There are plenty of Marleys in "One Love: The Bob Marley All-Star Tribute," which airs Sunday at 8 p.m. on TNT. There's Rita Marley, his widow and the conservator of his estate and legacy; most of Marley's many children, notably Ziggy and Stephen. There's also Lauryn Hill, mother of his two grandchildren by way of another son, Rohan Marley. And there's a lovely moment in Hill's performance of the luminous love ballad "Turn Your Lights Down Low" when Rohan gleefully dances around Hill as she sings "let your love come tumbling into our lives again."
That was clearly the emotional and musical subtext of the concert, filmed earlier this month at Oracabessa Bay in Jamaica; it's part of TNT's "Masters Series," whose previous subjects, Burt Bacharach and Johnny Cash, were both on hand to participate in their tributes. Marley died of cancer in 1981, but his legacy seems as powerful as ever, not just in the popularity of reggae music, but in the rich repertoire he left behind. Aside from brief introductions, there's little talk to clutter up the program, which allows the songs to stand on their own. Matched to sympathetic performers, they do just that. Jimmy Cliff, one of the few Marley contemporaries featured, brings a vibrant charm to "Jamming" and a quiet grace to the lilting "No Woman, No Cry," a duet with Erykah Badu. Badu, resplendent in a yard-high head wrap, also performs "No More Trouble," which layers its reggae rhythms with soul-style underpinning.
It's the women who shine here, from the I-Threes, whose supple harmonies support most of the performers, to Queen Latifah and Tracy Chapman. Latifah radiates on the accusatory "Who the Cap Fit," while Chapman provides appropriate compassion on "Three Little Birds" and a celebratory spirit on "Trenchtown Rock," with Stephen and Ziggy Marley. "One good thing about music/ when it hit, you feel no pain," they counsel, and it's hard to argue with that proposition when its made with such jubilance.
Rapper Busta Rhymes reveals his family's Jamaican roots on the high-energy "Rastaman Chant," but Eve's rendering of "Rat Race" proves unconvincing. The weakest showings are by the Pretenders' Chrissie Hynde, who clumsily stumbles through "Waiting in Vain," and Black Crowes singer Chris Robinson, who looks preposterous and sounds ludicrous on "Kinky Reggae." This commercially sound but creatively daft desire to be inclusive by booking willing but stylistically unsuited artists has been the "Masters Series's" biggest damper.
While Ben Harper's "Get Up, Stand Up" is straightforward (like every other American act, he delivers it with a faux Jamaican accent). Darius Rucker turns in a passionate, powerhouse "War," the caustic song Marley adapted from a Haile Selassie speech on racism. It allows Rucker a vocal vehemence we seldom hear in his work with Hootie & the Blowfish.
Besides the Jimmy Cliff cameo, there's another brief nod to the past when Toots Hibbert joins the surviving members of the Wailers band on "Lively Up Yourself," and Ziggy Marley & the Melody Makers shine on "Could You Be Loved." The concert ends with a typically overtaxed ensemble rendition of "One Love," but the real highlight comes just before, when Ziggy and Lauryn Hill explore "Redemption Song" in the same simple, single acoustic guitar setting that marked Bob Marley's final recorded performance. It's one of finest "songs of freedom," and they imbue it with the proper proportions of yearning and commitment.
CAPTION: Lauryn Hill and Rohan Marley turn in a charming tribute performance.