Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Rasta Gospel

Preparing for Armageddon in 1977, Joseph Hill made the greatest reggae album of all time

*****

CULTURE
Two Sevens Clash: The 30th Anniversary Edition
Shanachie

Proudly pronounced "one of the ten best reggae albums ever cut" in 1987, when it was released stateside a decade late, Two Sevens Clash may even be the very best. Never did Kingston hillsman Joseph Hill approach Bob Marley's ambition or sophistication. But never did Marley construct an album as perfect beginning to end. Although Two Sevens Clash was the first of many LPs from this harmony trio, at the time Hill wasn't sure there'd ever be another. Following Marcus Garvey, he believed worldwide conflagration was due in 1977, the year the two sevens clashed. Much is made of the political content here, but Two Sevens Clash is basically a Rastafarian gospel album. "The wicked must fall," Hill declares right off, and "Pirate Days" attributes Babylon's power to its lawlessness. But its most striking line, "The Arawak, the Arawak, the Arawak were here first," suggests that black men don't belong in Jamaica, arguing instead for the promised return to Africa. Celebrating Blackstarliner -- the shipping line intended to help fulfill Garvey's back-to-Africa dreams -- Hill avers: "I meekly wait and murmur not." Meanwhile, the surest guarantee of deliverance is the music. This was Jamaican drum titan Sly Dunbar's first major session, with Lloyd Parks on bass and Robbie Shakespeare on guitar, and the tunes -- all, Steel Pulse's David Hinds has admiringly noted, in major keys -- are memorable and uplifting without exception. Yet even on the childish "Jah Pretty Face," the flinty, soursop edge of Hill's incantation abrades what's left of the singsong after the harsh close harmonies have done their work. There are few voices like this anywhere -- Winston Rodney of Burning Spear comes closest. Imagine it's how a prophet might sound if the prophet believed in black starliners. You have to hear it to believe it.

Rolling Stone, Aug. 23, 2007