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March 06

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Streetlight Manifesto
keasby nights 2

Ah, good old ska music. After exploding on the American music scene in the long-distant ‘90s, ska hit and then lost its popularity about as fast as most ska songs are played. Fun and simplistic, ska appealed to the optimistic attitudes of that decade, which were already fading away before 9/11. Music styles changed to appeal to a hedonistic, consumer-oriented youth market, fueled with emo/scremo and gansta rap that emphasized "Get them before they get you" instead of "Hey' let's have a party!"

One of the bigger ska acts was a band called Catch 22, who released a somewhat popular album, Keasby Nights, in 1998. After breaking up later that year, lead singer/writer Tomas Kalnoky teamed up with members of New Jersey's own One Cool Guy to form a sort-of ska/punk megaband named Streetlight Manifesto. Wanting perhaps to relive the good old days, this new group decided to re-record the songs from Keasby Nights because...well, see, by re-recording an album they've already done with the same band that...well, by adding a new band to their old band, that makes it...

Ok, this one's a little hard to explain. Still, with fourteen tracks that include rip-roaring songs like "this one goes out to...” and the even faster avalanche of guitar and drums that is "supernothing", keasby nights 2 is a nice example of ska music at its height, even if it is a re-make.

With their other release on Victory, Everything Goes Numb already out, Streetlight Manifesto might just bring ska back to alternative/college radio...if of course, they still existed. All they really need to do is get shot and release a video of themselves peeing on a girl, and then they could hit the big time, although the word "Manifesto" is a little to big for most dogs, yo. www.streetlightmanifesto.com —Brandon Whitehead (posted 03/17/06)

Abdel Wright
Abdel Wright
Weapons of Mass Entertainment/Interscope

Abdel Wright’s debut CD got a lot of hype when it was released late last summer. Bono was quoted as saying Wright was “the most important Jamaican artist since Marley” and the late, great Johnny Cash gave Wright praise and encouragement. Strong assessments considering the artistic stature Bob Marley and Cash hold.

Music-wise Wright is more roots-based, his arrangements and musical style more scaled down yet precise, without the loose musical entourage feel of a Marley stage presence.

Where Marley brilliantly relayed the oppression and injustices suffered by the underclass, his words and music also carried a powerful rhythm and beat that invoked an enveloping spirituality. Wright is getting there, particularly with the songs “Ruffest Times” and “Issues.” But the CD lacks the infectious beat of Marley, maybe partly because Marley’s band had such killer players that continually enhanced his reggae genius. Wright’s talented accompaniment is very respectful of his creative process.

“Dust Under Carpet” gives off some of that reggae dance fever, as does “Human Behavior,” which also points to Wright’s country influence particularly with Mike Levine’s pedal steel work and Wright’s eerie Dylan-like harmonica playing.

But Wright’s immense talent resides very much in his writing — more storytelling than dressing on notes. Every song places a personal imprint upon the reality of the inequality the majority of the world’s people suffer. And, as in Wright’s modest hit “Quicksand” — which received little if any airplay in the Kansas City market — one could interpret him as wondering what happened to the United States in it role as a beacon of freedom.

We’re going down, down, down in quicksand
Our country’s law left in slippery hands
So many educated yet no solution
We’re going down, down, down in quicksand

As always, truth comes from the artists, hardly ever from the politicians. www.abdelwright.comBruce Rodgers (posted 03/10/06)

Smoking Popes
At Metro
Victory Records

Hailed as one of punk music's old schoolers, the Smoking Popes have been raved about by the likes of Morrisey and the Fall Out Boys, and for good reason. Their 1995 album Born to Quit was an instant hit, winning praise and having a single, "Need You Around", featured on the soundtrack for Clueless.

While their sound is really more poppy than punky in a sort of Green Day vibe, there’s no denying the quintessential earthiness of the Pope's music. Unfortunately, they threw in the towel in 1998, and the Chicago quartet faded away into musical lore.

Then, after a lot of rumor-swirling, the Flower 15 Festival at the Metro hosted the Pope's sudden return to the delight of their fans. The three Caterer brothers, Josh, Eli and Matt, backed up by new drummer Rob Kellenberger, played fourteen solid songs and filmed most of them. The result is At Metro, another one of the CD/DVD hybrids you better get used to seeing.

While the music is simple and fun, the CD suffers a little from the ramifications of recording a live event. It’s sometimes a little jarring jumping from song to song (whoever stopped and started the tape should have let it run just a little longer in between), but given the time and size limitations that's only to be expected. Despite the fact the DVD doesn't have all fourteen tracks, it still makes this a worthy purchase, and it gives off the feel of the live concert experience without the $8 beers and sticky floors.

Now that the Popes are back on tour and with new material waiting in the wings, At Metro is a nice reintroduction of a band that should be welcomed back with a nice pat on the back, no matter what they smoke. www.smokingpopes.netBrandon Whitehead (posted 03/10/06)

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