Bunny Wailer

****Blackheart Man (Island, 1976)
***Dibd'sco (1978; RAS, 1999)
****1/2Crucial! Roots Classics (1979-82; Shanachie, 1994)
****Retrospective: Classic Tracks From a Legendary Artist (1985-92; Shanachie, 1995)
***1/2The Never Ending Wailers (RAS, 1993)
***1/2Hall of Fame: A Tribute to Bob Marley's 50th Birthday (RAS, 1995)
****Communication (Solomonic, 2000)

Bunny Wailer is the name that Neville (Bunny) Livingston took when he left the Wailers in 1972, just as Bob Marley was stepping to the forefront as an international star. The reason given for Bunny's exit was that he didn't want to tour outside of Jamaica, but one has to wonder whether the most devoutly spiritual of the Wailers, the group that practically defined Rastafarianism, didn't have misgivings about impending stardom. In adopting Wailer as a surname, Bunny didn't emphasize his past links so much as he reaffirmed his commitment to his conception, the Wailer, who serves and salvages through his music: "reggae is the music which sends the message/tells of history, the truth, and the right/leading the cause of the innocent ones/to comfort the afflicted/and to keep them from wrong."

These are protest songs, songs of sorrow, of righteousness, of longing for peace and salvation. On Blackheart Man, they flow with remarkable subtlety, leading up to a long, slow, elegiac "This Train." On Crucial!, they gain wisdom and strength, speaking up with the conviction of gospel but wholly in this world. On Anthology, they even rock a little. The latter two are all that's left in print of the dozen albums that Bunny recorded during the '80s: powerful, concentrated albums.

Bunny's music changed with the times, starting early in roots reggae and moving on through dancehall and ragga, the latter styles never quite reinforcing the sweetness of his singing nor the earnestness of his lyrics. The early Dubd'sco albums were of their time, a fashion statement featuring a rather dizzying warble that adds little if anything to the music. And Bunny kept going back to the Wailers, recording four tributes, of which the endlessly listenable Hall of Fame is the only one in print. The Never Ending Wailers was another revival project, one of those things with overdubbed vocals by the late Bob Marley that seems too contrived to work, but even if it doesn't quite capture the moment, it still revives the spirit. But any notion that Bunny might be slowing down is dispelled by Communication, bright dancehall and even a little hip-hop ("Almighty is a Rappa"), still struggling, still hopeful, still full of love.


Other albums (mostly out of print):

Protest (Island, 1977)
Struggle (Solomonic, 1980)
***1/2Bunny Wailer Sings the Wailers (Mango, 1980)
Rock 'n' Groove (Solomonic, 1981)
Tribute (Solomonic, 1981)
***1/2Hook, Line and Sinker (Solomonic, 1982)
Live (Solomonic, 1983)
Marketplace (Shanachie, 1985)
****Roots Radics Rockers Reggae (Shanachie, 1987)
***1/2Rootsman Skanking (Shanachie, 1987)
Rule Dance Hall (Shanachie, 1987)
Protest (Mango, 1987)
Liberation (Shanachie, 1989)
Time Will Tell: A Tribute to Bob Marley (Shanachie, 1990)
Gumption (Shanachie, 1991)
Dance Massive (Shanachie, 1992)
Just Be Nice (RAS, 1995)