Recordings

Toots and the Maytals
Time Tough: The Anthology
(Island)

The 30-year career of Frederick "Toots" Hibbert and his band the Maytals traces the story of Jamaican pop music.

A ska originator who initially nudged early '60s soul into an irresistible island groove, Toots later slowed ska's staccato chops and shuffle beats to create the midtempo form "rock steady" in the mid-'60s. As the '70s approached, Toots eased his music back even more and evolved into reggae, naming the genre with his 1968 single "Do the Reggay." Throughout the '70s and '80s, as other styles appropriated reggae, Toots pulled in the opposite direction, bringing newer R&B, rock and pop into his work.

The two-disc, 41-track Time Tough: The Anthology--which spans from Hibbert's earliest single, "Six and Seven Books of Moses" in 1963, to his last album, 1988's Toots in Memphis in 1988--covers all of the reggae survivor's many transformations.

What distinguished Toots from countrymen Bob Marley and Peter Tosh even more than his lack of Rasta-man dreadlocks was his continual embrace of American pop music. Throughout Toots' career, as evidenced on Time Tough, his comfort with mainland forms worked both for and against him. On disc one's early singles ("54-46 That's My Number," "Sweet & Dandy"), Toots' crooning and the Maytals' classic soul hooks make for first-rate ska and rock steady.

Disc two, though, shows an apolitical Toots recording pale versions of American hits like "Take Me Home, Country Roads" (yes, the John Denver song) and "Spiritual Healing" (reworking Marvin Gaye) at a time when Marley has turned reggae into protest music. By the '80s, Toots' embrace of slick R&B ("Just Like That") and use of Memphis studio musicians made him hard to recognize as a reggae artist anymore.

Disc one's glory, though, easily compensates for disc two's late-career shortcomings, and Toots' rightful place in reggae royalty was secured long ago.

--Roni Sarig

De La Soul
Stakes Is High
(Tommy Boy)

One of the best things about the Long Island rap trio De La Soul is that, so far, "stakes is high" has applied to every one of its albums. Since the sensational 1989 debut, 3 Feet High and Rising, each release has been an event--eagerly anticipated, energetically examined and always good enough to generate a clamor for more.

Unfortunately, this year's De La Soul presentation checks the momentum generated by De La Soul Is Dead and Buhloone Mind State. On songs like "Betta Listen," "Itzsoweezee (Hot)" and its title track, Stakes Is High either tries something new (like including the woman's perspective in a sexual-conquest rap) or else does the same old thing really well (like building great hip-hop around an obscure sample). But the album suffers tremendously from the absence of De La Soul's unofficial fourth member, producer Prince Paul, who over the years crafted some of the most distinctive and adventurous beats in hip-hop. Most of the self-produced cuts here feature faceless jazz samples that make several of the songs limp and tedious.

While every new rap sensation pledges to "take it to the next level," for most that's just empty rhetoric. De La Soul has clearly advanced the form, and can take credit for moving hip-hop into adulthood without reducing it to self-parody. As the trio proved with the much more accomplished Buhloone Mind State, however, getting old doesn't have to mean growing tired.

--Roni Sarig

 
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