Ziggy Marley’s Family Business

The reggae heir tapped the likes of Willie Nelson and Jack Johnson for a record aimed at toddlers, tykes, and their ’rents.

If there's one thing the Marley clan is known for aside from reggae music, it's producing children. Patriarch Bob Marley had 10 children, and most of those offspring have a small tribe of their own. So entertaining little ones is second nature to the Marleys.Yet it's still surprising that Bob's oldest son, Ziggy, recently helped create and produce two children's albums that are being released a month and a half apart. Three weeks ago he released one of them—his third solo album (as opposed to his recordings with his band, the Melody Makers), Family Time, featuring 13 tracks geared toward kids. It's full of fun sing-alongs, lighthearted jams, and narrated stories appropriate for kids 10 and under. The disc also features clever illustrations and packaging that literally asks kids to color all over it. It's Marley's first album since 2006's Grammy-winning Love Is My Religion.On the business end, Family Time comes at a time when the number of contemporary artists making records for children is at an all-time high. Projects like Baby Loves Hip-Hop or Baby Loves Salsa, and records by Kimya Dawson and Chris Ballew, among others, go after a similar audience. But unlike many albums targeting that demographic, Family Time is full of original rock-reggae tunes penned by Marley with guest appearances from the likes of Jack Johnson, Willie Nelson, and Jamie Lee Curtis, of all people.According to Marley, a four-time Grammy winner and father of five, he's been involved in children's projects and charities for so long as a musician that putting out an album directed at that age group is sort of a natural progression. He often plays shows for kids and parents only, and that's part of what sparked the project."I think it was Bonnaroo in 2007, and they asked me to sing on the kids' stage during the day," he says. "And I said 'Of course.' So I got to see mothers and children dancing together, and it was a very good vibe. Seeing that type of joy when I looked out into the crowd is what made me really want to start something like this."But Marley admits he actually was trying to write an adult follow-up to Love Is My Religion, not intending to make a children's album such a major project. But the only songs that seemed to come to him were children's songs. "So we said 'That must be it, then,'" Marley says. "That's where the inspiration was taking me, so I followed it and recorded Family Time instead."Perhaps what is most interesting about the album is the collaborators that he and producer Don Was managed to enlist. Toots Hibbert contributes on "Take Me to Jamaica," Paul Simon appears on the reggae-folk jam "Walk Tall," actress Curtis wrote and narrated the short story "Is There Really a Human Race?", and country legend Nelson plays guitar and sings on "This Train," a Bob Marley cover.The latter was recorded in a smoky San Diego hotel room, and from the laugh that Marley blurts out while telling the story, it must have been a hilarious impromptu session. When asked who smoked more herb, Marley just chuckles."Well, Willie's a legend...he's got me beat, by very far. By very, very, very far," he says. "Guys like Willie and Toots and Paul Simon, I respect them just like they respected my father. They're our heroes, and me feel blessed to have them a part of the project."On June 23, Marley's second children's album, B Is for Bob, is set for release. It's a collection of his father's classic tunes that he rearranged and produced to be kid-friendly. Originally, Universal Music Group, which controls his father's material, wanted to simply repackage a Best of Bob Marley collection and label it a children's album based on artwork alone."Their idea was the same songs I have on CD now," Marley says. "I already have that. Why would I get it again? So we just rework the music and make it unique. It's Bob's first record for children and it's children's first Bob record. This is for them."Many of the songs are nursery-school ready, with instruments like glockenspiel and xylophone laying the reggae one-drop riddim instead of bass and guitar. Although much of B Is for Bob is typical greatest-hits fare, there are a number of rarities like "Small Axe" and "High Tide or Low Tide" that should rub adult listeners right. Whether Marley will admit it or not, the disc is also a strategic move that ensures his father's music will be around for at least another generation.Though he's currently on a kids'-music binge, Marley promises that his performance opening for 311 this week will touch on songs from throughout his catalog. So if you're anti-tyke, you won't have to suffer."It'll be a mixture," he says. "Some of it will be from the new record, but we'll be going through the repertoire and...just trying to enjoy weself and play some music, ya know."jcunningham@seattleweekly.com

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