Bunny Wailer


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Protest may have been overshadowed by the former Wailer's classic solo debut, Blackheart Man, but shouldn't be overlooked. It's an equally compelling work for the same reasons, including creative arranging, assured production, and some of Wailer's sweetest-ever vocal performances. In some ways, his style is arguably the most distinctive, being dreamier and more meditative than the impassioned agit-prop of his old bandmates Bob Marley and Peter Tosh. The obvious drawing card for non-initiates is "Get Up, Stand Up"; it's the only Wailers song to boast three separate covers by its former vocalists. Wailer's version slows the tempo to a reggae-funk crawl, which helps to build the song's impatience with Rasta skeptics, sealed by an impassioned vocal and snappy horn charts. (Tosh himself is among the small pool of "usual suspect" musicians contributing to the album.) Every track, in fact, is a standout; "Moses Children" revisits the Biblical scenario of Egyptian slavery to hint at hope for the future, while "Scheme of Things" confronts listeners with a pointed query: "What are your works toward your brother beings?" "Follow Fashion Monkey" is another roots classic that slaps hard at the "black Yankees" who forsake their culture for Western norms and mores. The album grows increasingly contemplative and personal as it progresses. "&Wanted Children" pleads for people to take responsibility for the lives they create ("As the freedom of a raging storm/Let the little children born"), while "Who Feels It Knows It" is a heartfelt ballad urging the underdog to get back off the mat. Wailer pulls off one of his finest vocals, where he unleashes a massed army of overdubbed backing choruses and harmonies to underscore his message. "Johnny Too Bad" rounds off the album with a compelling slice-of-life portrait of a hardened young offender who gets even with the society that spurns him, only to be overwhelmed by superior police power. Wailer's voice is the glue that holds it all together, being well-suited to plead, please, or attack as the mood requires. By any measure, this album's a landmark -- not only for reggae itself, but also its earnestly low-profile featured artist.

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