Music

Toots and the Maytals: True Love

Katie Zerwas

Toots and the Maytals

True Love

Label: V2
US Release Date: 2004-04-06
UK Release Date: 2004-04-26
Amazon
iTunes

Every genre, it seems, has its historical revisionists, its "what if?"scenarios. What if Pete Best had remained the Beatles' drummer? What if 2Pac had survived past age 25? What if Elvis had survived past age 42? What if they've both been living together on Mars? V2 Records has recently unleashed its own curiosity by asking the question, what if the roots of reggae had fused with some of modern music's most popular styles from blues, to rock, or even rap? The answer: True Love from reggae innovators Toots and the Maytals. On their latest effort, they invited a formidable cast of celebrity guest musicians as well as many strong up-and-coming artists to add their own interpretation to their reggae classics. Each collaboration recognizes reggae's influence on popular music today, while revealing what is possible in reggae's future. Yet, as with all theoretical experiments, some things sound better in theory than in practice.

On the album's highlights, the guest artist seems to meld seamlessly with the group's natural breezy spontaneity and raw tropical soul. The first standout track is "True Love Is Hard to Find" as guest Bonnie Raitt makes this classic sizzle with her sultry blues siren vocals and weeping guitar, revealing the penetrating effects of the fusion between blues and reggae. On "Pressure Drop," Eric Clapton contributes a subtle blues fuzz guitar riff that adds to the raw energy of the original without upstaging its simple catchiness. Several other guests follow his lead, recognizing their own reverence for Toots and the Maytals with their high fidelity interpretations. Ben Harper evokes chills with his gorgeous vocals and sparse folk guitar on "Love Gonna Walk Out on Me", a track that recalls reggae's roots in Jamaican folk music. Occasionally, the guest artist melds so seamlessly into the group that it is hard to notice they are there, as is the case on "Sweet and Dandy" featuring Trey Anastasio and "Careless Ethiopians" with Keith Richards. Other guests are not so subtle, but offer fascinating glimpses beyond the limits of what is normally thought possible with reggae as a structural foundation. On "Bam Bam", rappers Shaggy and Rahzel tip their hats (or do-rags, as it were) to their own Jamaican forebears in an up-beat rap/reggae groove sure to heat up the dancefloor. The nonsense lyric drawn from reggae's own idiosyncracies plays puckishly with the rap flow, creating a compelling tension between Toots and the young rappers. Another unforgettable fusion is the heavenly marriage of reggae and funk on "Funky Kingston", featuring the great veteran of funk Bootsy Collins. When the dirty wah-wah guitar, fat bass-line, sexy vocals, and Collins's own exhortations combine with the mysterious mind-altering affect of the reggae one-drop, a rare musical gem is formed.

On the other hand, even the best can't win 'em all. While the best tracks create an unforgettable fusion, the worst sound like the guest artist is drunk in a karaoke bar. The debut track on True Love, "Still Is Still Moving to Me" opens with Toots's soulful, full-bodied vocals dripping with gospel and weightlessly floating on a breezy Jamaican accent. Then, out of the blue tumbles the grizzled Okey drawl of Willie Nelson, a man well versed in his craft but evidently not well traveled in the Caribbean. It takes someone with a bounce in their step to swing the reggae one-drop and to keep up with Toots's subtle vocal melismas, and Nelson just isn't that guy. Similar incongruities arise with No Doubt, a group that obviously owes a sizeable debt to reggae, but has apparently left their ska roots too far behind to know how to play the reggae field. The song "Monkey Man" is a bit ridiculous to begin with, and Gwen Stephani's high pitched vibrato turns the track from a novel allegory to a veritable circus act. While the No Doubt crew is crashing the party, it sounds as if Toots has mistakenly stumbled into someone else's romantic ballad on "Blame on Me". As Rachel Yamagata attempts to bring her sophisticated jazz roots to the reggae idiom, Toots's rude boy swagger grates a bit too hard against her silky smooth vocals. Evidently, you can take the rudie out of reggae, but you can't take the reggae out of the rudie.

Aside from a few particular problem tracks, the album suffers from some overall aesthetic deficiencies. The first problem is the intrinsic inconsistency that arises when so many different artists and styles combine on one album, although the order of the tracks could have been more artfully arranged. The second problem is that the tracks are cluttered with extraneous frills and cheap trappings of modernity, such as carelessly placed synthesizer beeps and trills and multi-poly-too-many backing vocals and guitars. It is nice to see these classic tracks get the full pro-studio treatment, but less is often more in a genre that is as earthy and human-scaled as reggae. Which leads to the third problem, the album's rampant over-production. Sound must be good and crisp, but not soulless and mechanical. Vocals often sound too clean, guitars too rehearsed, and the mix is shifted away from raw and rude spontaneity and toward strict studio science. Despite the occasional chemical explosion, however, the album is a solid work if not a glittering success. On True Love Toots Hibbert re-establishes himself as a living legend as well as a vibrant and versatile musician. The variety of synthesis achieved on the album is fascinating and worth a listen.

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image