The Trojans

Trojan Warriors: For Your Protection, The Best of the Trojans

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This seminal U.K. band almost single-handedly kept ska's flames glowing in their native land, during the fallow years of the late-'80s/early-'90s. Moon Ska paid tribute to the Trojans dedication in 1996, releasing this 20-track best-of compilation, but rather let the side down by providing no info on the band, not even listing a lineup. Regardless, their music speaks volumes. To this day, the Trojans' sound remains unique, with a blend of stylings yet to be imitated. Their ska influence comes direct from the source, the Skatalites, and many of the group's numbers reflect that legendary band's own jazzy leanings. However, the Trojans often twined it with a bluesy flavor that reflects bandleader Gaz Mayall's own antecedents; he is, of course, the son of blues' demi-god guitarist John Mayall. Instrumentals like "Zulu" and "The Last Rhino" are laced with the blues, and the band were equally adept at R&B-esque doo wop, as "Gone Is Yesterday" and "Acid Rain" well prove. These latter two numbers also illustrate the prominence the Trojans gave to cultural and political issues. Britain's dire economic situation is reflected in their fabulous version of the depression era plea "Brother Can You Spare a Dime," and even more eloquently on their own "Autographing Cheques," its wry title a reference to the endorsement of unemployment checks. "Birth of a Hooligan," with tongue firmly in cheek, describes precisely how boredom births bad boys, while the instrumental "Maggie Meets Skagill" sends the Prime Minister and her bitterest enemy, Arthur Scargill, head of National Union of Miners, do-sie-do-ing across the dancefloor arm in arm. Elsewhere, "The Great British Spliff," is indeed a very British argument for legalization. And the Trojans, regardless of their Jamaican and American influences, were a very British band. The aforementioned "Hooligan" runs rampant through England's now deserted musical halls, tipping a pork pie hat to Judge Dread along the way. But it's the pubs and their enduring drinking songs that provide much inspiration, along with the Celtic and Gaelic folk songs, whose stylings skirl through the Trojans' own songs, most magnificently on "Ska-Ta-Shock," a skinhead extravaganza cut through with Balkan/Israeli flavors. This number is reborn ska style as "Dance Cleopatra," with the band on-stage backing Prince Buster. That number actually closes this set, the group's sizzling live take on the R&B standard "Stagger Lee," with the Prince again at the mike, opens the collection. In between times, the Trojan warriors wage a battle to maintain ska's predominance, and unlike their namesakes, they're triumphant.

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