Bob Marley and the Wailers

Bob Marley and the Wailers

Rebel Music

Tuff Gong / Island

This is the Marley compilation which tries to demonstrate that ol’ Uncle Bob was the foremost political reggae artist of all time. It does a pretty good job, too, but it has to be slightly deceptive about it.

We start with the nice tight “Rebel Music (3 O’Clock Roadblock),” off Natty Dread; it’s so good and impassioned that you might not even care that it sounds almost exactly like “I Shot the Sheriff.” We also get other Marley barnburners here, and they’re all really really socially conscious. “Rat Race” demonstrates how superior the Rasta lifestyle is to that of all the rest of us; “Roots” is all rootsy in a wonderful way, a B-side that should have been on an album somewhere; “Crazy Baldhead” is a great prescription for revolution: “You look me with that scorn / Then you eat up all my corn / We gonna chase those crazy baldheads out of town.”

Island cranked this out in 1986, originally, and it’s now bolstered with a pretty damn nice live version of “Wake Up & Live” from 1979, which is so perfectly recorded that I have my suspicions about its “live” status. But it’s a cool way to bonus up an already strong compilation.

My issues? Well, it’s just that all of Bob Marley’s albums are much stronger proof of his true political and personal vision than this ever could be. Want “Babylon System”? Better buy Survival instead. How about the fabulous stuff the original Wailers recorded? We get “Slave Driver,” yes, and yet another live version of “Get Up, Stand Up,” but that’s it — probably because Bob wasn’t the only cook in that stew. The importance of Peter Tosh to Marley’s political vision is completely glossed over in the sad-sack liner notes, which glorify Marley but don’t give us anything new to go on.

This could have been so much better, especially when they had the chance to remaster it and add more than one track. As it is, this just looks like a way to separate more Trustafarians from their cash. Because, y’know, Bob ruled! But if you’re looking for any insight into this important artist, or a sense of the history of his social pronouncements, or really anything that we didn’t know before, you’d better go back to his “roots” and get some of the early stuff instead.

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