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  Listen Up! 3/31/04 Listen Up!

Wednesday, Mar. 31

The Melodians, “Swing and Dine,” Heartbeat Records. Take three vocalists, two of them capable of strong, distinctive leads, and a third who blends exquisitely with each of his partners, and put them in the studios of Duke Reid back in his Treasure Island heyday. Ignore the fact that the liner notes are full of arcane information, but not insight. Just listen to the music, and you’ll know. This is one of Jamaica’s greatest vocal trios from an era just chock full of magnificent specimens of same. You may know them as the guys who sang “Sweet Sensation” and “Rivers of Babylon,” two all-time masterpieces from any genre you’d care to name. This CD came out 12 years ago, and 16 more terrific cuts. Some of them are clearly mastered from 45’s pressed off-center, which is annoying now and then, but not so damaging as to prevent enjoyment.

Ollabelle, “Ollabelle,” Columbia Records. Deep and soulful Gospel-drenched Americana, featuring the daughter of Levon Helm as primary lead vocalist. That would be Amy Helm, and she’s just one participant in this excellent band. Their forte is tackling familiar Christian hymns like “Elijah Rock” and “John the Revelator,” but making them all sound only vaguely like you remember them. Not that they change the melodies around, just that they personalize the emotional content so well that you think they must be inventing it as they go along. This record also has a building power, as it sounds way better today than it did when I first heard it a few days back.

--Steve Pick

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