Taught to Be Taut
Ska. Go ahead, laugh if you will. Much like a current genre label of the same length (hint: It begins with e and ends with o), it quickly became a musical four-letter word as soon as it appeared on mainstream radar. But something like Darwinism applies to bands as well, especially when theyve been lumped into a seemingly narrow category. The weakest die off, and the fittest are able to adapt to the changing climate and hang on (whither reggaeton in a decade?).
So if youre old enough to have followed alternative forms of music about ten years ago, you can stop chuckling. The Slackers were one of the original groups of the so-called third wave of ska that peaked in the mid- to late-Nineties, and theyre very much alive and kicking. Their appearance at Churchills this Saturday supports their latest album, Peculiar, released earlier this year. Its their ninth since their debut, Better Late than Never, issued a decade ago. Thats a long time for any underground band to stick together, with most of the original members, and hardly an infrequent output to boot.
Yeah, its amazing we havent all killed each other by now, isnt it? Dave Hillyard, the groups longtime saxophonist, said with a laugh. In fact he laughs at most questions about the bands longevity. Because what indie music snobs growing longer in the tooth often forget is that some of them still kept the faith. And every five years or so theres a fresh crop of teenagers. Plus the Internet in general, and now MySpace more specifically, has made local retail and snail mail nearly irrelevant in disseminating unheard tunes. (Hillyard seems a little shocked by the concept of MySpace, noting that the songs on the Slackers page have been played a total of 200,000 times since it was created about a year ago.) The Slackers were always different from the supposed ska bands that made it onto MTV. They left the cheesy plaid and checkerboard motifs to bouncy, bright, essentially pop groups like the Mighty Mighty Bosstones or, say, Goldfinger. Instead they mined the Jamaican roots of the genre, venturing into later forms like rocksteady and early reggae, liberally adding classic soul and rock and roll attitude from America. The group has always exuded a slightly darker, more dangerous vibe than its peers: Singer and organist Vic Ruggiero croons in a smoky Brooklyn accent, recounting half-serious tales of lusting after jailbait, or inviting a married woman to smoke a little marijuana.
The seductive vibe, along with a dogged commitment to touring and releasing new music, has kept the Slackers on the radar. It also cant hurt that theyre backed by Hellcat Records and its parent label, Epitaph, an essentially major label that has remained successful by staying on top of trends across a vaguely punk-oriented spectrum. (On the flip side, Moon Ska, which issued the Slackers debut and was the first ska-only indie label in the United States, finally called it quits near the turn of the millennium.)
As for the bandmates, the prodigious song library keeps them from dialing it in. If you think about it, Hillyard said, just on the albums alone there are about 100 songs. So even if we play a really long show, we can never get through more than 25. Plus were always writing new material on the road. So its nearly impossible for us to run out of material.
The Slackers perform at 8:00 p.m. Saturday, October 28, at Churchills, 5501 NE Second Ave., Miami. Admission is ten dollars for those eighteen and older. For more information, call 305-757-1807. Arielle Castillo
No More Gender-Editing
Justin Timberlake may have coined the catchphrase Im bringing sexy back, but its obvious that singer-songwriter Ray Raymond is the inspiration for that soon-to-be cliché. This past October 15, Raymond was the star attraction as both MC and entertainer at Singing Their Hearts Out, a benefit concert for SoBap (South Beach Aids Project) held at Score on Lincoln Road.
Raymond opened the show, declaring, No more gender-editing in my songwriting! Under that banner, he wove a small collection of personal, witty, sexy, and idiosyncratic ballads around the other performers standard karaoke fare. (Sidebar: The only thing that separated your embarrassingly drunk uncle, unevenly belting out tunes along with Chers vocals, from these people is the fact that they could actually sing.)
Under the track stylings of DJ Mike Perez, guest vocalists Joanna Gardner, Miami native Nicole Henry, and Broadway surplus David Kingery offered miniconcerts of old favorites sprinkled among Raymonds otherworldly songs. Gardner, wearing Janet Jackson hair and a lovely black Joan Collins gown, commanded the mostly gay crowd via her ear-awakening versions of At Last and The Greatest Love of All. Kingery hinted at Tin Pan Alley with his fast-paced, cartoonish, finger-pointing banter in Making Love Alone and Schadenfreude. Notwithstanding, it was Henry who bootiliciously stole the show. Henry gave mouth-to-mouth to Stephanie Millss Home and recalled the haunting talent of Whitney Houston with Dolly Partons I Will Always Love You.
Raymond three cameras taping his every move for a TV pilot destined for gay cable network LOGO introduced a more glamorous, sexed-up, introspective, and darker persona. With musical direction from one of the producers working on Gloria Estefans new album, Raymond gave a peek into Mystery Boy as well as a track called Cruisers, which whimsically skewers Internet astronauts. Talk about keeping it real Cruisers will have you deleting some Websites from your laptop while it mirrors your secret single behavior, as Sex and the Citys Carrie Bradshaw termed it.
The finale, Theres a Light, was an anticlimactic jam session featuring the Miami Gay Mens Chorus. There was great harmonic merit, but little shine.
Raymond is a better than good singer; you cant front on that fact. His new tracks might not have you singing in the streets, but they will be the soundtrack to your sexy secret single behavior, in the privacy of your home. Billy Blair Williams
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Sonys Salsa Caliente (y Corporate)
If there were ever a hypothetical candidate for a Tiger Beat Lifetime Compulsive-Bilingual-Record-Releaser of the Year award, it would be Frankie J., who this week replies in English to his Un Nuevo Dia full-length with Priceless.
This marks the third time Frankie has gone Hollywood after flying off in a solo direction from Latin megaband Kumbia Kings, who, it turns out, werent quite ready to release him from the soul-eroding grind of 100,000 Mexican tween chickies screaming his name. Turning on his heel without an escape route planned, Frankie feigned obliviousness to the lawsuit sandwich the Kings management threw his way, now long since made up for in receipts from his previous two records, the last one being 2005s The One, which debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard 200.
This time out he is assisted by a producing bullpen that includes Jermaine Dupri and Mannie Fresh, who collaborated on the albums leadoff single, That Girl, featuring Chamillionaire. If you can tear your eyes from the jiggling, you might note that the video for the song was shot in Miami; it was directed by Gil Green, who headed up Frankies Latino-hop opus Obsession (No Es Amor). Eric W. Saeger