Formed in Jamaica in 1976 and comprised of Joseph Hill, Kenneth Dayes and Albert Walker, Culture is one of reggae’s greatest roots harmony trios. Lead singer Hill invokes the passion of a Burning Spear, while the others are reminiscent of the earthen and soulful rootical wails of the Itals. Despite a string of fine albums, Culture is most closely identified with their debut LP, Two Sevens Clash, and its apocalyptic title track. And rightly so: the song, first released in 1977, is a reggae classic, a perfect marriage of Rasta ideology and musicianship that struck a chord in punk England and became an influential scene staple. The music on the LP is smoky and mysterious — the keyboards are mixed way up front — but also rhythmically dynamic, with drummer Sly Dunbar turning in some of his best work. But the center is Hill’s high, wavering voice. In song after song, he conveys his own distinctive blend of conviction and dread. Reissued a decade later, the album is every bit as consistent and compelling.
Besides his Rastafarian faith and African heritage, Hill’s lyrics typically address the oppressed and the suffering. “Crack In New York” (Nuff Crisis!) will make you want to dance because the music is so lively, but if you check the lyrics you really ought to cry. Similarly, the title track of Good Things is a warning to “make good use of good things” because the time will come when we or they won’t be around.
The beauty of Culture is the group’s ability to be contemporary and traditional at the same time. But while adhering to old-time standards and traditions, Culture is very much in the flow of things: Culture in Culture‘s “Capture Rasta” acknowledges the popular “Sleng Teng” riddim of the mid-’80s.
Cumbolo is another Culture classic, loaded with the trio’s trademark social commentaries and prophetic, inspirational cantations. Among the highlights: “Natty Dread Naw Run,” a handsome adaption of the folk-music standard “This Train,” “Mind Who You Beg for Help” and the extraordinary title track.
The Peel BBC broadcast material dates from 1982 and includes “Two Sevens Clash” alongside three other tracks. Too Long in Slavery is a compilation of tracks from Harder Than the Rest, International Herb and Cumbolo.