The Cables

What Kind of World

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The Jamaican music industry has a simple rule: If it works, don't just keep doing it, do it ten times over. There's no such thing as overkill, and dead horses are flogged until their bones are reduced to dust. Thus the constant recycling of rhythms, the continual covering of hits homegrown or otherwise, and the sheer prolificacy of artists. Yet there's an exception to every rule, and the Cables are it. The vocal trio's timing was atrocious, a little-known rocksteady trio who arrived at Studio One just as the genre breathed its last. Still, the Soul Vendors, the label's house band during this time, weren't ready to totally turn their backs on the past, instead just slightly shifting the focus of their sound. The melodies still ruled, led by pianist Jackie Mittoo or guitarist Eric Frater's gorgeous, melodic riffs, and the tempo picked up, while Leroy Sibbles' hefty basslines throbbed underneath. This proved the perfect template for the veteran vocal groups to ride into the new reggae era, and maybe that was the Cables' problem -- Clement "Coxsone" Dodd just had too many top-notch acts who were easily making the genre transition. In any event, when the trio did get studio time, they certainly made the most of it. Lead singer Keeble Drummond had a delicate voice, given force by sheer strength of will, while tenor Vincent Stoddart and baritone Elbert Steward's gorgeous harmonies were carefully pitched so as not to trample his lead. The Cables' singles were like perfect pearls, luminous and rather a rarity, and all the more valued for it, and between 1968 and 1970 the trio released a slowly growing string of them for Dodd. Their B-sides were usually the equals of their flips, and this further expanded the group's limited catalog, until the producer finally rounded up ten of their classiest songs onto What Kind of World, a masterpiece of early reggae. "Baby Why" and the title track are the obvious points of entry -- they've both been heavily versioned over the years and their rhythms remain firm favorites. Heartbeat has chosen to substitute the extended 12" mixes of both songs, a welcome decision. The incandescent "What Am I to Do," the winsome "No New Love," the aching "My Broken Heart," and the rapturous "Love Is a Pleasure" are all also standouts, but in truth it's difficult to choose between any of the songs, as every one is an absolute gem. The only possible complaint one can have is that when Heartbeat reissued What Kind of World they didn't append any bonus tracks, because this album will inevitably leave you yearning for more.

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