Published Jan 01, 2006Toots Hibbert and Willie Nelson may not seem like obvious musical peers but the two artists have more in common than a love of Jamaica's prime export. A strong emphasis on the off-beat, narratives concerned with working class characters and their struggles, and an associated outlaw image (not to mention the essential religious overtones) make reggae and country closer cousins than most music fans realise.
Reggae legend Toots's new album, True Love, is an exercise in this type of genre marriage. It is stacked with guest appearances from the Roots, No Doubt, Keith Richards, Ryan Adams and Ben Harper, among others. It's Toots's best release in two decades, thanks to fat reggae production and refreshing interpretations of the material all around.
But, while Toots is genuinely overjoyed at the outpouring of support from the fans turned collaborators ("I couldn't believe everybody just buy my record and listen to reggae music it just blow me wild"), the fusing of their collective genres is nothing new to the man who reggae-ified "Country Roads" in the mid 70s, took reggae to Philadelphia on Funky Kingston and originally made his name in the early 60s singing like Otis Redding.
"My kind of reggae have a lot to do with R&B, country and gospel," he says, in between mini sermons on Rastafari and listing all the female American R&B artists he'd like to work with. "Country and western have a real, realest gospel feel. And that's where I coming from."
Toots and Willie trade verses on Nelson's "Still is Still Moving to Me," one of the songs on True Love that isn't part of the Maytals' collection of greatest hits. Nelson's thin reedy voice is surprisingly natural overtop the bassy Jamaican groove.
For his part Toots knows they captured real magic. "It's not just a normal record," he insists. "It's gonna be a number one, it's going to be a Grammy, it's going to be everything."