[11 March 2004]
If you are a serious Toots & the Maytals fan, then you undoubtedly are already having a party in the dark with this latest Toots release. Please return to the party. If, however, you are the casual Toots listener, general reggae dabbler or full-on Maytals newbie, then please read on, this CD—comprised of two of the best Toots and the Maytals albums known to humans—is for you. Not only are they some of his and his mates’ best, but also rank as two of reggae’s finest. Re-mastered and packaged nicely, Toots and the gang have never sounded better.
Frederick “Toots” Hibbert is one of the most prolific and enduring of reggae artists. Credited with coining the word “reggae” (albeit spelled slightly differently) in his 1968 dance hit “Do the Reggay”, this Jamaican giant has helped create and establish most of the styles that make up what we today call reggae—with all its twists into ska, rocksteady, roots, dancehall. Formed in 1966, the Maytals, like many of their contemporaries such as the Wailers, Heptones, and the Mighty Diamonds, were primarily a trio of vocalists (Toots, Raleigh Gordon, Jerry Mathias) who initially used a series of studio musicians and producers. And like the Wailers, they were heavily influenced by the R&B and sweet soul harmonies coming from the States. The Maytals proved to be some of the island’s finest singers, scoring several hits with many of the Kingston’s juggernaut producers: Clement “Sir Coxone” Dodd, Prince Buster, Byron Lee. But it was when they hooked up with Leslie Kong that the hits began to flow full force. Several of these Maytal gems found on this CD would end up on the Chris Blackwell’s Island produced albums. Along with 1976’s Reggae Got Soul, the Maytals are perhaps the most soulful triumvirate to sail out of Jamaica, easily challenging Marley and the Wailers for the right to wear the title belt.
Originally released in 1973, ‘74 and ‘75, Funky Kingston and In the Dark contain some of the Maytals (from now on known as Toots and the Maytals) most memorable and finest songs. Furthermore, it makes sense to combine them here, as a few of the same songs could originally be found on both albums; a few others (like “Funky Kingston” were released in Jamaica in 1973, then re-released by Blackwell on the Mango label in ‘75). A little confusing, but no worries. The title track “Funky Kingston” is a perfect blend of reggae and funk, the harmonies so sweet over the jagged bounce of guitars and bass. You can hear the influence of Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, Wilson Pickett. Singing about his passion for religion and his country, Toots also stretches into the lamentive realm of blues and ecstatic nature of gospel. There are many other hits to be discovered, such as “Time Tough”, “Pressure Drop”, and “54-46 Was My Number” (written by Toots while locked up for getting caught with that most infamous herb). The group knows how to cover a song, too, completely taking John Denver’s classic “Take Me Home, Country Roads” out of the country and the Kingsmen’s “Louie, Louie” out of the frathouse, in the process turning them into extraordinary Maytal anthems.
This twofer is a great prelude to the two CD anthology, Time Tough. And if you’re feeling more inspired (and a little richer) reach out and grab the quality 48-song box set, 54-46 Was My Number, Anthology, 1964-2000. But whatever you do, make sure you pay Toots and his current incarnation of Maytals a visit when they bring their barreling rhythms and sugarcoated soul to your town. It’ll be the sweetest party and lesson you ever done had.