Ever since ska music fell from the radio waves in the late nineties, once-great bands began dropping their horn sections and focusing more on the punk side of punk-ska, often with disastrous results (just listen to Less than Jake’s 2006 album “In With the Out Crowd”).
However, starting with Big D and the Kids Table’s 2007 release, “Strictly Rude,” and continuing on this summer’s “Fluent in Stroll,” the band has taken a step in the other direction––focusing less on distorted, crunchy guitar and more on smooth, jazz-influenced horn lines and clean vocal harmonies. The results are beyond sublime (no pun intended) and Big D may have just released the best record of their 14-year career.
The new record, produced by The Mighty Mighty Bosstones’ Joe Gittleman, sees Big D tints their album with overwhelming optimism and adds a whole new set of sounds to their style, including four backup singers who perform collectively as the Doped Up Dollies.
The band wastes no time blasting into their new style, which they have christened “stroll”––a mix of hopscotch, doubledutch, soul, ska, and reggae. On the the opening track, “Doped Up Dollies On A One Way Ticket to Blood” the first sounds to greet listeners are the Dollies themselves singing “Boom goes the dynamite, dynamite, dynamite/ Boom goes the dynamite dynamite boom!”
In addition to the impressive harmonies that the Dollies lay down, their greatest strength lies in knowing when to drop out and let the band shine. Although their presence is instrumental in almost every single song on the record and certainly played a vital role in making the record what it is, the Dollies do a great job in remembering that they are backing vocals. This knowledge allows them to be a force on the record without cluttering it up.
In addition to the new sound, the record is thematically tied together by a topic generally left untouched by ska bands––love. Throughout the new record, lead singer Dave McWane does everything: reassure his lady of his fidelity (“Where Did All the Woman Go?”), encourage friends to not give up in their own searches for love (“Chin Up, Boy!”), and remind all of his listeners that Boston is the best place to live (“Down Around Here.”)
Unlike most love-song based recordings, “Fluent In Stroll” keeps from getting obnoxious both through its sheer sincerity and the fact that it never takes itself too seriously; in one particularly charming line, McWane sates that if his ex were to show up, he would spray her away with insect repellent.
With the new record, Big D and the Kids Table took a risk, and it paid off with a CD that is destined to be at the top of listener’s play-lists for months to come. It’s also worth remembering that Big D hasn’t lost all of their roots; punk favorites “LAX” and “Steady Riot” still made it onto their set list for this summer’s tour.