One Stone

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Culture began as one of the best reggae harmony trios of the '70s, peaking early with the archetypal Two Sevens Clash album. Though the band has never quite matched the apocalyptic power of that first release, it has been making consistently fine reggae in a strict roots style ever since, and this effort, though flawed, is solidly up to par. Culture has always had the unique ability to deliver serious, even ponderous, roots reggae that is still completely modern in sound, and Joseph Hill sings in a reedy, declamatory style that manages never to sacrifice melody for message. Culture has been Hill's band from day one, but now more than ever it's his voice and his vision that give the music its weight and direction, while the two other vocalists (only one of whom, Albert Walker, remains from the band's early days) have retreated farther and farther into the background, stepping up to the mic only sporadically to provide half-hearted vocal harmony. As on all of their previous efforts, though, the singers are supported by bottomless grooves (provided this time by a band called Dub Mystic); Joseph Hill again proves that he's not only a gifted singer and songwriter, but one of the better reggae producers around as well. The only fly in this rich ointment is the muddleheaded and sometimes painfully misogynistic philosophizing in which Hill indulges. While he decries Babylon's sectarian and racial violence in "Tribal War," he's not sure that the youth are to blame for their own in "Blood a Go Run." He sneers at women who "(Say) they're not getting any justice in the kitchen/So they plan to make a big war with their big spoon." In "Girls Girls Girls" he lets it be known that pregnancy is, in his view, the "natural" result of a man showing "respect" to his companion. Reggae has never been exactly rife with rigorous, linear political thinking or, Jah knows, with enlightened views on gender, but one might expect something at least a bit less childish from someone of Hill's age and experience. Still, there's no denying the deep musical pleasures to be had here, and the disc is highly recommended.

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