Hepcat is back, with quite possibly their greatest effort to date! To say that their newest "Push 'N Shove" is their greatest yet is quite a feat in itself because of the excellence of their three previous albums. Harmonies, horns, rhythms, and all-around bandmanship are in top form, and separate Hepcat from the rest of the pack.
If you are a fan of rocksteady, reggae, dub, ska, or classic soul or doo-wop, there is something here for you. The album takes the listener on a tour of all these types of musics and more, which will welcome new listeners and embrace longtime Hepcat fans.
The title track "Push 'N Shove" blends Hepcat's harmonies beautifully over a rocksteady rhythm and is a great way to start of the album, offering a more laid-back feel. "Tek Dat" is a cover of an old calypso tune originally recorded by Lord Funny, with Alex Desert on lead using his powerful growl-sing, and in traditional Hepcat style they can take a cover song like this or "Marcus Garvey" from their "Scientific" album and make it their very own. The two short interludes "'Lude 1" and "'Lude 2" show Hepcat inna dub stylee and prove that Hepcat can successfully create any sound they set out to make.
"Prison Of Love" is a remake of their 1994 "Out Of Nowhere" song, but this time lead vocals are provided by Karina Denike of the Dance Hall Crashers. Dub is very prevalent here as well as an Augustus Pablo-like melodica sound and King Tubby-type drum and bass mix. This song has a totally new feel from their first attempt, and even though they do not lead on the song, their talents still shine through.
"The Ronnie" offers a more traditional Hepcat with excellent trumpet work by Kincaid Smith and jazz guitar by Aaron Ownes, which would make even Grant Green himself proud. The percussive elements from Scott Abels are not to be overlooked and contribute heavily to Hepcat's sound on this outing. "Daydreamin'" is reminescent of the great classic doo-wop love songs and backed by a moving ska beat. This song is definitely one of the album's many highlights, with an amazing sax solo by Efren Santana. Hepcat even adds on a short rendition of the Jamaican classic "I Was Born A Loser" with a syrupy-slow flow and some of the most perfect harmonies Hepcat has ever done. Simply amazing! It is too bad that they did not record an entire version of this song.
"Comin' On Strong" starts off with Deston Berry on lead vocals, sharing lead with Alex Desert and Greg Lee. This song showcases nearly all of the members of Hepcat including the backbone bass of Dave Fuentes. "You And I" slows down the pace a bit with yet another amazing love ballad with Alex Desert on lead vocals. Smooth vocals, immaculate backing and another fabulous guitar solo by Aaron Owens make this yet another of the album's solar spots.
"Beautiful" delivers a faster moving latin ska tune with Greg Lee on lead vocals and guest piano by Andy Kaulkin, and slides right into "The Region," a song first released on the "Give 'Em The Boot II" compilation from 1999. It seems like a biographical song referring to the band's legendary touring, with lyrics like "Here we come again burning hot like a flame / Here we come again holdin' the reins to the rhythm." "Gimme Little Sign" is a great cover of soulman Brenton Wood's classic, and Hepcat provides an excellent version of this tune, adding their own flavors and blending soul vocals with a Jamaican feel.
"The Spins" is a blue beat ska instrumental with guest saxophonist Vince Hizon playing numerous grooving solos. The final track on the album, "Live On" with lead vocals by Greg Lee is another smooth song with a reggae backing. Another Hepcat classic!
"Push 'N Shove" is without a doubt, Hepcat's finest album and this is truly saying a great deal. With each new album, Hepcat progressively gained not only experience but also talent and were able to showcase more of their vast influences. "Push 'N Shove" delivers a song for any mood, any occasion, any style - it is all here. This is a truly exceptional album featuring equally as exceptional singers and players. This album beckons not just one listen but with each new listen, you will be able to pick out new things and realize the album's and the band's greatness. Hepcat encompasses the classic sounds of Jamaica and America, but combine them in a way that looks towards the future and defines Hepcat as the true rulers on the scene.
