...above all else, the message is king.
Jack Smith 2004
Culture had already released the seminal Two Sevens Clash (recently ranked #25 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of 'The 50 Coolest Records') when they signed up with Sonia Pottinger's High Note label. Licensed Virgin subsidiary, Front Line, the best tracks from their trio of High Note albums Harder Than The Rest, Cumbolo, and International Herb are collected on this compilation.
Despite backing from the rhythmic powerhouse that is Sly & Robbie the bulk of these trackseschew the heavy productions so prevalent of the era. Dub influence is conspicuous by its absence, save for the closing "Citizen As A Peaceful Dub."
Indeed, Culture were very much about the dread lyrics of Joseph Hill and here, above all else, the message is king. Equal rights and cultural emancipation for Rastafarians is the order of the day in Hill's strictly narrative flow. Such narrow themes could make for a fairly dense listen but repeated plays reveal hidden subtleties - not least the broad scope of the production where all varieties of instrumentation weave into the mix.
Highlights include the killer chorus of "Work On Natty", the celebratory brass 'n' whistles fanfare on "The International Herb" and the mournful yet defiant blues of "Too Long In Slavery".Throughout the albumHill brings an eloquent poetry to the sufferers lament.
Emphasising the inherent difficulties of combining western economics with business practices JA-style, Front Line was to disintegrate soon after the release of International Herb in 1979. The notion of tying reggae artists to restrictive recording contracts is something that major labels are only now regarding as a bad idea. Culture would continue sporadically throughout the 80s and 90s, releasing the acclaimed comeback album World Peace in 2003.
Although the tracks collected here don't quite live up to the quality found on Two Sevens Clash, they are atestament to the band's enduring appeal.
Reviewer: Adam Webb