Words by Eddie STATS Houghton, via VTech
Phone and gadget-manufacturer VTech recently premiered this exclusive video of neo-soul veteran Bilal covering Bob Marley’s immortal tune “Is This Love” on their Sounds of VTech site:
This is only the latest example, of course, of R&B artists channeling the power of roots reggae into their sound, so in that sense Bilal is only following in the still-fresh footsteps of John Legend, Mary J. Blige and Estelle–not to mention the Marley covers or collaborations from The Roots, Erykah Badu and others over the years. I have to say Bilal’s effort stands head and shoulders above many of those when measured by the yardstick of making the song his own. Unlike almost all of the above examples, in fact, this is not a one drop track or even a reggae song, really, but a completely original interpretation, taking Marley’s composition as the departure point for an epic soul-jazz workout with noodly guitar and violins, Bilal’s voice so abstract it almost sounds like a harmonica when it comes in. That makes sense when you consider that this is not so much reconnaissance for an excursion into reggae territory but the first track from a whole album project of cover songs, regardless of genre. Forthcoming installments include Gloria Jones’ “Tainted Love” (made famous by leather-clad 80s synthpop outfit Soft Cell) and Portishead’s spooky “Strangers.” Ironically though, that almost makes it harder for me, as a reggae partisan, to listen without prejudice–from the moment the melody is recognizable the ears expect to hear Marley. This is an undeniable artistic achievement, but as a re-imagining of a classic song…how do you rate it? Let us know what you feel.