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The Ramblers

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Album Review

In the nine years that have passed since Deal's Gone Bad released their debut album Large and in Charge, the group have undergone dizzying alterations, with only guitarist Dave Simon and drummer Mike Corcoran now remaining from the original lineup. Every change, though, has brought the band a little closer to perfection, helping over time to solidify the group's grand vision and sharpening their musical skills, songwriting, and arrangements. (A trend that should not, however, be viewed as a slight to the invariably excellent work of now departed members.) Still, fans' impatience grew as the interim between albums lengthened, building into a whopping four years. It's obvious, though, that DGB haven't been resting on their laurels, for with The Ramblers they've crafted a flawless album, so much so that it's difficult to even know where to begin. The production is superb; clean, but not slick, capturing and distinguishing every note whilst creating a fleshy, warm sound. Rarely has a CD sounded so good, the music virtually glows, easy with analog, quite a feat with digital technology. Kudos to producers Corcoran and Karl Gustafson. If that's sublime, the arrangements are inspired. Forget the many stellar solos and grand basslines, those automatically garner attention, it's the small musical passages — the three bars of organ swagger, the little drum fill, the guitar flourishes — that demand notice by their very understatement. The closer you listen, the more of these subtle interjections you'll find, each immaculately timed, placed, and delivered, all beautifully coloring the songs. Dare one compare it to Jackie Mittoo's time at Studio One? Close, but Gladdy & the Allstars' stellar work across the early reggae age is more apt a comparison.

And then there are the songs themselves, a diverse bunch but sharing one thing in common, their strong melodies, arguably the most powerful in DGB's career. Be it the plaintive "One More Day," the funky "Take Time," the reggae-soul of "Good Old Days," the rootsy "The Cost," the exuberantly infectious ska of "You Get the Keys," or the John Crow-styled "Rough and Ready," every track within is a standout. Finally, there's Todd Hembrook. Replacing a band's frontman is no easy task, and DGB didn't try. Instead, they found a vocalist who wouldn't complement their old sound, but would open new musical doors for them. Hembrook is a stunning singer, and his forceful Stax-ish vocals give the band brand new soul power, a strength that better balances DGB's long term predilection for the genre. See-sawing U.S. soul against Jamaican ska/reggae, the band twine the two together in ways even the island originators couldn't.

It may be sacrilege to suggest, but at this point DGB may not just equal, but at times better than the Jamaican legends. At the very least they've unleashed an album that favorably compares with any from back in the day, and those of modern times, to boot.

The Ramblers, Deal's Gone Bad
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