Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 11/16/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Tuesday’s album is #805:

Steel Pulse – Handsworth Revolution

The most musically sophisticated of all the classic roots reggae bands of the 70s, Steel Pulse’s career began with a string of brilliant albums that lasted into the early 80s. After a struggle with one producer after another who tried to dumb down their sound and turn them into a pop band, they returned to their roots like they’d never left and never looked back. Over thirty years after they started, they’re still an extraordinary live band (the single most popular concert review we’ve published to date concerns a 2008 Steel Pulse show). Since all their early and their most recent material is so consistently strong, we picked this album, their major label debut, from 1978. Frontman David Hinds’ jazzy chords, serpentine song structures and politically charged lyrics are as intense as ever: the title track captures the struggle of West Indians in racist England at the time; Ku Klux Klan, one of their biggest hits, works powerfully on several levels. There’s also the antiwar Soldiers; the snide Bad Man; the echoey, metaphorically driven Prodigal Son; the big dub-flavored concert hit Sound Check; and the ganja-fueled Rasta anthem Macka Splaff. Everything the band recorded through 1982’s True Democracy is worth a spin, as is their elaborate 1992 live concert album, Rastafari Centennial and pretty much everything they’ve done after that. Here’s a random torrent.

November 16, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, reggae music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Toussaint’s Black Gold Evokes the Classics of Roots Reggae

Toussaint’s new album Black Gold is meticulously produced, stylistically diverse roots reggae that recalls what Burning Spear or Israel Vibration were doing in the late 80s and early 90s, although it’s more eclectic. The production may necessarily lean toward a digital feel, but the songs and playing are strictly roots. It’s amazing how much time and care went into this cd: there’s a real horn section, bass and drums, lead guitar and organ, no cheesy synthesizers or lame electronic drums. Toussaint brings gravitas and charisma to his songs, alternating between fervent, laid-back and thoughtful while his band provides an aptly hypnotic, lush groove. The conflict between the spiritual and the material, a classic roots dilemma, arises frequently: “Why you want tv flash in your eyes?” Toussaint challenges on the album’s opening cut, Nobody Knows. That question takes centerstage on the swaying, determined Roots in a Modern Time, which wouldn’t be out of place in the Burning Spear songbook. The same could be said for the darkly slinky Rise and Fall. Many of these tracks echo the more hit-oriented side of Bob Marley, but as inspiration rather than a ripoff, like the catchy, pulsing This Song, another positive, spiritually-charged number, and the bouncy Look Up. A couple of others remind of classic 70s-era Steel Pulse: the evocative reminiscence Rise and Fall, and the sufferah’s anthem Marching, right down to its martial drumbeat.

A couple of the tracks veer off on a pleasant detour into vintage 60s-style soul music; another blends dark art-rock with gospel piano, not something ordinarily found on a roots reggae album, but it’s welcome just the same. The album winds up with the optimistic Changing, looking forward to the future now that the Bush regime is out of office, and the absolutely gorgeous Rain Again. Toussaint obviously takes his cue here from Marley’s Redemption Song, but in place of the acoustic guitar he substitutes Youssoupha Sidibe’s kora, his inspired rivulets on the African harp adding an extra shimmery texture. For anyone who misses the days when you could tune in to Earl “Rootsman” Chin and see this kind of stuff on Rockers TV, Toussaint will bring back some fond memories with his unique, tuneful and smartly conscious styles. It’s out now on I Grade Records.

October 14, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, reggae music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: Steel Pulse at Rockefeller Park, NYC 7/16/08

[Editor’s note: the author of this review was still seething over how disrespectfully police and security had treated an all-black crowd at an O’Jays concert in Crown Heights, Brooklyn the previous night, therefore the the angry tone and occasional profanity here.]

 

There is no need for overwhelming security at outdoor concerts in New York. End of story.

