Picks and Pans Review: Talkin'blues

updated 02/18/1991 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/18/1991 01:00AM

Bob Marley

Reggae great Marley left two clashing legacies. One was his supernal music; the other was the protracted and bitter legal fight over his estate which is still going on 10 years after his death of cancer at age 36.

This patchwork album, made up of alternate versions of previously released material, live-in-the-studio performances and one fresh offering ("Am A Do"), may give the lawyers one more bone to wrangle over, but it also is a reminder of Marley's unique contribution to contemporary music.

No one has been able to fill the vacuum created by his death, because no one has been able to make Caribbean music as fluid and pop-oriented, to exploit the inherent tension in reggae between restraint and relaxation in so seductive a manner.

In Marley's music, staccato guitar chords unwaveringly setting down that 4/4 rhythm stand in counterpoint to the bubbling bass line, the sweet murmurs of the female chorus and Marley's achingly spiritual voice. You can hear that combination clearly on the title track, an alternate version of a song from his Natty Dread album.

In the Wailers, Marley was blessed with a powerful backing band who could get a reggae groove cooking hotter than Kingston asphalt. That's clear on "Burnin' & Lootin' " (although as on six other songs recorded at a 1973 concert for a San Francisco radio station, the beat keeps speeding up and slowing down). Plug into "Kinky Reggae" for a taste of the hip-swaying passion Marley made seem so effortless but which no one since has been able to approach.

The songs are interspersed with pieces of an interview conducted in 1975 in Marley's murky Jamaican patois. You may need a Rasta translator for the speech, but once he starts singing, your ears require no intermediary. (Tuff Gong/Island)

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