Cool And Dangerous
Appearing in Jamiaca in 1971, Soul Revolution Part II is a sequel of sorts to 1970’s Soul Rebels. Both albums were culled from Marley & The Wailers’ collaboration with Lee “Scratch” Perry, who was also just coming into his own as a producer of distinction in Jamaica.
Although Marley & The Wailers’ work with Scratch is considered by many reggae fans to mark career pinnacles for all involved, this stretch has also been one of the most neglected portions of Marley & The Wailers’ catalog. Unlike Soul Rebels, Soul Revolution was never given a proper release outside of Jamiaica. A generically packaged CD version was released by Rooney in the mid-1990s, and many of the Wailers / Perry tracks have been available to Americans on countless compilations (more on that later). This is the first time, however, that all three original albums that Marley & The Wailers released for Perry’s Upsetter Records have been released in the US (the third, Upsetter Revolution Rhythm, is an all-instrumental version of Soul Revolution).
The genius of Marley & The Wailers (and, later, Marley alone) was their ability to lend mass-market appeal to reggae while maintaining most of the band’s deep conviction and credibility. If much of the credit for the mass appeal goes to Island Records’ Chris Blackwell, the conviction and credibility are largely the results of Perry’s influence. His guidance helped transform Marley & The Wailers from a once-successful ska / rocksteady vocal group that was at a crossroads to a natty, self-assured and visionary unit.
Just look at the original artwork for Soul Revolution, which has been restored for this reissue: the band are shown in full guerilla warfare get-up, striking militant poses with an array of assault rifles. The guns were fake, but the sentiment was real—these guys weren’t fooling around. Not exactly the kind of images you’d expect to translate into massive international sales within several years.
The music, though, backs up the Wailers’ posturing. “Keep On Moving”, one of a couple Curtis Mayfield / Impressions covers recorded during these sessions, actually comes on like a Nick Cave murder ballad, despite the jaunty R&B rhythm. “Put It On” is a no-nonsense invocation of the band’s Rastafarianism, while “Brain Washing”, featuring Bunny Livingstone’s delicate yet powerful vocals, is an expose of oppressors everywhere.
Many of the Scratch-produced tracks ended up being re-recorded for Marley’s Island records. Soul Revolution includes superior versions of “Kaya” and Richie Havens’ “African Herbsman” that are so sedate and ethereal that you can practically smell the ganja smoke coming from the speakers—Marley’s voice has never been more sweetly mellow or soulful. “Sun Is Shining” pits one of Marley’s most upbeat lyrics—“The weather is sweet / Makes you wanna move your dancing feet”—against a laconic melodica and an unnervingly discordant organ, rendering the sentiment darkly ironic.
Soul Revolution harbors a few lesser-known gems as well. “Stand Alone” is a haunting, lovelorn plea, and features some of the most beautiful harmonizing you’ll hear on a Wailers album. The bluesy “Riding High” showcases another strong Livingstone vocal. Peter Tosh doesn’t get any leads, but his biting tenor provides a perfect counterpoint.
Scratch’s band, The Upsetters, arguably lends as much to Soul Revolution‘s success as the Wailers. Aston and Carlton Barrett anchor the raw, rumbling rhythms. The bassline on “Fussing & Fighting”, for example, is so incessant that it makes reggae’s popularity among UK and US punks seem inevitable, while the otherwise minimal drumming is marked by machine gun-like fills and bell-like percussion. One each track, the drums and bass set the foundation while guitars, melodica, and organ are left to drift across the mix, adding atmosphere and texture. Occasionally, as on “Put It On”, a saxophone slouches in the corner. The overall effect gives the songs an edge that’s not there on the increasingly polished Island material.
The Upsetters’ power and Scratch’s skill are front-and-center on Upsetter Revolution Rhythm. It’s a straight set of the instrumental backing tracks from Soul Revolution, in the same running order. Albums like these were originally produced for dancehall DJ’s to sing or speak over; effects-laden “dub” versions were still a couple years away. In several cases, the Wailers are barely audible, but this is probably due to microphone bleed-through rather than intentional engineering. Although Revolution Rhythm is credited to Bob Marley & The Wailers, it’s really Scratch’s and The Upsetters’ show.
As groundbreaking as the playing and production are, though, Revolution Rhythm has only half the impact without The Wailers’ harmonizing, melodies and lyrics. That’s what makes the Wailers/Perry collaborations so special. As a historical document, Revolution Rhythm represents a close precursor to dub, but why couldn’t both albums have been released on one jam-packed disc? Actually, Trojan put out such a collection years ago.
The liner notes for these new issues are negligible. The biggest point of interest for most collectors will be the remastered sound. Although the state of original sources combined with Scratch’s sound means that these albums will always sound a bit muddy, the quality here is a marked improvement over previous issues of these songs, such as on Trojan’s Sun Is Shining collection. For the money, though, the two-disc Sun Is Shining includes ten of the twelve Soul Revolution tracks. Or, for about US $40, you can get the six-disc Complete Upsetter Collection which includes every version of every track that Marley & The Wailers recorded with Perry.