Toots & the Maytals Got to Be Tough BMG
Back in 2013, it seemed the singing career for Frederick “Toots” Hibbert was over. After being hit in the head with a glass bottle while performing at a festival in Virginia, Hibbert – one of the founding fathers of reggae – took an indefinite break from live performance. His once instantly-recognisable, gnarled voice was silenced.
It comes as no surprise that his latest record, the first in a decade, is titled Got to Be Tough. A manifesto for resilience in a life premised on resistance, this should be a triumphant return for the singer whose earthy, incisive song had birthed generations of reggae and ska performers. Yet, the result is a tentative and ultimately unconvincing 10 tracks.
Taking on production duties himself, with the help of guitarist Zak Starkey, the record opens promisingly with the enlivening bluesy dub of Drop Off Head before alighting on the pleasingly offbeat lilt of the title track and driving funk of Struggle. Hibbert’s voice is unwaveringly powerful throughout, yet he is let down by the compressed, 80s-sounding production. Gone is the grit and rigour of his early days with the founding Maytals in the late 1960s, instead we have bouncy electronic drum effects appearing incongruously throughout, as well as sanitised horn arrangements on tracks like Just Brutal.
While it is heartening to hear Hibbert’s voice back on form, until it’s matched by a suitable song to carry it his most exciting music will always lie in the past.