For me, the summer of '97 was ska summer. It was everywhere. It was on the radio, it was in the clubs. You couldn't escape. Now, I had been going down that path for a bit, but it was the road alone that I strode. That is until the phenomenon of ska shows at least once a week. I met other rude dudes who became my closest friends. And if we had to pick a favorite band, it was Isaac Green & The Skalars. In fact, one of our greatest triumphs happened the night they finally came to town. I had shortly before this gone through a particularly nasty break up. Not only did he totally dis me, but he dissed us all. We saw him for the pseudo-intellectual snob he was. Anyhow, he had been the one to turn us on to this band. That night I rolled friends-deep, while he came alone. Before the show we met one of the Skalars and he was super nice and we met a couple of the others. And during their set they dedicated a song to us. The look on my ex-boyfriend's face was priceless. Immediately after the set, a couple of the band members came down and talked to us. Evan, the trombone player/co-vocalist needed a ride to the airport either late that night or early that morning depending how you looked at it. Within earshot of my ex-boyfriend I excitedly offered to help him out. Hanging out with him until we dropped him off was a blast and it was the first time I had stayed out all night.
The Skalars were from St. Louis and released two albums through Moon Ska and a couple of 7"s on their own. They were among the handful of ska bands that actually had talent as both musicians and songwriters. Importantly, they were NOT ska-punk.
Skoolin' With the Skalars was their debut album. Evan Shaw was the main male vocalist, while there were three female vocalists of whom only saxophonist Jessica Butler (by far the superior voice) remained by their intensely soulful second album.
As I mentioned, these guys were not ska-punk, they draw from the originators, mixing big band and R&B into a sweet sweet 3rd wave sound.
For me, this the sound of leaving high school behind. (Finally!)
Each of these songs have such specific memories attached to them. "Spoiled Brat" reminded us of a rich girl who was in our social circle that just didn't get how easy she had it. Their cover of The Marvelettes "Beechwood 4-589" was the definitive dance party jam.
Both "Don't Count" and "High School" were later made available in newer versions focusing on Jessica Butler's lone vocals. And these songs are the heavy hitters of this album. I so deeply related to these realizations that the world is a tough place. You don't always win and you can never go back. That is the post-high school graduate condition.
"Sitting" reminded us of a hapless friend constantly pining for the most unavailable of ladies...it didn't hurt that he shared his name with the song's protagonist. And though I never shared it with my friends, "Junbok" was emblematic of my broadening horizons. After 13 years of school with the same handful of people, I was going out into the world where I would be meeting people that I might never see again and making connections that might never be revisited. Shit's deep, yo.
The hidden track "Ike's Ride" (which was the song they dedicated to us) was our anthem. We had mistaken the lyrics for "I Try!" which developed into more than a mere catchphrase, it was a codeword.
With the demise of Moon Ska in America, it seems that there's not a direct way to get new copies of this album, but there's plenty available on Amazon. I checked.
Hear it HERE.