Ska Fun and Games

Quatro (Rock N Roll Rampage Records

Johnny Socko

By Tim Roberts

Face it, ska is fun. The horns, the Reggae rhythms spun up to jet speed, the stage full of musicians. What makes it more fun is when the band plays more than ska, when they can cover all ranges of music. Just because you have a full rhythm section and a blasting set of wind instruments doesn't mean every song has to sound like "Knock on Wood" by The Mighty, Mighty Bosstones. The band Johnny Socko definitely doesn't think so, and they let us know on Quatro.

Based in Indianapolis, but frequent guests in Louisville at the Phoenix Hill Tavern, this fourth release (hence, the name) from the irreverent, wry sextet is a pumped-up joy, as crazy as a centipede on rollerblades.

They careen from flat out ska in the opening track "Dancing Queen," to an exploration of the downside of wool hats (the choice headgear for slackers) in "Rocks in My Head," to the gentle Latin rhythm of "Coffee Girl," a valentine to all the coffee-shop waiters and waitresses we've fallen in love with. We get muscular hip-hop in "Old School Master," about a king of the old video games who's "smooth like a table-top Galaxian / And I'm always on the lookout for some elevator action / Like Zaxxon. . ." Behind the chorus are ancient game sounds like Pac-Man "bewww-bewws" (Remember? After Pac bites the big energy pellet and chases the ghosts?) and rapid blasts from one of the dozen other shoot-em-ups that lined arcade walls nearly two decades ago. There's the soulful lounge ballad "Hey Hey Hi," and more hammering ska with "Devil's Advocate." The final two selections come with apparent heavy influences. "No More Excuses" mirrors any one of the songs from The Band that can be sung in a loud, tuneless voice accompanying a jukebox in a crowded bar. "Half As Much" is strong with a Led Zeppelin vibe, and guest vocalist Jeremy Radway can flawlessly mimic the Robert Plant style of slurring his voice to its upper ranges and back again.

Johnny Socko is a popular attraction at Phoenix Hill whenever they visit. Quatro will bring the fun home for their current fans. It will earn them some new ones, too.