April 29, 2004


Toots and the Maytals -- True Love.jpg

Guest stars pay homage to a reggae pioneer

Since the early 1960s, Toots Hibbert has been combining his favorite elements of popular music -- such as R&B, soul, rock and gospel -- with reggae, the music of his home land of Jamaica. On True Love (V2 Records), Hibbert and his backing band, the Maytals, cover the gamut in terms of style and personnel, recruiting contemporaries and newer artists for the genre-spanning, star-studded project.

The album starts off not with a Hibbert song, but with a reworking of Willie Nelson's "Still Is Still Moving to Me." Hibbert and Nelson trade lead vocals, proving once again that it may be impossible to have a bad duet with Willie Nelson. The strong lead cut is aided greatly by the hypnotic organ sounds of Charles "The Bulge" Farquharson.

One thing that is prevalent on this album is that guitar players seem to be suckers for a good reggae jam. Among the contributors are Eric Clapton, Trey Anastasio, Jeff Beck and Keith Richards. However, the standout guitar performance comes from Bonnie Raitt, who turns in some of her signature slide work on "True Love is Hard to Find." Raitt places her own charm not only into the guitar parts but also on her vocal pairing with Hibbert. Another strong vocal matchup can be found on "Time Tough," where Hibbert and Ryan Adams breeze through a great call-and-response interplay that highlights the bluesy sides of their voices.

Unfortunately, not everything on the album works. Some of the most disappointing tunes are ones that feature what appear to be natural collaborations, at least on paper. Shaggy, along with Rahzel (aka "The Human Beatbox"), chime in on "Bam Bam," and the resulting track is too busy for its own good. It suffers from too many vocal tricks and over-produced background effects. The other glaring letdown comes from No Doubt, on the song "Monkey Man." Hibbert handles lead vocals, with Gwen Stefani only joining in as a backing vocalist. It doesn't work because the song harkens back to the pre-fame, ska days of No Doubt, where it could have really benefited from the current post-new wave sound that has made the California band wildly popular.

As True Love settles into its second half, the reggae-and-funk fusion of "Funky Kingston" starts to right the ship. The saviors here are Bootsy Collins and The Roots; they sound as though they actually understand the way to pay tribute to Hibbert and the Maytals without crowding the song. The Roots provide a solid backbeat, while Collins hypes the collaboration by including the catchy chant "Toots, Roots and Boots." The rest of the album remains consistent, although it's considerably lighter in terms of star power. "Reggae Got Soul," probably the most known song in the Hibbert-Maytals catalog, gets proper treatment, with reggae singers Marcia Griffiths and Ken Booth bringing even more life to the bouncy vibe of the feel-good track. Their contributions, as well as those from ska pioneers The Skatalites (on "Never Grow Old") and reggae legend Bunny Wailer ("Take a Trip"), show that the album's main purpose is to celebrate Toots and the Maytals by spicing up the songs, not cluttering them.

Not everything on the album is a home run; however, the respect and reverence for the music of Toots and the Maytals -- as well as reggae music in general -- is evident. All too often, artists lower their profile when doing duets of their own material with other established performers. On this album, Hibbert is running the party, and he does a good job making sure everyone is entertained.

By Mike Madden

Posted by medleyville at April 29, 2004 04:11 PM