Star-Bulletin Features

Sunday, April 22, 2001

Bob Marley, foreground, with the Wailers.

‘Catch a Fire’ can
still light yours

Catch a Fire
Bob Marley & the Wailers (Deluxe Edition) Island/Tuff Gong

Review by Gary C.W. Chun

The islands have maintained a long-standing spiritual connection to the late, iconic mystic of reggae music, Bob Marley. Honored this year with a posthumous Lifetime Achievement Grammy award, his albums are must-haves in any local music collection, providing inspiration for many a singer/songwriter, as well as a handy way to latch onto a popular tune to cover for an album project or set list.

His catalog of recordings are such steady bestsellers both here and internationally that it seems unnecessary to do more with his legacy. But if there's any way to keep getting milk from that Marley cash cow ...

Last month, Marley's label began what promises to be "the most comprehensive and ambitious reissue program of (his) recordings," to be spread over a two-year period.

First out the gates is a deluxe reissue of the newly remastered recordings that made up the Wailers' major-label debut back in 1973. "Catch a Fire" was the breakout album for a band still billed as just the Wailers, made up of Marley (looking more like a Jamaican "rude boy" in those early years than the worldly Rastaman that later became his identity), Peter McIntosh and Bunny Livingston (renamed Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer, respectively, when they embarked on their own solo careers) and the dynamic Barrett brothers stoking the riddim.

It is a two-CD set that not only features the beloved U.K./U.S. release but, more important, the original, previously unreleased version of the album recorded in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1972, including two songs that were dropped when Island label head Chris Blackwell later resequenced, remixed and overdubbed the album in London.

Blackwell tried to remake the originally sparser recordings with a larger, white rock audience in mind. He hired additional musicians like keyboardist John "Rabbit" Bundrick and guitarist Wayne Perkins to beef up the album, and, overall, there is no denying the success of his intentions.

That's because his was not a heavy-handed approach. Bundrick and Perkins did yeoman's work in adding just a bit more color to the music, a bit more oomph to tracks like "No More Trouble," "Midnight Ravers" and the classic "Concrete Jungle" and "Stir It Up."

The latter track is a longer take that smoothes and stretches out the groove, compared to the rawer, starker feel of the original. But the remainder of the songs have so much more to offer in their unadorned versions.

You can really hear the power of the Barrett brothers' backup work on these recordings, as well as Tosh's lead vocal on his self-penned "Stop That Train" and "400 Years." The longer, original version of "Trouble" is absolutely hypnotic.

And the two songs that Blackwell deleted, while not as "commercial" to his ears, both have a soulful heft to them. "High Tide or Low Tide" (previously released only on the "Songs of Freedom" multi-CD set) brings a gospel feel to Marley's loving ode to his mother Rita. And "All Day All Night" is a sweet love song, made even sweeter by Peter and Bunny's vocal backup.

So is this pricey "deluxe edition" worth it? While not an indispensable ear-opener, it is still a good purchase for those historical completists. As for those who wore out their vinyl copies (complete with the working Zippo lighter cover, an especially apt inspiration for rolling joints on) back in the '70s, wait for the cheaper remastered reissue when it is released in June.

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