Bob Marley and The Wailers - Natty Dread - Review
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critics' view

As is often the case with we humans, success breeds pressures and jealousies, and The Wailers were not immune. Sadly, this led to the departure, after 10 years of brotherhood, of Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer, leaving Bob Marley at the helm and forefront. “Natty Dread” also formalised a crucial ingredient for team Marley in The “I Threes”, a vocal trio consisting of Judy Mowatt, Marcia Griffiths, and Marley's wife, Rita.

The set opens in fine style with a reworking for their ’71 single, “Lively Up Yourself”, by now a call-to-action staple for the group, opening their live concerts more often than not. “No Woman, No Cry” is next, but with its slightly-dodgy casio percussion, will forever stand in the shadows of the mighty live at Lyceum performance that would come next year. Brilliantly, Marley gave the song-writing credit to Vincent Ford, who ran a soup kitchen in Trenchtown, the ghetto of Kingston, where Marley grew up. The royalty payments received by Ford ensured the survival and continual running of his soup kitchen. Marley later claimed he would have starved to death on several occasions as a child if not for the aid of Ford.

The poverty theme is to the fore on “Them Belly Full (But We Hungry)”; current Prime Minister Michael Manley had encouraged Jamaicans to develop a share-pot culture in which “families whose providers are in jobs share their food with less fortunate neighbours.” A quietly enraged Bob sings: “Them belly full but we hungry, A hungry mob is an angry mob, A rain-a-fall but the dirt is tough, A pot a-cook but the food no ‘nough … Now the weak must get strong.” It was a powerful warning statement – and sadly one which looks more prophetic with every passing year in JA.

Another track getting a new treatment is “Bend Down Low”, a piece which had been done twice already as singles in 1966 and 1968. The new version takes the honours, benefitting enormously from the super-spongy-bass, the funky reggae guitar chops, the tasteful keyboards and the excellent female backing vocals. This is, in fact, the Wailers ’74 in full effect – a force to be reckoned with.

Talkin’ Blues” emerges as the clear highlight for me – deep roots rocking with a mega-tough bass n drum section from the Barrett brothers. The lyrics empathise with the homeless: “Cold ground was my bed (bed last night), Rockstone, rockstone, rockstone was my pillow” whilst at the same time rebelling against the church: “Cause I feel like bombin’ a church, now, now that you know that the preacher is lyin'. So who's gonna stay at home, when, when the freedom fighters are fighting?” It’s another chant down Babylon – the Christians are getting it tight once again.

“Natty Dread”, even by its’ very title, dives deeper into Rastafarianism than ever before – but these messages work on many levels for many different types of people. The developing Bob Marley story was impossible to ignore.

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