You really have to go back to the Beatles and the Motown/Stax/Atlantic/James Brown '60s soul school to find artists who had as profound a global musical impact as Bob Marley. This four-CD box set is a riveting, 78-song, five-hour look at a legacy that shows no sign of losing its timeliness or universality.
"Songs of Freedom" boasts alternate mixes and unreleased rarities, Jamaican versions of songs re-recorded during Marley's international phase, a 1971 medley with Marley singing and playing acoustic guitar in Sweden and a live "Redemption Song" recorded at his last concert, in 1980. It succeeds admirably in showcasing each component of Marley's artistic personality--the spiritual prophet and visionary, the social commentator fighting injustice, the romantic--and how each facet played an equally integral role in his music.
The most revelatory portion may be the opening 32 songs, previously unreleased in America, drawn from the Wailers' Jamaican career and focused on the celebrated trio of Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer. The music includes tracks that show the Wailers laying the foundation of the classic reggae style.
The group's sound changed once it entered the international sphere--the atmospheric opening of "Concrete Jungle" hits like a clarion call announcing a new era. The productions and arrangements display an ever-expanding depth and breadth--compare the 1965 ska version of "One Love" with the full-blooded '77 reggae model.
There are no glaring omissions in this collection. Maybe the less well-known gems "Natural Mystic," "Time Will Tell" and "Waiting in Vain" will get their richly deserved due, but let's face it-- two four-CD collections might not be enough to chronicle all of Bob Marley's worthy material.
"Songs of Freedom" is an embarrassment of riches, beyond essential for pop music followers.
New albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor) to four stars (excellent). A rating of five stars is reserved for classic reissues or retrospectives.