I must admit, I've never really been a huge fan of steel pan drums, or any music made with them. This release changes that, however. I've never heard them used the way this band used them, and I've never heard anything like this group.
Steel An' Skin were formed in London in the 1970s, and included musicians of African and Caribbean heritage (specifically, they were born in Ghana, Nigeria, St. Kitts, Trinidad, as well as the UK). This album is a reissue of their debut 12" from 1979, as well as two tracks from a 1984 LP and an unreleased track. The album is packaged with a documentary DVD, featuring astonishing live and rehearsal footage.
The disc opens with its title track, and while the group chants "sweet reggae, I love you", they're playing a high energy disco-influenced groove. The highlight of the disc, however, is the dub version of the title track, which is titled "Afro Punk Reggae (Dub)". In a way, it almost seems like a cousin to The Clash's "Magificent Seven", or some of the other heavily dub and disco influenced material off of "Sandinista!", but I think Steel An' Skin managed to create a more natural, seamless, and successful fusion of these sounds. The later tracks on the album feature more socially conscious lyrics, and more sophisticated, experimental arrangements. They seem less influenced by reggae or disco and more by Afro-pop, high life and soca.
Everything on this release is incredible. I can't possibly imagine listening to this music and not being happy. The musicianship is incredibly tight, the vocal harmonies are beautiful, and the whole thing has such a relentlessly positive vibe to it. The only thing I could possibly complain about is the album's length; the compact disc and the DVD are only about 35 minutes each. I guess that just means I'll have to keep listening to it over and over again, or hope for another reissue. I'm actually kind of shocked that this group wasn't more well known, hopefully this release will help to change that. 9/10 -- Paul Simpson (15 April, 2008)