2012 – A year in Skankin’ Review

I have had few more emotionally and physically complicated years than this one in my life. It was a steady road of giant potholes and speed bumps taking me from emergency rooms to specialists and tests while putting my mental well being and my very nerves through paper shredders. Somewhere between a broken heart and a major health scare, I found my voice again in the embrace of the welcoming arms of an old friend.

The ska scene. And the many devoted people in it.

This was the year my radio show moved to a new home. My format swap was finally complete. No longer was I commuting to a studio in the next state…but simply my kitchen. The control was mine, and my intentions were finally realized and completed…while I am still ironing out the kinks (and learning all the software). My blog gained it’s major following with a lot of help and support from the very artists who inspired it in the first place. It’s one thing to be able to freely write about the people that move you so much. It is nothing short of a gift that they give you back that same support and promotion. I owe a lot to some seriously amazing people. So without further delay, I present to you A Perfect Mess…A Year In Review 2012.

Most Memorable Shows:
1.) The Slackers booze cruise. It’s no secret that I am a Slackers fan. A big one. I have seen them before, but there is nothing like a band you love on a boat. It’s the music, the beer, the people, and the energy…and NOTHING topped the energy on the boat that night. It was the first show I went to with my very dear friend Roy Radics of NYC’s own Rudie Crew…and going to a show with Roy is like going to a town festival with the mayor. Introductions all around, and I love Roy because he always introduces me like I am someone important. I describe what I do as minor music journalism…he introduces me as if my blog were Rolling Stone. I adore him. That night, there was a thunderstorm. The boat was rocking all over the place. (and hot!) We were often grabbing one another as strangers to keep from falling down, and laughing as if we were forever friends. There is an atmosphere at a Slackers show that is just not present anywhere else. I went up front when Roy was called to the stage, and spent the rest of the show singing and dancing along like a goofball. It was one of the best nights of my year. I can’t remember ever having that much fun at a show.


2.) The Pietasters booze cruise. Another boat with Roy Radics. I swear if there is ska on a boat, we are probably both on it. It was also a night of long overdue introductions to my now dear sister in show going/man oogling/booze sipping/ska dancing shenanigans, Michelle Ska…though she does NOT remember meeting me…as it was her birthday, and she was fershnickered. (we made up for it later with a Mustard Plug show in Stanhope) More beer, more dancing, more sweating, more following Roy to the front and then staying up there and dancing around like I do. I could not have picked better songs for them to do either. It was such a great night.

Photo credit: James Walker

Most UnMemorable Show:
Rob’s Birthday show out in Wilks Barre, PA with the Hub City Stompers and the Rudie Crew…where I drank too much whiskey and passed out on Rob’s kitchen floor. It was a fucking AMAZING good time before that…my memory is spotty…

…poor Randy…and Drunky McDrunkleface

Best Albums of the Year:

The Shifters – In It!
This batch of amazing comes straight out of DC. Steve Jackson suggested these guys to me in an interview earlier in the year, and he was right about how good they are. I have played a song from this album on every show I have done since I got it. For the record, I don’t play anything that sucks, and there is little I play THIS much. It’s the perfect blend of brass and vocals with every other component of the band expertly threaded in between. It’s excellent straight though, and I was addicted at first listen. Very melodic, dance provoking, totally clean and well mixed. The vocals are gorgeous. All in all, it’s an amazing album start to finish. I missed these guys when they were up here last. I am begging and pleading for them to come back. They will knock your socks off. Don’t believe me? You can grab yourself a copy of In It! from The Shifters from Stubborn Records right HERE.

The Pandemics – Brain On Tap
I love this album for the simple fact that it’s heavy, super brassy fun. FUN. Something a lot of bands are missing lately. Stop being so serious and make me dance, for fucks sake! The Pandemics are all over that. It’s eight pieces of tight, clean ska that can do third wave flavor as easily as they throw down a classic Trojan groove. They have the style and know-how to take this music, mix it up, throw it around, and get a crowd moving. I know…I have seen them live, and they seriously floored me with how tight they were. The Pandemics are a truly vibrant example of the modern New York ska scene, and I think you can expect to be seeing these guys around a lot more in the coming year. You can get yourself a copy of Brain on Tap by The Pandemics right HERE.

The Pinstripes – I
WOW. That is all I could say the first time I heard this album all the way through. The first track alone blew me away, and it’s been on heavy rotation on my show ever since. Put on Might Be Her Fool and crank it the fuck up. You will not be able to sit still. These guys blend a traditional rocksteady groove with ska and soul and come out with something so incredible, it left me speechless. This is a hot, hot record. It’s got something for everyone…from soft and melodic to kick you in the ass and get up and dancing energy. Not to mention, these guys are versatile. I tell this to everyone I suggest this record to, and I will tell it to you now. Click on over to I’ll Be Waiting. This song blew me away. Beautiful pop and soul to start you off. I reviewed this album a month ago. The best way I could describe this song in my review was to say that halfway through, “the song changes into this piece of sensual, powerful straight up soul music…building in intensity and emotion to the end before climaxing quietly and sweetly. Probably would cuddle you and give you cab fare too.” Don’t take my word for it. Go get it yourself right HERE.

Most Memorable Ska Bands Of The Year FOR ME:
I figured I had to be somewhat specific in that one. These mentions did not necessarily release an album this year, or have any major shows. But I found them, or they found me, or they were give to me, or they just knocked my socks off somehow this year. Maybe they were just nice to me. Sometimes that really does do it for me…

The Dropsteppers:
I am addicted…ADDICTED…to their album Get Up In It. I cannot get it off my iPod, my Spotify, or out of my head. I found myself singing Hot Mess to myself when I was jogging the other day. I purposely left my iPod home, and I was singing it anyway. When The Band Plays is amazing. Extraordinary Woman get’s played CONSTANTLY on my show.

Obi Fernandez:
This should really be under top albums, but it’s not exclusive to his sol stuff, as I also got more into Westbound Train this year. I was recently interview for the Duff Guide to Ska, and I wracked my brain trying to think of an adequate descriptive for his voice. I came up with cherry cheesecake. It’s smooth, it’s sweet, it’s fucking delicious. He is a simply amazing vocalist and songwriter.

