The Question (Hellcat Records)
By: Alex Steininger
One of New York's premiere traditional ska acts, The Slackers never let you down. In 1997 they released their Hellcat Records debut, REDLIGHT, only to release their new album a year (nearly on the dot) later. Including nineteen tracks that draw from ska, rocksteady, reggae, calypso, R&B, and jazz influences, their steamy sound always keeps you moving.
Starting off with a spicy Latin groove, "Manuel" has no problem drawing you in and keeping you moving. A bright percussion section helps fit all the right grooves in place, while Vic Ruggiero's vocals add a thick, deep identity to the music. Bringing his heart up right to his throat, Vic sings passionately on every note. Every beat that flows over his voice is brought to life, and there is no denying the cause. Helping to add more texture to the music, the keyboard and horns, along with the guitar, colorfully blend with the music and help pull more life out the music.
Easily a highlight, "Have The Time" possesses the traditional ska feel that makes The Slackers so entertaining, while also creating a melodic sense to follow along with. "I can say that I don't know what I'm doing, but I can't say I have the time," chimes through the chorus, inviting you to dinner like a friend, and then putting you to work while you sing-along in glee. As bouncy as any traditional number will ever get, the detail on song structure, ensuring the fans will get the most out of the music, is quite delightful. Three minutes that pack as much fun as it does charisma, this song will undoubtedly keep you dancing from beginning to end.
Allowing the reggae side to breathe a bit easier, and inhale a bigger chunk of the musical pie, "Feed My Girl" stings with a strong reggae bite. Marq Lyn's 'straight from Jamaica" vocals give the song all the pushing it needs, helping to add an extra layer of reggae class to the music. As always, though, they surround the reggae with a ska sense, making it a nice sample of both these sides of music.
"The Mummy" shows the band letting their hair down a bit, as they play around with the music and have a lot of fun doing show. The backing vocals add a bit of sci-fi horror to the music, while Vic's lead hints at a man performing for an eager Halloween audience. Still centered on their crafty traditional core, the party flavor seems to shine through a bit more than on other songs, while exposing another side of the band that hasn't yet been revealed on the disc.
The title track allows the band to sit down and fully realize their rootsy sound. Heavily proportioned with all their influences, the calmness and tranquility of the song are further carried out by the 60's ska feel. Bringing everything up to speed with some lyrics regarding love and relationships, the torn love theme helps contrast the music, appropriately hinting at what The Slackers are all about.
Then again, "The Question (Version)" puts a new spin on the song, as Marq Lyn's Jamaican flavored vocals come in and emphasize a reggae heart to the music. As good, if not better, than the previous version, this song pulsates with an edgy feel, where the other one was calm and relaxed.
Ending with Dave Hillyard's rocksteady touch, "No Love" finishes off the disc with a nice ring. Nineteen songs total, and every one of them able to stand on their own, this disc has no problem commanding your attention -- and receiving it. Very rootsy, while still implementing enough modern touches to keep it updated, The Slackers once again prove why they're one of the best loved modern traditionalist out there. With over sixty-eight minutes of music, there's no question that this is a definite keeper. I'll give it an A.