Blues, Rock and Reggae Box Sets and Limited Editions

bobby rush chicken heads

Title: Chicken Heads: A 50-Year History

Artist: Bobby Rush

Label: Omnivore

Formats: 4-CD Box set, MP3

Release date: November 27, 2015

 

 

Legendary blues musician Bobby Rush recently celebrated his 82nd birthday, and his longevity in the industry is now celebrated in this compilation from Omnivore, covering 50 years of his recording career. Though born in Mississippi, Rush is closely associated the Chicago blues scene, where he relocated in the 1950s and performed with the likes of Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed, and Howlin’ Wolf. This nicely packaged box set, titled after Rush’s most famous song, begins in 1964 with his early solo recordings and concludes nearly 100 tracks later with songs from his 2004 album FolkFunk, featuring guitarist Alvin Youngblood Hart.

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Rush reinvented himself over the years, remaining relevant to younger generations through collabs with rock, soul, funk and rap artists. In the last decade he’s continued to release albums on a nearly annual basis, while earning a slew of awards and Grammy nominations. Chicken Heads serves as a fine tribute to the versatility of the “Dean of the Blues,” with remastering and audio restoration by Michael Graves, and a 32-page, full-color booklet with liner notes by Bill Dahl.

 

arthur lee and love the live recordings

Title: Coming Thru To You – The Live Recordings, 1970-2004 

Artist: Arthur Lee & Love

Label: Rockbeat

Format: 4-CD Box set

Release date: November 20, 2015

 

Over the past year we’ve covered some significant reissues from Arthur Lee & Love, the groundbreaking integrated rock band formed in Los Angeles in 1965 (see our reviews of Black Beauty and the band’s final album, Reel-to-Real). Now Rockbeat Records has assembled a 4-CD box set featuring 61 tracks recorded live over three decades, featuring Love as well as Arthur Lee performing with various backing bands, including several tracks recorded just prior to his death in 2006. We don’t have our hands on a copy of this nicely packaged compilation yet, but it will certainly be added to our collection. However, if you’re not a hardcore fan, we suggest you explore the studio albums first, beginning with Love’s groundbreaking third album from 1967, Forever Changes.

 

bob marley complete island recordings

Title: The Complete Island Recordings

Artist: Bob Marley

Label: Island/Universal

Formats: 11-LP Box set (standard or collector’s edition)

Release date: September 25th, 2015

 

One of the most handsomely packaged box sets this season is Bob Marley & The Wailers’ The Complete Island Recordings, released in celebration of Marley’s 70th birthday. Included are the nine studio albums recorded for Island plus two live releases (Live and Babylon By Bus). The numbered “collector’s edition,” which will set you back $650, features eleven 180g vinyl discs packaged in a velvet lined silver metal “zippo lighter” case, with bonus slipmat, photographs, and download code voucher. Since there’s no accompanying book, it’s difficult to justify the high price of the collector’s edition, so if your pockets aren’t quite so deep you might wish to consider the more moderately priced ($235) standard edition. Or wait until the albums are reissued individually (apparently in September 2016).

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Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss

DVDs

Jessye Norman: A Portrait (Decca, April 2008).

The in-depth interviews combined with thirteen staged performances should delight any fan of opera and Jesse Norman. According to other sites, the “staged performances” are actually lip-synched for this production, a sample of which can be found here.

Africa Unite. (Palm Pictures, Feb. 2008)

Finally available on DVD, Africa Unite is a concert documentary filmed in 2005 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, during the 60th anniversary celebration of the birth of Bob Marley. Featuring performances by three generations of the Marley family, the film is also sprinkled with archival footage and interviews.

Jazz Icons, Series 3 (Naxos, Sept. 2008)

The latest release in the Jazz Icon series, this box set includes 8 DVDs featuring Lionel Hampton, Oscar Peterson, Sonny Rollins, Cannonball Adderley, Bill Evans, Nina Simone and Rahsaan Roland Kirk. The source of the footage is European television programs that aired between 1958 and 1975. The DVDs are also sold separately.

Experience Hendrix. (Image Entertainment, August 2008)

Enjoy two star-studded tribute concerts, one filmed in Seattle and the other in San Diego, celebrating the legendary Black rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix. Featured artists include blues guitarists Buddy Guy and Hubert Sumlin, along with Robert Randolph, Living Colour’s Vernon Reid, and many others. Billy Cox and the recently deceased Mitch Mitchell, of the Jimi Hendrix Experience, also contribute to the mix.

Deep Roots Music

Title: Reggae Nashville: Deep Roots Music Vol. 1-3
Artists: Various
Label: Dist. by MVD Visual
Format: Color, Compilation, DVD-Video, NTSC
Region: All regions
Language: English
Catalog No: MVD 49-51
Year: 2007-2008

Deep Roots Music, an extraordinary documentary on Jamaican reggae music that was originally filmed in the early ’80s as a six part series for the BBC, was recently released on three DVDs (each including two of the original segments). Director Howard Johnson takes us on a musical journey through the complex history and culture of reggae music. Included are countless interviews and vintage footage of some of Jamaica’s most prolific musicians, producers and cultural icons. What is remarkable about this series is that it deviates from the customary documentary format and instead is filmed with a process oriented theme that gives the viewer a fly-on-the-wall perspective to Jamaican music and culture. The series is narrated by the late British reggae icon Mikey Dread, who provides the minimal commentary tying the segments together. Each DVD contains two thematic 50 minute segments skillfully blending the music and culture together:

Revival/Ranking Sounds: parts 1 & 2

Revival, explores reggae’s roots and stylistic influences, including Kumina, Poco, Burru, Mento, and Ska. Featured is archival and never-before-seen footage of the Skatalites, Toots and the Maytals, and Count Ossie, along with interviews with cultural historians that help bridge the gap from African music to reggae. Ranking Sounds unveils the origins of dee-jaying and toasting by introducing the mobile sound system and the birth of the Jamaican recording industry. Featured in this segment is Count Matchoucki, U-Roy, Prince Jammy, Prince Buster, and a rare interview with Duke Reid’s widow.

