Bob Marley

Natural Mystic [Avid 1]

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Nearly two decades after his death to cancer in 1981, wading through the myriad of Bob Marley releases had become quite a task. A number of small record labels sought their piece of the international reggae star's legacy, repackaging whatever material they could get their hands on. So where does Natural Mystic fall? Alongside its companion volume, Natural Mystic II, the set acts as a sort of expanded version of the great African Herbsman, itself a compilation of Soul Rebels (1970) and Soul Revolution (1971): the two albums the Wailers recorded under Lee "Scratch" Perry. The collaboration resulted in some of Marley's most enduring work, producing a number of songs that he would return to on subsequent albums. "My Cup" was the first shot fired by the new alliance. Marley was already exuding confidence, his powerful, reverb-heavy tenor riding over cloudy accompaniment by Peter Tosh, Bunny Wailer, and the Upsetters. "Small Axe" targets the big three of the Jamaican recording industry (Coxsone Dodd, Duke Reid, and Prince Buster) and, like the best material here, is as much a triumph for Perry as it is for his pupils. "Sun Is Shining" weds a heavy Soul Syndicate rhythm and Tosh's stark melodica lines to a bittersweet Marley vocal. The question does arise as to whether more is actually better. The quality of the Wailers' 1970-1971 material is undeniable, but African Herbsman does manage to hit most of the highlights. Still, it does miss a handful of great tracks including the excellent "Soul Rebel," "Mr. Brown," "Soul Shakedown Party," and "Caution," all of which are found here. Though Natural Mystic fails to unearth any new revelations, it's a fine collection of prime Wailers.

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