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The Skalars

Change Up

Moon SKA NYC

Sophomore slump? Not here, baby! The Skalars sidestep the second album trap with the brilliant Change Up , an album that's light-years ahead of their debut, 1996's Skoolin' With the Skalars . In fact, it almost sounds like the Skalars got some "skoolin'" since that album's release -- there isn't one area in which they haven't grown. Change Up is soulful, jazzy, danceable ska that can't be denied!

   Jessica Butler's gorgeous voice is in fine form, belting through tracks like "After The Show," "J.A.M.," and a torchy cover of the classic "Hold Me Tight" with soul and grace. In fact, I'd been concentrating so much on Jessica's vocals the first few times I listened to the record that I almost failed to note the expanded vocal role trombonist Evan Shaw has taken. Their voices play very well off each other on tracks like "Follow Through," "Zero Commitment," and the rave-up crowd pleaser "Box Of Death," while Shaw takes the lead on the tasty "Mixed Blessing." Of course, the horn work (from Shaw, Butler on sax, and guest Tyler Jones of Spring Heeled Jack on trumpet) is tight and sweet, and the band is right on time -- check out "Strikeout Summer," which gives guitarist Ethan D'Ericole a chance to shine, and the Latin-tinged "This Is It," which gives the whole band a nice work out.

   All in all, Change Up is an amazing leap forward for this talented band. The Skalars have definitely graduated to the next level. I can't wait to hear these tunes live!

Moon SKA NYC, P.O. Box 1412, Cooper Station, New York, NY 10276; http://www.moonska.com

--Julio Diaz