Hell of a Hat: The Rise of ’90s Ska and Swing

Penn State Univ. (American Music). Sept. 2021. 280p. ISBN 9780271090382. $24.95. MUSIC
Music and popular culture writer Partridge (managing editor, Genius) brings welcome attention to the little-documented third wave of ska music. He notes that ska originated in 1950s Jamaica and evolved into a global phenomenon. Partridge also addresses the 1990s retro craze for swing dance culture, evoking its 1930s–40s heyday of Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller; both ska and swing saw renewed popularity in pre-9/11 United States and Britain. Chapters focus on famous and lesser-known bands (including ska-reggae group Hepcat and the ska-punk bands No Doubt and Sublime), with excerpts from interviews, details about their songs, accounts of tours and live performances, and glimpses into how the groups are faring today. While elements of contemporary punk and grunge surfaced in ska, the bands made efforts to create their own sounds with a variety of instruments and vocal styles evoking the past but pushing the envelope to appeal to new audiences. Mentions of celebrities such as Gwen Stefani and candid photographs add interest, while the notes encourage readers to explore further.
VERDICT Partridge’s gritty yet affectionate take on ska and swing brings the bands, their music, and their lasting cultural influence to vivid life.
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