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ON THE OFF BEAT : Ten Years Later, Culture's Reggae Still Moves

A periodic roundup of reggae, roots, regional and ethnic recordings.

December 20, 1987|DON SNOWDEN

CULTURE. "Two Sevens Clash." Shanachie. This 1977 classic is deservedly regarded as one of the best reggae albums ever recorded, and this reissue marks the first time the Jamaican vocal trio's debut album has been released in the United States. The ensuing decade hasn't diminished any of the power of Culture's clarion-call imagery, vibrant melodies and forceful rhythmic pulse on such signature songs as "Calling Rasta Far I," "Black Starliner Must Come" and "I'm Not Ashamed." With appealingly tart horn charts and explosive drumming from Sly Dunbar supporting Joseph Hill's fervent lead vocals and the backing harmonies of Albert Walker and Kenneth Dayes, "Two Sevens Clash" is a brilliant reminder of why roots reggae emerged as an international music force.

Sonic Blue Yonder

SONNY SHARROCK. "Guitar." Enemy. Sharrock, the doyen of avant-noise electric jazz guitar in the '60s, has been re-entering the public spotlight through several projects with producer Bill Laswell over the past few years. "Guitar" features Sharrock with only an overdubbed second guitar playing simple chord patterns serving as the launching pad for feedback-laden improvisations that are brutal, beautiful and imbued with a bluesy spirit. Sharrock's melody on "Blind Willie" sounds like synthesized Scottish bagpipes; "Black Bottom" and "Kula-Mae" take familiar blues/R&B forms into the sonic blue yonder. Sharrock fashions an inherently musical melody out of an astounding series of instrumental squawks and shrieks on "Like Voices of Sleeping Birds." "Guitar" is a wild and woolly ride for the adventurous, and it may amaze--but shouldn't faze--fans on the Sonic Youth end of the rock spectrum.

McGriff Seriously Swingin'

JIMMY McGRIFF. "The Starting Five." Milestone. Looking for a change of pace from guitar-heavy blues? Veteran organist McGriff approaches the idiom from the swinging jazz side of the street, and "The Starting Five" is an exemplary album of sophisticated, toe-tapping blues. Saxophonists Rusty Bryant and David (Fathead) Newman contribute sparkling solos while McGriff's left-hand bass lines and drummer Bernard Purdie's crackling backbeat lock into sublime grooves. Side 2 tails off when Newman switches to flute, but "The Starting Five" is seriously swingin' stuff from the kind of band that you wish was playing at a club just around the corner whenever you get that sudden urge to pop out and catch a few quick tunes.

'Easy' Does It

VARIOUS ARTISTS. "The Big Easy" sound track. Antilles. It's hard to imagine a better cross section of the various strands that make up Louisiana music. Hard-charging zydeco courtesy of Buckwheat Zydeco and Terrance Simien contrasts with the lighter, more Cajun touch Beausoleil brings to the style. The classic New Orleans R&B sound is represented by Professor Longhair's unmistakable piano on "Tipitina," the '60s soul era by a live version of Aaron Neville's masterpiece, "Tell It Like It Is." The Caribbean connection comes into play through Zachary Richard's reggae version of "Colinda" and percussive Mardi Gras Indian music from the Dixie Cups and the Wild Tchoupitoulas. As in the film, the highlight is the spine-tingling gospel harmonizing of the Swan Silvertones on "Saviour, Pass Me Not."

Caribbean Hybrid

LES AIGLONS. "Bonm LA." Debs. A bracing introduction to zouk , a Caribbean hybrid centered around musicians from the islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique that appears to be the coming sound in "world music." Zouk usually features lilting horn melodies and vocal chants in Creole patois over buoyant rhythms that resemble salsa without the heavy percussive undertow. Les Aiglons takes a high-energy approach (particularly with Jean-Philippe Manche's drums so prominent in the mix) and adds reggae and calypso to its danceable zouk recipe. The big problem is finding any records by zouk artists in L.A. Check Tower, stores with a strong international pop section like Rhino, or specialty shops focusing on Caribbean or African music.

Aboriginal Originals

COLOURED STONE. "Black Rock From the Red Centre." Rounder. Coloured Stone is a quartet of aborigine rockers, but you won't find many ethnic musical touches on this collection culled from two of the group's Australian albums. The music recalls the rudimentary ska-cum-reggae sound of early Madness or the Police, although the arrangements are often too one-dimensional and the extremely low-key solos from guitarist Bruce Lawrie fail to command attention. Drummer/songwriter/lead singer Buna Lawrie's themes range from romance (the sprightly "She's the Girl With the Broken Heart") to celebrations of the aboriginal heritage ("Kapi Pulka," "Take Me Back to the Dreamtime"). "Black Rock" is a workmanlike but still enjoyable effort.

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