Music Reviews

Bob Marley and the Wailers

Talkin’ Blues

Tuff Gong / Island

So back in 1991, Island somehow managed to find tapes of a 1973 live performance by the Wailers on San Francisco’s KSAN Radio, with Peter Tosh and Joe Higgs still in the band, and they STILL managed to screw the pooch when they released it. They held back crucial tracks from that show, bookended it with unissued alternative studio recordings from the 1974 Natty Dread album (different band, no Tosh, no Higgs) and a live performance of “I Shot the Sheriff” from 1975 (different band), and interjected little Marley interview snippets from 1975 in between a lot of the tracks. It was a complete and utter botch-up about which everyone involved should be ashamed.

So now it’s been remastered and re-issued with two more songs from the live radio session and another unissued studio track. Did they re-order it so that it makes sense by putting all the radio tracks together, all the studio tracks together, and grouping the interview segments so they make sense? Hell no! That would have been too helpful and too smart. So we get the same sequencing problems, the same lack of flow, and the same rancor from bitter little critics like me.

That having been said, you need to hear this anyway. The studio tunes are all right enough, but there’s a reason they weren’t selected for their original albums. But the live tracks are absolutely, sickeningly great. Marley sounds wonderful, belting out “Burnin’ & Lootin’” like his very life depended on selling this song, and making “Lively Up Yourself” into a bonus track that really does justify the purchase of this album. The backing is hot as hell, just the Barrett brothers on rhythm and Earl “Wire” Lindo on organ – the spare arrangement of “Rastaman Chant” is spooky and glorious, especially when the three-part harmonies hit like a ton of bricks.

That’s the big revelation here: how wonderful this incarnation of the Wailers could sound on the microphones. Higgs, the man who taught the original Wailers how to sing harmony in the first place, is rock-solid, and when Tosh steps out for his sections on “Get Up, Stand Up” and solos on his songs “You Can’t Blame the Youth” and “Stop That Train,” you get the feel for what it meant to see The Wailers, rather than just the Bob Marley show. And that’s exactly what you get on the rest of the tracks, including a beefier version of “I Shot the Sheriff” than is featured on the Live! album. Bob sounds great and all, but it just wasn’t the Wailers.

You have to have this in your collection, but I cannot urge you to buy it, because that would reward Island for perpetuating what is essentially a crime against musical ethics for messing this up so badly. But you won’t be able to hear it unless someone buys it. Hmmm. A dilemma.

Bob Marley:

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