- 16 Jun 04
Willie Nelson, Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt, Ryan Adams, Jeff Beck, Bunny Wailer, Shaggy, Bootsy Collins – Toots Hibbert may be supported by a stellar cast on his latest album but it’s tribute to his unique vocal presence that the Otis Redding of reggae still outshines them all.The best news of all is that Toots And The Maytals are in Vicar Street on June 29. Don’t miss it.
Willie Nelson, Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt, Ryan Adams, Jeff Beck, Bunny Wailer, Shaggy, Bootsy Collins – Toots Hibbert may be supported by a stellar cast on his latest album but it’s tribute to his unique vocal presence that the Otis Redding of reggae still outshines them all.
As might be expected from such a diverse session crew, the results are decidedly mixed. When True Love is good it’s very, very good indeed; when it’s not so good, you’d be better advised to seek out the originals – try the definitive Time Tough anthology or the incendiary 1980 live album for starters.
Eric Clapton’s wah-wah guitar on ‘Pressure Drop’ and Jeff Beck’s Spinal Tapisms on ‘54-46 That’s My Number’ reinforce the belief that you shouldn’t try to improve on perfection, though to Toots’ credit, on even this unnecessary version of the latter classic, he still testifies with the passionate urgency of a man whose jail term has only just begun.
Best by far of the superstar gunslingers-for-hire is Keith Richards, whose keen understanding of reggae ensures that he gives the riddim his full attention on the gorgeous ‘Careless Ethiopians’. And so what if Keef’s quirky backing vocal suggests he thinks he’s a natural-born Rastaman – hasn’t Sir Mick made a career out of pretending that he’s a southern blues boy?
Willie Nelson and Toots welcome us to reggae country on the album’s opener ‘Still Is Still Moving To Me’, Bonnie Raitt gives things a blues-reggae twist on ‘True Love Is Hard To Find’ and the terrific Ryan Adams emerges as one of the true stars here in his duet with Hibbert on ‘Time Tough’, a sparse, springy take which is all the more convincing for studiously avoiding the instrumental and production overkill evident on ‘Monkey Man’ (with No Doubt) and ‘Bam Bam’ (with Shaggy and Rahzel).
Bringing it all back home, the ever irresistible ‘Reggae Got Soul’ lines up Toots alongside Jamaican greats Ken Boothe and Marcia Griffiths, and while ‘Take A Trip’ is actually about the old exodus out of Babylon rather than the joys of the international herb, with mystic man Bunny Wailer on board, the results can’t help being more than mildly narcotic.
And so to the album’s outstanding cut. “Let me hear you say Toots, roots and Boots,” urges the cool as fuck Bootsy Collins as he steps down from the Mothership to help Toots shape a sinuous groove on the classic ‘Funky Kingston’. That great piano riff is still in place as are the arm-waving community chants but everything else is up for grabs in a funky reggae party that could happily rave on ’til dawn.
Part reggae, part soul, part gospel, part rock ’n’ roll and always radio- as well as dancefloor-friendly, it’s a bit of a mystery why Toots Hibbert never enjoyed global success on a Marley scale. Perhaps the voice is something of an acquired taste but once you’ve got it there’s no substitute for the warm rasp, fuzzy diction and whisper to a scream improvisation of reggae’s ultimate soul man.
The best news of all is that Toots And The Maytals are in Vicar Street on June 29. Don’t miss it.