Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Trying Your Patience #3: Blackheart Man



A common complaint from the most ardent non-supporters of reggae music is that it all sounds the same. I've heard the same from those who don't listen to the blues, with similar gripes from those who don't like country music and heavy metal.

You could argue that the sound and structure of most singer-songwriters from Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark to the beloved John Prine, stick to a certain sound and formula most of the time, but fans of those artists wouldn't dare say all of their music sounds the same and that's because it doesn't. And neither does reggae or blues music. 

It's all about what you're willing to hear.

The world lost the last founding member of the Original Wailers this week, Bunny Wailer, who along with Peter Tosh and Bob Marley created some of the greatest music of any genre. But Wailer, real name, Neville Livingston's crowning achievement is his 1976 solo debut, "Blackheart Man."

This record feels joyful and spiritual and oozes with rhythms and island vibes one expects from a reggae classic. But Wailer's songs run deep. They are powerful and autobiographical, whether talking about his arrest for cannibas on "Fighting Against Conviction" or the apocalypse in "Amagideon (Armagedon)," Wailer pulls no punches.

"Blackheart Man" is to reggae music what Dylan's "The Times They Are A Changing" is to folk music. It is the "Sgt. Pepper" and "Pet Sounds" of the genre. I love what Rick Anderson of All Music had to say about the title track:

"But the song that pulls you into Bunny Wailer's magical web of mystical Rastafarianism is the first one, in which Wailer recalls being warned by his mother to avoid Rastas ("even the lions fear him") and then describes his eventual conversion, all in a tone of infinite gentleness and sadness at the hardhearted blindness of Babylon."

Not all reggae music is worth your time. There might be a few too many pop covers given a reggae feel that should be quickly tossed on a junk heap. But just as the blues has sub-genres--acoustic blues, folk blues, country blues, etc., reggae offers the same variety from ska, dancehall, dub, rock steady and bluebeat. Once you let yourself in, your love of the music will allow you to hear the difference from the very first notes.

"Blackheart Man" is a masterpiece of reggae music and sits comfortably in my reggae Top Ten. If you asked me, "Where should I start?," the late master Bunny Wailer's "Blackheart Man" would be one of the first albums I'd suggest. So, if you're interested, begin today to celebrate Bunny Wailer's legacy.



soundsource said...

I agree whole heartedly. I'd have to put Blackheart Man in my top 25 of all time easily.

soundsource said...

oh yeah reggae top 10 easily probably top 5

Anonymous said...

It's a super album. Hard to beat the band, too: Tommy McCook, Peter Tosh, Robbie Shakespeare, Earl Chinna Smith, and Family Man Barrett, among others.

Another place to start a Jamaican music binge is with Desmond Dekker – The Israelites. The feel of that album is very different to Bunny's, but still one of my favorites.

- Paul in DK

Mark said...

I’ve always lacked the ability to quantify things in any sort of order, but this is one of those rare instances where there's no hesitation in declaring the album one of the very best. Of any genre. For me, Bunny's post-Wailers work soared much higher than Marley's or Tosh's, and I've never been able to spot any real missteps in his catalogue. Unlike so many others post-1975 (or so), he never placed more importance on mysticism or militancy than he did on the tune. Travel well, Blackheart Man, and thanks for your lifework.

andycher said...

one of the greatest albums of all time irrespective of genre

Softshoebanana said...

Sad to hear of Bunny's passing.
The thing that I always loved about reggae was the space that seemed to exist between the instruments...the production of reggae albums was always fantastic...definitely a case of less is more.

Ken D said...

This didn't try my patience at all. In fact, it inspired me to put on an all-reggae radio station in my office today.
A welcome change of pace. (I think at one point I was typing emails in syncopation.)

Chris Collins said...

great post. thanks

Michael Giltz said...

Streaming now. Thx for the recommendation!



Maybe you are the only one reading comments to week old posts :-)

I'm playing Blackheart Man a tonne these days. There is a warmth and a charm to the music, the lyrics, and his voice.

So great!