Here's the thing about ska: It's not cool. Although the genre enjoyed a brief renaissance during the mid-'90s, today it's about as hip as smooth jazz. So for the five members of Monkey (skilled musicians who play traditional ska spiced with roots reggae and rocksteady), this certainly isn't trend-hopping -- a passionate connection to the music naturally infuses their performance. The nine-year-old Cupertino group invokes the names of influential pioneers like the Skatalites and Toots and the Maytals, but not without an innovative modern touch: The funky, drop-beat opener "Summertime Sun," instrumental reggae/swing fusion title track, and socially aware groover "Unity Dub" (To the homophobe and racist man: The time has come when you must pay for the evils you have done) present three sides to Monkey's adaptive revival. No matter where its muse leads, the band remains focused and confident across Cruel Tutelage. For at least forty minutes, ska is cool again.
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