+ Daniel & Seth Nelson - www.iration.com
It's hard to imagine musical fads as irritating as either modern swing or ska. At least swing will go away at some point; ska's dreaded bluebeat seems indestructible. But rocksteady has always seemed like ska's classier cousin, a quiet storm that has as much to do with post-Stax-soul's loverman smoothness as ska's caffienated bounce. The SoCal rocksteady outfit Hepcat is among the most celebrated bands to emerge from ska's (endless) "third wave" revival scene, and even though several band members showed up in Swingers, Hepcat rises above ska's checkered geekisms. These fellows are old-school, with stripped-down structures and slowed-down tempos. Obvious antecedents such as Desmond Dekker and the early Wailers blend with Two-Tone legends like The Specials or even the English Beat; beyond staying true-to-roots-based purity, there's a shuffle of jazz, soul, and R&B all rolled into a youthful, impossibly sincere eagerness.
Hepcat's fourth and latest full length Push 'N Shove gives listeners the third degree by way of a golden-age reggae vibe and authentic-sounding calypso rhythms. At nearly 50 minutes, this seven-piece left little room for anything but unreserved, rudeboy fun, which adds to its timeless, feel-good, egalitarian outlook.
Most ska acts lose their way around samba, but hearing the snapping of the snare and thudding of the bass drum on the opening seconds of "Beautiful," you half expect Astrud or Joao Gilberto to begin to coo. Instead, Greg Lee and Deston Berry take turns at the mic, sharing flawless vocal harmonies that resonate with exuberance. The chugging, double horns, driven by Efren Santana and Kincaid Smith, hold a perfect 4/4 on "Daydreamin," while "You and I" gives Aaron Owens a chance to weave his sinuous, jazz-guitar style that sets an anachronistic undertone to Hepcat's ska-rrific sound. The album's only cover is the classic 1968 hit "The Sign" by soul man Brenton Wood, all buoyant vibes and tidal waves Hepcat rides before heading into a runoff groove. And the mix of hip-skank on the instrumentals ("The Ronnie" and "The Spins") make for the perfect contact high. Hepcat's island rhythms are lively and rich, perfect reasons to get up and shuffle about your summertime room.
+ Holly Jefferson (7.21.00) - The Met Magazine
First of all, the album wasn't in the stores until today. Three days late? Three more sleepless nights, I can tell you.
Anyway, my overall impression is that the guys have gone for a somewhat more subdued kind of sound. Gone are the powerful intro's you'd find on "Right On Time," for instance, and in come the jazzy influences, like in "Beautiful," a slightly neurotic tune, with Deston tinkling away with legs akimbo, no doubt. Elsewhere, you're bound to find even some Latin-American influences. Bossanova, salsa, or something inbetween: check out "Tek Dat" (with some great horn arrangements) and "The Ronnie," an instrumental.
The album gets off to a rather slow start, with the title track, and only really gets into second or third gear on a few occasions, like in "Comin' On Strong" and "Gimme Little Sign," which features a sing-a-long chorus that will surely be a crowd-favorite for years to come.
Ofcourse, there's the most recognisable voice of Greg, and Alex takes lead vocals on two tracks, "Tek Dat" and "You and I," a lovesong featuring two people 'on a black sand shore'. How about that for imagination, huh?
Most remarkable track, to me at least, is the totally unrecognisable makeover of Prison of Love from the "Out of Nowhere" album. Much to my surprise, the song has been slowed down considerably, almost in triphop-fashion, and it comes with surprise-vocals by Karina Denike. Great stuff.
"The Region," of course, already featured on "Give 'Em The Boot 2," and "Live On" could be found on Epitaph's website for some time, so they'll bear no surprises.
The artwork is quite down to earth, red & yellow, with one black & white pic featuring Greg on the cover, the band on the backside and a colour pic on the inlay. Lyrics are featured in almost all cases, as are some very, very extensive thankyous by the bandmembers. Deston, in his thankyou, dedicates the song "Live On" to 'all of us out there who are constantly agains incredibly hard circumstances'. He gives a special mention to Raul Talavera, Hepcat's ex-sax player, stating 'things got kind of screwed up with our friendship, but I just want to say I'm very sorry,' and: 'We love you and miss you my brother.'
All in all, the guys don't come out with guns ablazin', like they did on "Right on Time," but they are certainly exploring new areas, as has already been hinted at Epitaph's website. Certainly, this album will add some interesting stuff to Hepcat's live-catalogue, and it will be interesting to see them perform live once more, hopefully in Europe as well. I saw them play at The Melkweg (The Milky Way) in Amsterdam, last year, and they were complete masters of proceedings. This album, in some way, evokes the same spirit. The spirit of being in control. And groovin' at the same time. Cappuccino recommended!
+ Ton de Jong - The Netherlands