Sound — 8
After the ska craze that prevailed over concert tours and radio in the mid 1990s, the genre pretty much seemed out for the count by the time 2000 hit. So when you hear a band stay true to their ska roots like Buck-O-Nine has, it is both a refreshing blast from the past as well as an unexpected surprise. There is something insanely infectious about a good horn section, and Buck-O-Nine's latest record Sustain continues to use the saxophone, trumpet, and trombone to its best advantage. While the latest CD may not break much new ground musically, it's still a highly likeable album with catchy, well-written tracks. The album has a pretty equal helping of both up-tempo tracks and more subdued, grooving tracks, but even the slower songs have something that just says fun party music. Sustain could easily be the soundtrack to some summer beach party, and that's not necessarily such a bad thing. For all of the dark and foreboding metal albums out there, it's sometimes refreshing to hear a lighthearted band every once in a while. And rather than just getting guitar solos, you also get some incredible breakdowns courtesy of the brass section. One of the best tracks has the laid-back feel of a reggae song and features a beautifully executed intro from saxophonist Craig Yarnold, trombonist Dan Albert, and trumpeter Tony Curry. Lie To Me also takes a moment to give bassist Andy Platfoot and drummer Jeff Hawthorne the spotlight rather than just sticking to the guitar-horn-guitar-horn arrangement. Vocalist Jon Pebsworth usually has a gravelly voice that has enough character to make a song interesting, but his vocals surpass that on Lie To Me. The slower tempo puts more emphasis on how he sounds, and he surprisingly has a pretty nice vibrato. There are a few tracks that veer from the ska path, namely Screaming For The Suburbs, a fairly straightforward punk track that uses the horn section minimally. Even though it is a punk tune, the track is still fairly non-aggressive and benign. Simply put, the majority of tracks on Sustain are an assortment of feel-good tracks that will have you bobbing up and down. That may not be what younger audiences are looking for these days, but I'm willing to bet there are more than a few listeners who would sometimes like to hear more than just bass, guitar, and drums.
Lyrics — 7
The lyrics are pretty basic and don't ever go anywhere that new or unusual, but the music usually makes up for it. While there is some attempt by the band to be introspective and even socially conscious, it never is mind-blowing. But to be fair, that's not necessarily the draw of the band. In I am One Pebsworth sings, Getting on time now though unexpected; Getting things right now; Welcome to the rest of your life. While the positive message is nice to hear, it's likely that songs like the conspicuously titled Let's Drink will probably be the most memorable lyrically.
Overall Impression — 8
Any band that can withstand the fickleness of the music industry absolutely deserves credit. While groups like The Mighty Mighty Bosstones and Save Ferris threw in the towel, and No Doubt went toward a radio-driven pop sound, it's very cool to hear Buck-O-Nine still playing unadulterated ska music. The 7-piece band doesn't try to lure new audiences with a more contemporary sound, and it deserves kudos for remaining steadfast. Sustain is full of classic Buck-O-Nine material, which is exactly the charm behind it. There are also inspired moments along the way, with songs like Nothing Left To Lose almost dabbling in rockabilly and I am One approaching a pure reggae sound. For anyone who misses the '90s and the ska trend that accompanied the decade, do yourself a favor and pick up Sustain.