Hepcat News

February 3, 2003
     There are two exciting recent releases that will have you moving and grooving, with enough guest appearances by Hepcat members to make fans of the group very happy! What's more, these are two albums that help define and broaden the genres of ska and reggae.

After Hours' "The Trouble With Those Guys Is..." released on Jump Up Records, is an extremely lively album loaded with a fusion of musics and a heavy caliber of singers and musicians. After Hours is comprised of the duo Bradford Pate and Brian Dixon (both men of many talents) with Brian Wallace, and a rich array of talented special guests from such legendary groups as Hepcat, See Spot, Ocean 11, Jump With Joey, Rhythm Doctors, Yeska, and many others. The album totals nearly 74 minutes in length and provides a musical fix for fans of many musical genres.

After Hours is expertly skilled in all flavors of ska. The instrumental "Tropical Bliss" blends latin and ska into fast-moving perfection, while "Mad Hearted Woman" (with Greg Lee providing lead vocals) bounces and jumps into the ska sounds of old, complete with a "Dizzy" Johnny Moore-esque trumpet solo by Elliott Caine. The seductive horn playing found throughout the album is enough to put you in the right kind of mood, especially on "Because" with its laid-back lounge music feel which still manages to skank.

After HoursThe album's opening song "Head In The Clouds" balances swing and ska and showcases great harmony singing from Kincaid Smith and Greg Lee, and lead vocals from Chuck Farrar who works both straight swing vocals and raspy scat singing. One of the countless number of highlights on the album has to be Alex Desert crooning on a ska version of "Almost Like Being In Love," nailing down Frank Sinatra's vocal style with slick organ work from Bradford Pate.

Dub is yet another style that After Hours masters on "The Trouble With Those Guys Is..." with Brian Dixon controlling the dub mixes. The heavy drum of Oliver Charles and Dave Fuentes' bass sounds on "Indecision" are enough to make King Tubby himself proud. The addition of a floating melodic flute played by Brian Wallace, adds an altogether deeper dimension that leaves you longing for more of this combination. If you want to know the quality of a band listen to the way they take on cover tunes. After Hours' brilliantly mellow dub-infused take on Thelonious Monk's "'Round Midnight" travels to new heights with the song. The driving tenor saxophone of Brian Wallace combines perfectly with the upright bass of Brandon Owens, sprinkled with a spaced-out synthesized piano from Bradford Pate.

"The Trouble With Those Guys Is..." breaks new ground in many ways, including the album's ability to blend outstanding musicianship despite all of the different players and singers involved. The output sounds like that of a band who has played together for years. To hear After Hours bust out their rocksteady and reggae stylings is a genuine treat. "Once In A While," a song from the stage show of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," soothes the soul with the sweet and unique voice of Greg Lee, with angelic background vocals from Alex Desert and Greg Lee again. Aaron Owens' jazzy guitar playing strengthens the already soulful mood.

Modern reggae often lacks horn playing which used to be an essential part in the makeup of the music. After Hours answers this discrepancy with a stellar lineup of horns not only throughout the album, but especially on their reggae tunes. "Almost Home" and "Blue Over You" offer upbeat reggae with horn work to accompany the stellar vocals. Chris Murray takes lead vocals on "Almost Home" and Malik Moore gracefully helms the lover's reggae feel in "Blue Over You." If you cannot get enough of "Blue Over You," After Hours provides a dub version to close out their album with a song entitled "Dubbed Over You."

Too many times listening to an album will only provide one or two favorites, but thankfully with "The Trouble With Those Guys Is..." every song hits the right chord and draws you deeper into the album. No matter what musical preference, After Hours takes you there and beyond. Like a sampler plate at a fine restaurant, you get a little bit of everything and all of it tastes so good! The album is at once a classic and at the same time an album you will not stop listening to. It is an understatement to describe "The Trouble With Those Guys Is..." as one of the most solid and creative albums of the recent past.

Congratulations to Bradford Pate and Brian Dixon, as well as all of the After Hours' players for the excellent arrangements, great songwriting, tight musicianship, and an all-around crucial release!

