Rocksteady, like its cousins, ska and reggae, thrives on group participation. The breezy tempos, simple chord progressions, and (often) uplifting lyrics make it easy for anyone to join in, unlike, say, the more complex time signature like 6/8 often seen in bossa nova, which is relaxed in its own way. That’s not to say there isn’t a fine art to rocksteady; if anything, its finest iterations walk a fine line between accessibility and classic, inherent musicianship. In other words, the experts make the process look easy. With the Uniques, their name, too, walks the fine line between accessible and accomplished: “the [word ending in]s” is one of the most common title tropes in music, but “unique” gives them away as something special.

On their first studio LP Absolutely the Uniques, the trio consisted of Slim Smith, Lloyd Charmers, and Jimmy Rile, all of whom went on to successful solo careers of their own. Not something many groups can say. Here, they coalesce in beautiful, sometimes unexpected harmonies as timeless in their meaning as they are in their musicality.

Take for example the unanswered love letter of “Gypsy Woman.” The ubiquitous feeling of a missed connection is made aural by their voices, which attempts to find some sort of expression for this unrequited passion. As said, it takes masters to spin such universalities compelling art, and the Uniques know the proper conversion factors. They saunter through rhyme schemes “Like that of a cat”/ “Kiss and forever whis-per” that complete themselves before a full four-count measure even passes.

But they know how great their talents (love) can be, as they answer “Gypsy…” two songs later with “You’ll Lose a Precious Love.” The soaring highs and deep lows of their registers exemplify just how much their exiting partner has to lose. The trio juggles their lines so effortlessly between each member that they subconsciously reveal to their lover how Smith, Charmers and Rile still have each other to lean on. In not so many words, they remind their partner that they will be the one alone in the end.

Yet Absolutely hardly aims for vindictiveness. Rather, it imparts its lessons with enthusiasm, encouraging listeners to accept the harshest truths. Though its title suggests resignation, “That’s the Way Love Is” asks you to embrace the rough and the smooth in tandem, with one particular “THAT” in the first chorus jolting enough to shock any dead heart back to life.

Such unexpected chords and harmonies are the ultimate prizes to be discovered on Absolutely…. Unpretentious reggae guitar and a soft keyboard allow the vocals to take on the difficult melodies. What begins with a low bass timbre on “Just a Mirage,” quite different from the Smokey Robinson original, climbs incrementally as the song progresses and Smith eventually reaches a feverish, almost atonal pitch around 2:40. Less obvious falsettos are peppered about in other songs, a What in “Watch That Sound” lifted ever so softly into another stratosphere. Simply breathe in too loudly at that moment, and you might just miss it.

Same as those inconspicuous yet impeccably curated moments, Absolutely the Uniques captures a brief, glorious period for the band. It encapsulates and celebrates their skills, resulting in music that anyone can appreciate but few could ever hope to replicate. Thankfully, this reissue ensures that the magic, however fleeting, was very real, and still works.

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