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Film Review

Bob Marley and the Wailers: The Capitol Session '73


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Bob Marley and the Wailers
The Capitol Session '73
Mercury Studios

Talk about buried treasure indeed! Bob Marley and The Wailers The Capitol Session '73 would not exist in this CD/DVD package (or it's other configurations) if not for a series of deceptively fortuitous events that occurred nearly a half-century ago. As described by author John Masouri in his comprehensive liner notes, it all sounds implausible—especially considering some of the names involved—except that it's possible to gaze upon the results in wonder (or alternately go mobile with the music) at the high-quality results of the contributors.

Naturally the impact is somewhat less, or at least markedly different when simply hearing this ninety minutes rather than watching and listening. But the fact remains The Wailers were indubitably hitting their stride when, having been unceremoniously kicked off a tour with Sly and the Family Stone, they found themselves temporarily destitute, for all intents and purposes. It was, however, a somewhat circuitous route to Los Angeles through San Francisco, where local support on radio and at the famous local venue The Matrix, buoyed their confidence in advance of this impromptu closed-door date at the famous label's towering edifice.

Little wonder the sextet radiated such casual poise. Serendipity continued to favor the Jamaicans in the form of Denny Cordell: the founder of Shelter Records (with Leon Russell) and an early supporter of Joe Cocker and Tom Petty, had the equipment and other necessary wherewithal to record the occasion for posterity. The band, in particular its titular leader at the time, exudes magnetism all the stronger for the informal atmosphere that allows for stops and starts of a number of tunes, including practice for the vocal harmonies on "Rastaman Chant."

Clean as Cordell's soundtrack production (in addition to manning a camera), Martin Disney's film editing precludes any special effects at least for the most part. Colorization is most distracting on the two DVD-only bonus tracks, especially in contrast to how the double imaging of Marley and drummer Carlton Barrett elsewhere more subtly speaks volumes about the interconnected nature of this band: their musicianship is as insistent as it is hypnotic, while more than a few of the songs themselves, like the opening of Peter Tosh's "You Can't Blame the Youth," sound remarkably relevant to the present day.

Arguably more penetrating with an array of personnel missing the recently-departed Bunny Livingstone, but including Joe Higgs on vocals and percussion, The Wailers generate an almost imperceptible momentum during the dozen selections from both their Chris Blackwell-produced albums, Catch A Fire ( Island Records, 1972) and Burnin' ( Island Records, 1973). The metronomic rhythm of Tosh and Marley's electric guitars benefit from contrast with Earl 'Wya" Lindo's alternating between electric piano and organ, while his use of clavinet on "Burnin' & Lootin'" is an even more refreshing change of pace. Meanwhile, bassist Aston "Family Man" Barrett maintains a mostly subliminal but no less formidable foundation for the ensemble's instrumentation and the three-part harmonies on another Tosh original, "Stop That Train," accurately earmark the source of this band's name.

As the aforementioned writer so sagely notes, Marley had not become the master of showmanship he would in the future, Nevertheless, natural theatrics in the form of his trance-like engagement in his performance become just as transfixing by the time he sings "Stir It Up" and even more so "Get Up, Stand Up;" the former a hit for Johnny Nash the year prior, the latter would become emblematic of social justice causes in the years following it author's untimely death in 1981. The absence of much off-camera response from those few in attendance does nothing to undermine the impact of this performance.

Festooned in Pan-African red, yellow-gold and green artwork, this double-fold digi-pak enclosing the eight-page booklet of a similar color scheme is certainly eye-catching, but not nearly so riveting as the experience of watching this four-camera film shoot for its entirety. Documentation of an icon in the making, The Capitol Session '73 should rightfully become an essential entry in the Bob Marley canon as it correctly ascertains the roots of his elevated stature within the musical fraternity that was The Wailers.

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