True Love

Toots Hibbert is one of reggae's key figures. He's even the one who popularized the term "reggae," with his 1968 song "Do the Reggay." And The Maytals were featured along with Jimmy Cliff and Desmond Dekker in the movie The Harder They Come, which helped to popularize the form in America. Unfortunately, unlike the late Bob Marley with his perpetually best-selling albums, Toots & The Maytals aren't as well known in the U.S. as their history deserves.

Hence a major guest star album like True Love which serves as a convenient entry-point for new Toots listeners. The album features fifteen tracks, many of them new versions of the group's best known songs from their over 35 years of history.

Each track features at least one collaborator, coming from a variety of different musical backgrounds including legendary rockers (Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt, Keith Richards, Jeff Beck), younger rock musicians (Ryan Adams, Phish's Trey Anastasio, Ben Harper), reggae luminaries (Bunny Wailer, Shaggy), and others (rappers The Roots, Willie Nelson).

Interestingly, the album's lead-off track is "Still Is Still Moving to Me," a song written not by Toots Hibbert, but a reggae reworking of a 1993 composition by the track's guest performer, Willie Nelson. Besides the inevitable thought process about Toots, Willie, and what illegal recreational pastimes might have led to this musical partnership, it's fun to hear Willie Nelson sing a big-beat reggae song.

And the fun continues with each subsequent number. Bonnie Raitt singing and playing on "True Love Is Hard to Find" makes perferct sense (she already covered the song on her 1986 album Nine Lives). One of the high points is a collaboration with The Roots and funkmeister Bootsy Collins—memorably referring to themselves on the track as "Toots, Roots, and Boots"—on Toots' classic of loopy fun, "Funky Kingston."

Another terrific gem is the version of perhaps Toot's best known song, "Pressure Drop," here done with Eric Clapton. Originally a 1970 single, the song was also featured in the movie The Harder They Come and was memorably covered by The Clash. Clapton dishes out some of the tastiest wah-wah licks this side of Blind Faith.

Admittedly, it would be hard to argue that many of these version of Toots & the Maytals surpass the originals. Or, indeed, that any do. The classics are classics for a reason. However, fans of Toots or of any of the guest collaborators will enjoy a great time and those unfamiliar with the Toots & The Maytals catalogue will get a starting point to learn more about this true reggae original.

- by Mike Sauter, WYEP Music Director