The Capitol Session '73

Bob Marley / Bob Marley & the Wailers

(LP - Mercury #595575)

Review by Mark Deming

In America in 1973, unless you were a serious music obsessive, chances were good you were not familiar with reggae music and hadn't heard of Bob Marley & the Wailers. That said, the critical acclaim that greeted their first two albums for Island Records, Catch a Fire and Burnin', and the buzz generated by their first U.S. tour was starting to change that. Producer Denny Cordell was ahead of the curve; he was a fan after hearing Marley's early Jamaican releases, and his label Shelter Records gave the Wailers their first American release, a single of their Lee "Scratch" Perry-produced classic "Duppy Conqueror" in 1971 (though the label misspelled it "Doppy Conqueror"). When the Wailers were wrapping up an American tour in October 1973 with a pair of concerts in San Francisco, Cordell invited them to play a private show in Los Angeles, booking the Capitol Records recording studio, bringing in a camera crew to videotape the set, and inviting friends and fans to cheer on the band. The Capitol Session '73 gives this performance its first authorized release after the long-lost tapes were rediscovered. It also captures the Wailers in a unique moment: Bunny Wailer had quit, and Joe Higgs, who had mentored the Wailers in their early days, joined the tour to fill his spot in the harmonies. And though Peter Tosh was still on board, within months he'd leave to go solo. The Capitol Session '73 preserves an evening where the original Wailers fading out and Marley's era as unquestioned leader would soon begin, and one of the things most striking about this material is how strong the Wailers were as a band. Marley clearly had the voice and the charisma to be a frontman, but here he's fully integrated with the other musicians, and the vocal spots from Tosh bring a welcome contrast, with Tosh's ominous cool complementing Marley's warmth and passion. Tosh's guitar work is equally strong here, and Earl "Wire" Lindo's keyboards support the melodies while turning up the tension. The peerless rhythm section of Aston "Family Man" Barrett and his brother Carlton Barrett is a model of sinewy, efficient groove, and while it takes a few songs for the band to fully hit their mark, by the time they swing into "Burnin' and Lootin'" and "Midnight Ravers," they sound unstoppable, and the finale of "Get Up, Stand Up" tells you all you need to know about why this band became legendary. The set list is also a welcome corrective to the overly simplified image of Marley as a ganga-fortified merchant of sunny vibes; despite the veneer of Rasta calm, this is music of protest, and all the more powerful for its rebellious heart. While 1975's Live! remains the definitive document of Marley on-stage, The Capitol Session '73 is a welcome reminder of the joyous power of the Wailers, not just Marley, and it's a valuable addition to their catalog.