- 04 Sep 20
The Reggae Ruler Returns
No two ways about it, Toots Hibbert is a giant of an artist, and one of the magical music of Jamaica’s finest ambassadors. Maytals singles like ‘Pressure Drop’ and ’54-46 (That’s My Number), and albums as great as Funky Kingston and In The Dark, practically define the genre that Toots named in the first place with 1968’s ‘Do The Reggay’.
He’s a dynamite live performer too, and was a regular visitor here after 2004’s great guest-heavy hits re-recording True Love – you must hear the version of ‘Careless Ethiopians’ with Keith Richards - pointed the spotlight deservedly back in his direction. This all came to a halt when some daft eejit threw a bottle of vodka at Toots onstage in 2013, although Hibbert, despite being seriously injured, asked to judge for leniency in the following court case, a testament to his good character. This "accident", as Toots refers to it, prompted the man from May Pen to step back and rethink things. He continued working in the studio though, amassing a wealth of tracks. Toots, and new label Trojan Jamaica founders Sshh Liguz, and Who drummer and son-of-Ringo Zak Starkey, have rifled through the results for Got To Be Tough, the first Maytals album of new material since 2010’s Flip And Twist.
Despite some dodgy production decisions – over-processed guitars, the odd drum machine sound that should have been answered with a ratchet, and some arrangements that are too busy for their own good – there’s enough to justify Hibbert’s resurfacing. Titles like ‘Just Brutal’, ‘Warning Warning’, and ‘Struggle’ show where his head is at, as does the insistent reggae groove of ‘Got To Be Tough’, one of the better songs. The happy shuffle, despite its lyric, of ‘Freedom Train’ and the minor chord skank with a dubby drop out to the bass of ‘Stand Accuse’ are good too, but the best things here are the brass-blessed love song ‘Good Thing That You Call’ and a fast-paced run at Marley’s ‘Three Little Birds’ with guest vocals from Bob's iron lion scion, Ziggy. The arrangement replaces the original’s relaxed message of acceptance with an urgent call to hang on in hard times.
I’m not going to lie and tell you this is quite up there with Toots’ classics, but anything with his name on it is worth your attention. The man they call the fireball is still vital.