[SKA] People hate what they don’t understand. That would explain why ska—a genre Frankensteined into all sorts of obnoxious incarnations in the mid- to late-’90s “third wave” boom years—was, until dubstep came along, the genre American music fans and critics just loved to hate. But for those who never fell out of love with the genre—like the Sentiments’ Matthew Griffin, who has hosted his Rude Boy’s Revenge & Coffee Hour radio show on KPSU for over 17 years—the Jamaican groove still moves.
Enter Griffin’s band, the Sentiments. The Portland group focuses on the roots, playing R&B classics and traditional ska tunes with a decidedly soulful bent. The band doesn’t try to replicate the sound of a crackling old 45 and frontwoman Erin Wallace doesn’t have a Jamaican accent, but everything else about this music comes from a deep appreciation of roots reggae and original ska.
Opener “Love Me” lays smooth horns over a mellow groove and sharp blasts of Hammond organ, but Wallace’s crystal-clear voice is in the driver’s seat, dictating the Sam Cooke cover’s languishing pace. The song almost feels too clean for its subject matter, though, if only in contrast with its Jamaican counterparts. The other songs on the EP—all of them old-school covers—do a better job of blending Wallace’s vocals into the mix, especially the band’s bouncy take on Jackie Opel’s “Turn Your Lamp Down Low” and its quite brilliant version of the Skatalites’ “What a Day,” which all but demands a spring-loaded dance floor.
The Sentiments are one of a handful of great ska acts attempting to clean the residue from some of the ’90s’ silliest acts out of listeners’ ears, and this EP serves as a sort of exploratory expedition into establishing a new ska colony in the Northwest. Question is, can any band get young folks skanking again, or is contemporary American ska destined to serve as nostalgia for a lost generation?
SEE IT: The Sentiments play Plan B, 1305 SE 8th Ave., 230-9020, on Thursday, Feb. 2, with the Toasters. 8 pm. $10. 21+.