Once in a great while there is a moment at a live show when it’s clear to the audience that they’ve just witnessed something amazing and rare, and a collective chill goes through the crowd while goosebumps rise up on hundreds of forearms at exactly the same time. I’m going to go out on a nice, firm limb here and say that anyone who was lucky enough to attend last year’s Down the Line knows exactly what I’m talking about: Unlikely Alibi’s lilting rendition of “No Woman No Cry.” Remember the split-second hush that followed their set and the deafening standing ovation that shattered the silence? I don’t know who could forget it. I couldn’t. Can’t. Won’t.
From that night on I’ve been a loyal fan of this sometimes four-, sometimes six-, sometimes eight-piece ska/rock/reggae act fronted by trumpeter Todd Roth. And the best news I’ve had to share in a long time is that now, four years after these guys played their first gig at Columbia Street West, they’re returning to that stomping ground October 3 to celebrate the release of their first full-length CD, At the Ready.
From the first note of the first track, “Dancin’ on Coals,” At the Ready lives up to its name. It begins with a bang, or, more accurately, a gutsy and contagious guitar riff courtesy of former-turned-current lead guitarist Jerome Schooley and just gets better from there. “Dancin’” is a good introduction to Roth’s talents as a songwriter. The tune tackles the essential yin and yang of existence, and, while that might sound heavy, Roth, onetime member of ska act Heavy Step, treads lightly and expertly through both familiar and not so familiar territory. The next three songs – “Pretend,” “Between Us” and “Do It All Over” – deal with relationships, primarily those of the doomed variety, but it would be difficult to find more infectious, dance-like-an-idiot-in-your-car type tunes. Breaking up has never been so fun. Other highlights – and really, there are no low lights – include the Gothic, keyboard-infused “In Your Eyes” and “Walk Out,” a cantina tune that showcases Roth’s trumpet and will have you hankering all day for some south of the border drink with a side of sun.
This is the kind of album you listen to and suddenly everything seems okay. There’s a financial crisis? So what. My credit card bill is the length of a Dead Sea Scroll? No biggee. My horoscope’s predicting certain heartbreak and possible famine? Whatevs. I’ve got this CD to keep me smiling. Roth puts it best in the album’s final track, “Highly Unlikely” – “Life is too short for us to spend it miserably.” Amen, brother. (Deborah Kennedy)
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