Big D and the Kids Table are a very confusing band. The band I loved in college was a ska-punk powerhouse that put on the most energetic live show I had ever seen. The band that released Strictly Rude was more focused on straight ska and the rude boy scene. The band that let DJ BC remix their songs and release a dub/dancehall record made me question their direction. But the band that I had forgotten about has recently released the most original and creative album of their career. Big D has gone through more line-up changes than Destiny’s Child, the Pussycat Dolls and Taking Back Sunday combined. And each time an original member left or was replaced, the essence of the band slowly changed. Gone are the insane blast beats, intricate horn melodies and pissed off lyrics. Fluent in Stroll marks an incredible achievement for the Boston band who somehow manage to create a brand new style, called “stroll” by lead singer Dave McWane, blending ska, soul, 50’s girl groups and R&B and reggae. Instead of conforming to the double-bass, auto-tune, neon, electronic trend of today, Big D kicks it old school and draws a huge line in the sand.
Fluent in Stroll is no concept album but the songs flow so cohesively together that the band’s vision for the record is evident. Rather than retread the same upbeat ska progressions and horn lines, the musicians stretch themselves to create tracks that are balanced, interesting and unique. Horns take a back seat and provide layers while various guitar tones are experimented with instead of the standard crunchy distortion. Even though the musical style has evolved, their punk DIY ethics still permeate the music.
The stars of the record though are the four female back-up singers dubbed The Doped-Up Dollies that sing on the majority of the tracks. The harmonies and textures that the Dollies add to the songs are fresh and truly enhance each tune. This is no small feat. In the hands of a lesser band or producer, this direction could have been tragic. But it really works. The swagger and confidence that the ladies bring to each song smashes any thought that this could be cheesy.
I don’t know if Big D plans to tour with their new back-up singers, but it’s hard to imagine these songs transferring to the stage without them. No matter, Fluent in Stroll proves that a band fifteen years deep into their career can reinvent themselves in an original and awesome way. The fourteen positive and fun songs give me hope that good, genre defying music is still out there.