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Your favorite hair band gets its ska makeover on Reel Big Fish's new covers album

Barrett wonders why there's an obscure Simpsons reference in our headline.
  • Barrett wonders why there's an obscure Simpsons reference in our headline.

Recording an album of covers is often a last resort for veteran artists whose days of radio hits are either numbered or no longer existent. But Reel Big Fish has other reasons for joining the likes of Rod Stewart, Michael McDonald and Barry Manilow with its cover-laden Fame, Fortune and Fornication.

The way drummer Ryland Steen figures it, if there was ever a band suited for such a project, it's Reel Big Fish.

"I think it's because we're a ska band and because we have horns," says Steen. "I think it gives us the opportunity to approach songs in a very different way from the originals."

After all, Reel Big Fish has already developed a reputation for its remakes.

"Pretty much every record we've put out, there's usually been at least two covers on the record," he notes. "I think our fans are really excited about what we do to songs, whether we butcher them or whether we make them better."

So those fans should be especially enthused when the CD arrives in stores this month, coinciding with an extended tour.

Overall, the selection of songs is eclectic and often surprising, considering the punk-ska sound that Reel Big Fish has pursued since forming in 1992 in Orange County, Calif. To be sure, the band pays tribute to a pair of ska pioneers, covering Desmond Dekker's "Keep a Cool Head" and Toots Hibbert's "Monkey Man." But few would have expected a cover of the Eagles' "The Long Run," John Mellencamp's "Authority Song" or Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down." Other selections include Van Morrison's "Brown Eyed Girl" and two songs by Poison, "Talk Dirty to Me" and "Nothin' But a Good Time."

Steen says the seemingly odd mish-mash was a product of the wide-ranging musical tastes of band leader Aaron Barrett.

"All these songs are in Aaron's iPod," he explains, "songs that he loves listening to."

They should please loyal fans who have continued to stand by their band even as its profile faded in the aftermath of the 1997 hit single, "Sell Out."

Because Reel Big Fish has continued to record and tour regularly (further solidifying its reputation as a fun and unpretentious live band), it can still play the same 2,000- to 3,000-seat venues it did during the heyday of the Turn the Radio Off CD. So it's no surprise that this winter finds Steen back on the road with Barrett (vocals, guitar), Scott Klopfenstein (trumpet), Dan Regan (trombone), John Christianson (trumpet) and Derek Gibbs (bass). Naturally, the band's live set will extend far beyond that album.

"Reel Big Fish has always been really good about playing a good mixture of songs off of every album," says Steen. "We definitely know all the hits that all the kids want to hear. So we play a really good range of songs from all of the records."

scene@csindy.com

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