The Heptones

Better Days

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Better Days' title track pretty much tells the whole story: its optimistic, better times have got to come theme, counterpointed by the melancholy melody, epitomizes the Heptones' own plight in the mid-'70s. Despite their phenomenal success in Jamaica, the trio were still desperately attempting to break onto the international stage, even after signing to the Island label. After two unsuccessful albums, the group were now gambling that the third time would be a charm. Producer Niney Holness provided the perfect rootsy sound to accompany the trio's own superlative vocals. Better Days has a denseness to it, without sounding cluttered, and the song arrangements are particularly masterful with an eye to detail -- the piano flourishes on "Oh Jah," the interplay between the organ and guitar on "Ready Baby" -- while Holness' own superb rhythms pack the record with even more power. The Heptones responded in kind, and filled the record with their own stellar performances in a variety of style and moods. The deep roots tracks are magnificent, delivered with passion and conviction. "Mr. Do Over Man Song," a Jamaican hit, boasts some of the greatest close harmonies the vocalists ever recorded, while Leroy Sibbles belts out the lead in best show-stopping, soulful fashion. The doo wopp-ish "Key to Her Heart" is an out and out charmer, just one of many. However, on an album stuffed with sublime vocals, "Jah Bless the Children" remains a stand-out, as the Heptones reach Maytalsesque heights of gospel exuberance. Even a cover of the saccharine "Crystal Blue Persuasion" has enough bounce to spare the band's blushes, while a new version of "Suspicious Minds" actually gives Presley's original a run for its money. Better Days should have been the band's break-out record, but it wasn't, and Sibbles departed soon after. However, with hindsight, the album eventually was recognized as the classic it always was.

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