the contemporary scene.

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