Jah heard this before – yet another “formative” Bob Marley reissue.
No doubt, true Marley fans have encountered recordings such as “Corner Stone,” “Soul Shake Down,” “Go Tell It On the Mountain” and “Mrs. Brown.” This group of early Wailers songs appears on only a smattering of bargain albums that spotlight the formative years of the band’s career before classic albums like Catch a Fire and Burnin’ elevated the Jamaican group to international stardom.
Now, these underdeveloped, poorly recorded early works are available on two three-disc box sets entitled The Complete Bob Marley and the Wailers 1967-1972, Parts 1 and 2 (JAD Records). Avid Marley fans may enjoy several unreleased and alternate tracks, and the two 64-song sets show early flashes of brilliance. But overall the collections prove indistinguishable from dozens of formative period reissues already available.
Part one reveals the emerging Wailers’ sound and Marley’s developing vocals. The previously unreleased “Rock to the Rock” features funky organ, horns and the I-Threes, who provide a female backing to Marley’s young vocals. “Soul Captives” and “The Lord Will Make a Way,” with a Memphis Stax sound of soul grooves and vocals, seem a bit out of place in the reggae genre. Not nearly as out of place, though, as The Archies’ bubble-gum pop hit “Sugar, Sugar.”One highlight of part one is the hauntingly pious “Selassie is the Chapel,” which is dedicated to Haile Selassie, one-time Emperor of Ethiopia and Marley’s religious adviser. The minimalism of distant percussion coupled with Marley’s respectful, praising lyrics produce one of the most chilling, deeply spiritual songs of Marley’s career.
Part two is predictable but slightly more interesting thanks to producer Lee “Scratch” Perry. The producer/writer/engineer/madman pioneered dub music. His unique style is apparent on rebel-anthems “Down Presser” and “Jah is Mighty,” an unfinished song that first became “Corner Stone” and then “Ride Natty Ride.”
Many of these recordings are good examples of the constant changes and adjustments an artist makes in his own work. “More Axe” later became the tighter, more cohesive “Small Axe” that appears on Burnin’. The later work “Who the Cap Fits” was culled from “Man to Man,” one of Marley’s early attempts at socially conscious lyrics.
Marley combines poignant social commentary with the charming musical and vocal delivery worthy of a ballad. This style contributes to his universal following – he can woo the audience and make it think. These selections offer a cross-section of laid-back jams, political anti-establishment messages, dedicated love songs and the occasional reference to marijuana.
On one hand, The Complete Wailers 1967-72 reveals an early “one love” idealism and documents the early ideas and compositions of Marley and The Wailers. The two sets, however, get lost in the flooded market of reissues from the era.