Reggae has had its share of masterful vocalists, but there's only one Joseph Hill. He's the visionary behind Culture, and his vision has remained clear since 1977, when the band released Two Sevens Clash, one of the strongest reggae albums of all time.Hill doesn't just sing, nor does he exactly chant. Instead, he winds his voice around a series of singsong melodies, using frequent repetition and lots of call-and-response lines with his backing vocalists. Comparable to a hard-bop jazz saxophonist, he spits out a flurry of notes, then holds one for a couple of measures; he drops frequent rests into his melodic lines and builds intensity across a series of returns to the same motif. Hill's is a confident voice, the sound of a man possessed of prophetic certainty. Undaunted by the failure of his apocalyptic pronouncement that Babylon would go down in 1977 (when those two sevens clashed), Hill continues to speak of oppression from above and regeneration from below. If he misread the dates, he's never lost faith in the ultimate righteousness of his cause. Seemingly oblivious to the rise of dancehall, Hill remains true to the roots of his early days, touring with a powerful band of musicians who deliver a classic reggae sound. It's been more than four years since Culture last appeared in St. Louis, but the music remains as potent as ever.
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