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Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Bob Marley: Babylon By Bus

BOB MARLEY: BABYLON BY BUS (1978)

1) Positive Vibration; 2) Punky Reggae Party; 3) Exodus; 4) Stir It Up; 5) Rat Race; 6) Concrete Jungle; 7) Kinky Reggae; 8) Lively Up Yourself; 9) Rebel Music; 10) War/No More Trouble; 11) Is This Love; 12) Heathen; 13) Jamming.

It is interesting that, although the tracks for Marley's second live album were all recorded in mid-1978 on the Kaya tour, only one song on the setlist is from Kaya itself, although quite a few more were actually played as a regular part of the show. Clearly, the resulting live album had to expand and deepen the image of the Wailers as cutting-edge «social» artists with a message — no wonder that the record begins with a Rastafari greeting in the name of Haile Selassie and all his living-godly splendor. And then there's that whole «spiritual party» aspect, where the performer and the audience join souls and dissolve in the universal conscience on a sub-atomic level. Not so easy to do with Kaya songs, which are typically more individualistic.

As far as I can figure out, fans generally prefer the earlier Live! to this one, and I cannot quite understand why — maybe they find that Babylon By Bus is a bit too megalomaniac an exercise to properly convey the humble reggae spirit. It also makes a point of not repeating any tracks from Live! (with the notable exception of ʽLively Up Yourselfʼ), meaning that neither ʽI Shot The Sheriffʼ nor ʽNo Woman No Cryʼ, two of the most iconic Marley songs, appear here, but it's not as if the man had nothing to offer in their place. So, instead of ʽSheriffʼ you can take the plaintive stateliness of ʽConcrete Jungleʼ, and instead of ʽNo Woman No Cryʼ, you can relax a few minutes to the tender rocking of ʽStir It Upʼ.

There also seems to be significantly more difference between the originals and the live versions now than there used to. Many of the songs are extended, sometimes simply to give the groove more time to soak in, but sometimes also to place the spotlight on individual players — most notably on ʽHeathenʼ, where Junior Marvin gets to play an incendiary blues guitar solo in the best tradition of blues-rock (the studio version was twice as short and had no solos). Some of the tempos are sped up, and some of the production gloss that could be a source of irritation on the studio albums has also been shed (inevitably). This is not always an advantage: ʽExodusʼ and ʽRebel Musicʼ, for instance, are inferior to the originals — the former is a tad more loose and less rigorously mobilized, dissipating the required feel, and the latter suffers because the "aaaaah, re­bel music!" backing vocals are less well coordinated. But as a general tactic to «lively up your­self» and add some extra energy and volume to the live show, it works.

That said, I am once again at a loss when it comes to commenting on specific performances — everybody is having a good time, and that's about it. Just because the album is longer (and more Marley is better Marley), and because it does a better job of showing off Junior's talents, I'd rate it very slightly over Live! and give it a minor thumbs up — oh, actually, there is one more reason: the audience reaction is better captured on tape this time around (maybe because there is simply more audience, period), so if you really want to suck on the vibe, Babylon By Bus is your most obvious audio ticket to the spiritual unity between the shepherd and the flock. Too bad the she­pherd, free as he was to tour Babylon by bus, remained altogether unable to properly lead the flock out of Babylon — maybe that Haile Selassie guy is not, after all, nearly as powerful (or empowering) as they make him seem, eh?

1 comment:

  1. Babylon by Bus charted higher in The Netherlands than Live! But in that country Is this Love and especially Stir it up are considered as iconic as I shot the Sheriff and No Woman, No Cry.

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