Green Room Rockers:
I can’t tell you how many times I listen to the song Twenty Five on their self titled album. It’s such a great song from such a truly great album. I have been meaning to chase these guys down for an interview and a write-up on this album. It’s in the cards. I am in love with this album.

The Rudie Crew:
Not only one of my biggest supporters, Roy Radics of the Rudie Crew is also an amazing front man to one of my very favorite aspects of the NYC ska and reggae scene. A weaving of expert musicians from all over the map, their sound is fresh with dancehall flavor and traditional groove. They are also one of my favorite live bands in this scene. I have never seen a bad Rudie Crew performance. I first caught them at a Toasters show early this year, and was just floored. I could not stand still. It’s been a good time ever since. Plus, they are just a great bunch of guys that I have had more than a few laughs (and pints) with.

The Bandulus:
I can’t say enough. I just did an interview with the very awesome Jeremy Pena about the band and the new album. I am a sucker for vocals, as I have said many times before, and Jeremy’s are just hypnotic and fresh. His style is so much his own. From his work with The Bandulus to the acoustic stuff I have heard from him, I am just floored. I was so excited to get the new album and I have played it every week since. Prior to that, I delighted in playing things off the last one. This new album is still making it’s way into all my nooks and crannies, but thus far…it’s becoming an addiction.

The Snails:
I freaking LOVE these guys. Not only are they young and fresh and talented, they as individuals are just bleeding genuine energy that is infectious and addicting all on their own. They are heading out on the Version City Tour with King Django and Matt MacLeod and you really need to go see them. I caught them for the first time backing Sammy Kay at Skalapalooza and could not believe my ears…and that was not even them being THEM. They are poised to be our first installment in our upcoming documentary series, and I think filming them will be just as much fun as anything else. These guys are really, really insanely talented musicians and great people. You will be seeing more from them. Mark my words.

And FINALLY…my most memorable Ska Moments of 2012:

~ Seeing my podcast ranked in the Top 50 for Reggae last month. I am simply floored that as many people listen to me as do. It’s an incredible thing, and I can’t begin to say how thankful I am.

~ Ringing in my 34th birthday at Skalapalooza in NYC with Agent Jay and a shot of tequila…Jay, who was nice enough to let me pull his ear all night about our documentary and never once said, “Hey, yeah…I have to go…I have a thing…” like I expected him to.

~ Having a wicked vertigo attack on the I7/Mepheskapheles booze cruise and very nearly passing out repeatedly until the boat docked. Special thanks to Roy Radics for being my guardian all night, and my very sweet and wonderful friend Thora Phillips for walking arm in arm with my through the village telling everyone she was my date when in reality she was helping me walk steady and keeping me from falling down.

~ My first show with Michelle Ska, my long lost sister. It was Mustard Plug with the amazing Void Union. I didn’t think there was someone THAT much like me anywhere in the world. Look out everyone…there is. And now we hang out…nothing good can come of this…

~ Seeing my show’s logo on the Version City Tour poster. Now, this may seem silly to other people. But you have to understand how far this show has come. How much work I have done. How much money, time, blood, sweat, and tears have gone into building what I have. I was so happy to be able to throw down for this tour…for amazing artists…and to see my logo up there…well, that is just amazing.

~ My documentary series, Crazy Skankin’ Mess, finally coming together. Special mention has to go out first to my friend Chris DiNardo of NeverImage Entertainment for still being my friend and getting on board with my editing and the sorting of all my weird, unconventional ideas. Second, my very dear friend and fellow ska freak Randy from Ska Crazy…who not only believes in my ideas, but actually wanted to be my partner in this project. Plus he listens to all my bullshit, and that alone should be a paying job.

So there you have it. A brief snippet of my year. It’s been a rough one at times, but I have to thank everyone for taking part and making the rest of it so freaking amazing. I will continue to do what I do for the new year, and then some. I have added booking shows to my resume, so we will see where this goes. In the meantime, you can count on the show being there every week, the blog being there every month, and me being here trying to keep it all together.

Thank you!

Special thanks: David Hillyard for the second chance interview, Keith Duncan for being an amazing human, Rob Alapick for all your suggestions and lectures, Tim and Todd from the Snails for cookie talk, Lindsay Klein…my best friend in the world who does not like ska but humors my love and passion for all that I do with the biggest smile she can, Michelle ska who loves ska more than any human being on the planet, Stephen Shafer who inspired my blog and continues to help promote me, King Django for being King Django, Randy Jarrell for the suggestions, pistachios, beer, beer stealing, and almost making me pass out from laughing on the porch of the Stanhope House, Mandy and Rob…the first couple of ska, Thora and Chad…the first couple of punk and Oi, and my son…my amazing, intelligent, deep soul son Josiah…who believes in all my crazy dreams, thinks I’m cool, and reminds me to be the best person I can every single day of my life.

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The Bandulus – The Times We Had and an interview with Jeremy Pena

I will admit it. My only knowledge of Texas was what I learned from Urban Cowboy (…I’m slightly obsessed with it) and that the Houston airport smelled like popcorn last time I went through there on my way to San Antonio. I’m not proud. But it seems in Texas, there was also the Bandulus. I was a late Bandulus bloomer.

My partner in ska crimes and documentary filming, Randy from Ska Crazy, did an interview with me on his show after we started working on our filming plans. He opened that particular show with the song Ska, Reggae, and Soul by the Bandulus, and that was the first time I had ever heard it. I don’t know what it was that hit me the hardest. I am a sucker for vocals, so that was a major factor…but the song itself is just a perfect descriptive of exactly what it talks about. I immediately told Randy I wanted this to be my theme song. I needed some guy to follow me around with a boombox playing this song for the rest of my life. That was it. I was hooked.

I freaking love The Bandulus.

Singer, keyboardist, and founder Jeremy Pena put the Bandulus together in the summer of 2008. Their first album, SKA.REGGAE.SOUL was released two years later and featured the talents of Vic Ruggiero of the Slackers, Ryan Scroggins, Matt Jacobs, Willy Camero and Patrick Kelly, both formerly of The Stingers ATX. The album is soulful and grooving while being so different. Jeremy’s voice is very much his own, and it’s strong but almost hypnotic. In a world so overrun by voice enhancements and Autotune, thank fucking god people still sing. He has the perfect voice for this music…powerful and soothing and a little bit gruff but only where it needs to be. Yep, I’m hooked.

