What does Bonnie Raitt have in common with Shaggy? For that matter, what could Willie Nelson, No Doubt, the Roots, Ben Harper or Eric Clapton possibly share? True Love, the new album from Toots and the Maytals -- that's what. After more than four decades of shaping the reggae, soul, gospel and ska genres, Frederick "Toots" Hibbert of Toots and the Maytals has utilized his ear for fusion by gathering some of the most distinct vocal and guitar artists in rock, reggae and folk in order to reinvigorate his classics like "54-46 Was My Number" and "Funky Kingston." Toots also lends his reggae chops to remakes of classics from other artists, too.
Toots worked collaboratively with a variety of artists, along with the newer version of Toots and the Maytals, which he formed in the '90s after the original group split up in 1981. Though Toots' passion and talent are as apparent as ever, music critics haven't saluted True Love, possibly because of some of the odd pairings within the album. True, Toots' songs are changed immensely in the collaborative process, but part of enjoying this recent effort means stepping away from comparisons with the original Toots and the Maytals albums. Old fans will have to work to find a track that's better than what Toots has done in the past -- there aren't many. But there are creative, lively samplings as well as completely surprising fusions that make this album worth checking out. A perfect example is the first track, "Still Is Still Moving To Me," with Willie Nelson, who wrote the song -- and who isn't the first person you'd imagine harmonizing with Toots. His gravely, talking-song style, mixed with Toots' Jamaican soul, creates an odd, mismatched quality that teeters on the brink of a bad idea. No doubt the song sounds better after smoking what Toots and Willie smoked before recording, but the difference in their voices, along with the fact that not one line in the whole track is sung in the same way, gives the song an immediacy and an organic quality -- ultimately the right kind of result for a pair like Willie and Toots.
Other tracks, like "Love Gonna Walk Out On Me" with Ben Harper, feature brooding, dying-ember vocals. The duet with Bonnie Raitt, "True Love Is Hard To Find," in contrast, is anything but slow or spaced-out; it's go-lucky country meshed with Toots' unique soulful ska -- a great sound for summer.