Squawk Radio

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Liz Gives You Some Music to Summer By

Summer is just around the corner, so my musical urges are turning toward warm weather music. Salsa, pop, bhangra and reggae make up the bulk of my summertime listening, and UB40 has always been one of my favorite reggae bands (though they add a healthy dose of pop to their sound), despite the fact that their roots are thousands of miles away from the Caribbean, in England’s West Midlands. Their name refers to an “unemployment benefit,” and their first album was titled “Signing Off,” with artwork that was a reproduction of the unemployment benefit card stamped with that term, indicating that, with their debut, they were getting off the dole and earning a living.

When I decided to blog on UB40 today, my biggest dilemma was deciding which album to write about, because everything this band has recorded over the last quarter century has been pretty dang wonderful. Ultimately, I chose their self-titled “UB40,” originally released in 1984, because it has so many great original tunes. Most of their American radio hits have been reinterpreted reggae covers of songs made popular by other artists first. Save one song on this CD, everything is original. And everything is excellent.

They are a large band, UB40--eight members strong. What makes their sound so unique is the presence of so many horns--they boast players of saxophone, trumpet and trombone. There are also two percussionists. Some keyboard and synthesizer add to the singular flavor. And brothers Ali and Robin Campbell provide some of the most effective melody and harmony I’ve ever heard.

The songs on “UB40,” are, as always, a mix of political and social commentary, statements about the human condition, and songs of love. That last is the subject matter of my favorite song on the album, “Where Did I Go Wrong?” which is such a sad, haunting desperate attempt of one man to figure out how he lost the woman he loved. But a close second is “’Cos It Isn’t True,” a playful shrugging off of the singer’s talents and gifts. For the political/social commentary column, I like “Contaminated Minds.” In another great turn of tune, Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders (who discovered the band playing in a pub and invited them to open for the Pretenders on tour, thereby rocketing the band to fame in the UK) joins with them on “Breakfast in Bed.”

The music’s perfect for dancing, driving, partying, cooking, just about anything. No matter what you’re doing, this CD will put a smile on your face and get your feet moving. Enjoy!
Elizabeth Bevarly, 10:48 AM