Toots & the Maytals

True Love (V2)

Toots Hibbert wrote some of the most muscular, feverish reggae that has ever graced this fair planet. On the early Toots & the Maytals records, you can hear the base elements of what has made Jamaica one of the diamond mines of the musical world: a boiling stew of African beats and American R&B strut. Toots & the Maytals made records that sounded like Otis Redding would if he decided to really get down. It's some of the greatest music ever recorded.

But there was something missing from all those classic discs: white people. Fortunately, V2 Records has recognized the lack of ofay folks in the Maytals and has produced True Love, a disc that teams Toots up with mostly cracker guest stars on reprises of some of the Jamaican's best songs. It's something akin to if Little Richard had played the piano for Pat Boone when the latter bleached out "Tutti Frutti" for the folks spooked by jungle rhythms.

If the artists who join Toots on the tracks really respected him as a source, they'd sit back and watch him work. The man still has a voice like gold sandpaper, and on, say, "Pressure Drop" he still burns the vocals; he sears them into the mic while Eric Clapton just pointlessly noodles behind him. But at least Clapton keeps his mouth shut, which can't be said of Willie Nelson, Bonnie Raitt or Ryan Adams: fine artists all, but not quite as good at singing reggae as the man who helped popularize the word (with his song "Do the Reggay," not reproduced here). Amazingly enough, No Doubt's additions almost work with the rousing, goofy "Monkey Man," making a song that's maybe half as good as the original.

The white folk are frontloaded here (the exception being Keith Richards, who, God love him, stays nearly invisible in "Careless Ethiopians"), leaving black collaborators (like Bunny Wailer and the Roots) to sit mostly on the back of the disc. This just strengthens the impression that this is a whitewash, an attempt to lure in folks who think reggae begins and ends with Bob Marley's Legend but otherwise like to keep their ears strictly Caucasian. Here's a hint: If you think Willie Nelson will make reggae (or, more accurately, the reggae root known as rocksteady) better, Toots & the Maytals aren't for you. And if you don't, any other disc of the band's work would make a better introduction.