Putumayo steps away from its customary flow of regional and stylistic compilations to give us a tribute to the music of one man, the great reggae progenitor Bob Marley. A number of the twelve tracks were recorded specifically for this disc. But it opens strongly with something that already existed: Three Plus's convincing "Jahwaiian" fusion version of "Is This Love." And it remains in Hawaii for singer Robi Kahakalau's cool, smooth take on the seldom heard "Do It Twice."
The California band Rebelution delivers "Natural Mystic" with an authentic beat and evocative echoey sounds but uninspired vocals. And thin-voiced French-Canadian singer Caracol disappoints on "Could You Be Loved"—maybe it's a style I just don't get, but she sounds to me like a half-baked Nelly Furtado. More surprisingly, Céu too comes off strangely listless in "Concrete Jungle."
Things pick up with Rocky Dawuni's West African/island fusion sounds, and even more so when Freshlyground bangs out their bright, driving version of the anthem "Africa Unite," really making the song their own. And ultimately, the disc turns out to be a pretty good demonstration of how different styles can be bent and blended to adapt Marley's hypnotic, singable, danceable songs, which are so closely identified with his own voice and sensibility. Northern Lights applies a dense American folk feel to "Waiting in Vain," Julie Crochetière's languid, sexy "Mellow Mood" has a vaguely European flair, and Funkadesi's tricky rhythms and Indian/island stew form a unique style, though it didn't totally grab me here.
The CD closes with two solid tracks. "No Woman No Cry," from the collective called Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars, gets to the heart of Marley's "we're all one" message. Playing for Change is a truly international collective that unites stars like Keb' Mo' with street musicians from all over the world. Their "One Love" makes for a beautiful good-night, a "We Are the World" without the showboating and hype. Good feelings all around. That's the spirit of this uneven but overall quite worthwhile disc.
Originally published as “Music Review: Putumayo Presents Tribute to a Reggae Legend” on Blogcritics.