Album: The Ruffolos – Live at Transplants

The Ruffolos seem to be one of the favorite bands of everyone I talk to from California. Everyone tells me how great the guys are, and I’m constantly told that I need to see them live. Apparently they do plenty of backyard shows and house parties and are helping to develop an incredible local ska and reggae scene. Sadly, I just moved from over 1000 miles from Pomona to over 2000 miles away  so hitting up a local show seems more unrealistic than ever. However, last month they released a live album, and it helps to capture some of that energy. 

The album kicks off with “Lion’s Den”, a single first released in 2022, that starts off with a simple drum beat and a little horn play over keys before laying into a great reggae rhythm. This is one of my favorite Ruffolos tracks with the keys setting the mood and tempo, and we get the occasional touch of sexy bass guitar and drums, but then about ⅔ the way through the song the tempo kicks up  the guitars get to shine, and then the next verse has the vocals switch from Rob to Bree, allowing us to experience both primary vocalists before the song returns back to the catchy horn rhythms from the start of the song adding some closure and everything is tied back together. It only takes one song on this set list to let everyone on the band show off for a few seconds.

The second track is “Lost Coast City”. The keys have a little more of a ska rhythm while the song makes you want to dance and hey some crowd participation shouts and gang vocals, but still has a great instrumental breakdown all laid over that rhythm on the keys. The Ruffolos are an 8 piece band, but they never sound crowded or like too much is going on, the songs aren’t too long, but they are enough to let everyone jam a little and they definitely keep you moving to their reggae and ska beats. 

They throw an interlude in the show to add a little more time to relax to some smooth rhythms before playing “Visionary” the first of two previously unreleased tracks. Both unreleased tracks are going to be coming out on a 4 song EP this summer, but the band wanted to put them out on streaming before the EP released so people might recognize the songs for live shows between now and the EP release. The Ruffolos are all about the live experience and entertaining the crowd.

“Visionary” is a fast paced jam, with the same strong keys and ball guitar you find in the other songs, with some punchy horns, but the instrumental breakdown in this track is very drums and bass guitar heavy, earning some additional cheers from the live audience. The keys, guitars and horns all come in and do their work, to stretch in breakdown for the entire last half of the song, but it’s the drum solo that really stands out.

They follow that unreleased song with the second consecutive unreleased track in “Clearer Mirror”, another faster track that leans further away from reggae than I was expecting. It makes me wonder if the band is growing to be more fast paced in the future or if this is just the biases of a very small sample size. I’m definitely not complaining, just curious. Both of these songs are great, and I love their older stuff too.

The set list also contains “One Ruff Beyond” (another of my favorites) and “Away We Run”. These are great tracks that continue to do what The Ruffolos do, but the last song I really wanted to go over was “Episode 420”- their own take on Dr Dre and Snoop Dogg’s “The Next Episode”, a smooth blend of hip hop and reggae with their own weed and Ruffolos themed lyrics. This track is easily a fan favorite, and how could it not be! 

The set list and album closes with “Special Yesterday”, another great opportunity to get up on your feet and dance, and is as good as any song they sing, but let’s get back to that upcoming EP. It’s going to have 4 songs on it and it’s coming out this summer. Only two of the songs are going to be new originals, and both debuted on this album. The other two tracks are re-recordings of “Marrano Beach” and “Samuel L. Jackson”. The Ruffolos first debuted as a three piece before growing into the 8 piece reggae/ ska hybrid that they are now, and these two songs warranted new versions that highlight the depth and complexity that the full band can provide. If you check out this live album, and you find yourself enjoying it, be sure to pick up the EP when it comes out this summer- and if you live in California- or will be there this June, there is a special opportunity. On June 1st they have a live show and a video shoot at Pike Bar in Long Beach, where they are recording a music video for “Visionary”. So come see the band live and be a part of their music video.

Written by Gimpleg