I have been eagerly awaiting the release of their most recent album, The Times We Had…and it was finally up for download a couple weeks ago. It’s already gone on my list of favorite albums for 2012. Don’t believe me? Ask my piece in Duff Guide To Ska. I have been playing songs from it on my show since it came out, and that is not anything I expect to be stopping any time soon…except to play songs from the last album as well. I just wish I was able to see them. I think a trip to Texas is in order…

Jeremy was nice enough to answer some questions for me about the band, the album, and what grooves him these days.

First of all, where did the name The Bandulus come from?

Bandulus (pronounced BAN-DOO-LOOS) is Jamaican patios for criminal, bandit, or thief. I use to DJ all of our shows and my dj moniker is Proper Villain Soundsystem, so I decided to keep the theme of a villain. I know it’s hard to say and read, but it’s different and catchy, I think. Then I found out that there’s another band from NYC named The Bandulos. Different spelling, same meaning.

What was it that first got you into this music?

I was about 15 when I first heard the Give Em The Boot 1 CD. There was a song called “Watch This”. I was immediately hooked. Who is this? I asked my friend TJ. He told me The Slackers, and I just had to have more of this vintage sound. I think that was the year that Wasted Days came out and it just so happen that they were playing a 2 night party at Flamingo Cantina in Austin. So with that being said, I was front and center both nights. Who knew that 7 years later Victor Ruggiero would record organ on our ska.reggae.soul record.

Are there particular artists who have been major influences on you?

Honestly if it wasn’t for The Slackers, We would not be around. They taught me that Americans can play Jamaican music, and still make it their own.

You have played with some amazing and notable acts…the Slackers, The Aggrolites, The Skatalites, etc. Do you have a favorite? 

Hands down it’s The Slackers. I love love love The Skatalites, but The Slackers have so much more depth than just ska. And on this last tour we were on with them, they invited me on stage for the encore practically every night. I finally got to sing the lead for them! Definitely a dream come true.

Tell me a little about putting together The Times We Had…

Well we started recording it way back in January of 2011. All the drums, bass, and most of my rhythm guitar was finished that first day. The record was supposed to be released a year ago, but due to a busted van and a busted tour I was really bummed and put it all on the back burner for 6 months. Finally the summer of 2012 came and I was out of the depression and put things into over drive. There are still a few things I wish I would have recorded on there, but I felt that it was way past due and decided that it was “good enough”.

As 2012 comes to a close, do you have any plans, hopes, aspirations for The Bandulus in the new year?

Yes! I’m talking to my California buds about a possible tour right now. I’ve also been talking to Mark from Green Room Rockers and Keith Duncan from The Shifters hoping to get something together with them in both the Midwest and east coast. So that would pretty much cover the US. Nothing in stone yet, but I’ll let you know asap!

What is in your CD player/on your iPod/on your turntable right now? 

I’ve been listening to a lot of the new Menahan Street Band and Lee Fields. I also just rediscovered the Radiation Kings record. Oh and The Frightnrs EP is too short. I love that record. They are killing it right now.

Get YOUR copy of the amazing album The Times We Had for only $8 lousy dollars HERE!!!

You can, and should be following the Bandulus on Facebook HERE

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The Version City Tour hits the road!

I am so excited about this, I could just spit.

The amazing, highly influential, and always delightful King Django will be taking to the road with The Heavy Beat’s Matt MacLeod and The Snails for The Version City Tour! It’s a total mind-blowing mash-up of talent and from the snippets I hear around about the rehearsals, we are all in for a good damn time. A Perfect Mess is freaking ELATED to be a sponsor of the tour, and I can’t wait to get out to see it all go down. The tour is gearing up to kick off in less than two weeks, officially on December 15th in New London, CT. It will run through the balance of 2012 and then through most of January before finishing up in Harrisburg, PA on January 20th. I plan to be there. With bells on. Here is the official press release with a listing of dates and cities…if you don’t get out to see this, I don’t know what to do with you:

Version City Tour to Bring New York Ska to the Rest of the East Coast

New Brunswick, NJ — November 13, 2012 — This winter King Django, former front man of Stubborn All-Stars and founder of Stubborn Records, will embark on a month long tour of the east coast with musical support from Philadelphia reggae act The Snails and Matt MacLeod of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania’s soul-reggae troupe The Heavy Beat. Kicking off December 15 from New London, Connecticut, the tour will touch down in cities all along the eastern seaboard reaching deep into Florida before returning to the Northeast in mid-January.

                The Version City Tour aims to spread the positive vibrations of New York City’s seminal Version City Parties where, since 1997, Django and friends have hosted countless ska, rocksteady and reggae bands, artists and DJs to share and celebrate their love for the roots and offshoots of Jamaican music.

                In the words of Steve Shafer, operator of the popular ska blog Duff Guide to Ska, “This winter, some of the best musicians [of] the US ska scene are banding together … and bringing the ska to the people.” King Django and the Snails have joined forces once before, running a short tour through New England in January of 2012. The “old-school” King Django has said he is excited to take this group of “young upstarts” on the road for the second time.

                Coinciding with the tour, Stubborn Records will be releasing a new full-length King Django CD entitled “Anywhere I Roam” as well as The Snails’ debut vinyl 7” EP “The River,” both recorded at Version City Studios. The tour will also signify Matt MacLeod’s first efforts as a band leading solo artist, deviating from his usual role as co-leader of the Heavy Beat. Overall, the Version City Tour will be a monumental event for all artists involved.

                Fans and concert goers can expect to be treated to a plethora of musical sounds and styles ranging from traditional Jamaican ska, rocksteady and reggae to American soul and rhythm & blues.
To learn more about the Version City Tour, check facebook.com/versioncitytour and reverbnation.com/versioncitytour for show listings and samples of each bands’ music, and be sure to follow the tour as it heads south this winter on Twitter @versioncitytour.

