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Tuesday, 10 December 2013

The Skatalites – Walk with Me

The Skatalites invented Ska as a musical genre. Before them the Caribbean music scene was dominated by mento, calypso, swing and jazz and then, as the informative little CD book goes on to enlighten us, the Skatalites stepped forward and changed the musical landscape forever. They formed in 1964, so on this their current album ‘Walk with Me’, the guys were getting on a bit, and sadly, several of the original members have passed away, but this does not detract from an interesting and largely enjoyable album.

Having said this, on the first few listens, the whole thing sounds too antiseptic and sterile, like it’s been made in the antibacterial chamber of the studio. There’s not a hint of the earthy, authentic atmosphere of the humid, smoky West Indian dancehalls, nor the merest vinyl scratch or hiss to flavour the recording with an element of realism. In short it sounded like the kind of music you listen to in upmarket Jamaican hotel lifts and I removed it from the car’s CD playlist with some disappointment.

Listening to it in everyday life however makes all the difference. It’s almost as if you have to add your own context to the music. Listening on the computer, while I mow the lawn or when walking the dog makes the experience all the more enjoyable. There’s some great musicianship and some great songs on offer. ‘Desert Ska’ is soothingly hypnotic, ‘Love is the Way’ is smooth and comforting, and ‘Song for my Father’ an ideal theme tune for all dads. The best track is the titular ‘Walk with Me’ with its old school rhythms and mesmerizing melodies.

All in all, it’s a surprisingly mixed bag of pure blooded ska. Add your own sonic impurities and the album is as enthralling as it is timeless.

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