In the midst of the punk tsunami, England at the end of the 70s experienced a salutary ska revival led by Madness and especially The Specials. This multicultural gang from Coventry, led by Jerry Dammers, brought the syncopated rhythms of Jamaican rocksteady and its derivative, ska, back into fashion. Pork pie hats, tight black suits, chequered patterns, the 'de rigueur' outfit was compulsory in order to better appreciate, in the heart of grey Thatcherite England, their singles, such as A Message to You Rudy (a cover of Dandy Livingstone), Too Much Too Young or Gangsters, as well as their two single albums, Specials (1979) and More Specials (1980). Under the name Special AKA, they would release the equally essential In the Studio With in 1984, taken to the top of the charts by the hit (Free) Nelson Mandela...
In 2019, The Specials brought us their first chart-topping album since the 80s, however, some people were a bit reluctant since Dammers, author of their greatest songs, and Neville Staple were not in the band. However, Terry Hall, Lynval Golding and Horace Panter pull it off, their ska crossing with soul and even vintage disco on the album Encore. Above all, these Specials of the third millennium do not forget to comment on the social and political climate as they did in their early days. This commentary is exactly what you can expect to find in the aptly named Protest Songs 1924 - 2012, a fine collection of covers from blues, rock, folk, soul and reggae, just released.
Full of engaging songs, mostly made in USA, by Leonard Cohen, Talking Heads, the Staples Singers, Big Bill Broonzy, Bob Marley, Chip Taylor, Malvina Reynolds and even Frank Zappa. The trio opts here for an essentially acoustic mood, in a folk'n'soul tradition that emphasizes, above all, the lyrics and the singing.
And while a touch of madness might have made the whole affair musically more explosive, these Protest Songs retain all their historical force.