The Slackers

Wasted Days

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"Boogie in the Bayou" might be a better name for the Slackers' fourth studio album, Wasted Days. No longer just a traditional ska band (if they ever were to begin with), the band experiments here with different instruments, including a petal steel guitar and a violin. The twangy guitar adds a down-home country feel to the band's unique brand of ska and rocksteady, especially on "Dave's Friend," a tough-love message to a drug-addled comrade. Keyboardist Vic Ruggiero's songwriting and vocals are as strong as ever, with compelling stories about love gone awry in the title track and "So This Is the Night." Fans of the swinging rhythm of "Sarah" on Better Late Than Never will love "Please Decide." And the Slack does an admirable job of applying the rocksteady to Bon Jovi's "Dead or Alive." The Slackers seem to take a democratic approach to the microphone -- almost everyone gets a turn at singing. Ruggiero's rough, crooning Brooklynese, supported by the soul-filled harmonies of Marq Lyn, never misses. Jeremy Mushlin, who played trumpet on earlier albums, appears once on this record in the goofy yet lovable persona of "DJ Mush 1," where he howls reggae-style over the dubbed-down "Pets of the World." As he did on The Question, trombonist Glen Pine sings one song, called "Midnight Rendezvous," which isn't bad, but probably would have sounded better coming from Ruggiero. The only trumpet sounds on this album come from Rolf Lansjoen (Stubborn All-Stars, Skinnerbox), who blows just a little bit on "So This Is the Night" and "The Nurse." Given Lansjoen's skill, it's a shame the band didn't have him take any solos. Not that the Slackers need a trumpet player. Dave Hillyard (saxophone) and Glen Pine (trombone) are solid players who complement each other like an old married couple. And Hillyard's solos have come a long way since his days in Hepcat. But having Lansjoen around and not using him is like eating a gourmet meal and declining dessert. Other guests include Regina Bellantese on violin and the ubiquitous Agent Jay Nugent (Stubborn All-Stars, King Django) on stick guitar. The weakest points of the album, aside from irritating excerpts from an answering machine tape, are when vocalist Lyn (a.k.a "Q-Maxx 420") goes solo. The lyrics to "Made Up My Mind" are trite at best ("I've made up my mind/I still love you/I just got to find the time/To show you how I feel" doesn't sound too convincing). And the novelty and humor of his "Sermon" wears off after one listen. Even with its shortcomings, Wasted Days has enough power and danceability to make it an essential piece of any ska lover's collection. The Slackers are perhaps the best and the brightest of American ska to date; they reinvent their sound with each album, keeping the music fresh, alive, and relevant.

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