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Album Review

The Mighty Mighty Bosstones' Dicky Barrett would like to take all the credit for this album, and he certainly reached out a helping hand when the Pietasters were at their lowest. His influence may also be creeping into Stephen Jackson's vocals, which have decidedly altered from slightly gruff to notably gravelly. The Bosstones may even be responsible for the more prominent guitar featured on this set, but there again, guitar was always an important facet of the Pietasters' mix. Perhaps the real credit belongs to producer Brett Gurewitz who brought the axe to the fore. But everything else about Willis is down to the band themselves, including the decision to actively emphasize another side of their sound. Relegated to the sidelines are the jazzier elements and big band-sound once so prominent. Gone too are the instrumentals that showcased the group's exceptional musicianship. It's all for a good cause, though, all the better for the band to return to their roots of '60s pop, soul, and Motown R&B, all fueled by a syncopated beat.

And so the Pietasters serve up their most varied album yet, quite a feat for a band that had always prided itself on its unique mix of stylings. Willis' inspired blend of styles boasts some of the group's most awesome arrangements to date — garage punk ("Crazy Monkey Woman"); ska-fueled, Brit-beat-flavored, funk-fired soul ("Stone Feeling"); reggae-fied, surf-side; C&W-soul ("Higher"); calypso-fied Two Tone (a new cut of their vintage "Without You"); pop/rock goes ska ("Ocean"); flashy, brass-fueled R&B ("Bitter"), and that's not even taking into account the covers.

There's a bright and bubbly version of the Outsiders' 1966 hit "Time Won't Let Me," flush with organ and brash with brass, but with the starring role falling to Tom Goodin's Chuck Berry-styled guitar solo; a pumping version of Martha & the Vandellas' "Quicksand," inspired by the Jam's cover of that group's "Heat Wave," and a storming take on James Easter's "New Breed." But for all the eclecticism, there are also some straight-out skankers, like the frenetic "Fat Sack," and the anthemic "Out All Night" — the latter destined to become the band's theme song. The slower paced "Moment," awash in dizzying horns and sharp staccato beats, is also a blast from the past, albeit the band's own, the sole, heady, reminder of their previous styling. As surprising as the shift in musical sound is, equally amazing is Jackson's vocals, reaching never-before-attained heights of power. Every track on this set is memorable, the melodies irresistible, the hooks inescapable, the musicianship flawless as always, and the arrangements stunning, with the production highlighting each and every ounce of the band's strength.



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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Willis, The Pietasters
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