God forbid Frances Bean Cobain ever dons a flannel shirt and picks up a Fender Stratocaster, and heaven help Blanket Jackson if he ever decides to slip on a white glove and start moonwalking. For the many children of late reggae icon Bob Marley, though, following so closely in their famous father’s footsteps doesn’t seem to have been much of a problem. And though youngest son Damien stood out as the bravura player among his siblings with the release of the widely acclaimed Distant Relatives, it could be argued that Ziggy Marley’s output sounds closest to the style their father pioneered.
His first three studio albums were exercises in straightforward reggae, built on sprightly arrangements and positive spiritual messages. For his latest, Wild and Free, he rarely feels the need to stray outside this tried and tested outline, as each track bounces along with a carefree groove and exudes blissful vibes without really offering anything fresh or innovative.
But is there really any new ground to break in a genre that reached its creative zenith over 30 years ago? Moreover, one could argue that the reggae formula doesn’t need expanding or fixing because it isn’t broken (the last thing we need is more Reggaeton).
“Forward to Love,” “Get Out of Town,” and “Changes” are dazzling examples of the genre’s charms, nestling into a buoyant Caribbean groove with jerky guitar rhythms and skank-along synth lines. “Forward to Love” is one of Wild and Free’s cream cuts, where Marley’s hoarse falsetto and some polished female backing vocals put a shine on its sensationally alluring chorus. And on “Get Out of Town,” booming basslines and nimble Latin guitar solos put an accent on one of the album’s most interesting arrangements.
Woody Harrelson’s turn on the title track is amusing rather than amazing, while Heavy D’s contribution to “It” feels inappropriate and slightly irritating. But Marley gives a series of accomplished vocal performances on Wild and Free, hitting every note with the same gruff aplomb that his father applied to “Exodus” and “Stir It Up.” Comparisons between the two will obviously be drawn ad infinitum, and it’s a testament to Marley’s talents that he manages to hold his own throughout. Essentially, the album excels when its central player is left to his own devices, reveling in its endlessly bright and ceaselessly breezy atmosphere.