Catchy Caribbean Party Music from the Big Takeover
The Big Takeover’s new album Children of the Rhythm – streaming at Spotify – is what the Brits used to call two-tone music back in the punk era. Inspired by the multi-racial, pan-Caribbean sounds of bands like the Specials and the English Beat, the Big Takeover concoct an instantly identifiable, catchy, upbeat, wickedly tuneful blend of oldschool soul music, ska, rocksteady and soca. Frontwoman Nee Nee Rushie delivers the songs in an unselfconsciously clear, chirpy, full-throated, enticingly warm voice. Rather than trying to be seductive, she’s getting a party started, and it’s hard not to want to follow her. And she’s so steady, so pitch-perfect that the idea of autotuning her would be ridiculous (not that autotune in itself isn’t ridiculous, but that’s another story).
The album opens with the title track, a soca tune. It starts out with Lora Cohan’s organ and Jose Lopez’s guitar teaming up to mimic the sound of a steel pan, Rushie not wasting her time getting in some sly innuendos, a slinky organ solo giving way to a biting guitar break as the song hits a peak. “Grab a bottle and some oranges!” Rushie insists on another soca-flavored party anthem a little later on. And Rain – as in “no one is gonna rain on my parade” – recalls the English Beat at their catchiest, Rushie’s vocals reaching for an eye-rolling exasperation.
No Way is the first of the rocksteady numbers, with a clever arrangement that slowly adds layers as it goes along punchy horns and tinkly electric piano balanced by an acoustic piano track further down the scale. Cohan’s long, gorgeous organ solo on Stay with Me, another rocksteady tune, is the album’s instrumental high point .
Down with the Ship is straight-up ska, with gospel-tinged organ, a spiky guitar solo, its irresistibly bouncy tune contrasting with Rushie’s sad lyrics. New Love, which is more of a ska-pop song (there’s that English Beat influence again), is more optimistic. “I’m not here to make you distraught,” Rushie insists over the punch of the horns – Chas Montrose on baritone sax and Andrew Vogt on trombone – and the swirl of the organ. And Grain of Sugar vamps out an oldschool soul groove, a showcase for Rushie’s soaring upper register.
There’s also a trio of reggae tunes. Tired of Being So Lonely has edgy guitar and sax solos that contrast with its laid-back tropical groove. Unjust Judge evokes Bob Marley with its sardonic lyrics and catchy chorus; the album ends with Where Do We Dub, a skeletal, oldschool 70s-style dub plate pulsing along with Rob Kissner’s fat bass and Hector Becerra’s echoey drums. The band does well on the road – their next gig is June 7 at the Black Oak Tavern upstate in Oneonta, New York.