By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
The Marley Family Album
Allegedly a celebration of Bob Marley's 50th birthday, this immediate and extended-family album does more to reinforce the perception that when Marley died May 11, 1981, so, too, did the music he briefly made internationally popular. Opening with "I Know" (among his weakest tracks, originally found on the 1983 outtake-compiled Confrontation), it at least hints at Bob's genius as songwriter--as craftsman, as someone who wrote indestructible (sometimes even pop) songs that, even when buried by synthesizers and disco production, could withstand time and context. "Ain't it good to know Jah will be waiting there," he wails, reassuring himself as much as anyone else.
And from then on, The Marley Family Album goes all to hell: past track two (the soulful, Supremes-on-dub, Lee "Scratch" Perry-produced, and very old "Many Are Called" from the I-Threes, perhaps the most underrated vocal group of all time), the likes of Dhaima, Freddie McGregor, Steven Marley, the Melody Makers (Ziggy, etc.), and even Mama Rita herself reduce Marley's legacy to cliches and ash. Awash in production more typical of dance floor than even dancehall, it's ultimately a record of mediocre pop love songs--about spending the night together, about gettin' it on with a fine lady, about lookin' for new ways of lovin'.
Where Bob was on a spiritual quest--confronting the demons that possessed souls and destroyed hearts--his successors trivialize his weary romanticism and forget that his politics were always personal even when they were global. So now Rita sings words like, "Thrill me, oh baby, with the magic of your charms," gives her backup band a track, and re-releases some more back catalog among the new stuff to remind just how great a musical tragedy Bob's death has proven to be.
This is what they call roots music up where they ain't got no roots: it's got pedal steel guitar, acoustic guitars, a singer who can't sing, and a heap of songs about sweet love and waking up alone. Of course, they're no more country than the Old 97's, but they're schooled in the verities more so than most Nashville acts, and they'll do fine between Georgia Satellites and Dwight Yoakam (and could beat Tracy Byrd's ass). If they had a standing gig at the Continental Club in Austin every Sunday, or if you stumbled across them as an opening band one Saturday at the Sons of Hermann, they'd be hailed as heroes; as it stands now, they're from Atlanta.