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The Pietasters

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Album Review

Upbeat ska with a Two Tone flair, highly melodic, totally infectious, and fused with soul, swing, and jazz, the Pietasters self-titled debut album is an absolute delight. On a computer screen, this mix of styles looks far from unique, but on the stereo their blend is far removed from virtually all other third wave ska revivalists. Take "Perfect World" for example, which careens across the grooves in typical frenetic ska style. What sets the song apart, however, is not just the Latino-tinged brass, à la the Supersonics on amphetamines, but also Caroline Boutwell Jackson's Ray Manzarek-flavored Farfisa, Tom Goodin's surf-tinged guitar, and Chris Watt's thundering bassline. That Doors-y organ is also prominent on the propulsive "Ace Miller," although contrarily, that song's soul belongs to Chuck Berry. The brass section's hearts, however, belong to jazz, and their superb musicianship is brilliantly showcased across virtually entire set. The blistering big band instrumental "Factory Concerto" captures them at their best, whilst also throwing the spotlight on drummer Ben Gauslin. The moodier instrumental "Pietaster" also highlights both the brass' silky skills, as well as Goodin's superb guitar work. His surfing style is integral to "Metro," another brass-laced instrumental that also spotlights Boutwell Jackson's organ. Not content with that, "Concerto" is revisited at the end of the set, giving the musicians another opportunity to shine.

Meanwhile, the group's creativity is evident on their cover of Bad Habits' "Model Citizen" which kicks off at breakneck ska speed, incorporates a sample of the Wailers' "Simmer Down," then slows down, but heats up, during Cool 'Casian' Don's warp-speed toast. The Pietasters' songwriting equals their musicianship, and beyond the instrumentals, the band offer up a host of melody fueled numbers, across a host of blended styles, all boasting infectious hooks, and each providing a perfect backdrop for Stephen Jackson's vocals. One of the best singers on the scene, only Bim Skala Bim's Dan Vitale can equal Jackson in the soul stakes. His powerful performances are rich with emotion, and just a hint of gruffness; he can belt out a song at full throttle, as on "Perfect World," cosset us with his sheer sweetness, then thrill us with his emotional range, as he does on the totally infectious, swinging "Night Owl." A phenomenal record, from a fabulous group of musicians, deftly produced by Nick Nichols, and a masterpiece of the genre.


Formed: 1990 in Washington DC

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '90s, '00s

The Pietasters, a ska revival band, were founded in Washington D.C. in 1990 by singer/songwriter Stephen Jackson. In 1992, the group got their first big break when they were chosen as the opening act for a tour by the British ska band Bad Manners. Their first album, The Pietasters, was released by Moon Ska Records in 1993. Oolooloo followed on May 22, 1995. Strapped Live! was issued on April 30, 1996. In 1997, the Pietasters signed to Hellcat/Epitaph, with which they released two albums, Willis (October...
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The Pietasters, The Pietasters
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