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Despite the perception of some of his more vocal critics at the time - Bob Marley's Kaya was no commercial sellout.

Music Review: Bob Marley & The Wailers – Kaya: 35th Anniversary Deluxe Edition

At the time of its original release way back in 1978, Bob Marley’s Kaya was perceived by some – fairly or otherwise – as an attempt to elevate his commercial success in America, to that next logical level of wider, broader mainstream acceptance.

That came later anyway, of course. But what can now be understood in hindsight – despite the initial perception of some of those same critics – is that Kaya was no commercial sellout.

Not by a mile.

While it’s true that the breezier, more relaxed sounding songs on Kaya might have lacked some of the more direct political bite of its immediate predecessor Exodus, the songs themselves hold up remarkably well now, especially when viewed through the rear window of time.

Taken side by side, I’ll still take Exodus over Kaya in a minute. That’s just a matter of personal taste.

But you have to take issue with anyone who still holds to the view of Kaya being one of the lesser albums in Bob Marley’s overall canon. If anything, when taken together, the two albums form a much more complete picture of Bob Marley as an artist.

This isn’t surprising when you consider that both Exodus and Kaya were recorded at right about the same time. Still, when listening to the more laid back grooves of Kaya all these years later, its easy to see how Marley became as popular with the more conservative wine and cheese crowd – particularly in America – in the years following his death, as he was with the more politically radical activists during his short, but remarkable life.

One of Bob Marley’s greatest gifts as an artist was his ability to build bridges transcending these divergent cultural and ideological lines, and the songs on Kaya are a perfect reflection of that. In explaining the looser vibe of the album, Marley himself said “To sing about suffering all the time is not a deep thing. We want our people to live good.”

Or, perhaps to put it more succinctly, just fire up a big fat spliff, and relax ‘mon.

The 35th Anniversary Edition of Kaya – in stores and on iTunes next Tuesday – updates the original 1978 album nicely. I’m a little surprised the release missed this past weekend’s National Record Store Day by just a couple of days. But either way, it provides a perfect excuse to replace that old, weathered CD gathering dust in the closet.

The double disc CD version includes the original album, as well as a 23-page booklet with lyrics, photos, new liner notes, and the original B-side “Smile Jamaica” (recorded after the attempt on Marley’s life at the Smile Jamaica concert in 1976). An audiophile 180Gram virgin vinyl version will also be available on April 30.

The best known song from Kaya remains “Is This Love.” But there are several other lesser heard, but nonetheless great songs here, including gems like “Easy Skanking,” “Satisfy My Soul” and “Misty Morning,” that are equally worthy of a fresh listen.

The real treat for hardcore fans though, is the inclusion of a 1978 concert from Ahoy Hallen in Rotterdam, Netherlands. Originally intended for release with the live Babylon By Bus album, this great show features stellar performances of classic Bob Marley songs like “Jammin’,” “I Shot The Sheriff,” “No Woman, No Cry” and “War/No More Trouble.”

But it is the stunning, eleven minute version of “Exodus” here that sealed the deal for me. You may have to do some explaining to the neighbors afterwards. But if your speakers can take it, this one is best appreciated at maximum volume.

The mantle of “legend” is one that is often used loosely in the post-rock era. But the 35th Anniversary Edition of Kaya is one of those rare, lovingly assembled tributes to an iconic artist who truly lived up to it.

About Glen Boyd

Glen Boyd is the author of Neil Young FAQ, released in May 2012 by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard Publishing. He is a former BC Music Editor and current contributor, whose work has also appeared in SPIN, Ultimate Classic Rock, The Rocket, The Source and other publications. You can read more of Glen's work at the official Neil Young FAQ site. Follow Glen on Twitter and on Facebook.

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