Confirmed tour dates:
2012 DEC 15 SAT New London, CT El’n’Gee
2012 DEC 16 SUN Providence, RI Firehouse 13
2012 DEC 20 THU Washington, DC BlueBeat DC @ Solly’s Tavern
2012 DEC 22 SAT Rehoboth Beach, DE Dogfish Head Brewing
2012 DEC 27 THU Baltimore, MD Ottobar
2012 DEC 29 SAT Durham, NC The Casbah
2012 DEC 30 SUN Columbia, SC New Brookland Tavern
2013 JAN 1 TUE Jacksonville, FL Burro Bar
2013 JAN 2 WED Sanford, FL The West End Trading Co.
2013 JAN 3 THU Orlando, FL The Social
2013 JAN 4 FRI Jupiter, FL Guanabana’s
2013 JAN 5 SAT Lake Worth, FL Propaganda
2013 JAN 6 SUN Coral Gables, FL Books and Books
2013 JAN 7 MON Pompano Beach, FL Mickey’s Bar
2013 JAN 8 TUE Miami, FL Churchill’s
2013 JAN 9 WED Cape Coral, FL Rack’Em Billiards
2013 JAN 10 THU Sarasota, FL The Blue Rooster
2013 JAN 11 FRI St. Petersburg, FL Local 662
2013 JAN 12 SAT Gainesville, FL The Atlantic
2013 JAN 13 SUN Tallahassee, FL The Shark Tank
2013 JAN 14 MON Pensacola, FL The Handle Bar
2013 JAN 16 WED Atlanta, GA Asylum
2013 JAN 20 SUN Harrisburg, PA Harrisburg Midtown Arts Center

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The Rocksteady Seven: A sneak peak of Friends and Enemies, and an interview with David Hillyard

Earlier in the year, I sent a message to someone in booking/managing/wrangling at the Slackers camp to conduct an interview with all or part of the band. I’m a fan. That’s no secret to any of you folks who read my ramblings and listen to my show, and getting to put pen to paper (or fingers to keys) in regards to this music I love is gift enough, but getting to involve the band that started it all for me and continues to keep me hooked? Amazing. I was told yes, sure. Send over some questions.
Unfortunately, I had no idea who would be answering these questions. Being that there are such diverse talents and personalities in this band, there was no way I could do anything but send several generic questions over and pray I would not be judged for how boring they probably were. It was David Hillyard, Slackers saxophonist and scene legend that got back to me. He did the best anyone could with my impersonal, generic, and probably boring inquiries, and I am forever thankful to him for that. I have since then been hoping to redeem myself.
Fast forward to last week, and I had a message from the amazing Mr. Hillyard in my inbox with some info on the new Rocksteady Seven album. The album, Friends and Enemies, is due out December 4th on Whatevski Records and was recorded over the course of a day at Seaside Studios in Brooklyn. No over-dubs. It maintains the same raw, true flavor we have come to expect. I was happy to debut the track “Evil” on my show this past week, and not surprisingly fielded rave reviews from my listeners in the days that followed. I am beyond excited to get my hands on the full album after its release in a few short weeks. You can bet you will be hearing a lot more of it from me.
When I first heard the Rocksteady Seven’s first album Playtime, I was immediately addicted. It remains one of the most played albums in my home, in my car, and in my headphones while tapping away mundane duties at work. Diverse and raw with a ska-jazz-blues-groove straight through, it’s similar enough track to track to maintain interest, but different enough that you never get bored. Far from it. Everything I heard after that held the same truths, and I really don’t put together a show without something from the Rocksteady Seven every week. On what I have heard so far of Friends and Enemies, I can give you my word that you will not be disappointed.
Dave Hillyard was nice enough to let me pick his brain a bit (in a much more direct and specific fashion than in my previous interview, thank goodness…) about his work, his influences, and what keeps him moving along as one of the most well talented and well respected musicians in the modern ska scene to this day.
So first and foremost, what was it that inspired you to pick up a saxophone in this first place?
Hillard: I heard Saxa from the Beat. It was his saxophone tone that made me want to play. He started what became an obsession.
What have been some of the most prominent musical influences for you throughout your career thus far?
Hillyard: I started out listening to 2 Tone era ska and then I got into the older music. I got into the Skatalites, Desmond Dekker, Jimmy Cliff, the Maytals, Heptones, Justin Hines, Count Ossie….lots and lots of Jamaican music. I was friends with a studio one distributor in San Diego where I grew up and I would go over to his house and listen to and buy tons of records.
The Skatalites turned me onto jazz and instrumental music in general. I started listening to American jazz artists like John Coltrane, Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Thelonius Monk, Miles Davis…so much music. I listen to jazz from the 1920s up until the present all the time.

I also got really into Soul, RnB and Blues. The Impressions, the Temptations, Lee Allen, Howling Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson, Otis Redding, Charlie Whitehead, Lee Dorsey, Allen Touissaint…there is just so much music there.

So in a funny way I grew up on English and Jamaican musicians and then they introduced me to American artists and for that matter, a whole wide world of music.

Ska music got me into Latin and Brazilian music.

More recently I’ve been listening to lots of music from different parts of Africa like Getachew Mekurya, Alemeyehu Eschete, Fela Kuti, and Ignaze Da Souza.

I’ve also been fortunate enough to be around some great musicians in person. Besides all the guys my age I played with in bands, there are older guys like Larry McDonald who is a big mentor to me. Glen Adams was a big mentor to me. I was lucky enough to hang out with Tommy and Roland several times. They taught me stuff about saxophone and gave me exercises to practice. Roy Campbell, the trumpet player, was also a big influence on me in terms of how to improvise.

The Slackers have demonstrated a notable staying power within the ska scene. You still make great music, and you still put on amazing live shows. What do you think is the reason behind that?
Hillyard: Well, I’m glad you think that. I’m not exactly sure what our secret is to our longevity, maybe its better that I don’t figure it out. For myself, it’s that I love what I do. I try to work on my playing and make sure that I’m always improving myself in some way. I love playing gigs, travelling, seeing the world. So as long as I keep on enjoying doing that I think the shows will be ok.

The Question is up for re-release on vinyl, and I saw that you are playing the album in its entirety in Miami. What is it like to revisit songs you guys wrote and recorded so long ago? There are some that don’t really get played out all too often. Will you be taking some of those songs and throwing them into live show rotation for all the holiday tour shows? 

Hillyard: Well, there are only 4 songs that we definitely haven’t been playing at all from the Question; Power, Motor City, the Mummy, and Do You Know. Considering that its an 18 song album that we put out 14 years ago, I think that’s pretty amazing.

I mean the question has ‘have the time’ on it, so we play that all the time.

We try to rotate our songs around a fair amount. We don’t want people to come back 6 months later and see us doing the same show.

