Dance With Me

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The Bluebeats are an attempt at song-oriented third wave ska by ex-Scofflaws singer/songwriter/saxman Mike Drance, reacting against both the punk fury and horn-heavy wings of that school. Dance With Me is a well-crafted blend of ska, reggae, and rocksteady that evokes those styles' role as late-'60s Jamaican pop music, but it's ultimately inconsequential. "This Cruel World," written by rhythm guitarist Steven Prisco, "Hardest Working Man," "The Fits Is on Me," and "Liberation" generate ska drive with the organ leading. The rocksteady quotient comes direct from Jamaica with covers of Stranger & Patsy's "Down by the Trainline" and "You Don't Need Me," the latter a simply great version of the Melodians' classic with hooks that just don't quit. It's far and away the standout track here, and "Have Mercy" attempts an early reggae sufferer's lament about the homeless that generates some force, but Drance's preaching gets tiresome. Drance is a good singer with a pleasing voice, the backing harmonies are fine, the guitar leads and organ solos are short, melodic, and low-keyed sweet, and the rhythm section does its job tastefully. It's impeccably performed and everything is tasteful as all get-out, but to the point where there's nothing to really find fault with and nothing exciting enough to recommend it either. The Bluebeats know what they want and are accomplished enough at getting it on this debut disc, but the end result is totally milquetoast. Dance With Me doesn't move you emotionally in any way -- there's simply no reason to care about the music. (Note: "Singapore Mei Fun" apparently didn't make it onto the review copy, which after "Liberation" jumped to the two closing dub tracks after five seconds of silence.)

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