With few new acts on the reggae scene, fans have to rely on longtime faves, standbys such as Burning Spear, the Itals and Culture. Steel Pulse is also on that shortlist. After all, the group was often cited as one of Bob Marley's favorites. Ironically, though, Steel Pulse didn't hail from Marley's Kingston tenement yards. Instead, it emerged from the row houses and tower flats of Birmingham, which, after London, is England's largest and most diverse city.

At first shunned by conservative Afro-Caribbean club owners in England because of its Rastafarianism, the band enlisted in the Rock Against Racism campaign and played alongside punk acts such as the Stranglers and XTC. Despite a shaky start, Steel Pulse eventually was accepted by punks and nonpunks alike, and it wasn't long before Island/Mango Records came knocking. The band's debut, Handsworth Revolution, mixed Rastafarian folklore with politically driven material ("Ku Klux Klan"). Follow-ups were more dance-friendly yet no less intense. Relying on sly harmonies and disciplined rhythms, tracks like 1979's "Tribute to the Martyrs" and "Sound System" blended messages of racial oppression with funky grooves.

Despite winning a Grammy in 1986 (for Babylon the Bandit), Steel Pulse entered a period of turmoil. Elektra, the band's label at the time, wanted these reggae warriors to be the next Eddie Grant, and indeed by the early '90s their edge had been dulled. However, 1994's Vex was hailed as a return to form by critics in England and the States.

These days the band's mainstays include principal songwriter David Hinds, keyboardist Selwyn "Bumbo" Brown and drummer Steve "Grizzly" Nisbett. More than likely, the trio will explore its early hits rather than its more recent material. If that's the case, expect a history lesson of sorts.

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Mike Emery