02/10/06
Reviews by - Lindsay Planer

As The Disc Spins observes February 2006 as the 80th Anniversary of Black History Month with newly restored projects from roots rock and reggae icon Bob Marley -- who would have celebrated his 61st birthday this past week (Feb. 06) as well as soul music's first lady of civil rights and North Carolina-native Nina Simone.


Bob Marley & The Wailers -- Live! At The Rainbow (Tuff Gong/UMe)

Universal Music enterprises (UMe) -- the parent company of the Island/Tuff Gong imprint -- are to be commended for the obvious care they put into the restoration of Bob Marley's audio and visual catalogue. This set not only includes the DVD debut of Live! At The Rainbow, but also the critically-lauded and award-winning Caribbean Nights BBC documentary from the late 1980s.

As videos of Marley and company in action are few and far between, Live! At The Rainbow has adopted the mantle of a definitive statement of the Wailers circa Exodus (1977) -- which had been issued literally days prior to this June 04, 1977 performance. Although relegated to the latter half of the show, there are sublime readings of the newer pieces "The Heathen," "Jamming," and a nearly 13-minute encore of the title song "Exodus." Although not yet staples of the band's live sets, they sit comfortably joining the essentials "No Woman, No Cry," "Lively Up Yourself," "Rebel Music," "I Shot The Sheriff," and "Get Up, Stand Up."

The audio has been sizably upgraded with a fresh remix presented with the playback options of Dolby Digital Stereo or 5.1 and DTS 5.1 Surround Sound. Extras on the concert DVD include over 20 minutes of exclusive interviews and shots taken around the Bob Marley Museum in Kingston, Jamaica.

Caribbean Nights is a fascinating program that goes far beyond simply tracing Marley's professional life and international successes. The archival footage is packed with rare and vintage clips, not to mention a host of interviews gathered in the '80s with bandmates, friends and family. They reveal a very different side of the artist. Apart from being a rebellious social equalitarian, he was a humble and almost painfully introverted individual. Newly added footage provides a walking-tour of Nine-Mile, Jamaica -- where Marley was both born and laid to rest. Without question these should be considered essential viewing for the curious and reggae connoisseur alike.

Bob Marley & The Wailers -- Africa Unite (Tuff Gong/UMe)

I'll be the first to admit to being stymied by the sheer number of Bob Marley 'Best Of's' that are currently available. What makes this single disc compile different is that it encompasses highlights from both his '60s material on the Jamaican-based JAD label and his internationally-renown recordings for Island during the '70s. Africa Unite: The Singles Collection also boasts a pair of exclusive remixes and the unheard "Slogans," which has been completed from a demo that Marley Sr. was working on shortly before his death. It was resuscitated by the artist's sons Stephen and Ziggy and new instrumentation was added by, among others, Eric Clapton. This is fitting as it was Clapton who launched Marley into the mainstream on the guitarists' chart-topping cover of "I Shot The Sheriff" back in 1974.

While personal favorites might not have made the 20-song setlist, nary a moment is wasted on the nearly 80 minute disc. All the usual suspects are here, commencing chronologically with seminal JAD versions of "Soul Rebel," "Lively Up Yourself," Trenchtown Rock," and "Concrete Jungle." Compilers wisely chose the spirited "No Woman, No Cry," from the Live! (1975) album and other ageless entries including the original "I Shot The Sheriff," "Waiting In Vain," "Is This Love," "Could You Be Loved," and the poignant "One Love / People Get Ready" medley. Black-Eyed Peas frontman will.i.am created an exclusive remix of "Africa Unite," while prolific UK-based producer and Black Science Orchestra member Ashley Beedle unleashes "Stand Up Jamrock." The song infuses the classic "Get Up, Stand Up," with "Welcome To Jamrock" -- a hit in 2005 from Marley's youngest son Damian. For these cuts alone Africa Unite: The Singles Collection is a sound investment. Since the rest ain't too shabby either, listeners are treated to one of the best and most compact career overviews available from Bob Marley & The Wailers.

Nina Simone -- Sings The Blues (RCA/Legacy)
Nina Simone -- Silk & Soul (RCA/Legacy)
Nina Simone -- Forever Young, Gifted & Black (RCA/Legacy)

A thorough renovation of Nina Simone's mid-to-late '60s recordings has certainly been a long time in the works. After several recent compilations merely hinted at the goodies to come, the first wave of enhanced Simone long players is finally available. Along with those formidable albums is the equally essential Forever Young, Gifted & Black (2006) with unreleased and completely unedited key performances from Simone's songbook.

When the cover of her RCA debut proclaimed Nina Simone Sings The Blues (1967), truer words were never spoken. Originals such as the sexy and soulful "Do I Move You?," "I Want A Little Sugar In My Bowl" and "Blues For Mama," are equaled by her emotive interpretation of the pop standards "Day And Night," "Since I Fell For You," "My Man's Gone Now," from Porgy & Bess and an adaptation of "The House Of The Rising Sun." Interestingly, the latter is credited to Alan Price -- a member of the UK-based Animals' who had a huge international hit with the tune -- rather than its traditional American folk/blues heritage. The bonus tracks for Sings The Blues are a second version of "Do I Move You?," and an overhaul of veteran bluesman Willie Dixon's "Whatever I Am (You Made Me)."

Silk & Soul (1967) followed a few months later with Simone again touching upon several musical genres. Her sultry take of "The Look Of Love," "Cherish," the socially insightful "I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free," "Go To Hell," and her own "Consummation," would in time become key entries in Simone's expanding repertoire. The supplementary "Why Must Your Love Be So Dry," and remake of the Aretha Franklin/King Curtis belter "Save Me," were both on hard-to-find and long out-of-print 45s.

Last but far from least is Forever Young, Gifted & Black. While not definitive, the CD consists of elements that solidified Simone as an incomparable civil rights activist. Her own co-written anthem "To Be Young, Gifted & Black," opens and closes the compilation with the original studio and an incredible concert rendition that clocks in at nearly 10 minutes. She also revamps Pete Seeger's "Turn! Turn! Turn!," and from the Broadway musical Hair "Ain't Got No -- I Got Life," -- both of which make their debut release here. However, unquestionably the key components are the unedited "Why? (The King Of Love Is Dead)," and "Mississippi Goddamn," from a concert recording dated April 7, 1968. Emotions run feverishly high throughout the set, as it had been less than 72 hours since the brutal assassination of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. The anguish in Simone's voice is all the evidence needed as she alternately sobs and roars during the completely uncensored 20 minute segment.

If this first wave is any indication, Nina Simone's musical heritage is in good hands with the folks at Legacy Recordings. In fact, I eagerly await any and all upcoming installments.


Lindsay Planer is a freelance journalist and technical producer at WBT AM/FM in Charlotte, NC. He is a regular contributor to All Music Guide, CrutchfieldAdvisor.com and Gaston Gazette. Comments and questions can be sent to <asthediscspins@earthlink.net>.



 

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