Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Bunny Wailer

  • Blackheart Man [Island, 1976] A-
  • Protest [Island, 1977] B
  • Bunny Wailer Sings the Wailers [Mango, 1980] A-
  • Tribute [Solomonic, 1981] A-
  • Hook, Line and Sinker [Solomonic, 1982] A-
  • Roots Radics Rockers Reggae [Shanachie, 1983] B+
  • Live [Solomonic, 1983] B+
  • Marketplace [Shanachie, 1985] B-
  • Rootsman Skanking [Shanachie, 1987] A-
  • Rule Dance Hall [Shanachie, 1987] B
  • Liberation [Shanachie, 1989] B
  • Gumption [Shanachie, 1990] Neither
  • Just Be Nice [RAS, 1993] Neither

See Also:

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Blackheart Man [Island, 1976]
This isn't what they mean when they say protest music is boring, it's what they mean when they say protest music is subtle--only they don't, which is what's wrong with protest music. The content of the lyrics is as straightforward as Rastafarian thought can be (not very), but the spirit reveals itself slowly--"Fig Tree" is Jamaican Blake, "Oppressed Song" Jamaican Brecht, and "Fighting Against Convictions" simply Jamaican English, the autodidactic patois of a "common" criminal. And the music--well. We've come a long way from reggae's "primitive" days, haven't we? The interweave of mixed-back horns and multiple percussion is as gratifying and elusive rhythmically as it is harmonically, Bunny's singing is endlessly sinuous, and if you think you never want to hear another version of "This Train," you're just wrong. A-

Protest [Island, 1977]
Neither Bunny's voice, strong by Jamaican standards but no soul shout, nor reggae's persuasive but rarely irrefutable rhythms, are suited to the more forceful (or is it just louder?) procedures of this follow-up. The decrease in compassion, consolation, and--most directly to the political point--inspiration is less a matter of the words themselves than of how they're sung, but never on the last record did he resort to such radio-preacher pretensions as "the rock of discretion/Will calm the floods of conflict." Not to mention an antiabortion line. B

Bunny Wailer Sings the Wailers [Mango, 1980]
You'd think these remade rude-boy hits would hook in quick, since for most of us they're not haunted by the ghosts of the originals. Only they don't--the Third Wailer's somewhat ethereal vocal presence, as well as the intractably relaxed groove that rockers studio flash is heir to, assure that. But after too many plays hook in they do, especially on side one, where "Burial," "I Stand Predominate," and "Walk the Proud Land" form a gently triumphant triptych. A-

Tribute [Solomonic, 1981]
In part because he understands so unmistakably that there'll be no new Marley, Bob's resolutely ital old bandmate is the one Jamaican artist who continues to exercise comparable vision, breadth, and authority. These versions of eight songs the leader sang first make clear that Marley was the more gifted vocalist, but they also make clear that Bunny's baritone added rough yearning to Bob's sweet sufferation. Better than Bunny Sings the Wailers. Maybe even as classic as Lefty Frizzell Sings the Songs of Jimmie Rodgers. A-

Hook, Line and Sinker [Solomonic, 1982]
The skanking Memphisbeat Sly & Robbie rolled out for Joe Cocker goes uptempo and downriver here, and Bunny rides it for the entirety of a delightful groove album. Imagine what a reggae-goes-Stax-Volt-second-line tune called "Soul Rocking Party" might sound like. No no no--imagine it done well. Now you've got it. A-

Roots Radics Rockers Reggae [Shanachie, 1983]
This expanded version of Solomonic's 1979 In I Father's House isn't primo Bunny. Even the nicely dubwise "Rockers" is flatter than side one of Rock 'n' Groove; what's more, the sacramental Tribute and the upful Hook Line 'n Sinker have me waiting on his soon-come live album. Nevertheless, this is a worthy sample of the unjudgmental preachments and reliable rhythms of Jamaica's solidest solo artist, and if you buy it maybe there'll be more. B+

Live [Solomonic, 1983]
Though his voice echoes more hollowly than the most scientific dubmaster would ever intend, the only concert the man's given in seven years sounds like it was a natural thing. His best studio albums have more distinct identities, but this is where to sample his invincible spirit. B+

Marketplace [Shanachie, 1985]
From "Stay With the Reggae" to "Jump Jump" to "Dance Hall Music," Bunny strives to justify his less than propitious title. It's got a good beat and you can skank to it, but you'll have to slow down when you get to the love songs. B-

Rootsman Skanking [Shanachie, 1987]
Back in 1981, when Bunny's most unabashed sales bids ("Dance Rock" indeed) seemed swathed in an ital glow seven of these ten cuts surfaced as Rock 'n' Groove, on Bunny's JA-only Solomonic label. If they don't sound quite so unpremeditated now, they do cut a switch. Also a natural: the add-on ballad, "Cry to Me." A-

Rule Dance Hall [Shanachie, 1987]
Bunny follows his failed bid for the marketplace by going to the people where his roots are. The results are definitely more ital, and more philosophically defensible as well. But the first side doesn't update his circa-1982 reggae&b quite nicely enough, and except for the "Stir It Up" remake, the songs on side two are a little too dubwise--abstractly dance-specific in the usual manner of disco turned in on itself. B

Liberation [Shanachie, 1989]
He's studied his history, and the politics of his major statement are pretty smart. But ordinarily, only earnest organizer types who distribute lyrics at rallies ("To the tune of `Down by the Riverside'") think they can get a rousing song out of a line like "The OAU and the United Nations must stop all hypocritical sanctions." Bunny should know better than to hire studio musicians to do what they're told. B

Gumption [Shanachie, 1990] Neither

Just Be Nice [RAS, 1993] Neither