Toots & The Maytals - True Love

One of the most recognizable names in entertainment, Toots Hibbert is considered a founding artist of reggae music. Returning to the studio with his legendary band The Maytals, Hibbert reminds listeners of his influential musical life on the new album True Love. While some may view this album's cavalcade of special guests as an attempt by the aging Hibbert to cash in on star power, it is far from an anomaly. Hibbert has always been as much of a collaborator as he has been a force of his own. With that in mind, it is impossible not to salivate at the list of performers on True Love. It is easy to see that everyone who participates here has been influenced by Hibbert. Also included are tracks with some of his past collaborators.
The 15 tracks on this disc go far beyond the boundaries of traditional reggae. Each artist lends their own style to the proceedings. "Still Is Still Moving To Me" is a classic reggae jam shot up with soulful vocals from Toots and the mystifying drawl of Willie Nelson. "True Love Is Hard To Find", with Bonnie Raitt, is a joyous number that blends blues rock feeling and slide guitar with bouncy reggae. Eric Clapton lends his stylish playing to "Pressure Drop", and his guitar drips with wah-wah as the classic ska rhythm charges along.

One of the more interesting tracks, "Time Tough", features Ryan Adams. You can practically hear the reverence in his voice as he and Hibbert harmonize and trade vocal phrases. "Bam Bam" usurps the organic feel of the first few tracks with molten bass, vocal gymnastics from Rahzel, and plenty of genuine reggae singing from Shaggy and Hibbert. Jeff Beck lends some arena-rock guitar to the intro of "54-46 Was My Number", and later adds squealing accents and solos to the rest of the song.

No Doubt backs Toots on "Monkey Man", a song made popular in ska circles by The Specials. Gwen Stefani's crystal vocals fit perfectly with the weathered proclamations of Hibbert. The band adds vigor this version that might not be found with other outfits. Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio brings slinky melodies, juicy comping, and subtle solos to "Sweet And Dandy". The Roots and Bootsy Collins bring a vintage sound to the classic "Funky Kingston", which kicks of with Booty's familiar voice proclaming "It's Toots, The Roots, and Boots!" It's also the source of the only use of "shizzle" in the entire HGMN catalog.

Reggae stalwarts Ken Booth and Marcia Griffiths spice up the positively jubilant "Reggae Got Soul". "Never Grow Old" is a showcase of reggae greats as The Skatalites, Terry Hall, and U-Roy join Hibbert for a skanky masterpiece. Bunny Wailer highlights the slow-burning "Take A Trip", and Ben Harper's plantative guitar brings weight to the sorrowful shuffle of "Love Gonna Walk Out On Me". Keith Richards presents the final guitar showcase of the disc on "Careless Ethiopians", in which his careful playing is never overbearing. Finally, Rachel Yamagata brings her breathy, sensuous vocals to "Blame On Me."

This disc will find a place in the hearts of hardcore reggae fans or those who are looking for a new reggae flavor. True Love is as much a celebration of diversity and music as it is a testament to Hibbert's influence.

-- Bryan Rodgers