That Toots Hibbert's voice, drenched in Memphis soul and rooted in Jamaican gospel, is still a powerful instrument after four decades of performing is the first thing you notice while listening to this collection of duets with pop, rock and reggae artists. The second thing you notice is that this album isn't really very good, which is unfortunate, since this release will probably get more media attention than any other album he's been involved in, and hopefully that attention, at least, will lead listeners to check out Toots' earlier work. It's difficult to put a finger on the problem here, since the recordings feature a great, full sound, and Toots sings like he always has, but things just don't click. Sometimes it's just the duet pairings, which is the case with the lead track, which features Toots and Willie Nelson on Nelson's "Still Is Still Moving to Me." While it's interesting to ponder how much ganja was smoked before this tune got tracked, in the end, Willie and Toots together just sound odd, and the song never manages to work its way past that. Eric Clapton's wah-wah lead on "Pressure Drop" is just plain distracting, and while Jeff Beck fares somewhat better with his guitar work on "54-46 Was My Number," the fact remains that classic roots reggae rarely featured any lead guitar at all, and if the guitarists here (Trey Anastasio also gives it a try on "Sweet and Dandy") were trying for a kind of gospel call and response with Hibbert's voice, well, it doesn't work. There are some tracks that do manage to catch a little fire here, although they tend to come late in the sequence. "Funky Kingston," featuring Bootsy Collins and the Roots, retains the loose, loopy groove of the original Maytals version, probably because, from Bootsy's opening invocation of "are you ready for some Toots, Roots and Boots," nobody seems to take things too seriously, making this cut the only one on True Love that might be able to hook the urban hip-hop crowd. Keith Richards manages not to sound too ravished on "Careless Ethiopians," while Ben Harper and Hibbert effectively ride an atmospheric, slow-burning arrangement of "Love Gonna Walk Out on Me" to emotional fulfillment, but as a rule, aside from Toots' amazing voice, not much is going on here underneath all the fanfare. Check out the early Maytals' material and you'll hear immediately why this album of collaborations falls short.
AllMusic Review by Steve Leggett
feat: Marcia Griffiths