Toots and the Maytalls

Funky Kingston (Mango ’73, '76) Rating: A
As much as I complain about the Rolling Stone Album Guide (and other music books I’ve found disappointing by the likes of Robert Christgau, Chuck Eddy, and SPIN magazine), it nevertheless has turned me on to a lot of good albums over the years. This is one such album, and I agree with Rolling Stone’s glowing assessment about what is generally regarded as the best album by the band led by Frederick "Toots" Hibbert, the man known as "the Otis Redding of reggae." Above all else it is the catch in Toots’ rough vocals that shreds the competition, but the Maytalls boasted an impressive blend of male (Nathaniel "Jerry" Mathias and Raleigh Gordon) and female backing voices as well. Like all reggae, the music is overly reliant on repeated catchphrases and laid back chugga chugga grooves, but piano/keyboards (often seemingly straight from the church) and/or horns/sax further embellish the group’s spiritual, soulful sound. “Time Tough” starts things off with an instant highlight, while the tough title track sees Toots all fire and brimstone, and “Pressure Drop” (also on the classic The Harder They Come soundtrack) has an upbeat joyousness that you simply cannot not literally hum along to. Elsewhere, perhaps a couple of songs merely come and go, but never unpleasantly, while “Love Is Gonna Let Me Down” is a beautiful semi-ballad that’s probably my favorite song here, and “Pomp and Pride” provides another catchy sing along. Among the albums most pleasant surprises are a couple of fantastic covers, as John Denver’s “Country Road” retains its catchiness while increasing exponentially in class, and “Louie Louie” is completely transformed Stax-style into a soulful winner. Finally, “Sailing On” provides a slowly swaying sing along finale (pass the ganja) to an album that I’m tempted to call one of the greatest reggae albums of all-time only I haven’t heard enough reggae albums to make any such claim and, besides, this is a great soul and pop album as well (that’s for those of you who would dismiss this album “because I don’t like reggae”). It has its repetitive flaws that are almost inherent with the form, but I personally find it hard not to enjoy the infectious energy of these songs, most of which you’ll likely also instantly appreciate and a few of which you’ll probably grow to love.

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