Record-industry grave robbers could scarcely wait until nightfall to cash in on the late Bob Marley’s scattered legacy. In this case, the culprits are the people at Cayman Music and Cissi Music, former career guides of Johnny (“I Can See Clearly Now”) Nash and the controllers of an obscure portion of Marley’s material, recorded between 1968 and 1972. During this period, Marley and various members of the then-regrouping Wailers made several trips to Europe in an attempt to broaden their base, find a post-rock steady direction and land a decent record deal outside Jamaica.
Chances Are documents a number of demo sessions in which Marley and his musicians exhibited their new reggae sound and/or auditioned for the role of Nash’s backup band. Nash wound up cutting Marley’s “Stir It Up,” but, more important, a chunk of Marley’s publishing rights was quickly corralled in the process. (By the time the Wailers signed with Island in 1972, their leader knew plenty about exploitation in Babylon.)
This brittle, callous repackaging of outtakes and arcane singles comes complete with a truckload of perfunctory “special thanks” to anyone connected with Marley (the names of close friends and even his own mother are misspelled). Furthermore, these tracks aren’t “previously unreleased,” as the liner notes insist. “Reggae on Broadway” was issued in England in the early Seventies on CBS International, while slightly different versions of “Soul Rebel” and “Mellow Mood” have been kicking around for years in the sleazy repackagings that Jamaican producer Lee Perry sold to England’s Trojan label. And so forth. Granted, albums like this will always hold a certain value to archivists, biographers and music historians interested in tracing the evolution of Jamaican rock. But, in the future, one would hope for a scrupulously selected series of bargain-priced LPs, with scholarly notes and a percentage of the proceeds going to the Bob Marley Foundation.
There are two intriguing songs here: “Reggae on Broadway,” a skanking bit of histrionic soul-funk that shows Marley’s great fascination with black American rockers (he was captivated by Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone), and “Gonna Get You,” a bouncy, playful reggae love pledge of the sort that would reemerge, fully realized, on 1978’s Kaya. The latter number also boasts the best — albeit still miserable — mix. The rest of the tunes sound like they were recorded at the bottom of Kingston harbor.
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Chances Are isn’t a “tribute to Bob Marley,” as the ads claim. Instead, it’s a tribute to unvarnished greed and maliciousness. Shame on anyone connected with it.