Bunny Lee Story/Black Ark: parts 3&4

Bunny Lee Story is an intimate look inside legendary producer Bunny Lee’s studio plus conversations with Prince Jammy, Delroy Wilson, Jackie Edwards, and Wayne Smith. Black Ark looks at the influence of Rastafari on reggae music, featuring rare footage of His Imperial Majesty Haile Salassie 1 during his visit to Jamaica, as well as Nyahbinghi drumming, the Mighty Diamonds and Bob Marley. Also provided is an in-depth look into the creative cosmos that is Lee “Scratch” Perry and his Black Ark studio.

Following is an excerpt from this segment, including opening and closing credits:

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Money In My Pocket/Ghetto Riddim: parts 5&6

Money In My Pocket shows the connection between politics, commerce and music. Featured in this segment is the footage of the infamous Bob Marley & the Wailers concert where he united rival political candidates during the bitter and violent campaign of 1978. Also highlighted in this segment is a close look at the “prince of reggae,” Dennis Brown, in his studio. Ghetto Riddim examines the process of finding new talent by showcasing street corner auditions, including an afternoon at Jack Ruby’s as he holds his weekly auditions outside the gates of his studio.

Deep Roots Music is a crucial series that provides much greater depth than most documentaries on Jamaican music. The interviews and rare footage alone make the series one of the most definitive resources on reggae music to date.

Posted by Heather O’Sullivan

Wailing Blues

Title: Wailing Blues: The Story of Bob Marley’s Wailers
Author: John Masouri
Publisher: London ; New York: Omnibus Press
Date: 2008
ISBN: 978-1-84609-689-1 (582 pp.)

John Masouri, a veteran reviewer of reggae and related music as well as a journalist and a frequent contributor to radio and television documentaries, presents the story of Bob Marley’s band, the Wailers, in a work of particular importance to readers interested in the present state of reggae music and Bob Marley’s legacy. After the Wailers’ signing to Chris Blackwell’s Island Records led to the departure of longtime partners Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer, Marley turned increasingly to bassist Aston “Family Man” Barrett for collaboration. “Fams” and his brother Carlton, the band’s drummer, had developed the drum and bass technique at the heart of the Wailers’ sound while playing in Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry’s house band, the Upsetters. The Barretts and the rest of the Upsetters promptly left Scratch’s employ when given the opportunity to become Marley’s permanent band.

Masouri details the whirlwind events of the ‘70s as Bob Marley and the Wailers introduced reggae music to the world. In a relationship often characterized by spiritual concerns relating to Rastafarism, the band, and especially Family Man, entered into contracts and agreements with Marley, many of which were never written down or vetted by lawyers. Marley, “Fams,” and all involved believed in what they were doing and when Bob pledged to take care that all of the proceeds were shared and all contributing musicians would be generously remunerated, there was no reason to think differently. Then Bob died of cancer.

Unfortunately, in the intervening years, the aging Wailers have fallen into poverty and poor health. Even before Bob’s untimely death, there were signs that financial considerations promised by Marley were not necessarily forthcoming from Island Records, which now controlled the flow of money to the band. Signing with Island had given Bob Marley and the Wailers far better distribution, publicity, facilities, and management than other Jamaican bands, but it also introduced accountants and lawyers into the band’s lives. Sadly there was also no assistance to the band members’ plights forthcoming from Marley’s estate, now controlled by Bob’s widow Rita and his eldest son Ziggy.

The first half of Masouri’s book is an exhilarating biography of a band reaching worldwide acclaim, at once promoting reggae to the world, and all but eclipsing the rest of the reggae artists trying to reach the mainstream pop music market. The second half tells the long, twisted tale of the legal pursuit of the benefits “Fams” and the rest of the Wailers felt were due them according to far-reaching understandings, but pitifully few signed, legal documents. Similarly, though Masouri presents a comprehensive look at the situation, his book does not offer the convenience of a bibliography, although he does include a one-page list of acknowledgements.

Masouri’s attention to detail is admirable, and in his hands the legal rigmarole that is at the heart of the story reads tolerably well. But the real story here may be the unkind portrait it paints of Rita Marley and her disinterest in living up to the spiritual message associated with Bob Marley, his life and music, despite her current (and very successful) efforts to market all things Bob. The Marley estate is now worth many times what it was worth when Bob died, thanks in large part to constant reissuing and repackaging of the music of Bob Marley and the Wailers. This negative report of how Bob’s legacy is working out may complicate the ongoing marketing of his music by casting doubt on the spiritual aspect of the whole operation. But whatever happens in the contretemps between Bob’s former sidemen and the Marley estate and Island Records, Masouri has contributed a much needed look behind the music.

Posted by Mike Tribby