Be sure to order the album from Jump Up Records to ensure that you pay only $10 (postage paid) for an album that you will be telling your friends about!

Chris Murray's "Raw" on Asian Man Records is a unique album showcasing a man and his guitar wailing away on stripped-down and pure Jamaican musics. In what is easily one of the finest albums we've heard in years, Chris presents a reflection back in time to the early days of ska and reggae in Jamaica, where it might just be a singer with his guitar, spilling out his soul with each passing song. Thirteen of the fourteen songs on "Raw" were recorded solely on a Panasonic cassette tape recorder, with no overdubs, additional studio mixing, or any other audio enhancements; just Chris and his guitar, with an occasional guest appearance. The final track "Rock Steady" was recorded live with a portable DAT recorder in 2001 at the Voodoo Lounge in San Francisco, CA, with backing vocals by members of Go Jimmy Go.

Just like catching an artist in the rehearsal stage where the music is more uninhibited, on "Raw" we get an intimate listen with Chris Murray in those bare roots moments, creating an instant classic. On a song like "Since I've Had You," Murray's vocal range and pleading singing come across to the listener as genuinely moving. Even on "Rastaman," a socially conscious reggae tune, Chris comes across as authentic, splashing in lines of Jamaican patois in a blast against destructive babylon.

The album is a salute to the countless artists and bands of the past who began their careers not in the studio but armed only with their guitars and voices, singing their hearts out. "The Promise" recalls Curtis Mayfield's "Grow Closer Together" both lyrically and in form. "Raw" is filled with ska numbers, including a jumping rendition of Justin Hinds' "TChris Murrayhe Higher The Monkey Climb" with Hepcat's Alex Desert and Deston Berry lending backing vocals and clapping. The song takes on a whole new life hearing just the three voices backed only by Chris Murray's gripping acoustic guitar. Chris reaches back to the very early days of Jamaican music when mento was the music of choice on "The Penny Song" based around the old nursery rhyme of finding a penny which brings luck. No matter what style Chris sings/plays in, the end result is always successfully refreshing.

Chris Murray's songwriting on "Raw" absolutely has to be ranked amongst the best-of-the-best. Not only is it raw, as the album's title implies, but is some of the most soulful, engaging and fulfilling we've heard in quite a while. Songs like "Make The Best" (co-written and co-sung with The Specials' Neville Staple), "If You Wanna Do It," and "Moment" shine with a beauty that so few singers/songwriters can get across.

The album is more than a simple acoustic album, rather the ska with its liveliness and groovability are still there, and on a song like "We Do The Ska" (co-written with Hepcat's Greg Lee) skankers can rest assure that Chris Murray can definitely do the ska! On the surface, the song is a moving ska number, but a closer look at the lyrics reveal a message of condemnation to those who turn in their ska badges for popularity and mass appeal. The lines "Trading the black and white for green / Because he don't know what it mean," show that ska is more than just a job, but rather a way of life.

Chris Murray's "Raw" fuses so many styles that it is hard to think of anyone, even the unenlightened ska/reggae fan, who will not cherish this album and be singing the songs in their heads or out loud for a long time afterwards. What we have to keep telling ourselves is that this entire album is only vocals and acoustic guitar all made on a portable recorder of some kind, yet sounds as fresh and powerful as any album we've heard. A listener of "Raw" is allowed in on something almost forbidden, an unpolished gem, not quite ready for the masses, but what a treat to the select who will appreciate this treasure.

Make sure to order Chris Murray's "Raw" directly through Asian Man Records for a mere $8 (plus S&H), and help support a talented artist and a record company devoted to great music with an equally great message! You can check out Chris Murray's official site at www.chrismurray.net.

Soul Traffic - www.soultraffic.comKincaid Smith's new band Soul Traffic has put up mp3 samples of the group so you can get a glimpse of what they sound like. The songs are a mix of jazz, hip-hop, funk and soul. You can find the band's site at www.soultraffic.com.

     On the site you can also purchase merchandise of the band, including lunch boxes, sweatshirts, hats and more!

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