And indeed it is, for A Whole Heap brings together in their entirety both the Gladiators's 1985 Country Living album and its follow-up, 1987's In Store for You. Much had changed in the two years that elapsed between the sets, not just in the broader reggae market, but within the band itself. It was during the recording of Country, their debut for the Heartbeat label, that the group began to splinter. Before recording was completed, Clinton Fearon had departed, replaced on bass by Alric Forbes and at the mic by Melvin Reid. Still the album was a triumph, fueled by the guesting horns of Glen DaCosta, Dean Fraser, and Ronald "Nambo" Robinson and fired up by percussionists "Bongo Herman" Davis and Noel "Skully" Sims. True to its title, though, the album is lit with pastoral auras, and there's an almost delicate quality to much of the set that belies the bright brass and militant beats. Highlights include "Guide and Protect," "Susu (Hearsay)," the title track, and "Gone Already," an inspired version of the Wailers' "Mr Brown," while the stealthy "Rise and Shine" will send skankers high-stepping round the room. But behind the scenes something was wrong, and when In Store for You arrived, more than half the band was gone, with the Gladiators now reduced to the vocal duo of Albert Griffiths and Gallimore Sutherland, and only Sims and drummer Stanley "Barnabas" Bryan still in attendance. But with their depleted ranks filled with the likes of pianist Gladstone "Gladdy" Anderson, synth players Tony "Asher" Brisett and Winston Wright, bassist Daniel Thompson, and lead guitarist Dwight Pinkney, the remaining members were easily able to rise to the occasion. Gone were the gentle qualities and rich brass of Country Living, and in their stead came a richer sound revolving around the synths, piano, and Pinkney's fabulous guitar licks. So what did the band have in store for listeners? A set with a more coherent sound than its predecessor, and if anything even stronger lyrics and performances from Griffiths. The trio of romantic numbers glow, there's a quartet of superb cultural songs, with the centerpiece being the magnificent "Careless Gun," as well as a slam at the slackers, a warning to the merciless, and a stealthy skanker that celebrates the group's own music in the title track. To have both these stellar sets bundled onto one CD is a boon for fans. There's a double fistful of classics among this heap of excellent songs, and music to fit every mood.
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