Toots and the Maytals - Got to Be Tough Music Album Reviews

The reggae legend returns in force on his latest album, displaying the indomitable spirit he has cultivated throughout his career.

Reggae legend Toots Hibbert’s decades-long streak of sweaty, impressively athletic live shows came to a halt in 2013, after he was struck in the head by a vodka bottle during one of them. Hibbert filed a $21 million lawsuit against the 19-year-old who threw the bottle, but in a letter to a judge he pleaded that the man be sentenced to no jail time. “He is a young man, and I have heard what happens to young men in jail,” Hibbert wrote—a pointed understatement. Hibbert famously did prison time as a young man himself for marijuana possession, and his signature song “54-46 (That's My Number)” burned with the cruelty he experienced there. On some level, Hibbert has spent the rest of his career trying to reconcile the fundamental injustice of that incarceration, the way freedom could be taken away so arbitrarily.
Hibbert’s injury took the wind out of what had been a pretty remarkable late-career run. It sidelined him from the road for three years, and left him with depression, mood swings, and headaches. He was later diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. But the injury also set him up for the kind of comeback narrative that must be irresistible for Hibbert, a fighter who still thinks of himself as the boxer he was as a teen. A recent Rolling Stone profile paints a portrait for a legend who continues to work harder than might be ideal for his age, spending seven days a week in the studio. He air-boxes enthusiastically and still spars with a trainer, so it only makes sense that on the cover of Got To Be Tough, his first Toots and the Maytals record in 10 years, he's illustrated in his default pose: throwing a punch.

There's a Rocky analogy for every occasion, and at this point in his career, Hibbert is Balboa circa the 2006 installment of the franchise. In that movie, Rocky was slowed by bad knees and stiffened by arthritis and calcium build-ups in his joints, leaving him with just one move: hitting for blunt force. Even though he was a shadow of his former glory, there was still a certain power in watching a diminished titan work around the limitations of age.

And so it is with a 77-year-old Hibbert, whose once almost supernaturally resilient voice is now showing real signs of wear. He's lost some considerable range since 2010’s Flip and Twist, but he's switched up his attack accordingly, learning into the grit. His voice is hoarse on the soul scorcher “Just Brutal,” but his commitment sells the song”—he doesn't let the frog in his throat stop him from commanding the call-and-response like a one-man Sam and Dave. And although it may be low on the list of songs anybody needed to hear covered again, Hibbert’s reworking of Bob Marley's “Three Little Birds,” featuring Ziggy Marley on vocals and Ringo Starr on percussion, similarly delivers real heat, energizing Marley's standard with an urgent tempo and feverish horns.

Hibbert has always shined during these hard, soul workouts, and it's admirable that he hasn’t let age keep them away from him. Got To Be Tough’s mid-tempo rocksteady numbers, including its title track, don’t make nearly the same impression, but even on the album’s mellowest songs, Hibbert’s commitment is clear. In his Rolling Stone profile, Hibbert resists talking about retirement, but acknowledges his career is winding down. It may not rival his classic albums—and it never deludes itself into thinking it does—but Got To Be Tough captures Hibbert as committed as always, still giving it all he’s got.
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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

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Toots and the Maytals - Got to Be Tough Music Album Reviews Toots and the Maytals - Got to Be Tough Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Thursday, September 10, 2020 Rating:

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