Highway 50: “The Violet Project” – fabulous harmonies and brass!

Ska, like every other type of music, has bands that fit into 3 separate categories. There are the bands that change the way the music is going into new directions, the bands that use the same style as everyone else, yet progress and mature through time, and then there are the dreaded “cookie cutter” bands, that have nothing new to offer, just following what is cool at the time.

That being said, Highway 50 belongs to that first category. They are amazing. Just when it seems like Ska is starting to get a bit old, and everyone is repeating each other, out pops a band like Highway 50. They belong with the short list of elite skankers which include legendary bands like The Specials.

The EP cover
The EP cover

Highway 50 blends ska, reggae, jazz, pop and R&B with Al Laughlin’s melodic vocals and introspective lyrics. Laughlin wrote or co-wrote many of the band’s most enduring songs and his percussive off-beat reggae stylings on keyboards became known as “the bubble” that helped form the band’s signature sound.

The band’s lineup includes guitarists James Hambleton and Scott Higgins; percussion Jeep MacNichol (also formally of The Samples), Brian Nevin (of Big Head Todd and the Monsters), Raoul Rossiter, and Sam Young; horn players Andrew McNew, Sarah Mount and Matt Planer; bassists Chris Wright and Tony Soto.

Every single one of their songs is catchy with clever lyrics. I didn’t really know if I was going to like their use of keyboards in the songs, but they really pull it off. The keyboards aren’t over used. They really do add a lot to the music. I can’t even really decide what my favorite songs on their latest EP, “The Violet Project” really are. They are all so good.

This is a really upbeat and bouncy EP that is so infectious it would put a smile on the most hardened of faces. From the very beginning, on the track “Condoplex” we a treated to a keyboard-driven skanking beat. “Pyrite Gold” and “The Easy Way Out” feature jazz style horn hooks, while “Just The Way I Am” and “Gonna Make it Anyway” are also great examples of the Highway 50’s brand of addictive reggae-influenced ska with some fabulous harmonies and brass.

With its catchy choruses and glossily produced sound, this is basically a pop album that it is really okay to like, so don’t expect anything too heavy, this EP features lots of ska but it’s not ska punk (which it never claims to be). “The Violet Project” boasts loads of really excellent tunes and arrangements, the kind of songs, that in an ideal world would be sure-fire number one singles, and, although happy music isn’t cool in the rock scene, this is a really great EP that will brighten up your life – an essential pop ska recording!


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