"Spirit of Music" represents a surprising and refreshingly new direction for Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers, which includes brother Stephen and sisters Cedella and Sharon. It's the first Melody Makers album produced by an outsider -- Don Was, who's worked with Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones -- and he's helped the band reach further into blues, r&b and rock to create an original sound, to the point where it's hard to characterize the album as reggae.
The bluesy opening of "Keep My Faith," with R&B legend Taj Mahal, is the first sign that the album is not what longtime fans might anticipate, but those who shed their expectations may find themselves drawn to the album's bare-bones acoustic guitar, harmonica and simple drums and melodies. Among the few traditional reggae tracks are "High Tide or Low Tide" and "You Got My Love (All Day All Night)," Bob Marley covers sung by Stephen, whose vocals are stronger and richer than ever. Stephen also wrote "One Good Spliff," which pleasantly incorporates acoustic guitar, soft drums, organ and even dj'ing. One of the strongest tracks, "Beautiful Day," is a simple, catchy rock song featuring uplifting lyrics and Cedella's and Sharon's soulful background vocals.
The opportunity to continue his father's legacy has been a mixed blessing for Ziggy, who has been criticized for not measuring up to his father, musically and otherwise. This departure from traditional reggae seems to be a liberating journey, suggesting that Ziggy and his siblings are at their best when they do their own thing. On "Let It Go," he sings: "Sometimes you just got to let go of everything you think you know/ Sometimes we just got to be free/ No one telling us how we should be." And sure enough, the Marleys finally seem to be finding their own identity.
Appearing Friday at the 9:30 club.
To hear a free Sound Bite from Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers, call Post-Haste at 202/334-9000 and press 8108. (Prince William residents, call 690-4110.)
CAPTION: The Marleys, from left, Sharon, Stephen, Cedella and Ziggy, branch out.