In 1978 Culture were on a roll.
Culture, essentially a three-piece vocal harmony group lead by Joseph Hill, had experienced success working with the legendary producer Joe Gibbs who had help cut their first two albums; and in 1978 were about to adopt a long and fruitful relationship with the hardest working woman in the Jamaican music business: Sonia Pottinger.
But between working with those two great producers (and some mighty musicians: Sly and Robbie, Lloyd Parks, 'Sticky' Thompson, Tommy McCook, to name but a few) Culture found themselves with time to spare; so they utilized it in the studio; cutting new tracks with a collective of unknown musicians and inexperienced production engineers.
Virgin Records, motivated by their success with punk, were hunting for authentic roots and reggae acts, and soon whisked Culture into the Treasure Isle Recording Studios; married them up with Pottinger and together recorded Culture's first album for their reggae label Front Line.
The result was Harder Than The Rest, a very safe West-friendly sound - to my ear it sounds like an attempt to jump on the Peter Tosh bandwagon - launching a very differently styled Culture; a sound that was quite far removed from their other two L.P. releases.
However, at the same time Harder Than The Rest was released, an unofficial recording became available; one that captured that time in the studio before hooking up with Virgin.
And despite the lack of big name producers or immensely skillful session musicians, Africa Stand Alone is by far the superior of the two releases.
It benefits enormously from the hands off approach, allowing for a deeply soulful and live sounding delivery of gorgeous melodic roots numbers.
There is some occasional brass, but primarily this is a very stripped down recording. Even the production is light, and the desk only really comes into play during the final track, with dub music forming the outro.
Culture never sounded so beautiful.
Culture - Africa Stand Alone (1978)
Love Shines Brighter
Dog Ago Nyam Dog
Tell Me Where You Get It
Iron Sharpen Iron
Behold The Land
Technically a bootleg album, this has not been released on CD.
Several of the tracks were re-recorded for Harder Than The Rest; they make interesting comparisons.
This 320 rip comes from a very fat vinyl copy released by April Records, a subsidiary of Dragon Music.
There is a little crackle on the ins and outs, but in the main sounds deep and heavenly.
Get yourself Cultured here