Lion Rock

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Although released under the Culture name, 1981's Lion Rock is actually a Joseph Hill solo album, recorded after the trio had split up. On it the lead vocalist took total control, composing, arranging, and producing all the songs himself and, to an extent, Lion Rock suffers accordingly. Culture was already moving in a lighter direction prior to the group's breakup, but the trio's post-Joe Gibbs work, particularly with producer Sonia Pottinger, still resonated due to the thoughtful song arrangements and production. Unfortunately, Hill's approach of simple arrangements and unadventurous production merely served to accentuate the lightweight feel of the album. It's all a bit reggae by the numbers -- put the solid beats front and center, keep the guitar riff strumming throughout, then drop in the accents (keyboards, guitar leads, brass, or backing vocals) as required, and finally add the occasional reverb to create a slightly dubby feel. Only the title track, awash in close harmonies and featuring a bubbly keyboard, breaks the mold, bolstered by the singer's righteous anger. "We don't want to hear no more about your Francis Drake," Hill adamantly sings, a forceful rejection of Eurocentric history. Part of the problem is that Hill's emphatic vocal delivery overwhelms the arrangements; then again, the melodies are so slight that each track's subtle charms begin to stand out only after repeated listenings. Non-melodies can work if the production adds enough interesting elements to the mix -- just look at Bob Marley -- but Hill isn't the Wailer, although at times it's evident he's trying hard to be. Ironically enough, one of the standout tracks is "A Double Tribute to the O.M.," a heartfelt song in honor of Bob Marley himself, who died earlier that year. Arguably, "Armagiddion War" and the title track boast the strongest melodies, while the single "Disobedient Children," with its punchy horns, is one of the few where the band's performance actually matches Hill's own. At the group's best, Culture had a unique style and sound but, when alone, Hill reverts to emulating his heroes. Sadly, Lion Rock is no tribute to Marley or Winston Rodney, his obvious musical and vocal influences, respectively. And it's no wonder that the singer disappeared from the scene for several years after this album's release.

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