For me, its fun to play the old tunes and I appreciate the fact that people like the songs. Its a great feeling that someone likes your music.

On the other hand, I always like playing new tunes. I like recording new music. I like writing new tunes. It makes me feel like I’m alive.

So I guess its all about finding a balance between the old and the new.

I’m excited that we are going to get a chance to reissue the vinyl on Big Tunes. The original pressing was only for 250 copies and sold out a long time ago.

I got to see you with The Void Union in Stanhope earlier this year, and it was amazing. I read that you joined them on a few shows. Any plans to work with them again?
Hillyard: I have known a bunch of the Void Union guys as they came up playing with Westbound Train. Rich Graiko, their trumpet player, has also been playing with Rocksteady 7 in NYC for the last 4 years or so.

I have done some guest cameos on their recent albums. Took a solo here and there. Then we did a gig up in Boston a couple years back where me and Django were special guests with them. We followed that up with the recent tour.

It was fun for me because I could just focus on playing the music. I didn’t have to deal with lodging or business or anything except for playing the music. So it was just a real fun joyful couple days for me.

How did the Rocksteady Seven initially come about?
Hillyard: I had a lot of tunes that weren’t getting played with the Slackers and before that with Hepcat. I had been impressed with what Django had done with Stubborn All-Stars, so I wanted to try to do a band that was playing all my tunes. I had never done that before.

I met Larry McDonald at a Skatalites show in New York City. I heard what he was playing and had the realization of how I wanted the band to sound. Me and Larry talked a lot that night and I realized we were into a lot of the same music and had a lot of the same ideas about how you can mix jazz-reggae-ska-latin and other stuff together.

How was it working on the new album?
Hillyard: It was cool. I’ve made my last 2 albums at Seaside in Brooklyn. We record everything live with only minimal overdubs. On this most recent album, FRIENDS AND ENEMIES, there is only 1. Hehehehe.

I’m going for a direct raw sound. Its about capturing a moment.

I see you have dates set with them for Europe in the New Year. Are there any plans for US dates after that?
Hillyard: Well, the tough thing about Rocksteady 7 is that everyone in the band, including myself always has other commitments. So I’m always juggling musicians. Its really as much a musical concept as much as a band.

The commonality is me and Larry.

I got my NYC group with guys like Rich Graiko, Justin Rothberg, and Dan Jeselsohn.

Right now, I have my European touring group of Mr Tbone and guys from the Caroloregians and Moon Invaders. And I also have my west coast touring group of Clint Sobolik, Christian Vela, Jimmy Boom, and Kincaid Smith. 

My immediate plan is to tour with the European group in January. I’m gonna do some NYC dates in Febuary. Then hopefully do some West Coast dates in spring.

This is in between the Slackers touring schedule. So its a busy life!

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The Dropsteppers – Get Up In It

Living in the shadow of New York City my whole life has been a blessing. Culture, art, energy, great music, legendary venues, amazing food, and better people watching than you can find almost anywhere else. This became especially true when my ears found ska music in the mid-90’s. So much comes out of New York in every genre, and I think it’s really made it’s name in ska music very well known and well defined. However, it’s bright light of awesomeness has blocked my view of what’s going on in the Midwest in this glorious music scene…and I feel ashamed! BAD SKA GIRL, Amanda. BAD. There is this whole buzzing beautiful world of dancing just beyond our tri-state area, and every time I stumble into another great band, it’s like Christmas for me. This happened again a few months ago.

For years, I never really knew that anything but Brenda and Brandon Walsh came out of Minnesota. (you can slap me for that comment) Boy, was I fucking wrong. But I didn’t know there was a ska scene. I didn’t know it was buzzing so loud. It finally reached my ears.

I heard the Prizefighters, and I was blown away. You can read my review of these amazing folks HERE. Thankfully, it seems the magic doesn’t stop there. Not hardly! Someone dropped the album Get Up In It by the Dropsteppers in my lap a few months ago, and that was it. I am sold. I want to go to Minnesota. I need to go to Minnesota.

The band formed in 2010 according to their website, and are comprised of Albert Perez on guitar, Doug Otto on organ and vocals, Tom McDowall on vocals and guitar, Christopher Allen Gray on drums and vocals, Paul Perez on percussion and vocals, Eric Struve on bass. This is not a thrown together batch of lazy guys. This is a mashing of talent from start to finish, and they have expertly blended each individually perfect section of this band into an amazing sound that I personally cannot get enough of. A blending of the traditional flavors of reggae, rocksteady, and soul with a modern feel that sets them apart and brings them right to the front.

If you are a listener to my show and my podcast, you have heard the song Extraordinary Woman. You have probably heard it every week since I got my hands on it. I can’t stop playing it. First of all, let me point out that the bass lines on this entire album are great…but on this song, it’s nothing short of hot and helps to define this track. It’s layered under the organ, percussion, and guitar in a very precise mix. The vocals are a huge part of what makes the song as catchy as it is as well. The lead is great, the backups and impossible not to sing along with. It’s one of those songs that makes me wonder who it was written for…and wish it was me. It’s soulful. It’s catchy. It will move you.

My other favorite on the album is Hot Mess. This has become my happy song lately. It’s fun! The vocals and lyrics are great on their own…Tom McDowall is a really great voice for this music. But the rest of the guys make this song addicting. Those hot bass lines are there, the organ, the guitar, the perfectly placed percussion. The backup vocals. And see if you can listen to it all the way through and not dance. I bet you can’t. If you can, check your pulse. I think you might be dead. Who doesn’t want someone singing that you make them a hot mess in your presence? In a good way! I love love LOVE this song.

Want a bit of a slower groove? Listen to Foolish Pride. Straight up rocksteady sound blended with those soulful vocals and steady bass line, and then peppered with every other delicious aspect of what makes this such a great album. It’s music you don’t just hear. It’s music you feel right down to the deepest spots…those ones that make you start moving.

The Dropsteppers set themselves apart with their traditional flavor, but they blend it so well with a modern energy. It’s really an impressive sound and it’s consistently good throughout the album from start to finish. They keep it fresh from track to track without that overlapping boredom that tends to find itself into the work of other artists going for the same sound. No, these gentlemen mastered it on this record.

