Friday, July 6, 2007

30 years on, sevens are still clashing

Posted By on 07.06.07 at 11:10 AM

Joseph Hill was convinced that Marcus Garvey's prophecy of cataclysm on July 7, 1977 was certain, and his song about it, "Two Sevens Clash," convinced much of Jamaica's population as well. On that day the streets of Kingston were desolate. Of course, life went on, but the song has endured. Recorded by Hill's vocal trio, Culture, it's one of ten brilliant jams on Two Sevens Clash, one of the greatest albums of the roots-reggae explosion of the 70s. Shanachie Records has just issued the album in a deluxe 30th anniversary edition, appending the original album with five stellar dub and 12” versions of its tunes.

The band that played behind the harmony group was strong—it included drummer Sly Dunbar, saxophonist Tommy McCook, and guitarist Earl “Bingy Bunny” Lamont—and producer Joe Gibbs brought depth and richness to the arrangements. But it was all about the singing. Culture emerged from a dynamic scene, where groups like Burning Spear, the Congos, the Gladiators, and the Mighty Diamonds were all thriving, but this album set them apart. Despite the heavily spiritual, largely apocalyptic lyrics, the music bristles with a hopeful soul and beauty, with Albert Walker and Kenneth Dayes shadowing Hill’s leads with a rough ghostliness. Hill established his most enduring characteristic, answering each line of the verse with an aside or elaboration that broke from the fixed melody. He wasn’t exactly ad-libbing, as each of these embroideries were the same in a given tune, but the effect was powerful and original. The DJ verses courtesy of Prince Weedy and I-Roy are also excellent, and it’s mighty nice to have them all in one place.

The CD is packaged in a DVD case and the expanded liner notes include original essays by Gibbs (from the first Jamaican pressing), Shanachie honcho Randall Grass (from the first U.S. edition), musings from a 1982 interview with Hill, who died last August while touring in Germany, and a new, somewhat pompous piece by Lenny Kaye that strains in its comparison of reggae to punk. The reissue was scheduled for release on 7/7/07—a bit of hokey razzle-dazzle, since records aren't actually released on Saturdays.

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