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Soul Rebels - 1970 (Disc 1)

 The seamless accord between the Wailers, the Upsetters and Lee Scratch Perry is clearly the key to Bob Marley's career. Most specialists agree that it was the richest period of his life. For an entire year, these great spirits would barely ever leave each other, and with the four albums that would follow, they would change the face of reggae.

 The Wailers really let themselves go for the first time, sharpening their harmonies to a perfection that was inspired by Curtis Mayfield's Impressions and John Holt's Paragons. Scratch's pure sound showed off the alloy of their voices like JAD Records or Beverley's had never done. They created, freely, prolifically. They invented a decisive new sound. After numerous false alerts, this was the real artistic takeoff of the masterful band which would from now on take the name Bob Marley and the Wailers and head for its earthly orbit on a luminous, soaring, straight path. Marley allowed himself the liberty of a radical new tone that harmonized with the political mood in the US, and which he'd never quite before risked in his more pop-influenced previous attempts at success.

 With "Try Me", Marley sang "I'm black and I'm comely". In "400 Years", Tosh denounced the black mentality that remained unchanged despite 'four hundred years' of slavery. In "Rebel's Hop", Marley implored "The Lord" to give him "a bit more soul" in a medley that included Curtis Mayfield's I'll "Keep on Moving" and The Temptations' "Cloud Nine". On the Soul Rebels album cover - where one of Trojan record's secretaries posed with a machine gun in hand - Marley's insurrectional leanings can clearly be discerned - a tendency inspired by persecuted Black Panthers, Marxist Cuban revolutionaries, Michael X (sentenced to death, he was Trinidad's answer to Malcolm X), white hippies, black American althletes defying their federation in Mexico's games, the soul of the Black Liberation Movement and of course its Jamaican incarnation, Rastafari. Which grabbed the mike and wouldn't let it go.

Soul Revolution Part II - 1970-71 (Disc 2)

 In 1970, the US was at the heart of social unrest and racial turmoil, often expressed in popular music. Jamaica - not far away - felt deeply connected to that movement, and the Wailers yearned for their country to pick up the flame. Looking up to soul rebels like James Brown, they decided to call their new album Soul Revolution: Part Two. Bob Marley, still unknown outside the island, certainly had never imagined that with his Rasta message denouncing the lies of colonial culture, he would soon become spokesman for the world's oppressed.

 After the album Soul Rebels, already produced by the brilliant Lee "Scratch" Perry, the Wailers' radical politics were increasingly in evidence. With a cover of soul giant Curtis Mayfield's "Keep On Moving", they continued to emphasize their membership in the activist movement. With their masterpiece "Kaya", which one day would become the name of one of their most celebrated albums, and with "African Herbsman" (written by black American folk-singer Richie Havens), the Wailers dared to encourage the forbidden consumption of hemp, a.k.a. ganja, herb, kaya or sinsi, a key element of their Jamaican culture. Lee Perry and the fantastic Upsetters were on their side. Together, they created one of the most essential albums of their careers, a decisive new event in the history of new Jamaican soul music: reggae.

More Axe - 1970-1971 (Disc 3)

 The magical year when the Wailers were working exclusively with Lee Perry and his Upsetters has fallen victim to dozens of poor pirate fumblings, cheap records, inferior mono sound and worse. Hideous covers, truncated notes, chronological confusion, incoherent compilations, excessive hiss, and a lack of photographs - incredible as it may appear, this has been the destiny of the most important artistic period in Bob Marley's career, until now. To get hold of a little-known track often meant buying imported anthologies which included most of the other tracks you already had. The release of the Complete BMW 67-72 series puts an end to that insult. Stereo versions have been used throughout (where they exist), a few pearls found on rare beat singles have been restored, and they are accompanied by a wealth of documentation, photos, album notes and interviews.

 The More Axe album boasts several tracks as magnificent as they are little-known, along with no fewer than six which have never before been released, including "Downpresser" and an extraordinary interpretation of the classic "Kaya". In addition, all the dub mixes are at last available, like these jewels' instrumentals. All were produced and mixed by the great pioneer and master Lee "Scratch" Perry, who at the time was laying down the foundations of the genre he launched. These are first steps, but they are nonetheless incredibly inspired - check out Marley's astonishing scat (voice improvisation without lyrics) on "Kaya (version 2)". This important record ends the boxed trilogy of the Lee Perry period. A fourth album of Perry recordings is included in the third box. The Perry-Marley recordings are at last complete - the real, vintage sound of Jamaican reggae.

All texts written by and courtesy of Bruno Blum, and appear in the "Music Vibes" Complete Wailers issue.