Skamörgåsbord is the 5th album by Baltimore’s The Players Band. What Baltimore reminds me of? Well, only The Wire TV series and everyone shouting “Omar’s coming!”. I’ve never been to the United States, but I have some doubts if a picture of so-called Charm City from that TV show is accurate to this day. That doesn’t change the fact I started listening to this record with those rather depressing images in my mind.
Contrast between my grim vision and the sounds coming from the speakers was instant and you could say that I sighed with relief. What I need to emphasize is that you immediately hear one thing – The Players Band are no amateurs but actually some serious players. Their lineup is almost some kind of an all-star dream team. You got guys here from bands such us The Pietasters, Jah Works, Bumpin Uglies, Unity Reggae, Scotch Bonnets, Kill Lincoln, or the punk crew Left Alone. More than 20 years of experience on the scene and 500 gigs left its mark. These guys know what’s what, and they won’t hesitate to use this knowledge in a truly deadly manner. As it occurs they also don’t have any problems with contracting mercenaries, I mean guest vocalists, and quite a lot of them. It was supposed to be a Swedish buffet, so you got to have something to choose from.
The Players band on stage at The Fillmore Silver Spring, 2019
photos: press release
The Players Band – Skamörgåsbord
The record starts with a melodic “Who’s That”, which could easily be The Slackers’ song. Not that Dan Schneider sings very similar to Vic Ruggiero, but somehow this tune brings to mind my favorite New Yorkers. Just a moment later comes the big punch. I knew there were going to be covers, guest singers and all, but I honestly admit that I didn’t expect Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer” here. More than that, I would never suspect that Lady Hatchet’s of The Scotch Bonnets version is going to be so good. What she does with her voice is comparable to at least Tina Turner.
The next one is “Hot Milk”, obviously a cover of Jackie Mittoo. As the original was rather raw keyboards display, here beside hypnotizing keys fiddling by Pablo Fiasco you’ll hear plenty of horns. This version appeals to me very much. There’s another tune dedicated to Jackie Mittoo – slow, idyllic, once again with ingenious brass section and Natty Roc of Jah Works praising his merits with a beautiful, soft voice.
I have to admit, that this idea o mixing covers and original stuff works very well here. Covers are good and/or surprising while original material has enough strength to successfully break through melodies we’ve known for years. Let’s take politically toned “Wet Noodle”. It’s a great rocksteady tune, which gives you the same satisfaction with every next listen. Fun fact: the bassist, Joe Ross is the singer this time. In “Vacation”, perfectly sang by Mark Leary, the tempo speeds up again to go full ska-jazz gallop in a western-themed “Nimrod” originally played by The Skatalites.
“Loving Cup” is yet another surprise – the song by Rolling Stones, which I think I haven’t heard for years. It’s obviously more swinging than original and it stands out with brass section’s work. As I am no Mick Jagger’s psycho fan, I can say with a clean conscience that David Blackstone (in past the band’s trombonist) performed very nice as a vocalist.
It’s getting exciting as we get to “Player’s Anthem”, with David Saunier on the mic. It’s fully blown 90s in a Toasters manner. The climax of this style comes on “Get In The Van”, where Stephen Jackson of The Pietasters sings about the difficult fate of beginner musicians. You have to know how to play 3rd wave ska, fast and forward yet without trash and misery – and that’s not easy. The Players Band are quite comfortable doing just that.
Between these doses of youthful nostalgia, there are 3 other tracks including two great instrumentals: ska-jazz arrangement of a jazz standard “Work Song” and an amazing version of “Liquidator” spiced up with a solid dose of horns. It’s worth mentioning that there are moments on this album, when you can actually hear six winds at the same time. The third element of this part is the beautiful, slower “Over You”, where Dan Schneider who is the full-time Players’ vocalist, has another chance to get behind the microphone. Phew, it’s easy to get lost with all those singing names.
Album is closed by 4 dub versions and if to this moment I had any doubts, now they’re instantly gone – the one responsible for production and mixes of this record is no other than Victor Rice. As always, he did a great job in his Brazilian Studio Copan. He made dubs for “Sledgehammer” (wow!), “Hot Milk” (it’s probably my favorite), “Wet Noodle” and “Nimrod”.
“Skamörgåsbord” is a magnificent set, perfect for the band’s 20th anniversary. It sums up their activities, previews different genres, has multiple guests – it’s just an excellent party and you can attend it already in June. Do yourself a favor and don’t miss this premiere.