The Uniques ‘Absolutely… The Uniques’ (Doctor Bird) 4/5

As far as harmony trios go, The Uniques were one of Jamaica’s finest and they spanned the period from rock steady through to early reggae, before some of their work was revisited in dub format during the roots reggae era. Lead singer Slim Smith will need no introduction to reggae fans and has one of the most distinctive and lyrical of all voices, a fine falsetto vocalist. Jimmy Riley came to the fore as a lead singer slightly later during the roots era and cut some superb slices of that sub-genre. Lloyd Charmers found his forte as a producer and set up his own label where his sensitivity towards other singers endeared him to his fellow musicians, especially Delroy Wilson, who recorded for him. Collectively, the Uniques were extremely popular in the UK where they recorded for myriad labels, from the original Trojan orange label (an early happy fiftieth birthday to that label and these columns will be seeking to commemorate what Trojan contributed to the world of music which was some of the sweetest sounds on the planet). The original album is added to with another twelve songs that make this unbeatable value and an indispensable purchase even if you are lucky enough to own the original vinyl album. It is amazing to look back and realize that this album was recorded fifty years ago. It still sounds as though it could have been recorded yesterday and that is sign of a timeless recording.

What is sometimes forgotten is the extent to which Jamaica was listening in via radio channels to the emerging soul music coming out of the United States, and the covers on this illustrate this argument. Curtis Mayfield and The Impressions were hugely influential as heard on ‘Gypsy Woman’, while prototype Motown compositions abound and include the immortal, ‘My Conversation’, which quite simply contains one of the greatest of all ‘riddims’ in Jamaican music. A Bunny Lee produced ‘Speak No Evil’, is yet another winner. A few songs that could have been added like, ‘Girl of my Dreams, ‘Give Me Some of Your Loving’, would have enhanced the music, but really a 2-CD anthology is required to do full justice to the Uniques over a wider period and this CD really focuses on the single album and expands, which is certainly to its credit. Expertly researched by reggae archivist and historian, Laurence Cane-Honeysett. A plethora of labels are once again beautifully illustrated so the inner sleeve reader can view the magnificently coloured labels of Duke, Island, Lee’s, Nu Beat, and Pama, not forgetting Trojan (the latter worthy of a facsimile T-shirt print for some enterprising soul out there).

Tim Stenhouse