I don’t know how much begging I need to do to get these guys out to New Jersey and New York, but you can bet your sweet ass I am going to find out. I have listened to this album so much, it’s probably chiseled into the inside of my skull at this point, and I crave a live show. From what I hear, they do just as well live as they do in the studio. Otherwise, it looks like I am paying a visit to Minnesota this winter. Guess I better pick up those new snow boots…

If you are lucky enough to be out that way, you can check these guys out November 29th at Triple Rock Social Club with Deals Gone Bad and Stop Drop. You can get more information about that show HERE

The album Get Up In it by the Dropsteppers is available on Megalith Records and you can find it at CD Baby RIGHT HERE.

You can check out more about The Dropsteppers at their website HERE

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The Pinstripes – I

My Sunday mornings, unless coupled with a hangover, are my favorites. I wake up whenever my body stirs from slumber (or the cat steps on my face), stumble downstairs in my robe and pajamas, and start my coffee.  Once a cup or so is consumed and that sweet, sweet blood of life also known as caffeine is streaming through my veins, I like to crank up something good and loud and full of soul and dance to wake my ass up and fill me with life while I do my mundane New Jersey suburb Sunday morning chores. It has to be good. It has to move me. It has to remind me that the world is alive and buzzing around me and I woke up this morning…I should be doing nothing less than dancing,

So this is when I usually like to test out new music. My mind is rested and clear, and craving something that will make me move. I waited until a Sunday morning to pop in The Pinstripes for the first time. I don’t think I even needed the caffeine. WOW. This album exploded all over me, and I have been nothing short of addicted to it since. They have such fresh energy, and I am loving the exhilarated dancing in my home, in my car, at my desk, and on my radio show and podcast that is unavoidable from start to finish. I figured it high time I share this new found love of mine with the world. This band is incredible.

The Pinstripes hail from Cincinnati, OH. Now, I am from the great state of New Jersey, and my travels west include Pennsylvania, Arizona, and California. Anything between that has been a mystery to me aside from grammar school social studies, a few landmarks, and what I see on FoodTV…and what a shame. The ska music that is coming out of those Midwestern states is blowing me away, and these guys are a perfect example.

From the moment the album starts, it’s this great mix of ska and soul in an exploding power pack that throws reggae beat-laden shrapnel at you while shaking your body with impossible to ignore dance flavor. It’s a start to finish kick you in the ass and get you moving album of it’s own breed, and not just some one taste ska sound…it’s so many variations.

The song Might Be Her Fool kicks it off hard.

I have been playing the ever loving hell out of this song on my radio show. It’s become a Sunday morning staple for me. It’s the first song I heard from this ridiculously talented batch of gentlemen, and has me clamoring for a live show. Listen to this song first. It bursts through the door and grabs your attention, and has remained my favorite, followed by Alright Baby. An equally well balanced and soulful song, it highlights how well The Pinstripes progress from start to finish on a song. How all of their parts blend. How fucking amazing these guys are as musicians. I don’t know how anyone could listen to this and not be moving. It’s not humanly possible.

Click on over to Mother, and check out the vocals. Gorgeous harmonies over that smooth brass with an absolutely infectious and complete move-your-body groove. I love anyone that understands the masterful technique of using vocals as their own instrument. The Pinstripes get it. Layered and flowing, powerful and sexy, and they build with the song through to the end. It’s so good.

A sextet of brilliant music makers, The Pinstripes are comprised of Mike Sarason on vocals and sax, Leonardo Murcia on vocals and trombone, Matt Kursmark on guitar, Chris Grannen on bass, John Bertke on drums, and Sam White on trumpet. Actively playing and touring since 2003, according to their website which you can find HERE, they have gone through the usual lineup changes and transitions that any extraordinary band perfecting a sound does. Whatever the road they took to get here, they found that master sound, and they do it well.

It’s not one genre of ska either. The Pinstripes take you from one breed of groove all the way across the board. It’s not one of those albums you will listen to and be bored of by the third track. In fact, the first three tracks sound so different from one another, you will be sitting and waiting for the fourth track wondering what in the hell these guys can throw at you now. Or at least I did. And every song was more delicious than the last. This is a band with staying power. Real, raw talent. It’s highly impressive.

Speaking of impressive, the song I’ll Be Waiting is this pop/soul ska hybrid that shines a beautiful glaring light on just what these guys can do. How they can take a song and pick it up, turn it around, flip it over, and take it in three different directions before ending it. Great bass layered under warm but crisp brass, perfectly placed drum beats and sweet guitar. Then those amazing vocals over top like buttercream. But then right around two and a half minutes in, the song changes into this piece of sensual, powerful straight up soul music…building in intensity and emotion to the end before climaxing quietly and sweetly. Probably would cuddle you and give you cab fare too.

Pinstripes, you guys have it. You have the talent, the musical integrity, and the multifaceted flavor. I need to get my ass to Ohio promptly because I want…no, I NEED to see these guys live. I can’t imagine their live show to be anything short of fucking incredible. Be expecting me in the new year, gentlemen. For now, you can hear something from their album I on my show every week.

Download the album I for $8 HERE

You can find The Pinstripes on Facebook HERE.

You can get music and other good stuff from The Pinstripes HERE

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Obi Fernandez – Confessions, Waves and the Garden State

Its no mystery that I am a Jersey girl, through and through. Listen to my radio show or my podcast, and you can hear it. It’s not just in what I talk about…my endless stories of show travels over bridges and tunnels to New York and Philadelphia…its also that I have the WORST North Jersey accent, and I can’t hide it if I try. It gets worse if I have been drinking too. Hand me a copy of Weird NJ to read while I eat my taylor ham sandwich in an all night diner, and I couldn’t be happier. I am fiercely defensive of my home state, and when someone does something great from our grounds, it’s pride I can’t even hope to properly describe.

Obi Fernandez, man, you done good.

My dear friend and fellow ska podcaster Randy from Ska Crazy got me into Westbound Train not that long ago. An amazing band from top to bottom, but my favorite aspect of the band was always the vocals. There was just so much soul in the way Obi Fernandez sings, and it set them apart from other ska bands. As a singer myself, I tend to focus on vocals even when I try not to. It’s just where my ear goes. More than that though, I fall in love with them. They get under my skin and trickle right into my soul when they are done right, and they ruin a song entirely when they are done wrong. Obi Fernandez does it right. So very right. When I heard chatter about Obi doing a solo record, my excitement was probably tangible.

