The Heptones

Swing Low

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The Heptones were one of Jamaica's premier vocal trios, but when lead singer, bassist and main songwriter Leroy Sibbles left the group in 1977, the Heptones (Barry Llewellyn, Earl Morgan and new member Naggo Morris) began to suffer from inconsistency, and their post-Sibbles work is equal parts marvelous and bland, depending on the song and/or the production approach. Which is why Swing Low, originally released in 1985, is such a delight, coming off as charming, confident and subtly innovative from start to finish. The opener, "Swing Low," blends the spiritual "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" with the traditional Jamaican "Key Man" melody and a don't-hurry nyahbinghi rhythm to produce an impressive synthesis. Llewellyn's original, "Down Comes the Rain," is simple and direct, sounding a little like a great lost Temptations single. Another highlight is the dub-sounding "So Long," which sets the stage for the final (and most striking) track on the album, an all-the-bells-and-whistles version of Curtis Mayfield's "I'm So Proud" that does a good job of approximating the watery, mysterious feel of a Lee "Scratch" Perry Black Ark production. Swing Low sounds relaxed and certain, and while it reaches a bit, it never over-reaches, making it easily one of the better Heptones albums -- with or without Sibbles.

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