Good Things

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Culture delivers a stellar album and reinvents the sound of reggae along the way under the guiding hand of member Joseph Hill's phenomenal arrangements and productions. The entire set has a massive density to the sound, hearkening back to the heyday of roots; the coursing rhythms pay homage to the rockers style, while the ebullient brass section conjures up the heady melodies of the rocksteady age. The musicianship is superb, drummer Michael Freckles McKenzie and percussionist Francisco Fuzzy Thompson slamming down the driving beats, as Ian Watson winds his sinuous, throbbing bass around them; the trio's scintillating rhythms underpin the entire set. Overhead, keyboardist Norman Milo Douglas adds more contemporary electronic effects, while simultaneously riffing along with the melody, taking his inspiration from Jackie Mittoo, his superb efforts echoed by expert axeman Frederick Thomas. Together the band rivals the stirring and melody-laced backings of Channel One at its height. But it's the brilliant use of brass that takes the sound to a whole new level. Felix "Deadly Headly" Bennett, Everald Gayle, and Dave Madden combine to blow the songs away, and Hill fills the arrangements with their horns -- emphatic accents here; rich, smoky passages there; brooding their way through the darker numbers, brashly brightening the more jubilant ones, their playing creates whole new depths for the already rich arrangements to luxuriate in. With so much melody around them, Culture drop their old call-and-response delivery and reinvent themselves as a vocal group, a style that permeates even songs where Hill reverts to chanting. The group's sweet, close harmonies add another mellifluous layer to the songs, and further thicken the rich aural stew. Musically, then, Good Things is a revelation, rocksteady with a savage roots rockers-styled kick. And Hill rises to the occasion by writing lyrics worthy of the arrangements. Although he only wrote eight, fleshing out the set with four equally enticing dubs, he more than makes up for lack of quantity with quality. A point of entry for most listeners will be "Psalm of Bob Marley," which isn't a devotional hymn at all, but a jubilant tribute to the artist and his work, with Hill lyrically name-checking as many of the reggae hero's numbers as possible without it becoming a mere shopping list. "Love Music" pays homage to reggae itself, even as the arrangement nods to rocksteady, but boasting a fierce rockers kick to the rhythm. Even more sizzling is the rootsy title track, its brooding melody counterpointed by the song's carpe diem theme. Harmonies wash across the lovely "Chanting On" and "Youthman Move," both equally showcasing Douglas' ebullient keyboards. On the latter number, Hill beats down illiteracy and calls out for unity. "Cousin Rude Boy" is also addressed to the youthman, but its sweet rocksteady-esque melody and seeming glorification of the rudies are shredded by Hill's irony-laced delivery. From loverman to the chanting Rasta, Hill's words resonate, and every number offers insightful and thoughtful lyrics. The dubs are not throwaways either, although they're not nearly as creative nor inspired as the original mixes.

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