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Marley's Ghost

Jubilee – 2012 (Sage Arts)

Reviewed by Lee Zimmerman

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One could easily be forgiven for assuming that the recruitment of superstars like Emmylou Harris, John Prine, Marty Stuart and producer Cowboy Jack Clement is little more than a ploy to draw attention to the fact that Marley's Ghost is marking its 25th anniversary as an ongoing entity. Indeed, with celebratory title like "Jubilee," there's all the more reason to suggest the band is all too pleased to soak up the limelight. Then again, they can hardly be blamed for trying; over the course of their trajectory, they've proven themselves not only extremely adept as an instrumental ensemble, but also remarkably fluid to the point of defying description. Roots, rock, reggae, bluegrass and world music all blend together within their core MO, producing a sound that seems both effortless and illuminating in equal measure.

It's for that reason that the cameos by the aforementioned guest stars actually seem superfluous at times, especially given the band's adroit abilities. Emmylou's backing vocals on Unwed Fathers adds her usual luster, but in terms of heartfelt ballads, it's no more expressive than, say, the opening track - the rugged and resilient Rollin' - or the blissful narratives that follow later on - If You Were a Bluebird and Diamond Joe. Likewise, Prine and Stuart add their distinctive style to the reflective This Old Road and the honky-tonk serenade Hank And Audrey, respectively, but there's no reason to think that the band wouldn't be equally effective delivering them on their own.

Truth be told, real credit ought to go to Clement for his efforts in giving cohesion to this eclectic set, one that often references The Band in its mesh of back porch ballads, jaunty rambles and cowboy croons. Ultimately, "Jubilee" shines a spotlight not on incidental appearances, but more importantly, on an exceptional outfit that's consistently creative and compelling on its own.