David Hillyard & The Rocksteady 7 – Plague Doctor

David Hillyard & The Rocksteady come rocking back steady with their first new album since 2018’s The Giver. The new release, Plague Doctor (Due summer 2022)  is brimming with traditional Jamaican rhythms, but nicely blended with Brazilian musical elements and themes. 

The sound and feel is as much new Rocksteady, Jazz Ska as it is 60s/70 Latin, Caribbean, and Cumbia. Admittedly I’m roundly ignorant of classic Brazilian music, but there are striking similarities to much of the Caribbean and Latin Ska and Rocksteady I’ve heard previously. 

Mid-tempo, danceable instrumentals are the bread and butter of this release, which makes for great direct listening as well as more casual ambient listening. If you were to throw this on the hi-fi at a swanky cocktail party, the guests and location would transport across a parallel universe where everyone, and everything, is super cool and chill. The vocal tracks are no less compelling with smooth Portuguese lyrics artfully interwoven into the almost hypnotic rhythm.  

David Hillyard is, of course, the saxophone player for the Ska stalwarts The Slackers. The band is rounded out with additional musicians of significant pedigree. “The Rocksteady 7 features some of the best players in the current ska/reggae scene, including members of NYC ska staples The Slackers and percussionist Larry McDonald (Toots & The Maytals, Gil Scott-Heron. Lee “Scratch” Perry).”

Technically “new”, this release was recorded a couple years back and is just now surfacing. “The album, Plague Doctor, was recorded in the summer of 2020. We were just out of the 1st covid lockdowns but the vaccine was still just a dream. Normally, with Rocksteady 7, we all get in a big room together and knock out tunes together in 1-2 days. This time, we started recording basic rhythms and saxophone being in different rooms of the same house. Then we added percussion, guitars, keys, vibraphone, marimba, trumpet, trombone, and vocals sequentially. Each person improvising and improving upon the work of the last person who had it.  

For me, there are a lot of emotions in the playing. There is the joy of making music together. There is the anguish of being unable to see the people you love in person. Overall, the goal is to make healing music. Music that heals a varities of wounds and ailments.” – David

If you’re interested in expanding your Ska/Rocksteady collection, I highly encourage checking out David Hillyard & The Rocksteady 7, and picking up a copy of Plague Doctor when it becomes available.

–Jerry Actually

A1 Plague Doctor Theme
A2 Closer To My Heart
A3 Maracatu Atomico
A4 The Frog
A5 Amanha
A6 Chove Chuva

B1 Wide Pacific Ocean
B2 Dedicada
B3 Was I Made For These Times
B4 Plague Doctor
B5 Boogaloo