By Jack Sharkey, March 3, 2016
A tribute to the genius that was Bob Marley is how a bunch of songs basically compiled from demos after Marley’s death in 1981 were turned into an incredibly cohesive and seamless album. If you base your life around singles you really need to sit back and listen to an album like Confrontation to understand the power of artistic vision and musical expression – and what it can mean in your own personal life.
You can be somewhat excused for limiting your knowledge of Marley’s work to the tracks on Legend, but if you’re not a big Marley fan but feel like exploring the depths of his work beyond Legend this would be the record to start with. Helpful hint: If you're going to run out and buy Legend because you now suddenly feel inadequate and uncool, DON'T buy the remaster, buy the original mastering. The re-mastered version is a sonic mess.
After Marley’s death from cancer at age 36 in 1981, his wife Rita oversaw the completion and production of singles and demos recorded but not released during Marley’s lifetime. If you weren’t aware of that simple fact, you’d be hard-pressed to think of this album as anything other than a complete work written and recorded as a single set of music. If you’re interested in more of the life and times of Bob Marley, I recommend the book Catch a Fire by Timothy White – it’s extensive and contemporary to Marley’s life and times.
• Released May 23, 1983 • Length: 37:47 • Produced by Rita Marley (Executive Producer), Bob Marley & the Wailers, Errol Brown • Engineered by Errol Brown, Michael Reid • Mixed by Chris Blackwell,Aston Barrett, Errol Brown • Recorded and Mixed at Tuff Gong Studios, Kingston, Jamaica • Art Work: Neville Barrick
• Chart Positions: Billboard R&B #31 (1983), Billboard 200 #55 (1983), Buffalo Soldier R&B Singles #77 (1983)
• Bob Marley – Vocals, Guitar • Aston Barrett – Bass, guitar, Percussion • Carlton Barrett – Drums, Akete • Tyrone Downie – Keyboards, Vocals • Junior Marvin – Guitar (lead), Vocals • Earl Lindo – Keyboards • Alvin Patterson – Percussion • Rita Marley – Vocals • Marcia Griffiths – Vocals • Judy Mowatt – Vocals • Glen DaCosta – Tenor Sax • David Madden – Trumpet • Nambo – Trombone • Devon Evans – Percussion • Santa – Drums (Chant Down Babylon)
For this one, I pulled out my vinyl copy I purchased back in 1984. Other than a few scratches here and there, the record sounds great – nice and fat without being overwhelming in the lower frequencies. The nuance and subtlety of the writing, Marley’s vocal performances and the support of the band pulls you in rather than reaching out and attacking, so that by the end of the record you’re not fatigued by the experience. It’s hard to write about Bob Marley without being political in the essence of your words, but the beauty of the music on this album (as well as throughout most of the rest of Marley’s catalogue), is that he preaches a politics of peace and mutual understanding. That’s a powerful message that’s hard to argue with. I found myself thinking more about the message rather than the production, so the result is a Front-to-Back album with a slightly different focus than the norm.
Chant Down Babylon (2:35): Drums, bass, two guitars and some organ open the album with a typically political Marley tune. The best thing about Marley’s music – on full display here – is that it really doesn’t matter what race you are, if you are a thinking and feeling human being you can immediately connect with the message – for others as well as yourself. There’s a deeper meaning to this one, but if you choose to take it at face value and enjoy it as a sweet ode to reggae music, go ahead.
Buffalo Soldier (4:16): Buffalo Soldiers were originally members of the US 10th Calvary formed at Leavenworth Kansas in 1866. Comprised of African-American men, the term Buffalo Soldier came to mean any African-American soldier from any of four separate regiments during the post-Civil War era. There is no genius like a genius who can turn a harsh history lesson into an imminently danceable and enjoyable musical anthem.
Jump Nyabinghi (3:43): Rastafarians identify with the struggle of the Jews under slavery in the Mesopotamian city of Babylon. Marcus Garvey gave rise to the term Babylon in Rastafarian teachings as a representation of the African struggle under slavery and oppression in the Americas. “This definitive name gives the oppression that they face a center, or a heart. Instead of saying ‘injustice must fall’, or ‘poverty must be alleviated’, a Rasta need only say ‘Babylon must fall.’” (David Buttermilk, 1998). The joy threading through a song about the mental escape from oppression is truly a joy to behold.
Mix Up, Mix Up (5:07): Anchored by the sweet sound of a Prophet-5 synthesizer (the King Synthesizer of Early 80s Music) and clavinet, Marley takes what was obviously a bad studio experience and turns in to a parable about life itself. The second-purest reggae song on the record in terms of feel and beat, if this doesn’t get you moving a little call to your cardiologist is in order because you need a consultation.
Give Thanks & Praises (3:15): Reggae music was originally meant to be a teaching and preaching vehicle – a Caribbean Book of Hymns for the faithful. Sometimes listening to this one I feel a little as if I am not giving proper respect to those whom it was intended, but then I realize that like any purely spiritual song, regardless of the faith or culture it was meant for, I can take away a meaningful message and experience. With that being said, this song truly encompasses the real importance of music to the human experience.
Blackman Redemption (3:33): The powerful message about having a free mind regardless of circumstance is one we could all use a little more of nowadays. From a musical point-of-view, this is a beautifully written and arranged song that perfectly conveys the lyrical message. There’s just enough of everything so you’re left not wanting for anything else.
Trench Town (3:12): Like Springsteen writes about New Jersey and Ice Cube writes about Los Angeles, Marley wrote about his home – the Kingston ghetto of Trench Town. The horns in this one at first seem incongruous to the feel but as you listen deeper, it’s the horns that make the song work. They’re mixed perfectly and sit well-back yet are still prominent enough to drive the melody along. The drums are a treat in and amongst themselves – the arrangement and feel of Carlton Barrett’s figures are stellar.
Stiff Necked Fools (3:24): Marley takes the rulers of Babylon to hard-task in a song that can have universal meaning to everyone. The Prophet-5 makes a strong appearance once again running a contra-melody throughout.
I Know (319): Prior to his death, Marley’s wish was that this song be released as a posthumous single, which Island Records honored in 1983. Listening to I Know from that perspective, the song reads like a perfect summation of this man’s life and faith. The background vocals by the I-Three’s (Rita Marley, Marcia Griffiths, Judy Mowatt) were added after Marley’s death (as they were on the entire album), but here they are soul-searching and plaintive, as if they too feel this was Marley’s personal message to the world.
Rastaman Live Up! (5:23): An anthemic reggae song without beating us over the head with the message. This is the template for reggae music and message during the genre's mid-80s golden age. The rhythm guitar in the right channel is a wonderful example of how to play in collaboration without giving up style and individuality. Focus on some of the licks Junior Marvin makes and you’ll be happily introduced to nuance.
Confrontation is best listened to:
- • After a week of struggle and strife, either by yourself or your best buddy
- • In one sitting with limited interruption
- • You don’t need to be happy at the start of the record, because you will likely be happy (not giddy – contented happy) at the end
- • With a Red Stripe or some fancy rum concoction, or maybe just a nice glass of iced tea
- • This is a corporate gig plus I work hard not to be a cliché, but depending on your physical State of domesticity, the suggestion immediately above may not be entirely complete