Album Review :
The Insyderz - The Sinner's Songbook

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Band: The Insyderz

Album: The Sinner’s Songbook

Label: None (Independent)

Buy: Bandcamp

Review by:
Brandon Jones

I remember when “Motor City Ska” first released back in 1996 and being a big fan of the band. There was something different about this Detroit band that the other “Christian” ska bands lacked which I believe was that certain gritty and raw, punk rock spirit. The Insyderz were a punk band with Horns similar to what Less Than Jake had been doing and especially akin to The Mighty Mighty Bosstones and Mustard Plug. Joe Yerke (lead vocals)’s unmistakable voice really adds a sense of originality to this band.  By the time “Fight of My Life” came out, the band had perfected their skacore sound. I wasn’t the biggest fan of their “Skalleluia” releases as I more preferred their original material and the ska-worship/hymn stuff just came off more of a gimmick that I hoped the band wouldn’t become known for in the end. Fast forward a few years, the band after emerging from the clutches of a few different Record labels and wiping the dust off, the band released “Soundtrack to a Revolution” on the now defunct label, Floodgate Records in 2003. It was their career defining moment and the finest Insyderz album to release in years.  Unfortunately for the band, “Ska” had already seen it’s time in the spotlight and was pretty much dead (in popularity terms) by the time “Soundtrack to a Revolution” released. The band went back in hiding after this release (and the demise of their former label home) which was unfortunate but I believe it needed to happen.

The Insyderz are true survivors. Not too many who have seen the amount of label signings/buyouts/departures/signings, are left to talk about it. I think each of the band’s first 3 releases were on different labels. Even the Skalleuia albums were on a different label than what they originally signed with. So my point is that these guys are true survivors who continue to push onward in their pursuit to share positive Christian ska with a new generation.

This leaves me with the actual review and words to write regarding my personal affection for the songs. “The Sinner’s Songbook” features 15 songs which include a couple of covers in addition to all the originals. “The Sinner’s Songbook” is an album that doesn’t just refresh the Christian ska movement but it also renews my interest in the band and their music. The Insyderz have come a long way since “Motor City Ska” and that progression is clearly felt on “The Sinner’s Songbook” marking a familiar direction for the band, maintaining the course set on “Soundtrack to a Revolution”.  The album is gritty, raw, and full of that punk rock diy ethic the band has become known for. The fitting description of “Ska-Core” when searching for a tag to pin on The Insyderz couldn’t ring more true on this album. There is the perfect balance of punk rock, ska sensibilities, and even some hardcore vocals thrown in for good measure. “The Sinner’s Songbook” is the perfect album to end your summer with and to put your best foot forward into a new fall.

The album starts off strong with the opener “Angel of Death” which is a cover of Hank Williams Sr. (with additional vocals by Joe Yerke). It’s far from a country song and offers a truly unique individual take on the classic song. The song is accented by a hardcore breakdown mid-way through done by Matt Baird of Spoken fame.  It’s a punk rock number with the grittiness of Joe’s voice ever present.

The Nevermind Kids” is up next and features some ska upstrokes before the punk rock sets in and is perfectly accented by the horn line. It’s a song about the unification of youth and making those important decisions that will affect the rest of mankind as well as adulthood.

My favorite song on this album “Sinner’s Songbook” is up next. This should be The Insyderz shining moment, their anthem for a new generation. Much like Five Iron Frenzy had “Every New Day”, this song is their anthem cry, for love, peace, and hope in Jesus. The song is dramatic in it’s execution and the guest vocals by Reese Roper and Matt Morginsky add perfect balance to this beautiful song. Joe’s voice sounds so good when it’s backed up by the power of Reese (FIF) vocals. I am gushing, I love this song!

“Send the Fire!” is a cover (William Booth) hymn and is a great punk-ska number. This would please fans of their Skalleuia albums. Heck, even I find something to appreciate in this song.

Our Darkest Hour” is up next and is a solid song as well. You might have heard a demo version of this song on our Ska Lives compilation. This song has been retooled a bit featuring some backing vocals and synths.  Joe’s gritty upfront vocals are clearly on display and that strength truly carries this song. It’s a cry to God in our darkest hour to renew our spirit and break through the pain to find solace in our Lord.

“All Creatures” brings it down a notch, blending subtle upbeats and horns with Joe’s soft spoken words on this worship song.

