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Bob Marley
The Complete Wailers 1967-1972 Part 1
(JAD/Koch International)

Although it's neither as comprehensive as Island's Songs of Freedom (1992) or as revelatory as Rounder's One Love (1991), JAD's triple-disc Complete Wailers collection covers a crucial period in the rich, extensive history of Bob Marley and the Wailers -- just after the trio's raw, early-Sixties ska compiled on One Love had mutated into the sauntering, groove-laden rock steady of Seventies classics such as "Soul Shake Down," "Mr. Chatterbox," and "Stop the Train." Consisting of outtakes and alternate versions, as well as all the masters issued on the original JAD label (many of which are making their stateside debut here), Complete Wailers charts the evolution of Marley's talents as both bandleader and songwriter and is the first compilation to properly present this long-ignored material.

Some of the earliest cuts here -- produced by Arnold Jenkins and Marley's long-time friend Johnny Nash -- first appeared in the United States on the wretched 1981 album Chances Are, a grave-robbing undertaking of JAD cofounder Danny Sims made up of overdubbed demos (à la the John Lennon rough mixes jazzed up a few years back by the remaining Beatles, and about as useless). Certainly the original version of "Chances Are" needed no after-the-fact frills; heard here in a skeletal alternate take, it's a chilling, moving slice of doo-wop-style balladry and one of Marley's most successful fusions of American soul and slinky Kingston bop. For pure soul-reggae weirdness, check out this set's two versions of "Give Me a Ticket," the Wailers' scintillating take on the Box Tops' blue-eyed soul hit "The Letter." And for pure soul-reggae boogie, don't miss "The Lord Will Make a Way," a convincing Memphis soul shuffle with chicken-scratch guitars, a popping bass line, and majestic horns punctuating the beat.

Despite its slew of alternate takes and dub versions, Complete Wailers doesn't play like a dry history lesson issued exclusively for archivists and fanatics. Rather, it spans the gamut of the Wailers' musical menu, from rousing statements of religious faith (among them "Feeling Alright" and the impossibly rare "Selassie Is the Chapel") to searing political commentary ("The World Is Changing," one of Wailers co-vocalist Peter Tosh's most powerful early performances) to raucous celebrations of rhythm ("Rock to the Rock," "Rocking Steady"). While Marley would later return to much of this material after signing to Island in the mid-Seventies, he seldom improved on it -- compare the taut, percolating version here of "Bend Down Low" to the relatively lackluster take from the 1974 album Natty Dread. Disc three presents the bulk of Leslie Kong-produced material assembled in 1971 on The Best of the Wailers, the first reggae album to consist of something more than previously issued singles. That it contained soon-to-be Wailers standards such as "Stop the Train," "Soul Captives," and "Soul Shake Down Party" (presented here in a terrific dub version) is a testament to the vibrant era chronicled on this essential, invaluable document.

-- John Floyd

Nick Lowe
Dig My Mood
(Demon)

In the late Seventies, when Elvis (P.) was dead and Elvis (C.) was King, Nick Lowe was a valued member of the new-wave court. Not only did he produce the first four Elvis Costello and the Attractions records, but he also manned the boards for Graham Parker, the Damned, and the Pretenders. Along the way Lowe established himself as a first-rate solo artist, with one hit ("Cruel to Be Kind") and several solid albums that demonstrated his knowing wit and his encyclopedic command of pop styles.

Lowe was always a pub rocker at heart, an artist whose roots reached deep into the earliest rock and roll -- Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Johnny Cash, and others. As he soldiered through the Eighties, marrying and divorcing neo-country star Carlene Carter, producing records for others, and releasing his own, Lowe honed his songwriting and his singing to fine points. After playing on John Hiatt's landmark Bring the Family in 1987, he seemed revitalized. Party of One (1991) sounded great, even if the songs were a bit thin, and The Impossible Bird (1994) was even better. Nick had the knack, whether he was covering old masters such as Ernest Tubb and Elvis or performing his own inspired compositions, which moved easily between rockabilly, soul, folk-rock, and straight country balladry.

Dig My Mood, Lowe's new LP, isn't as strong as Bird. But it's another supremely satisfying effort that proves that pop stars can not only age well, but improve with time. The opener, "Faithless Lover," is stately and wonderful, a contemporary torch song whose glow never wanes. Lowe's vocals, which once winked and smirked, now dip and soar. And his songwriting has kept pace. While some compositions (the country lament "Man That I've Become") have the trademark Lowe wit, others ("Lonesome Reverie," "You Inspire Me," "Freezing") deliver sincerity without sentimentality. When Lowe cuts deeper (as he does on his stark, eerie cover of ex-Wings and Joe Cocker guitarist Henry McCullough's "Failed Christian") or cuts loose (as he does on the funky, gospel-tinged original "Lead Me Not"), the album really takes off. The final track, a marvelous cover of Ivory Joe Hunter's "Cold Grey Light of Dawn," resurrects a forgotten song in all its original splendor. Whether or not this record is the equal of The Impossible Bird is moot. It's Nick's mood, and you should dig it.

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