Hub City Stompers return with their “Haters Dozen” LP on the Austin indie Altercation Records, the home to the Asbury Park acts Lost in Society and The Obvious. A slew of Stompers dates will follow.
You realize three things immediately while listening to Hub City Stompers’ latest LP, Haters Dozen: they’re having so much fun, they seem almost as entertained as they are entertaining; alongside the fun, they make serious statements about racism and hate; and their chops are deeper than ska-punk, delving into jazz and rhythm & blues. The appropriately titled 13-track debut for Austin-based Altercation Records kicks off with an introduction by skinhead reggae legend Roy Ellis (Simaryp) on “Hub City Stomp,” the Stompers’ autobiographical ode to the city in which they were spawned.
My favorite tracks include “Distance Water,” a jazzy, surf-tinged, dub-inflected tune written by Stompers trombonist James Kelly that became a tribute to the late Rudie Crew/Bigger Thomas vocalist-toaster Roy Radics upon his death in 2016. It was initially an instrumental, but Radics dropped some lyrics over the track before he died. When the band went to record the tune, they enlisted by Coolie Ranx of The Pilfers for an additional chat, which concerns a long-standing fight against racism, hate and white power. Ranx also shares vocals with P-Dub of Predator Dub Assassins and formerly Inspecter 7, the group from which Hub City Stompers evolved.
Racism also is addressed in closing anthem “Night of the Living,” which, like the rest of the album, was co-written (or written) by frontman Travis Nelson, who has been fighting hate since his days as interracial skinhead within the City Gardens hardcore scene of the 1980s and ’90s. Yet while the title Haters Dozen is a reference to racism, it’s also inspired by the feeling that band are “the black sheep” of the Jersey ska scene, Nelson said, as well as some of the hating the Stompers do in response.
Hub City Stompers also shine at their most humorous. “Philly, What the Fuck?” is a priceless poke that hysterically blames an “extra chromosome” for the City of Brotherly Love’s funny accent, which is declared a mystery since Philly is close to Trenton, where members of the band were raised and near where several live. “Mr. McFeeley” is a clever look at a wimpy guy who’s probably too PC for his own good, as well as everyone else’s. And then there’s “Bring Back the Dorks,” which opens to the tune of Sondheim’s “Send in the Clowns” in a tongue-in-cheek nod to checkered-and-plaid ska dorks. The tune eventually de-evolves into a primal growl after also having some fun with rock-steady hipsters.
“Dorks” is one of several great backing vocal turns by saxophonist Jenny Whiskey. Whiskey also sings lead on two excellent tracks. “What’s She Got?”examines jealousy toward an ex’s new girlfriend: “I saw you with that bitch. I’m in a rage. Dim-ass wits, big-ass tits, half your age.” “Hard Place to Be,” a breakup song about a scenester couple whose disparate levels of maturity lead to their parting, also sports a great verse: “No reason to achieve and not to self-destroy/No need to be a man and not remain a boy/You’re free to treat your life like a toy while crying, ‘Oi, oi, oi.’ ”
What’s most impressive about Haters Dozen are the chops of Hub City Stompers, especially Whiskey, one of the best rock saxophonists in New Jersey because of the amount of jazz sensibility she brings to her work. “Father’s Day,” a tale of a May-December romance, is a great example of a jazzy track. It also boasts a strong three-part vocal and lyric from frequent HCS producer-label head King Django: “Don’t call me daddy because I ain’t your papa. If I were your papa, this would not be proper. Okay, I know you’re too young to know about the Big Bopper. Oh, I like to have it my way, just like the Whopper.” In between each line delivered by Django, who sounds remarkably like Nelson, he also coos like Whiskey on doubled vocals, singing “Don’t call me daddy.” The blend of his eclectic vocals with the jazzy horns, also by Kelly, is stunning.
“Weeks Worth of Wednesdays” is another jazzy turn that in addition to Whiskey’s sax features fantastic solos from Kelly and organist Greg “Pukey B” Behan. On top of all that, it’s a really fun track with a strong pop sensibility.
On April 13, don’t miss the long-awaited return of Hub City Stompers to the Court Tavern, which is even more triumphant for the enduring and evolving venue than the band. Sharing the bill of bassist Reggae Bob’s Birthday Bash will be veteran Jersey ska act Bigger Thomas, one of Nelson’s biggest influences, who also will celebrate their 30th anniversary that night. Rounding out the stacked lineup will be the Hub City hardcore of Dusters and Bridgewater hardcore of Damage Done, featuring Brian Franklin, brother of the late Jersey hardcore legend Dave Franklin of Vision, as well as members of Hub City Stompers side project Steel Toe Solution. The evening also will include the reggae stylings of Steady Sound System, a DJ offshoot of Hub City Stompers that features former drummer Nuno Rodrigues as the main selector.
Hub City Stompers then will celebrate the release of “Haters Dozen” with a listening party on April 20 at Randy Now’s Mancave in Bordentown. On April 22, the punk-ska greats will participate in the Mosh for Paws Punk Rock Flea Market at Debonair Music Hall in Teaneck. They’ll round out the month at the ska-oriented This Is Croydon Fest at Neshaminy Creek Brewing with The Pietasters, King Django, Spring Heeled Jack and more.
They will also perform July 14 at Asbury Park Brewery with The Cryptkeeper Five, Molly Rhythm, Experiment 34 and Chalk & the Beige Americans. Dubbed “Trenton Makes Takover,” that show is part of the Makin Waves Summer Concert Series at AP Brewery.
Also, Hub City Stompers once again will headline Hub City Sounds: ROCK New Brunswick. On Sept. 8 in Boyd Park, the fifth annual festival dedicated to the New Brunswick music scene also will feature Doc Hopper, Pleased Youth, Sharief Hobley, Danielle Illario, Silent Knight, Nalani & Sarina, Experiment 34, Professor Caveman, SusBus, Hong Kong Graffiti and circus acts.
Bob Makin is the reporter for MyCentralJersey.com/entertainment and a former managing editor of The Aquarian Weekly, which launched this column in 1988. Contact him at email@example.com. And like Makin Waves at facebook.com/makinwavescolumn.