Then I got to hear the song The Color of Your Voice.

Good god.

It was released as a teaser a few months ago, and I clicked that link over and over and over again that day. To this very moment, it’s a song I cannot get enough of. Those soulful vocals I adore are there. I have no idea what inspired the lyrics, but damn if I don’t wish someone was singing it about me. Even if it’s not good. It’s just beautiful. The female backups give it a retro flare that makes me think of mod dresses and high hair with white gloves on pretty ladies with synchronized hip movements. I am so in love with this track. But it in no way stops there.

Obi Fernandez is a versatile artist. His style is one that branches out like a willow tree across a wide spectrum of styles, but his sound is so much his own at the same time. This album, Confession, Waves and the Garden State, has many different elements of music stacked up like a beautiful audible game of Jenga that never falls. There is a very prevalent reggae flavor through songs like Check Your Time, Have You Ever, and Don’t Turn away. Those gorgeous backup vocals are threaded throughout the album. Obi’s unique and soulful voice is not overpowering on the mix at all, but because of how good it is…it rises to the top no matter what.

Then you get to a song like Only A Fool. This song would be at home everywhere from mainstream satellite alternative radio stations to the AM radio in a mid 70’s sedan. It’s a gorgeous layer of vocals, guitar, brass, and bass. Soft and melodic, but intensely emotional in it’s presentation. Ugly Comes Out does a similar dance around different styles before it lands squarely on being simply amazing.

My other favorite track on the album is Pills. Lyrically, vocally, beat. It has it all. It grabs you in the beginning and carries you along to the end, and it’s the kind of song you are disappointed about being over. You want more. That really sums up the entire album. It’s so good, you are sad when you get to the end. So if you are like me, you simply start it over again. This album gets a lot of attention from me. I can’t hope to sing as well as Obi Fernandez does, but damn if I don’t sing along with every word on this album anyway. And loud. I can’t help it. You won’t be able to either.

Have I gushed enough? It really is THAT good. If you don’t have Confessions, Waves and the Garden State yet, you need it. You can get it HERE and you should do so immediately. Digital and CD are available.

You can also follow Obi Fernandez on Facebook here.

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The Pandemics – Brain on Tap

New York City is a veritable cornucopia of music and culture. The music, the art, the people…it all radiates with an aura of gritty determination that won’t wash off. It’s unique energy permeates everything that bleeds from between it’s concrete structures and dark clubs and bars. I am in love with New York City. I always will be. It’s been a mecca of ska and punk music over the last bunch of decades, and my favorite place to escape New Jersey and run to for a recharge of my soul.

Bands in New York have an energy that is almost tangible, and nearly impossible to describe. It varies band to band, scene to scene…but it’s constant. Every time I get into a new one, I can detect it almost immediately. It’s what gets me dancing immediately…be it sitting at my desk, driving in my car, doing my dishes, putting my radio show and podcast together, everything where the music is filling my ears. Thank fucking goodness for New York City.

This is everything that fills my soul, my ears, my brain when I listen to The Pandemics.

It’s an eight piece band of talented individual musicians creating high energy ska with flavors of jazz and punk. Vocals are raspy with dirty, gritty, delicious soul and a side of fun. Brass is perfectly layered and accented throughout the album. Bass lines are the groove threaded throughout. Their most recent album, Brain On Tap, is a great mix of styles that highlight seemingly every aspect of what puts this band together. There are highlights of percussion, brass, vocals, bass, guitar, and excellent meshings of each intricate puzzle piece. I dig it, and I dig it hard.

I find that I get OBSESSED with good music when I find it. Listening to it over and over and over again until its memorized and very much ingrained in ever corner of my mind. It’s something I always do before I write about a band as well. I want to know it inside and out, piece by piece, before I will go slapping my opinions all over it. I have had this CD in my car, I have had it up on Spotify at work, and with every listen, I like it a little more. I also hear something I missed in the last listen.

The thing I like most about this album is that it’s fun. I know that sounds simple and trite for someone who is supposed to be disecting an album and a band for a review with big words and precise pointers, but seriously…its just fucking FUN! From track to track, it’s completely dancable… and yes that is a word. You can lay yourself on almost any song and start shaking your hips and bouncing your head. Rhumba De Los Muertos…I can’t wait to hear that song live. It’s fun, but it’s sexy as hell too the way the bass and guitar lead into those sultry horns. It’s got a groove that bounces around a bit, and the vocals are sung deep. Then it picks up to take you out. I love it!

Sleepy Sunday (New York City) is a slower groove, but probably my favorite song on the album to sing a long with. Whole lot of horns, a little keys in the background, great bass, great vocals. Skip back to Hey You! and put those dancing pants back on. What great energy. Scream along, rock out. It shows how versatile the Pandemics are as a band. No one trick pony…they can bridge difference styles and different flavors with precision. I was impressed.

The title track Brain On Tap is great too…brings you in with guitar and drops you right into the horns. See if you can get through this song without dancing. I can’t. I have it on in my headphones right now, and my tush is all over the place. The vocals are great, the beat is infectious, and I would imagine this is something of a crowd favorite at live shows with how singable it is. I know I know…I’m a bad ska girl. I have not been able to catch the Pandemics live yet. It’s on my calendar as we speak. They have a show coming up at Characters NYC on November 10th. You can get information about the show HERE. You should go. I am. You can buy me a cocktail.

I was able to hang out with trombone player and vocalist for the Pandemics, Chris Malone, at the New York date of the recent round of Skalapalooza shows. Chris is a great guy to hang at a show with and swap stories with. I lost him somewhere during Sammy Kay’s set, and found him again while I was harassing Agent Jay. He helped me ring in my 34th birthday that night, and didn’t call me old at all. He is alright in my book.

That night, he handed me the Brain on Tap cd, and I can honestly say it has not left my car since. It’s in the cd player, getting me through North Jersey rush hour traffic and gas lines and making people look at me funny at stop lights because I am dancing and singing along where I sit. I can’t wait to check these guys out live this weekend…

Find more information on The Pandemics on their website here.

The Pandemics on Facebook.

