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Why Do You Need To See Bob Marley’s 1973 Sessions on DVD?

Mark Smotroff picks up his jaw from the ground to write this review…

It is hard to describe the sensation of being a fly on the wall watching a beloved artist working behind the scenes, doing things musical you only dreamed about. Ultimately, that is the feeling one gets watching the fabulous new archival Bob Marley & The Wailers release from Mercury Studios called The Capitol Session ’73

The story about how this session came to be — and then be forgotten — is almost as amazing as the performances itself.  I won’t spoil it all for you (details are in the included booklet liner notes) but in short they were just making the rounds on their first American visit and got dumped four shows into the Sly & The Family Stone tour. Soon, they found themselves in LA and invited to record a live set on video produced by Shelter Records founder Denny Cordell (The Moody Blues, The Move, Procol Harum, Joe Cocker, Leon Russell, Tom Petty, etc.). Then the tapes were put away as Marley and company went on to conquer the world.

Nearly lost to the ages, from the press release for The Capitol Session ’73 we learn that “for over 20 years, archives and storage units from New York and London to San Diego were tracked down and searched to retrieve fragments of the film, until it was fully unearthed, restored, and remastered.”

On DVD only and taken from a video source (its not “film” really), the resolution isn’t ideal by modern standards — remember that this performance was captured in 1973 — but it is amazing to watch regardless! Offered in full color, there are many anomalies here so don’t expect this charmingly old-school-feeling DVD to be high on your list for your home theater system demos. However, it may well become a favorite video you return to again and again to watch closely as it captures an early peak version of Bob Marley & The Wailers delivering many of their now-classic tunes in an almost reverent manner in best available sound (again culled from the original monaural video tape sources, according to the label).  

It is quite stunning to watch, especially the moment where Marley and some of the band members are on the floor playing hand drums while singing “Rastaman Chant.”  

Here on this video we get to see how just attuned to his sound Marley was as he stops the band to fine tune the group’s harmonies before continuing onward. Don’t be thrown by the ginormous spliffs the band toke up before starting the set (!), these folks were very much on top of their game. 

A two disc set for a very fair price (click the title anywhere in this review to jump to Amazon), the CD on the set sounds very good with all the session music tracks edited down for easy listening. The DVD presents the full session (including pauses between songs and such) with bonus tracks pretty much raw and uninterrupted. The audio is presented at 48 kHz and (probably) 16-bit resolution and sounds very good all things considered.  

I found myself gravitating to the DTS 5.1 version but the Dolby Digital and Dolby Stereo versions sound about the same and fine, especially given that the source master used to make the set was monaural and taken from the best available sources (again, I wrote to ask the label).

At some point I hope to get a copy of the vinyl version of this music so I’ll no doubt update my review — you can get it via The Sound Of Vinyl (click here) and at Universal Music (click here).

But for now I’m more than happy to have the DVD — in fact, given the performances here, I consider this DVD essential viewing for even the casual Bob Marley fan.

Again, it is very much like being a fly on the studio wall watching The Capitol Session ’73.  The next best thing to being there, I think I got a little contact high just from watching this performance!

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