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Music Review: The Pietasters – All Day

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With a name meaning “fat guys” in British slang, there is no telling what you might get from the currently eight piece Pietasters. Loosely formed in 1990 as a punk cover band, it wasn’t long before they found there was more fun to be had in covering tunes from the likes of ska biggies The Specials and Mighty Mighty Bosstones. Ska, for those of you who are unfamiliar is known for its walking bass lines with horn riffs and a general mentality of drinking, fun-loving, and rebellion. It is also considered a precursor to reggae.

Founded in part by Stephen Jackson, who remains their vocalist today, The Pietasters released their first studio album, eponymous in name but often referred to as Piestomp. On the Slugtone label, I contend that this is still their best album to date. It has some of their catchiest tunes, their most energetic numbers, rife with the feeling and soul of true ska, and darn it, “Little Engine” is just one of my favorite songs ever.

By 1997 The Pietasters had hit indie band heaven, signing on to Hellcat, a brand new sub-label of Epitaph, created by Tim Armstrong of Rancid. Alongside touring giants and Celtic-punk band Dropkick Murphys, it was a huge move for the band and resulted in their most commercially successful album, Willis.

So here we are – seventeen years, five albums, and 14 band members later. The Pietasters are back with a sixth studio album, this time recorded with Indication Records.

I was super stoked on getting this album into my CD player the minute it hit my doorstep, hoping for some classic inspired Pietasters that would rock at their high energy live shows, one of which I was to be attending the next week.

I have to say, and it pains me to do so, All Day is not the album I was hoping, nay assuming, it would be. Much more pared down than many previous Pietasters albums, All Day is heavily seasoned with Motown, early ska, and reggae influences. There is much less of the punk-rock sensibility that many of the original members seemed to impart, and I wonder if it is the relatively newer lineup that influenced this change.

Don’t get me wrong. This is a good album if you are expecting ska set in the early years of the genre. But if you love the old days of The Pietasters, when they were experimenting with the sounds of punk, ska, rock, with a dash of the Murphys thrown in, then this will by no means be your favorite album by this band.

Like all of their efforts, All Day sounds as if it was recorded in someone’s basement, a quality that only seems to enhance ska music. It’s like you are at a jam session and someone just happened to turn on a microphone.

The opening track, “Change My Ways,” is the most Motown inspired and I like it a great deal. The 30 second intro of horns is completely hummable and Stephen Jackson’s vocals are as good as they have ever been.

I was excited to see a song called “Triflin,” as it sounded like the kind of title that could indicate a brash romp that only The Pietasters can do so well. Sadly, it is more reggae than ska and completely 100% forgettable.

And unfortunately, that is the theme of this album – forgettable, which is shocking for a band that has created some of the most memorable songs I have ever loved. There is no “Dollar Bill,” no “Night Owl,” and most certainly no “Maggie Mae.”

But amongst the humdrum, there are a couple of gems. “Fozzy (Part 1)” has some perfectly offbeat keyboard refrains and Jorge Pezzimenti’s bass is at its head-bopping best.

I also really love “Oolooloo” (which fans will recognize as the title of an earlier album). Starting off with “Another round for the good time/we all have had,” it is an irreverent anthem that will be a blast to sing along with and is probably the best song here. And make sure you catch Alan Makranczy’s saxophone as the song fades out. It is masterful.

While not my favorite type of Pietasters music, they are still a very talented group. Their recordings have never done justice to the genius of their music, and their live shows are not to be missed. While I missed the show in my area due to unexpected company, here’s hoping that All Day will benefit from the soul and passion these guys exhibit on stage.  

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About Kate C. Harding

  • weston

    the new album doesn’t have as much energy as the old ones, but i enjoy it just as much. i saw it more as an homage to old motown records and a departure from their old stuff, but a triumph all the same. consider also that late bassist todd eckhardt wrote most all their old songs with former guitarist tom goodin. now with both of them gone, their new bassist jorge pezzimenti hasn’t just made a seamless transition, he also happened to write 12 of 14 songs on All Day. with that in mind, i’m just in awe that they’ve managed to stay together, let alone keep making great records.

    strapped live will always be my fav though of course

  • Annamarya

    It’s a well-written review, but when was Ska ever the precursor to reggae? There was reggae and dancehall waayyyyyyyyyy before Ska made its way onto the scene.

  • Kate C. Harding

    Annamayra,
    Thank you for the feedback and comments. I did a bit of research a while back about ska, reggae, and similar genres for an interview I was doing and found a lot of conflicting information about the origins of each. Here are some of the things I found, if you have any interest.

    Perhaps referring to ska as a precursor was a bit of a misnomer, but I think it is pretty safe to say that they developed from each other.

  • Mrotcheque

    It’s not reggae, it’s like early ska and soul things like Jimmy Cliff etc. I think it’s great album. Maybe I can say it ’cause I don’t know the previous albums from The Pietasters. But this album have a hearth!

  • Eric

    This record actually excites me more than most of their others. There’s definetly a much more mature feel to these songs, a remarkable grasp of the history surrounding their musical style. The Pietasters have always been more than a ska band. They have a broad range of influences, and many of these harken back to the early days of the ska scene and the glory days of the Skinhead movement in England. Soul, Ska, and Reggae were the genres of choice of the Skins and Rudies, as well as the odd pub rock group, which the song “So Long” musically portrays well. “Change my ways” is very much inspired not as much by Motown as it is by the Northern Soul acts of the 60’s and 70’s. There are also the Reggae tunes on this record, such as “Dream of You” which is very much the Pietasters we know and love, not to mention that there are plenty of the good old ska tunes which we have come to expect from them. I think to see this record as a subpar offering is to miss the devotion to history which the band has, and a willingness to pay homage to that history and at the same time, broaden the perspectives of those who might think that Ska is an isolated little genre. While it is true that some of the vigor seen in songs like “Maggie Mae” has been directed elsewhere in this record, it in no way means that the passion and attitude has gone.