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The Prizefighters – Follow My Sound

Last week, this album was dropped into my inbox. There is always that moment before I hit play on a new record when I wonder what it’s going to do to me when it starts. Where the music is going to take me. Am I going to cringe? Am I going to smile? Music is a lot like other beautiful things in the world…it’s appeal lies in the ears, the mind, and the soul of the person listening. It’s a gleeful anticipation for me…that moment before the music starts. It’s complete silence that I know will be broken by something that could be anything. Amazing or dreadful. Soothing or piercing. It’s a delicious kind of anxiety…

I put in Follow My Sound by The Prizefighters, and I hit play. I let the music begin. Soulful. Soothing. But I am dancing where I sit. From the moment the second track kicked in, it’s been on an almost constant rotation. Who the heck are these guys?! (and gal!)

They are the Prizefighters, from way out Minneapolis, MN. Started in 2006, they have been playing their brand of throwback ska on stages with everyone from The Aggrolites to the English Beat and the Toasters. Certainly no small fete in this notoriously fickle scene. This Friday night, they open for my beloved Slackers and the Green Room Rockers at Triple Rock Social Club in their home base of Minneapolis.

You can get tickets for that show HERE.

If you are within driving distance, I suggest highly that you get yourself to this show. You will not be disappointed. They are pretty damn fantastic.

The Prizefighters have a great blending of rocksteady groove and modern ska flavor layered with gritty, almost gravely vocals and harmonies. It’s a really good sound. Addicting. I have been sitting here with the album in my headphones, and every so often I have to hit repeat on a song that moves me. The title track, Follow My Sound, has me in it’s grips right now. It’s a very soulful vocal heavy song that kicks in with organ and those raspy vocals I am loving, and maintains that groove all the way through with a quick break for a brassy solo.

This album is not all soulful vocals and swaying though. Second track Outside My Window is one of those songs where if you can stand still while listening, I don’t know what to do with you and I think something inside of you might be broken or defective. Still with those sexy raspy vocals, but the upbeat tempo held fast by a thumping bass and drum beat gets inside of you and makes you dance. Peppered with brass and sing a long backup vocals, I can’t help but crave this song in a live venue.

I can’t help but crave this band in a live venue, in general. They have a traditional sound but it’s simultaneously modern and fresh. It’s fun. Truth and Lies holds my attention at the moment for favorite track on the album. Tapping percussion and powerful vocals layered over a horns and a beat I can’t help but move to…it’s amazing. This is happy, grooving, driving ska that get’s under your skin and into your soul. It’s music for crackling vinyl, dark smoky clubs, and dancing with pretty girls. Or at least that is my vision, listening to songs like Before Tonight. Give it a listen and see what you feel…

I’m sold. Pick up this album. The Prizefighters – Follow My Soul. On a side note, the album itself was expertly mastered by my home state of New Jersey’s own scene pioneer King Django. It’s no surprise. This album will be in heavy rotation on my radio show starting this Sunday, and I can guarantee I will be getting e-mails of praise and request after one spin. It’s that good. How did I not know about this band?

In addition to their show with The Slackers this Friday, the Prizefighters will be in Chicago on November 17th at the Mayne Stage backing the legendary Stranger Cole. That is going to be an incredible performance. If I was not 700 miles away, I would be there. I wonder how long that would take to drive…

You can find information about that show HERE.

You can get information on The Prizefighters and their album Follow My Sound HERE.

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…Summer ends, Fall begins…SHOWS! REVIEWS! DANCING! Oh my!

The summer has finally come to an end…and in some respects, I am not complaining. I gleefully put away the few pairs of shorts I own, and slide those bins of sweaters and hoodies out from under the bed. I look to the wall and say “see you in the spring” the the *cool* setting on my central air. My night jogging seems a little easier. I delight in pumpkin coffee, pumpkin beer, windows open, long walks at night in cool air, sitting on the porch, and not having to mop sweat from my cleavage every time I step outside the door.

But it means an end to summer ska show going. Not that these bands hibernate or anything, but there is something deliciously summery about this wonderful genre and those nights spent dripping with sweat and cooling off with beer after hours of dancing. The music scene in general seems to slow down a little as the leaves turn pretty colors in the North East. My e-mail is filling with show announcements from my usual venue haunts of metal bands and Halloween parties. A quick glance at my calendar however assures me that it was just an illusion. My favorite season plans to be just as active with music, dancing, and general mischief as any summer ever was. And thank fucking goodness for that.

Starting it off, my dear friend, promoter, and fellow show hopper Rob’s super birthday extravaganza out in Wilkes Barre, PA is this Friday with NJ’s own Hub City Stompers, The Rudie Crew from NYC, and WB hometown favorites, The Nonrefundables. I expect this show review to be as much of a mess as my night probably will be. Between the bands, the friends, and what I imagine will be an unhealthy amount of beer consumed…you should make your way there if you can.

Get your venue/ticket info here!

Also coming up are the Skalapaooza shows, which I have been looking forward to since I first got wind of their planning with a REALLY fun lineup. The always incredible Pietasters, the reunion of The Pilfers, Spring Heeled Jack playing acoustic, and more have filled out this sure to be amazing series of shows being presented by Asbestos Records. The series kicks off October 19th in Philadelphia, finishing off in Boston on October 28th, with stops in New York City, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. I have feelers out for both the DC and NYC shows. I will be headed back from my vacation in North Carolina the day of the DC show so if I can find it in my schedule (and my wallet) to be there, I will be. Either way, get yourself to at least one of these.

SKALAPALOOZA dates, venues, ticket info here!

This one almost made me swallow my tongue. I have this new found love of boat shows. Booze cruises. Ska on the water. Between the Slackers and the Pietasters this summer, I have become a devotee of dancing on a tipping, floating vessel. I had been looking for some way to celebrate my birthday (which has a history of sucking something terrible every single year) and I was alerted to this show that week. That Friday, no less. MEPHISKAPHELES, INSPECTER 7, STEP2FAR…on a boat. On a mutherfucking boat. Friday, October 26th. Happy birthday to me!!! Expect a review, and probably a lot of really blurry pictures.

Ticket and event info HERE!

In addition, I have some pieces in the works that will find their way up here for your reading enjoyment …or criticizing. I have a TON of great music reviews that I am working on thanks to a rapid influx of submissions after my piece on The Shifters. I have my hands full of great music, and this makes me deliriously happy. Stay tuned…and get out there…

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