J.Navarro & The Traitors – Criminals & Lions

2 out of 5

Label: Asbestos Records

Produced by: Clyde Wilson (engineered by)

Er, okay. This can only be as good as how much you like 2-tone and jah mixed in with your ska. Me, I admittedly err toward the rock / punk side of the ska line, can tolerate 2-tone if it’s done well and with attitude, and have very little patience with jah. Thus, J.Navarro’s 2-tone, jah project, J. Navarro & The Traitors, offers very little for me – even as a huge fan of J.’s previous band, The Suicide Machines – and gets even less traction with flat production, weekend-warrior lyrics, and mostly by-the-book song structures.

Now, yes, to be fair, Navarro’s lyrics in SM weren’t necessarily bounding with creativity, especially as the group leaned more and more into activism as things went on, and protest punk / ska groups in general tend to hang out in very typical topic territory (‘The rich suck! Stop oppressing people! Treat us all equally!’), but that’s where presentation can elevate things immensely. And The Traitors do tap into that on occasion – opener Deeper being a good example of sing-songy anti-racism but done with admirable ska-punk sass; chanter Oppressor has a similar, straight-forward appeal; late track Rude is a fun statement-of-purpose; and New America is pretty volatile and more lyrically expressive than other offerings here. At the same time, none of these tracks are particularly original; Rude comes closest to striking on a hook and tone that doesn’t feel predictable. Elsewhere, these are “I read a headline today and I’m PISSED” lyrics + memories of that ska band you were in in college. When you weigh that against the highlights mentioned, it brings the overall experience down, and factoring in the flattened recording style, we’ve an album of mostly generic dad-ska jamz and minimal impact.