 

The Steel Pulse concert at Rockefeller Park tonight and the O’Jays show in Crown Heights Monday night were a study in contrasts. To any racist who would insinuate something to the effect of “the reason why we need ironclad security at Wingate Field is because it’s a bad neighborhood:” FUCK YOU. The crowd at Rockefeller Park in Battery Park City tonight was a quintessentially New York, beautifully multi-racial and multi-generational mix, probably about half-black. And just as at Wingate Field, there were no fights. There was a lot more weed-smoking tonight, and half the crowd was drinking – OMIGOD, THERE WERE PEOPLE DRINKING ALCOHOL, DECLARE A STATE OF EMERGENCY AND CALL OUT THE NATIONAL GUARD!!! But unlike at Wingate Field, this park is on the water, with innumerable exits available: if necessary the crowd could have dispersed in thirty seconds flat, rather than being forced to leave single-file through one single barbwire fence exit. Emphatic verdict: New Yorkers do not go to concerts to cause trouble. Repeat: THERE IS NO NEED FOR OVERWHELMING SECURITY AT ANY CONCERT ANYWHERE IN NEW YORK, EVER. EVER. EVER.

 

Sure, it never hurts to have a couple of big guys on hand to usher out the occasional drunk who’s had enough and can’t stop hitting on the women or otherwise causing trouble. But the all-black crowd Monday night in the middle of the ghetto in Crown Heights was just as lethargic and overwhelmed by the heat as the crowd at Steel Pulse tonight in the middle of yuppieville.

 

If you don’t already know them, Steel Pulse were the best of the many excellent British reggae bands of the 70s. Contemporaries of the Clash and Bob Marley, they distinguished themselves with their remarkable tunefulness as well as their penchant for relevant, spot-on social commentary. Their songwriting was remarkably complex, utilizing a lot of jazz chords, a far cry from the typically gnomic Rasta “reasoning” set to interminable two-chord jams that dominated a lot of classic-era reggae (although, if you’re, um, in the mood, all that can be great fun). Despite the fact that the band hit the stage at about 7:40 PM, most of the windows in the luxury highrises above were dark: the yuppies who live there are obviously all working overtime and unable to enjoy treats such as this. Their loss.

 

Steel Pulse are celebrating thirty years on the road and despite that managed to turn in a passionate, powerful set, even though most of it simply amounted to running through a lot of hits. They went on to a sarcastic intro of the Star Spangled Banner before launching into their own flag ballad, Rally Round (“Rally round the red, black, gold and green,” i.e. the colors of Africa). On the next tune, frontman David Hinds stopped it short, a typical move roots reggae bands use to energize the crowd: “Mi na waan stop-and-start, but,” he looked around,” Black holocaust still here.” If only he could have been in Crown Heights Monday night. Then he and the band launched back into No More Weapons, an anti-chemical warfare song echoing the Peter Tosh classic No Nuclear War. The sound system had been acting up, resulting in Hinds’ vocals being inaudible for the first half of Bodyguard, a ruthlessly deadly rejoinder to anyone who would safeguard the life of a fascist.

 

Reaffirming the band’s continuing relevance, they continued with a new song, the propulsive Door of No Return, about a visit to the infamous Ghanian prison where slaves were thrown in chains into slave ships. They closed the set with the big Rasta hit Stepping Out, but returned for a long encore that basically served as a second set. A medley of their classic hits came first: the fiery Soldiers, the defiant Taxi Driver (about how hard it is for a black man to catch a cab in New York City), and Blues Dance Raid, about getting an illegal concert shut down by the police. They kept the crowd bouncing with a remarkably raw, heartfelt version of Earth Crisis and then a tongue-in-cheek new cautionary tale, Global Warning, followed by the wry Babylon Makes the Rules. Steel Pulse are known for marathon sets, but at this point they played one final number and called it a night. It dread in dis year Babylon, but Jah (and Steel Pulse) give to I and I spiritual nourishment. And no guns. And no security.

 

Think about that for a minute. Remember – in a police state, everyone is a criminal.

July 17, 2008 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments