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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Bob Marley: Talkin' Blues

BOB MARLEY: TALKIN' BLUES (1973-75/1991)

1) Talkin'; 2) Talkin' Blues; 3) Talkin'; 4) Burnin' And Lootin'; 5) Talkin'; 6) Kinky Reggae; 7) Get Up Stand Up; 8) Talkin'; 9) Slave Driver; 10) Talkin'; 11) Walk The Proud Land; 12) Talkin'; 13) You Can't Blame The Youth; 14) Talkin'; 15) Rastaman Chant; 16) Talkin'; 17) Am-A-Do; 18) Talkin'; 19) Bend Down Low; 20) Talkin'; 21) I Shot The Sheriff.

Although the format of this album is rather strange, yet in a way, Talkin' Blues may be the most important live record by the Wailers ever put out. Essentially, this is the complete or near-com­plete show that the band played for a San Francisco radio station on October 31, 1973, with the original lineup still in place — interspersed with cut-up segments of an interview that Bob recorded for Jamaican radio in 1975, and throwing on, as a bonus, some alternate studio cuts and a lengthy, bombastic performance of ʽI Shot The Sheriffʼ from a London show, also in 1975: not a trivial way of sequencing your data, by any means.

The interview bits are a tough nut for anyone not used to Jamaican English — about 70% of the time I have absolutely no idea what the man is saying, although you can generally guess the topics (music, spirituality, communication with people, relationships with Peter Tosh, etc.) and then you probably have some vague idea about what is being said even without making out the particular words. Not that any of it is particularly important — in fact, I'd say that the very sound of Marley's voice earns him far more sympathy and admiration than whatever semantic content is concealed in that sound. Like most modern-day «prophets», he was never particularly deep or innovative in his message, and as for the deep meaning of his music, well, I'd always prefer to somehow infer it from the music on my own than strain myself to understand his verbal explana­tion. But hey, at least these spoken bits substantiate the «punny» album title.

The performances are an entirely different matter. These are the young Wailers here, unspoiled by fame or fortune, still earning their «musical Messiah» credentials, captured live in the studio in pristine sound quality, not having to toy or fool around with their audiences, but having some­thing to prove in the way of musicianship. As they launch into ʽBurnin' And Lootin'ʼ, the degree of internal coordination between all five involved musicians is awesome — they are already way past the «minimalistic» Lee Perry stage, when the bass was all that really mattered, but quite far away from the stage when the music began to matter less than the Exultation / Exorcism ritual. All of these performances, without exception, are at least as good as their studio analogs, and sometimes may be even better — for instance, the guitar duet on ʽGet Up, Stand Upʼ is much more lively (extra scratch, bark, and snap) than it was in the studio.

For those who want something more than a set of alternate versions, no matter how flawlessly executed, there are also some rarities — including Tosh's ʽYou Can't Blame The Youthʼ, a song that is quite questionable as to its lyrical content (all reservations applied, Christopher Columbus was a very great man, and so was Marco Polo — not so sure about the pirates Hawkins and Morgan — and this is just not a very convincing example of why the elders, rather than the youth, are to be blamed for current problems, even if they really are), but quite admirable by way of its basic groove and lively workin'-team harmonies. The previously unreleased outtake ʽAm-A-Doʼ is nothing too special, but any outtake from Marley's most important period is... important? Whatever be the case, you will not leave here empty-handed.

To be fair, the talking and singing are actually integrated rather than interspersed randomly. For instance, at one point they have a short conversation with the interviewer about Bob's playing the flute, and this is followed by an alternate take of ʽBend Down Lowʼ that does indeed have a flute lead scattered all over the place — never made it to the final runthrough, and it is somewhat of a pity, since the extra touch of pastoral tenderness is quite appropriate. But in the end, it really does not matter — if the talking bugs you, it is extremely simple just to edit it out and still have a re­spectably lengthy live album, worthy of an assured thumbs up. For obvious reasons, Talkin' Blues will never be anybody's first choice for a live Marley album (the man is too strongly asso­ciated with the «shepherd-and-the-flock» imagery to make one believe to try him out first in a radio studio environment), but that's alright as long as you do not forget about its existence: an essential acquirement, really.

1 comment:

  1. You're not kidding about the "language barrier". But you're right, his message transcends the words. Like punk, my exposure to reggae is limited to early Police. However, aside from all the spiritualism, they really get my toe tapping. And I never realized how much I like Tosh's vocals.