There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
Only bassist Aston “Family Man” Barrett remains from the legendary lineup that backed Bob Marley in the early ’70s, but the Wailers, while no longer a political force, can still produce the classic funky-bass, synth-bleet reggae riddims long associated with the Tuff Gong sound. Now recording for RAS, the band is fronted by Junior Marvin, a competent lead guitarist with strong vocal and melodic skills. Thankfully, Marvin doesn’t try to sing like Marley, a foolish quest too many reggae artists have unwisely attempted. Instead, Marvin uses his smooth delivery and slick production tools to create a thoroughly engaging—if slightly breezy—record. There aren’t many missteps on Jah Message, and when the Wailers do fall for an extended generic groove, an unexpected twist is always there to save the track: Some jazz-inflected saxwork provides fresh noise on the otherwise standard “Jah Love (Believers),” and the charmingly derivative chorus of “Wrong Tree” sounds straight off Ziggy Marley’s One Bright Day. Absent from Jah Message is the speedy, dance-hall phrasing modern-day reggae listeners have come to expect; nevertheless, the intentions are spiritual, the music is soulful, and the Wailers should give all reggae fans a sturdy staple for their summer music diet.