One of the longest-running roots-reggae bands, Steel Pulse boasts a list of former members twice as long as the current lineup. Only two of today's players have appeared on all 11 of the group's studio albums: keyboardist and backing vocalist Selwyn Brown and lead guitarist and vocalist David Hinds. That's been enough, though, to hold up the band's strong musical and lyrical backbone.
At its inception in the mid-'70s, the band of Jamaican expats in Northern England caught wind of the musical current coming from the island: ever-slowing tempos and ever-more direct lyrics about spirituality and social unrest. At the beginning, Steel Pulse was a fairly radical act for the UK, espousing Rastafarianism, joining the Rock Against Racism movement early on, and touring with punk bands such as the Stranglers.
But while peers later descended into tirades of fire and brimstone, Steel Pulse has remained musical enough to preach with relative subtlety. Eschewing the lure of dancehall-style studio tricks, the band has always kept things strictly roots, pulling up the people with a trance-building blend of steady, spaced-out rhythms and sweet vocals.
It's been six years since the group's last studio effort, African Holocaust. A new one is said to be in the works for release later this year, and as always, it should be topical. An early taste came in the 2008 "Barack Obama Song," the band's contribution to his campaign. True to form, it was a melodic, midtempo number full of squishy dub layers and a straightforward political message. Perhaps the finished disc will include a presidential progress report.
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