Lee Thompson Ska Orchestra ‘The benevolence of Sister Mary Ignatius’ (Axe Attack) 4/5

Two founder member of Madness, saxophonist Lee Thompson and bassist Mark Bedford, were inspired by the music of their teenage years to begin performing from 2011 onwards their own vision of ska and reggae-infused material and, to add some authenticity to proceedings, have enlisted the support of one Mike Pelanconi aka Prince Fatty who also co-produced the album. The result is an engaging slice of retrospective Jamaican music that is sure to uplift the spirits of even the hardiest of souls. The first single to emerge from the album has been hitting the airwaves for several weeks now and ‘Fu man chu’ is an outstanding remake of the classic reggae song performed here very ably by Bitty McLean. Elsewhere there is a good deal to commend, not least the terrific take on the ‘Mission Impossible’ theme which is a truly inspired choice to be given the ska treatment and one, that in its new musical surroundings, sounds completely natural. The old Lester Sterling tune ‘Bangarang’, which was an original skinheads favourite, receives a faithful re-interpretation with joint vocals and some fine unison horns. For fans of the Skatalites, Don Drummond’s ‘Eastern standard time’ is an energetic version that retains the essence of the original while if it is a reggae/funk fusion that you are looking for, then ‘Hot reggae’, a reworking of James Brown’s ‘Hot pants’ will fit the bill to perfection. The excellence of the production is best exemplified on John Holt’s seminal ‘Ali Baba’ and this stands comparison with any Jamaican remake. For an unusual choice of cover, look no further than a reworking of the Allman Brothers blue-eyed soul song ‘Midnight rider’ which is taken at a leisurely minor theme tempo here and works surprisingly well. A recent live performance on the Jools Holland show will have done little to harm the promotion of both the album and band.

Tim Stenhouse