Local fans of Marley's legacy turned out Thursday night at the Duck Room at Blueberry Hill to enjoy his music as performed by the Original Wailers, led by veteran guitarist Al Anderson, who played on some of Marley's most well-known recordings. The band's name may be somewhat misleading, as Anderson is actually the only member of Bob Marley's Wailers in the Original Wailers. That said, he's assembled a fine group of current reggae musicians that more than aptly capture the sound and spirit of the legend's music.
Local reggae/rock/ska/dub fusion group Unifyah opened the show, performing a 45-minute set that had everyone in the room grooving. This talented group of nine musicians urged the somewhat tentative crowd toward the stage and won them over quickly with their incredibly tight sound, performing tunes from their EP including "Good Lovin," "Cruel World," and "Light Em Up." Dual vocalists Kevin Griffin and Colin O'Mara worked the crowd with their combination singing/rapping, evocative of Sublime's Bradley Nowell. Unifyah's powerhouse horn section including standout trombonist Bryan Coughlan, trumpet player Reggie Morrow and sax players Jesse Moore and Mike Powers, really drove the tunes, as percussionist Trevor Jones, bassist Greg Stansberry and drummer Patrick Wiley kept the groovy rhythm. The band is currently at work on its first full-length album, set to debut this summer.
The Duck Room was mostly full, though comfortable and not packed, as Al Anderson and the Original Wailers took the stage. Joining Anderson were lead vocalist/guitarist Chet Samuels, celebrated Jamaican bassist Rohan Reid, drummer Howard Smith and keyboardist Noel Aiken. Anderson began by noting the Duck Room's significance as the place where Chuck Berry frequently plays, saying, "Chuck Berry was such a huge influence on my life and music, so it's so great to play here," before delving into the opening riffs of classic "I Shot the Sheriff."
Though the band itself got immediately into the groove, there was a bit of trouble getting the sound mix correct until about the fifth song, with Anderson actually pausing at one point looking fairly annoyed, telling the crowd, "we have to get this sound just right for you now." Fortunately, they finally did.
The Original Wailers delighted fans with a parade of Marley's best-known hits including the lively, "Get Up, Stand Up," during which Anderson laid down a bluesy guitar solo highlighting his tremendous skill; "Could You Be Loved," which had everyone bouncing; sultry "Stir it Up;" "Three Little Birds," with Aiken unleashing a carnival of keys; "Is This Love;" and "Buffalo Soldier," among others.
Anderson's deep musical roots were on full display as he humbly worked his guitar with great concentration on the side of the stage while the imposing Samuels charmed the crowd with his rich voice – evocative of Marley's, yet with its own unique tone. Samuels makes a strong front man with a warm and engaging presence. He invited the audience to sing along to the tunes they knew so well, further drawing them in with a traditional call-and-response throughout the show.
Reggae – even the great Marley himself – has never really been about achieving some kind of musical perfection. It's always been more about connecting on a deeper, more spiritual level, spreading the Rastafarian principals of peace, love and positive vibrations. More than simply a cover or tribute band, the Original Wailers succeeds in this respect, truly capturing the spirit of Marley and spreading joy to those willing to listen.