Album Review: Maddie Ruthless & The Secret Affair “Hold The Phone”
The Rocksteady Queen of New Orleans and newfound friend of MNSKA, Maddie Ruthless, is dropping her new record on Saturday, September 11th on Community Records. The album is called Hold The Phone by Maddie Ruthless & The Secret Affair. You can download the album for FREE and you can order the 10″ vinyl + CD at the label’s website. MNSKA album reviewer Tom “Bari Sax” Enget has posted his full review of the record after the jump.
Maddie Ruthless & The Secret Affair — Hold The Phone
Hold The Phone is the debut album from self-proclaimed New Orleans Rocksteady Queen Maddie Ruthless. She is backed by The Secret Affair, who are actually New Orleans ska-core outfit Fatter Than Albert in disguise. Maddie has spent several years not only performing but also spinning ska, rocksteady, and roots reggae albums at events and concerts across the US and even in Europe. The deep knowledge of the music that she has gained is on full display on this album.
“Hold” is only seven songs long but is packed with New Orleans energy and feel on top of its reggae grooves. Fatter Than Albert shows a considerable range as Maddie’s backing band; their usual ska-core sound is substituted for a deep, more traditional roots-reggae feel. The feel of ska-core, while not stylistically present, still hangs over the album, though—the sound has a deep New Orleans feel to it, evoking all the emotion and heaviness of a New Orleans funeral dirge. Deep veins of jazz and blues also run through the songs, giving Maddie Ruthless & The Secret Affair a sound as unique as it tradition-bound.
The meat of the album is its center section, although that’s not to say anything bad about the other songs. “Rudie Blood Pact” is a dark, bluesy song about two lovers making a blood pact, haunting in its dark feel. “Funeral Dirge” is another excellent song, and “Abracadabra” tells the story of a woman leaving her lover. It is also slightly more laid back and less sonically “busy” than the other songs on the album, making it one of the most accessible songs in the set—in its own right, it even sounds a little sweeter than the other cuts. “Inside Out” also makes for a great song, featuring a vocal duet between Maddie and FTA singer Charlie McInnis.
The other tracks on the album are also good listening, and are by no means bad, but they don’t quite have the same punch that the center songs do. “Heat Fever” opens the album and lays down the New Orleans Rocksteady sound that Maddie and The Affair have perfected here, and it even incorporates bits of dancehall in the lyrical style. The only complaint—one that pops up occasionally—are that the vocals are delivered so fast that they are at times barely understandable. “Blood! Fire!” also suffers from this, although it is still a good song.
The lyrical theme of “Blood!” is mysterious; the words reference soldiers and gas masks, among other things, and seem to suggest the setting of a street riot. “Inside Out” also has a mysterious theme, rather open to interpretation, possibly best expressed by the lyrics “They’ve buried diamonds under your skin/So next time you’re in a jam/They’re gonna cut you open/So you can bleed the money” and “Give me the weapon/I wanna see you from the inside out.” These songs add a little interest, giving listeners something to think about while taking in the music.
The album is solidly produced and mixed. The sound is very layered, with organ padding propelling the sound along and vocal echoes and effects (another great piece of studio work is a conversation towards the end of “Abracadabra” between Maddie and McInnis; discussing a shooting that has been pinned on Maddie’s character, she replies with the solid-gold line of “I do what I want with a .45, baby, I’m Ruthless!). At times, though, the horns feel a little overbearing for the overall sound (not a usual complaint from me) and the vocals are sometimes too far back in the mix. An interesting bit of work is done on the closing track, “Rudie Dub Pact,” a dubbed-out remix of “Rudie Blood Pact.” While interesting, the vocal echoes that emphasize the lyric “Rudie blood pact” add too much sound to the overall makeup, and they hang on a moment too long. The heavy bass line, and the horns, sound as if they were recorded off of a cranked up car stereo that overloaded the subwoofers. They sound slight vibratious and fuzzy, a little overdone—but this opens up a question. It might be unintentional. But if it is actually intentional, it’s a very cool effect—maybe not the favorite of every listener, but it is interesting.
Overall, Hold The Phone is a solid album. Maddie has a sweet, soulful voice, and it makes every lyric pleasing to listen to. The lyrics are solid, and Fatter Than Albert’s work backing Maddie is great, with good jazz-influenced solos on several songs. It is obvious that all the musicians know not only ska and reggae very well but also jazz and the music of their hometown. The combination of these various musical veins makes for interesting, fun music that is good not only for dancing but also for listening.
Rating (out of 5 stars): * * * *
Track Listing (tracks marked with a “+” are recommended tracks)
1. Heat Fever
2. Blood! Fire!
3. Rudie Blood Pact +
4. Funeral Dirge +
5. Inside Out +
6. Abracadabra +
7. Rudie Dub Pact