After my first year of college, I had to move back home due to financial issues. I was a nighthawk, so my days were slept away, and my nights spent cleaning up the unruly messes of rich people’s weddings. It was good money. And it wasn’t retail. Plus, I worked with a group of guys I’d gladly take a bullet for. Luckily, there isn’t much violence when you’re one of only six people mopping up spilled champagne toasts in the middle of nowhere.
One day, while humoring the National Record Mart located in our glorious Fort Steuben Mall, I shuffled through the “S” section, just to kill time. I wasn’t expecting to see the Slackers’ first album there, let alone a NEW one! How on Earth did this wind up in Steubenville?!? In a major-label-hugging record store chain?!? And why didn’t I know about it?!? (Keep in mind, this was a very pre-Internet time. No blogs. No Pitchfork. Not that Pitchfork ever pays The Slackers any mind.)
There was no need to think this purchase over. I promptly grabbed it, shelled out my hard-earned money, and drove home as fast as possible. This was to be the rest of my day.
Even through that modest stereo I had, this new record (Redlight) sounded like orders coming down from high atop Mt. Olympus. Gone was the clever, nostalgic, lo-fi production quality. This thing was big. Thick. Like a hungry, angry bull trying to bust out of the speakers. And all this muscle and volume was coming from the first tune, which wasn’t punk or metal or any other typically thunderous musical style. This was an old-school, Tommy McCook*-style tune. One of the best songs you can ever start a day with. Man, was it grand. In that single first bar, I felt like Jamaica was honored better than anyone else ever could honor that country and its rich musical history.
The album went on, and waltzed through a boat-load of musical styles, all anchored with that old Jamaican backbone. Dave Hillyard spent one song firing his political cannons (”I Still Love You”), and another channeling the spirits of Otis Redding’s sax player (”Come Back, Baby”). Frontman Vic Ruggiero steps up his lyrical game, telling pulp fiction tales, calling out abusive cops, and in what will become one of two constant presences on future releases– introduces the world to his father through song.
And sweet Jesus, the bass on this thing… play “Rude and Reckless” loudly.
I had the pleasure of seeing the band live when they were touring for this record. It was amazing. The band was young– maybe early 20s, if memory serves me correctly. But they played together with the kind of chemistry more commonplace in old men who’d been collaborating for half a century. They owned that bill that night. (Even though half of them played in the next band, too.)
Enjoy this, because their next record? Even bigger changes afoot.
The Slackers’ Website
*Who is Tommy McCool you ask?