On first hearing it’s quite difficult to know what to make of this album from Toots and the Maytals, but after several listening it becomes…quite difficult to know what to make of it. It is certainly branching off in a different direction. Recorded in Jamaica with some A-list musicians in support, it comes from the man who popularised the word reggae all those years ago, but is not in any sense a reggae album. It would be much more accurate to say this is R and B, so long as that’s understood as Rhythm and Blues in the old school/soul/Stax sense rather than contemporary club-oriented R and B.
Written for the most part by Toots, some of the songs herein are pretty good. The opening track, Fool for You, would have fitted well into a set from vintage Otis Redding and it’s no exaggeration to say it would have passed an audition for inclusion on Otis Blue without much difficulty. In similar period R and B style is Perfect Lover, soulful deliveries over strong melody. Good Woman goes back further: simple 12-bar blues.
A few tracks reveal more contemporary influences – What Kind of Woman and There is a Reason travel along happily enough with their hip-hop beats, while the appropriately named Jungle shows that Toots is still writing as well as performing with his senses open to different influences. Maybe in the end there are too many influences: Bye Bye is a strange sort of hyperactive gospel hoedown which is difficult to describe adequately.
After a few listens, it becomes clear that this album is a kind of homage. The only cover versions on an album of 15 tracks are those of Stevie Wonder’s Higher Ground and Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes’ Philadelphia classic Hope we Can Be Together Soon. Ironically, the latter can be described as the only reggae song on the album, albeit a relaxed subtle jazz-influenced kind of reggae, very different from the received sound of Toots and the Maytals. The other original tracks written for this album pay homage in their own way.
It’ll be interesting to see how this intriguing and in places strong new material sits alongside Toot’s considerable reggae back catalogue when performed live…watch this space for a live review soon.
Flip and Twist, released on Mediacom, July 2010