Jamaican legend Bob Marley began recording in the mid-1960s when R&B-influenced vocal harmony was the order of the day in Jamaican pop. With the Wailers, he presaged every major development from rock steady to roots reggae. By combining the tension of political issues with the expansiveness of Rastafarian spirituality and some of the deepest grooves in reggae, he earned a worldwide audience. Though Marley died young, he remains an icon comparable to John Lennon, a musical and social visionary.
Natty Dread captures Bob Marley's decisive transition from Wailers band member to auteur, his singing and writing now front and center, and the revamped band securely reined in to his defiant, Rastafarian worldview. This 1974 release mirrors the lineup's more sinewy sound, carved by Al Anderson's spidery guitar fills, Touter's telegraphic keyboard, the I-Threes' female vocal choruses and vamping horns--a potent brew that bubbles under his then most openly political songs. A position paper on the daunting ghetto realities of Jamaica's Trenchtown, the album reels off a series of enduring Marley classics and kicks off with the giddy, sexy reggae anthem, "Lively Up Yourself," with its hilarious but mysterious spoken fadeout ("What you got in dat bag, dere?"). It continues with the uplifting pep talk in "No Woman No Cry," the grim dispatches of "Them Belly Full (But We Hungry)" and "Rebel Music (3 O'Clock Roadblock)," as well as the exhortations of the title song and "Revolution." Marley's own dreadlocks were still just growing in then, but this is nonetheless fully matured, riveting reggae at its most focused, righteous, and rhythmically irresistible. --Sam Sutherland
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