The Expanders ‘Hustling Culture’ (Easy Star) LP/CD/Dig 4/5

the-expandersCalifornian band the Expanders are helping to keep alive the roots harmony tradition of the 1970s and are heavily influenced by that era having soaked up the vocals and instrumentation of Culture, the Gladiators and the Mighty Diamonds. Indeed they have backed some of the all-time greats including Alton Ellis, the Maytones and the Wailing Souls. This latest offering is their third album in total, and is a marked step up from previous recordings that includes a reggae idiom tribute to Christmas song covers. The fact that they have been able to gain access to the extensive archives of reggae musicologist supreme Roger Steffens has aided them greatly and is reflected in the authentic roots sound they have perfected over time. A nucleus of four band members is augmented by eight additional musicians and now almost a decade in existence, the band now have a tight sound in the lineage of the classic roots groups of the past. Lead vocalist Devin Morrison has clearly taken a leaf out of Sugar Minott’s vocal delivery and certainly sounds the real deal.
Subtle harmonies over an uptempo beat are a feature of one of the strongest numbers, ‘Piece of Love’, with bubbling clipped guitar for good measure. Dub effects and close harmonies are present equally on the mid-tempo ‘World of Happiness’ while the catchiest rhythms makes ‘People Business’ a song to stand out from the crowd. The lovely guitar led instrumental intro to ‘Too Late’ (not the Dennis Brown anthemic cover of the Carole King composition) impresses whereas an early dancehall feel permeates ‘Uptown Set’.

It is reassuring to hear that in a world currently filled with so much trouble and strife that a groups such as the Expanders can spread a little warmth for their fellow mankind. They most definitely sound as though they grew up in a district of Kingston Jamaica rather than California and in this respect are more of a direct link to the Jamaican popular music tradition than much of today’s young reggae stars from the island.

Tim Stenhouse