Toots & the Maytals performing as part of the Irie music festival at Nathan Phillips Square (Queen and Bay), Sunday (August 1), 8:30 pm, free. www.iriemusicfestival.com
Celebrity-driven tribute albums are almost always disappointing, if not a total waste of time. Yet the enormous potential for disaster didn't stop the V2 label from consummating their relationship with ground-floor reggae greats Toots & the Maytals by releasing the star-stacked True Love collection boasting collabos with Willie Nelson, Keith Richards, No Doubt, Shaggy, Bonnie Raitt, Eric Clapton and others. While having Toots & the Maytals update their deep catalogue of booty-bumpin' roots reggae anthems like Pressure Drop, Funky Kingston, Reggae Got Soul, Monkey Man and Bam Bam might not seem like such a bad idea, problems arise when marquee names are chosen for their ability to attract a specific audience rather than their affinity for the music.
Still, if matching Toots Hibbert with alt-country lightweight Ryan Adams, jam band guru Trey Anastasio or Norah Jones clone Rachel Yamagata might seem like a marketing experiment gone horribly wrong, for Hibbert the project was really about making connections. From his perspective, it's a smashing success.
"This album was done to be like a history lesson in Jamaican roots for the youth and those who don't know my music," explains Hibbert over the phone from his home in Kingston, Jamaica.
"With Keith Richards, he plays his acoustic guitar and I play my acoustic guitar and we just jam. It's rock and roll and reggae together - wicked, man! It's just like Willie Nelson and Bonnie Raitt - I'm their friend and they're mine. When we see each other onstage we jam."
Although pop-reggae crossover star Shaggy and old-school greats Ken Boothe, Bunny Wailer, Marcia Griffiths and U-Roy make cameo appearances, conspicuously absent from True Love are the contemporary dancehall dons.
If Toots was intent on reaching the youth, it seems like a throwdown with someone like Sean Paul would have more appeal for the teen demographic than, say, Jeff Beck.
Evidently, Toots isn't feeling the dancehall vibe. At least that's the im-pression left by his cryptic breakdown.
"I have an appreciation for Sean Paul, Buju Banton, Beenie Man and all the other great dancehall singers, but it's different music. Reggae was the first music to be played in the dance hall, but dancehall reggae is different.
"My kinda thing is more logical. Reggae has to have a message, a positive message. My reggae is the real original roots."
Hibbert is in the middle of packing for Toronto's Caribana weekend, where he'll be headlining Sunday's (August 1) bill at the Irie Music Festival (July 30-August 2), but he's also making plans to record a new album in Los Angeles and New York that he describes as an "R&B and soul" concept.
Until that project gets under way, his very next release is a cover of Maggie's Farm for the Bob Dylan-done-reggae-style salute Is It Rolling, Bob? (RAS/Sanctuary) due August 10.
"Bob Dylan, yeah, man!," he roars. "Someone asked me to sing Maggie's Farm for this Bob Dylan tribute and I say, -Yeah, man, let me do that one.' It tells a story, a logical story that can be true. He's a great songwriter and performer. I respect him."