Thursday, July 22, 2010

Talking Marley Tributes

Since Bob Marley's passing in 1981 there have been countless tribute albums, cover albums and, in general, musical homage to the late reggae king. The results of these recordings have been as sublime as Bunny Wailer's Sings The Wailers and Tribute albums and as skewed as punk-reggae band Sublime's rendition of  "Zimbabwe."

Sometimes the best tact for artists is to not sing Marley's lyrics at all. One of the best examples of this approach is Jamaican-born jazz pianist Monty Alexander's excellent (mostly instrumental) 2006 Telarc release Concrete Jungle. On the album Alexander lets his fingers do the singing (with occasional cameos by Luciano and Junior Jazz) as he and his band improvise and vamp up Marley's "Trench Town," "Forever Loving Jah" and "Crazy Baldheads."  Previously Alexander covered Marley's "The Heathen," "Kaya" and "I Shot The Sheriff" on slightly more commercial Stir It Up release from 1999.

Over the decades there have been so many Marley covers that it took British label Trojan three discs just to cover just the 1970s and '80s output. Cornell Campbell, Horace Andy, Delroy Wilson -- they've all covered Marley music at one time or another.

A surveying of fan favorites on the internet highlights just how diverse the Marley tribute offerings have been. For instance, web forum posters on  suggested the following: Sax player Dean Fraser's version of "Redemption Song," "Hail Shanti" by Prince Lincoln, Errol Scorcher's "Sounds Of Honorable Marley

" and rub-a-dub DJ Brigadier Jerry's "Tribute To Bob Marley."

Indeed, the early '80s following Marley's passing as dancehall was taking root in Jamaica yielded some of the greatest DJ dedications to the reggae king. A quick check of Roots Archives revealed the following: (listed as Artist – Title – Album)

Sister Carol – Dedicated To Bob Marley [Black Cinderella]
Louie Lepkie –Tribute To Bob Marley [Latenight Movie]
Prince Far I – Tribute To Bob Marley [Heavy Manners]
Sammy Dread –Tribute To Bob Marley [Sammy Dread Is Mr Music]
Lone Ranger – Tribute To Bob Marley [Studio One Dj's Vol 2]
Ranking Joe – Tribute To Bob Marley [Rebel DJ]
Lord Sassafrass – Tribute To The King (Bob Marley) [Horse Man Connection]

More recently reggae artists have continued to remind listeners of Marley's impact as on UK toaster Macka B's "Bob Marley" and roots singer Everton Blender's "Bob Marley" from his release Piece of the Blender.

Another addition to the tribute album ranks is Putumayo Records' Tribute To A Reggae Legend (2010), an internationalist compendium of Marley music. The Jamaica Observer gave it props for its inclusion of Ghanaian singer Rocky Dawuni and fellow Africans Sierra Leone Refuge All-Stars. Brazil's Ceu and several Hawaiian acts also make appearances alongside US rockers Rebelution.

Unfortunately the artists presented mostly lack Marley's sense of fire and conviction -- only Dawuni adds an edge to his cover version. The rest couch their songs in acoustic guitars and tepid performances. For an icon associated with Rebel Music and chanting down Babylon one wishes there were more than coffee-house renditions from these performers. The light touch does work occasionally, like on Three Plus' "Is This Love," which comes off gently sincere. Granted, Putumayo has made a significant commitment to Jamaican music through its many compilations. However, to stay relevant to Jamaica's revolutionary musical history, it would be nice to see projects like this take more risks and go deeper.

Concluding this post, a somewhat obscure but absolutely cracking mid-80s tribute toast from two under appreciated DJs. Papa Finnigan and Junior Rankin made just one album and largely copped Michigan and Smiley's ouvure, but they did their thing with verve and fat Channel One riddims to bolster their tracks.

Papa Finnigan and Jr. Rankin "Tribute To Bob Marley"