REVIEW: RareBreed Recording Co. Sampler Warms Up Ska Fans for the Summer

Piling into a car in the wee hours of the morning on the way to the beach. Kicking back at a backyard barbecue in the afternoon. Gathering around the fire pit after sundown.

These images in the fantasy we call summer have been especially hard to come by as we watched dozens of snow plows trudge around the streets of Boston. But as the temperature warms and the coats are shed, nothing is pushing us into summer faster than the RareBreed Recording Company Summer Sampler.

rarebreed summer 2015 samplerRight off the bat, the sampler, put together by the founders of the RareBreed label Obi Fernandez (Westbound Train) and Vinnie Fiorello (Less Than Jake), immediately draws eyes because of its killer line-up of bands. One only needs to see names like the Toasters and the Slackers, who are legends in the scene, to immediately invest time in creating a soundtrack for their summer. That and…well, it’s free, so why the hell not give it a listen.

But what makes the sampler so special, so deep in its appeal, is the exciting dynamic RareBreed provides in the track list. The record kicks off with a bright rocksteady tune recorded by none other than Fernandez himself, followed immediately by a ridiculously catchy, sing-a-long ska number, followed by a song twisted heavily in R&B, followed by dense, psychedelic dub. I guess what I’m trying to say is, if you have a friend who thinks that all ska music is the same (and, let’s face it, we all do), this is a crowning example of the genre, one that will help get people to see it on your side.

Before I listened to the sampler from start to finish, I guiltily skipped right to The Slackers cover of Madonna’s “Like A Virgin.” Here’s the thing: I’m very open to all types of music. 80s pop is something I usually skip over for obvious reasons (I had a rough childhood, musically). But it’s always impressive when a cool band can not only make an uncool song cool again, but really make it their own. Madonna’s vocal melody just works so well for Vic Ruggiero, and backed by the Slackers lackadaisical sound, I’m no longer ashamed to sing this under my breath in public.

Essentially, the sampler is a melting pot of songs for any mood. There were several highlights, one being “To Be Hungry” by Penny Reel, which pulled me in immediately with it’s dreamy synth, hip-swaying rhythm and, of course, Joanne Highland’s heart-melting voice. Another is “Jamaica Bay” by the Brooklyn Attractors. The track runs fluidly like a jam, in which the guitar-bass-drums take a backseat to the cool jazz melodies of the bands horn section. You don’t have to wait until the end of the track to know it’s a live jam, but the sound quality is impressive for being just that.

Other songs that emerge clearly into memory are the dubbed out stylings of “Mr. Cop”, which echoes exactly what Giant Panda does best; the funked-out Jukebox 101 (featuring members of The Aggrolites) tune “I Believe.”; “I Want Justice”, which has such a lo-fi vibe, you’d think Western Standard Time just stood in a circle around a four-track and recorded the song live; and, of course, the Toasters “House of Soul”, which is a satisfying tribute to the party style ska of the 50s and 60s.

But, quite frankly what really stood out the most were the hometown heroes on the record. Of course, “Stranded” is Westbound Train bringing an absolute classic to the table. A catchy chorus, horns blowing like the winds on the beach, and a solid trumpet solo after the hazy bridge section. The King Django tune “I Promised” promises to bring listeners to their feet, skanking to the upbeat tempo of the song.

The one song that stood out to me the most, however, was “A Shaky Truce” by the Pomps. Admittedly, I personally didn’t know anything about the Pomps, and since this is, in fact, called Boston Ska (dot) net, we shine the light a little brighter on Boston-based bands. So as I was pressing replay button constantly while listening to this song (one morning, for literally an hour on my walk to work), I hoped that this band was from Boston so that I could give it the extra praise of coming from the hometown scene.

The song has all the ingredients of a perfect ska tune: a horn melody that sticks to your brain like bubblegum; a rhythm that’s so infectious, it moves your feet for you; Alex Stern’s distinct vocal style, throwing down the verses with such clarity, you could sing along after just one listen; and, of course, a gnarly trumpet solo to bring the song on home. Any listener who prefers fun, power pop style ska will not be disappointed.

The RareBreed Recording Co. summer sampler is available for download from the Paper + Plastick Limited Run or it can be streamed below: