Various Artists

Putumayo Presents: Tribute to a Reggae Legend

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In addition to its stated purpose of paying tribute, a tribute album presenting a variety of cover versions of songs associated with a major artist may also demonstrate the artist's influence on others and the quality of the artist's songs as performed in ways other than the original versions. The Putumayo World Music label has specialized in genre samplers of a given musical style as performed by various artists, but here changes its approach by having various artists from different styles perform the songs of "a reggae legend." Actually, "the reggae legend" is what the title should say, since, of course, the legend in question is Bob Marley. The artists are from Hawaii, the continental U.S., Canada, Brazil, Ghana, South Africa, India, and Sierra Leone. For the most part, they succeed in paying tribute and demonstrating Marley's influence on them, but they do not show off his talent as a writer by performing his songs in different ways. Whether Hawaiian or Canadian, most of these artists seem intent on echoing Marley's own versions of the songs. That doesn't make them "tribute bands" in the sense that term is generally used; they aren't attempting note-perfect impersonations. But neither are they stepping out on their own very much. Maybe it's the distinctive reggae rhythms that lock them into playing Marley like Marley. Or maybe he is more influential as a stylist than as a songwriter. Still, the standout songs are the ones on which the performers go in a different direction. One of these is the Brazilian artist CéU, who, in her sensuous take on "Concrete Jungle," gives a sense of what Marvin Gaye might have done with a Marley song if he had ever tried. South Africans Freshlyground bring some of the sound of their own country to "Africa Unite." And Northern Lights, here fronted by Jonathan Edwards, bring a relaxed bluegrass feel to "Waiting in Vain." An entire album of similarly adventurous reinterpretations might have helped expand Marley's reputation beyond "reggae legend." As it is, however, this album confirms his worldwide influence on world music.

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