Velez, Martha

Band members               Related acts

- Martha Velez (aka Martha Carmen Josephine Hernandéz

  Rosario de Veléz) -- vocals


  backing musicians:

- Al Anderson -- guitar

- Aston Barrett -- bass

- Carlton Barrett -- drums

- Tyrone Downie -- keyboards

- Marcia Griffith -- backing vocals

- Bernard Harvey -- keyboards

- Bob Marley -- percussion

- Rita Marley -- backing vocals

- Judy Mowatt -- backing vocals

- Lee Perry -- percussion

- Earl Smith -- guitar



- The Gaslight Singers (Martha Velez)





Genre: reggae

Rating: ** (2 stars)

Title:  Escape from Babylon

Company: Sire

Catalog: SASD-7515

Year: 1975

Country/State: New York, NY

Grade (cover/record): VG+ / VG+

Comments: original inner sleeve

Available: 3

GEMM catalog ID: 4617

Price: $20.00

Cost: $66.00


Here's a perfect example of a good concept which unfortunately went terribly astray ...


At least in theory, 1975's "Escape from Babylon" should have made for one very interesting album.  Singer Martha Velez had already recorded a couple of mildly entertaining albums and a collaboration with the up and coming Bob Marley seemed to hold considerable promise. Velez and her management certainly deserved credit for recognizing the potential value of such a collaboration with Marley.  For his part, Marley stood to get his first shot producing an outside act and benefit from resulting publicity.  (Velez was the only American artist Marley ever produced.) The second generation Wailers  including bassist Ashton Barrett and Earl Smith also benefited since they provided support throughout the collection.


Recorded over a three week period with a helping hand from American Craig Leon and the legendary Lee Perry, most of the album surrounded Velez with a seductive reggae sound, with occasional nods to her folk roots and a hideous disco number ('Disco Night').  Unfortunately, Velez seemed largely mystified by her surroundings.  Stilted and uncomfortable, on material such as 'Money Man', 'Wild Bird' and 'Come On In' here performances were shrill and kind of irritating.  I can honestly say I've seldom heard someone handle reggae rhythms with less success ... shame on Marley for letting Velez take a half hearted swing of 'Get Up Stand Up'.   She didn't come within a country mile of the original.


- The Velez original 'Money Man' highlighted a lot of the flaws with the album.  Musically it was okay in a pop-reggae fashion (probably the reason it was tapped as a single), but Velez's shrill voice simply wasn't well suited for slinky reggae rhythms.  She sounded plain uncomfortable in her surroundings and the I-Threes simply blew her out of the water when they started wailing away.  Nice guitar solo from Earl Smith ...   rating: ** stars

- The Rita Marley-penned 'There You Are' (Marley fans will recognize it as 'Stand Alone'), was a far better effort.  Velez seemed much more at home with this one, letting the song carry her along and it wasn't until she tried to power up that it turned a little shrill.  Again, the I-Threes threatened to drown her whenever they started piping away.  Easily one of the better tracks on the album.    rating: **** stars

- 'Wild Bird' came off as a weird attempt to blend a folk song with a reggae rhythm.  Unfortunately this was one where Velez seemed at a loss with respect to how to handle the results.  The lyrically rich song forced her to stretch to get it all in with the results being rushed and shrill.  The song also suffered from a hideous chorus.  Anything nice to say about it?  Smith turned in his prettiest guitar solo on the song.    rating: ** stars

- One of two Velez-Bob Marley collaborations (to avoid publishing issues the song was credited to Rita Marley), 'Disco Nights' was simply hideous.  It was clearly intended as the album's commercial 'hit' but the result was a boring song, complete with dumb lyrics and crappy performances ...     rating: * star 

- Side two started with one of the album's two Bob Marley covers.  Perhaps because she didn't try to make the song her own and stayed away from any attempt to power her way through the song, 'Bend Down Low' was one of the more successful performances.  Luckily for Velez the I-Threes were limited in their background duties.    rating: *** stars

- The biggest surprise for me was the cover of Rita Marley's 'Happiness' (known to Wailers fans as 'Hurting Inside').  The first time I reviewed the album the song made little impression on me.  Revisiting it I'll admit I was wrong the first time around.  Not that Velez's performance knocked me out, rather the song was so good (with one of those hooks that you simply couldn't shake loose), that her shrill vocals couldn't hurt the track.    rating: **** stars

- 'Come On In' was selected as the first single off the album.  Not sure why since neither the song, nor Velez's performance was particularly commercial, or memorable.  At least for me the highlight was Al Anderson's propulsive guitar solo.  rating: ** stars

- I guess you could forgive Velez for covering Marley's 'Get Up Stand Up' since very few people were aware of the song back in 1975.  Her version wasn't really bad, rather suffered from comparisons to the original.  She probably would have been better off picking something less well known from Marley's catalog.  rating: ** stars  


'Course that didn't stop Sire from tapping the album for a series of instantly obscure singles:




- 1976's 'Come On In' b/w 'Disco Night' (Sire catalog number SAA 727)

- 1976's 'Money Man' b/w 'Money Man' (Sire catalog number SAA 735)

- 1976's 'Money Man' b/w 'Money Man' (Sire catalog number DM 2) 12" format


Funny, but I seem to remember the LP getting fairly positive reviews.  I guess critics were either afraid to tick of Mr. Marley and his crew, simply hadn't listened to the LP, or were just too stoned to realize it wasn't very good.  I'd love to tell you the album had some redeeming quality; at least one half way decent song.  It didn't.   (I will go back and give the LP another shot at some point ...)


So after finding a copy at a yard sale for 50 cents I finally did get around to listening to it again.  This time around it wasn't nearly as awful as I recalled and I'll admit that my first review was kind of mean spirited.  It was one of the few albums I ever stuck with a one star review.  This time around I gave it two stars and I'll be happy to tell you that at least three of the songs were worth hearing - 'There You Are', 'Bend Down Low' and Happiness' were all good.   Not my favorite Velez LP by a mile and I'd rather listened to The I-Threes any day, but I have heard worse stuff.

"Escape from Babylon" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Money Man   (Martha Velez) - 3:34

2.) There You Are   (Rita Marley) - 3:04

3.) Wild Bird   (Martha Velez - K. Johnson) - 5:06

4.) Disco Night   (Martha Velez - Rita Marley) - 3:20


(side 2)
Bend Down Low   (Bob Marley) - 3:36

2.) Happiness   (Rita Marley) - 3:04

3.) Come On In   (Martha Velez) - 5:03

4.) Get Up Stand Up   (Bob Marley - P. Mackintsoh) - 3:31



SRB 10/2009