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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Bob Marley: Soul Revolution

BOB MARLEY: SOUL REVOLUTION (1971)

1) Keep On Moving; 2) Don't Rock My Boat; 3) Put It On; 4) Fussing And Fighting; 5) Duppy Conqueror; 6) Memphis; 7) Soul Rebel; 8) Riding High; 9) Kaya; 10) African Herbsman; 11) Stand Alone; 12) Sun Is Shining; 13) Brain Washing.

Even though this second album, too, was produced by Lee Perry, it actually sounds quite different from the first one — lighter and much more playful, in contrast with the more firmly pronounced «protest» spirit of Soul Rebel. Maybe this was deliberate, to show how the true Rasta spirit is supposed to concentrate on the positive by default, leaving the negative for very special occasions — in any case, the fact is that most of these here songs are not about four hundred years of slave­ry, but rather about the delights of chillin' out, gettin' down, ridin' high, and swingin' low, not necessarily in that order.

The record does begin with ʽKeep On Movingʼ, one more song about escape, salvation, and sweet dreams of "a land somewhere not near Babylon". But musically it is a lazy, nonchalant, almost melodic tune, friendly to boot, as if the singer were dreaming of all these things while enjoying some warm Jamaican sun in a swinging hammock — the misery and agony of the Rasta preacher is only implied, not expressed in easily understandable terms. Later on, ʽFussing And Fightingʼ, calling upon all of us to stop the aforementioned, is delivered without the slightest trace of anger or anguish in Bob's voice (well, maybe only at the end of the song does he get heated up enough to raise his voice a bit: "LORD, I wanna know!"). And then there's the final track, ʽBrain Washingʼ — if you really need to know, it is a rant against... nursery rhymes and fairy tales, all of which are acknowledged to be "just the poor's brain washing", and "I don't need it no longer" — sure enough, when you got Haile Selassie, who needs Cinderella and Little Miss Muffet?

This is about as «rebellious» and «political» as the album gets. In between these tracks, there is a lot of short, tight, often catchy, always friendly, and usually quite endearing little numbers about smoking pot, making love, and not giving a damn if the ganja is worse than expected or the lover is jivin' around with some other, temporarily luckier, soul brother. There is a lot more vocal har­monies from the Wailers on these tracks, too, echoing the band's early days and owing a lot to old-time gospel and, occasionally, doo-wop (ʽPut It Onʼ). There are also more keyboards, and there is even an extended melodica solo from Peter Tosh on ʽMemphisʼ, an instrumental formally credited to Chuck Berry for some reason (I fail to see any resemblance with ʽMemphis, Ten­nesseeʼ whatsoever — did they just want to toss ol' Chuck some royalties for no particular rea­son?). In short, it's really all fun and games over there in sunny Jamaica.

One of the main highlights is ʽKayaʼ, arguably one of the finest combinations of exuberant joy and simplicity in Marley's repertoire — catchy and invigorating enough for him to revive it half a decade later on the Island album of the same name. Ironically, in 1978 Kaya would be written off by quite a few fans and critics alike as a disappointingly «relaxed» follow-up to Exodus — but the story actually begins here, with Soul Revolution being an equally «relaxed» follow-up to Soul Rebel without the Wailers having any international notoriety whatsoever. Sure enough, reggae can be fiery and militant, but what about peace, love, and understanding, then? Marley's "got to have kaya now, got to have kaya now, for the rain is fallin'" acknowledges sufficiency of «the bare necessities» without a shred of self-aggrandizing — even if few of us can tell the proper difference between kaya and ganja, you don't even need to understand exactly what he is reaching for on the song to succumb to its peacefulness.

Another highlight is ʽSun Is Shiningʼ, punctuated by Tosh's lonesome, slightly gloomy, but not desperate melodica puffs — I don't think the song does much of anything except simply proclaim the fact of life: "here I am / want you to know just if you can / where I stand". Its mood is some­where in between «neutral» and «sad», so that both the melodica and the occasional overtones in Bob's singing hint at life's harsh realities — yet, at the same time, it is quite clear that as long as "we'll lift our heads and give Jah praises", ultimately, it's going to be all right. So what is this if not the ultimate anthem of the primordial way of life? Even if it was recorded in a modern studio, listening to the song can still transport you thousands of years back.

The album also includes a cover of Richie Havens' ʽAfrican Herbsmanʼ, which is probably the closest they come to the subject of ʽ400 Yearsʼ, but, again, in a far more lightweight, even poppy, manner, with a spritely-hoppin' bass line and tender harmonies that seem a little odd when applied to lyrics about "old slave men" who "grind slow but it grinds fine", yet that is the record's message — even dire, gruesome subjects are approached with a levity of heart and mind. Hatred, hysterics, and vengefulness have no place here; maybe that is what Soul Revolution is really all about, brother. Thumbs up for that.

Technical note: although most sources show the album sleeve to include the title Soul Revo­lution Part II, the real «Part II» was actually a «dub» companion to the vocal version, consisting of purely instrumental tracks of the same songs — a special offer for cannabis patients, I suppose. In the process, Part II somehow also got stuck on the cover of Part I, so that unsuspecting people might think that the record was intended to be a conceptual sequel to Soul Rebel, which is not the case (it being an «anti-Soul Rebel», in a sense). To confuse matters further, three years later there would also be a special UK release of the album, retitled as African Herbsman and replacing a couple of the tunes with non-album singles (including an early version of ʽLively Up Yourselfʼ, among other things). You'd think that musicians had finally got rid of that messy crap, so typical of the mid-Sixties and so passé after LPs had finally become a respected medium, but apparently, Jamaica caught on slowly to those new trends. Must be all that heavy smoke. 

2 comments:

  1. Good review. I'd like to point that the versions of the songs on this album are way, WAY, better than the remakes done later.

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  2. FYI: Keep On Movin is a cover of The Impressions I Gotta Keep On Movin

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