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Toots and the Maytals - Got to Be Tough (Trojan Jamaica/BMG Records).

14 August 2020

This is the finest album in the career of Toots Hibbert. A bold statement to make regarding an artist who began recording music in 1964, and one which might stir debate, regardless however, the proof is in the playback. It may have seemed for some time now, Toots And The Maytals might not release a new studio album. Given the distance of time, ten years since the excellent release Flip And Twist, fans dismayed from the longest space of studio inactivity since the late eighties. But that thankfully is not the case. Got To Be Tough, due for release August 28th, is the right collection of songs, by the right artist at a time society needs a message of solidarity, and hope. 

It is an emotionally fueled collection. Ten tracks which Toots uses to reflect the issues that society faces. It may be heartbreaking in the realization that these songs could have been released at the heights of the Civil Rights Movement, when The Maytals released Never Grow Old, although the world has changed,  the sins are still the same. But this is not a record of race, this is an album of unity regardless of race or religion. These songs are for everyone’s ears. The themes may carry the same message that punk once did, but they are done within a peaceful framework. 

Ultimately Got To Be Tough is an embrace of comfort for the world, a hug from an old friend. The album kicks with the blues injected “Drop Off Head”, with the voice of Toots sounding smooth, ageing gracefully like a fine wine. His tone reflects that of an apostle of Otis Redding, defiant and soulful, direct and soothing. This statement sets the standard and momentum for the album. The following “Just Brutal” continues this direction, the lyrics are so layered with conviction that they draw tears, and the stark honesty is so raw that the listener can’t help but get drawn in-
“Everything you do is brutal,
I don’t know what this world is coming to.” 

Things take a step into the reggae format, respectfully within the title track. A call to drop arms and wise up to the dangers around us. It flows majestically with a rocksteady beat, that first snippet released from the album in June, projected it’s theme wonderfully. A song that belongs in the same territory as the Marvin Gaye classic  What’s Goin’ On?.

The organ fired “Freedom Train” mixes gospel and blues, with backing vocals that are deliciously sincere, adding to the uplifting quality of the track. Though “Warning Warning” floats along a Jamaican breeze, at no other point does the message of Toots become so prevalent and powerful. With a break into the harmonica, and some bleeding guitar on “Good Thing That You Call”, where a rasp of emotion enters the voice of Toots, and he pulls magic out of thin air. 

There is so much to explore within a tight bunch of ten tracks that journey forward is overwhelming in places. A certain restraint enters the narrative in “Stand Accused”, a track that sounds as if it is pulled out of the seventies and remastered in the digital age. Though the real meat on this musical bone comes in the re-invention of Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds”. In the hands of Toots he turns it into an energetic act of positivity that lifts into the heavens. What’s more, the spirit of Bob is represented in the shared vocals with his son Ziggy Marley. It is frightening how much of his late father’s tones he possesses on this track. 

The listener breaks out the rum and soaks up the sun in the irresistible “Having A Party”. A celebration in a world of oppression, it is such a beautiful addictive mix with a chorus you cannot avoid singing along to, and a fuzz tone solo that is just inspired. Closing all of this is “Struggle”, a disco-funk, Curtis Mayfield styled tour-de-force. The addictive chopping guitar, a final message of peace to “stop the fighting”, with statement after statement that resonates so clearly-
“if I fight against you,
the way you fought against me,
there would be no peace.” 

This truly is a remarkable collection of music. To the lesser fan they may mistake this for a greatest hits compilation, simply put, the songs hold a unique strength of their own. The production is flawless, not overdone, and Got To Be Tough maintains a very organic texture, a humanity in the sound. And that humanity is what we all need to find right now. 

1.Drop Off Head
2.Just Brutal
3.Got To Be Tough
4.Freedom Train
5.Warning Warning
6.Good Thing That You Call
7.Stand Accused
8.Three Little Birds (feat. Ziggy Marley)
9.Having a Party

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