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Bob Marley gets a Boston accent

Posted by Scott McLennan  April 21, 2013 03:03 PM

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Bob Marley's "Kaya" album is perhaps his most misunderstood record, one written off as inferior to its predecessor "Exodus" and lacking in the miltant commentary that would resume on "Survival."

But longtime Boston Globe music critic Steve Morse helps set the record straight in new liner notes he penned for the the 35th anniversary reissue of "Kaya" that hits stores on Tuesday. The expanded "Legacy Edition" includes a bonus track of Marley's "Smile Jamaica" and a second disc featuring a live recording from the 1978 "Kaya" tour.

In an essay that weaves personal accounts of meeting Marley and later interviews with Marley scholars and associates, Morse writes:

Enough of the carping. I’m here to tell you that “Kaya” is a whole
lot better than some reviews would suggest. It holds up better than just about anything Marley ever did. Yes, the escapist embrace of ganja is evident (the back cover has a photo of a burning spliff, though the image was removed for release in ganja-phobic Japan). But most of all, Bob has never sung more beautifully about love and romance.

"It was an honor to interview Marley, as crazy as that interview was," says Morse. "It was chaos."

Morse will share those details and more in a curated event happening Tuesday night at Redstar Union, One Kendall Square, Cambridge. John Laurenti will interview Morse for about 45 minutes (with the discussion streaming live on and then Duppy Conquerors, the Boston-based Bob Marley tribute band, will perform "Kaya" in its entirety. The event begins at 8 p.m., and admission is $10.

After an assassination attempt in 1976, Marley left his native Jamaica for England. He recorded "Exodus" and "Kaya" simultaneously in London, though the two records have very different feels.

"It's his chill-out record," Morse says of "Kaya." "It's about stepping back. These are songs about love, lifestyle, and ganja."

Morse covered Marley's 1978 tour for "Kaya" when it came to the Boston Music Hall. He recalls how little of the "Kaya"material Marley performed.

"He went back to the militant songs. He probably felt that's what people expected of him," Morse says.

Jeff Robinson of the Duppy Conquerors maintains that "Kaya" is a great vehicle for live performance. And while the band has performed other Marley records in their entirety during its regular Monday night gig at Sally O'Brien's in Somerville, it has never tackled "Kaya."

"This works," Robinson says of "Kaya's'" flow. "It was a logical progression for him. I think it's easier to see that now. I think at the time, in the middle of it, he was such a big political musician and people loved that about him. But someone tried to take his life, and he changed. He tried to take the right approach to that. Everybody knows you can write a political song after that. But can you write a love song? Love is just as powerful of a weapon to fight a revolution."

While "Kaya" did yield a radio hit with "Is this Love," it is largely an adventurous set of songs that Marley peppered with sitar, percussion, and rhythmic horn arrangements.

"He was taking chances with his sound," Robinson says. "We'll mirror that without overdoing it."

Morse, who teaches an online history of rock 'n' roll course for Berklee College of Music, likened "Kaya" to Van Morrison's spiritual albums that failed commercially.

" (Morrison's) 'No Guru No Method No Teacher' landed like a lead balloon. But upon revisiting it, it's a really sophisticated record," he say. "What are the overlooked records? That's a whole other conversation."

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
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About the author

Scott McLennan is a Boston Globe music correspondent and previously wrote a music and entertainment column for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette for 15 years. After seeing the band Boston in the Boston Garden as a teenager he never looked back and eventually figured out how to be a professional fan. Scott is very good at writing in the dark. This blog is an ongoing discussion about music happening in and around Boston. Scott will be leading the trek across genres looking for new releases and hot shows as well as just checking in with the people who make Boston such a great place to listen. More »
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