Children of great parents never have it easy when they try to follow in the family footsteps.
Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers do have one advantage. The group's four Marley siblings--Ziggy, Cedella, Sharon and Stephen--are working in a musical field that their father defined and spread to an international audience. If not for Bob Marley, who died of cancer in 1981, it's unlikely that any reggae band, including his children's, would be able to command a large-scale following today.
It's hard to imagine a reggae fan who doesn't admire the music of Bob Marley and the Wailers; consequently, it also is hard to conceive of reggae aficionados not pulling for Bob's children to succeed. A built-in audience is there, just as it was for Hank Williams Jr. (country fans, like reggae fans, form a mass musical cult that is more mindful of roots than the wider pop and rock following).
Of course, a family name carries only so much weight, as demonstrated by Julian Lennon's dwindling fortunes after his hit debut album. Since their debut album in 1984, the Melody Makers have been able to make their own way. "Tumblin' Down" and "Tomorrow People," two memorable hits from their 1988 album, "Conscious Party," established the group as a popular presence in its own right, bringing it to an audience beyond the hard-core reggae listenership.
Ziggy (his given name is David) has made good use of his musical inheritance: He has his father's voice and a natural stage charisma. As a songwriter, he also has tried to carry on Bob Marley's sense of social mission. The Melody Makers' repertoire has plenty of topical songs urging the primacy of peace and freedom and proclaiming solidarity with the oppressed.
What hasn't rubbed off so far is Bob Marley's ability to weave an involving story around his messages, to bring a listener into the heart of the problem. Like all too many politically minded songwriters, Ziggy has no shortage of slogans, but a dearth of tales that might illustrate his principles. Bob Marley's great songs, like "No Woman, No Cry" and "I Shot the Sheriff," are visual, descriptive and narrative. So far, Ziggy's have been lyrically generic. Ziggy isn't yet 23; if he inherited some of the poetry that lived in his father, there is time for it to emerge.
Still, the Melody Makers' current album, "Jahmekya," represents progress, with its well-made collection of catchy, irresistibly danceable songs. Sharon and Cedella's backup vocals are excellent, and youngest sibling Stephen emerges as a distinctive, husky-voiced second lead when he takes over from Ziggy on two numbers.
Two interesting supporting acts make it worth arriving early for this unusual afternoon-evening bill. Rapper Queen Latifah was a commanding presence in her set a year ago at the Gathering of the Tribes at the Pacific Amphitheatre, while Crystal Waters' debut album, "Surprise," is an enticing, distinctive blend of moody soul, jazz and hip-hop.
Who: Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers.
When: Sunday, Sept. 22, at 4 p.m. With Queen Latifah and Crystal Waters.
Where: Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre, 8800 Irvine Center Drive, Irvine.
Whereabouts: San Diego Freeway to Irvine Center Drive exit. Turn left at the end of the ramp if you're coming from the south, right if you're coming from the north.
Wherewithal: $28.75 and $25.75.
Where to Call: (714) 855-8096.