How can anyone not be happy when listening to ska like this? There's something timeless here, and it's not a stretch to say that listening to Return of Judge Roughneck, the new album from Neville Staple, out on Friday from Cleopatra Records, made me recall when I was 16 and first buying Specials albums on cassette at the mall. It appeals to that part of me as a fan of this kind of music.
Neville Staple, the "original rude boy", as they say, is back and he's returned with the buoyant ska and dub of Return of Judge Roughneck. While the founding member of both The Specials and Fun Boy Three is older, he's not old, if you catch my meaning. Hence, my reference to the timeless quality of this music. When Staple tackles classics like "Be Happy" and "Enjoy Yourself", he does so in such a way as to spin them in new directions. He's not so much trying to up the originals as he is to remind you how great this music is.
And that's the reason that Return of Judge Roughneck is, like that recent album from The Selecter, such a joyous thing, the sort of record that inspires waves of nostalgia in fans of my age as much as it does stir the urge to dance. The infectious "Down My Street" is full of spark and a playful beat, while the more catchy "Run" rides a big hook like those found on old Bad Manners or Madness records, peers of this man's earlier bands. Staple tries new spins on the familiar ska styles with "Bangarang", the familiar bits from an old Specials-kinda single updated for a more modern age.
Towards the second half of this double album, Neville and his band engage in some dub tracks here with the results being fairly interesting. Highlights here are "Roadblock (Slam Door Dub Mix by Ed Rome)", an earlier Neville Staple track here stretched out impressively in its remix form, and the trippy "Dub Fever", a reworking of this album's "Gang Fever" into a sort of Adrian Sherwood-style remix. I think the biggest surprise of Return of Judge Roughneck is how compelling the dub tracks are. I mean, yeah, I gravitate towards the peppy ska numbers as they make me think of the glory days of The Specials but, hey, The Specials also put out one of the greatest singles of all time in the dubby "Ghost Town" and Neville is an artist who wisely pays tribute to that side of his legacy, as well as offer a nod in the direction of a Fun Boy Three classic with "The Lunatics (Have Taken Over The Asylum)"-referencing "Dub Crazy (Feat. Jessy Greene)" towards the end of Return of Judge Roughneck.
Return of Judge Roughneck by Neville Staple is exactly what I needed to hear in this bleak mid-winter season. It's a blast of energy and a reminder of the potency of ska to get the feet, as well as mind, moving in the right direction. Featuring appearances from violinist Jessy Greene (The Jayhawks, The Geraldine Fibbers), producer Ed Rome, and Christine ‘Sugary’ Staple, Neville's wife, who co-produced the album with Neville and Tom Lowry, this record was a pleasant surprise for me. The timeless appeal of ska is something that can't be denied and certainly not when the man at the wheel is a legend in the field. Mr. Neville Staple, you were missed. Thanks for returning with this Return of Judge Roughneck
[Photo: John Coles]