We Come in Peace” amplifies things once again with its charging horn section distorted guitars. Joe gets down and dirty with his gritty vocal delivery. This song has a catchy chorus and is another favorite song of mine from the album. This song sets things straight, showing that The Insyderz are playing music out of love and to offer hope to a hurting world. The song tries to show the hypocrisy with the world, a place where you can echo “four letter words” , “drink your liver away”, “cheat, lie, and steal” but “people feel weird when I bring up God”. Yeah I know how you feel, Joe.

The Dirty Work” is a slow worshipful song aimed to bring you into that peaceful quiet place and to worship our God as one. It’s a beautiful song and really showcases The Insyderz diversity on “The Sinner’s Songbook”.

“Tension Prayer” is an instrumental 51 second song. Just an interlude into the track “Like Drawing Blood From a Baby”.

“Like Drawing Blood From a Baby” is a raging punk-ska song with it’s upbeats and complimentary horn lines. [Correction] This song was actually inspired by an illness that Joe Yerke (Vocals) daughter was fighting at the age of 4. The doctors had thought she might have leukemia so they were poking and prodding her for various tests. Thus the lyrics below make a bit more sense then what I previously said about the song dealing with Heroin abuse.

“Dear God give me peace as she battles this disease. All glory goes to you and as we’ve walked through that  fire, with that hope that desire Let the world see our Faith in you.”

“I’m standing there I can’t do a thing. Praying to God that he hears me Please spare this child from this pain. I’ve earned it all Put the hurt on me.”I think this is a great song and shares a hopeful message from a Christian viewpoint that the world really needs to hear.

“Put a Little Love in Your Heart” is another cover song, originally recorded in 1968 by Jackie De Shannon, Randy Myers, and Jimmy Holiday. I love their take on this song, which has been covered quite a bit over the past 40+ years., done Insyderz style.

“The Insyderz Shuffle” is on next and it’s a dance track written to encourage you to get on your feet and do “The Insyderz Shuffle”/Skanking.

Jesus is a Friend of Mine” is worship cover and is done in an upbeat, joyful, manner. The song was originally written by Salvatore Polichetti (Sonseed).  The song gets fast towards the end with that unmistakable punk-ska Insyderz sound.

The Snake” changes things up a bit with its Celtic influence and mandolin. It reminds me of an irish folk song and even makes use of some violin on the track. If you like Flatfoot 56 and Flogging Molly, you’ll love this song.

The album ends with the song “Patron Saints of Underdogs”.  Starting off with a punk beat and then hitting right into that lovely ska upbeat. The song reminds me of a song that would have appeared on “Motor City Ska”. Old school. This is The Insyderz battle cry, a song that tells of the mission The Insyderz are on and their return to the music scene at large. Joe’s unmistakable grit fueled voice leads this song and makes for a perfect ending to a well-rounded, Insyderz album.

The band has come a long way since I first checked out their “Motor City Ska” album back in 96’. I mean it’s been what, like 16 years since that debut? Man, I feel old. I love the majority of their back catalog, especially “Soundtrack to a Revolution”, and “Fight of My Life”. Even the Skalleluia albums had some good songs/covers. Where does “The Sinner’s Songbook” stack up in retrospect to their previous releases? Well I would put it somewhere between “Soundtrack to a Revolution” and “Fight of My Life”, baring a striking resemblance to a lot of their prior hits/melodies/song-making. This album really takes the best elements of all their previously recorded material, amps it up a notch, and makes for one heck of an enjoyable listen. From start to finish, The Insyderz know how to drag you in with their hooks and keep you entertained with catchy melodies and gritty sing a longs. The only downside I can think of is that the production quality isn’t at the same level as some of the bigger albums of today’s standards. Just consider for a moment however that this is punk rock and their DIY standards, (which much of the punk scene shares) fully embraces “The Sinner’s Songbook”. The Insyderz have created one of the best ska-punk albums of 2012, so far, putting them in the same league with the fabulous Less Than Jake ep that released earlier this year.

Overall: An enjoyable Insyderz album sure to fire up their long standing fan base and even reach a whole new generation with their infectious music. If you dig the sounds of bands like Mustard Plug, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Less Than Jake, along with Five Iron Frenzy and The O.C. Supertones, you’ll love this band and their new album. It’s the perfect anthem to end a long hot summer and begin a new fall with a look to the future. This my friends is The Insyderz and this is their return. Welcome back.

*Album is only available as a “Digital” download in full 320kbps MP3s (Or other method). Download includes liner notes/lyrics, songs, and album cover image.

Catch The Insyderz at The O.C. Supertones album release party on November 9th at The Glasshouse in Pomona, CA. Tickets on sale September 21st.