Short Cuts 

Reggae giant succumbs to sad comeback gimmick.

True Love

Toots & The Maytals

(Sanctuary)

Toots & the Maytals and Bob Marley & the Wailers tower above all others in the crowded reggae pantheon. The Maytals were there from the beginning, recording ska and rock-steady hits before actually naming the new genre in the title of the 1968 hit "Do the Reggaey." Toots Hibbert has one of the greatest voices of the second half of the 20th century, easily the equal of his American soul contemporaries Otis Redding and Marvin Gaye. "Pressure Drop," the song which blared incessantly from Trenchtown transistor radios in The Harder They Come, is the crystallization of everything right and good about reggae in general and the Maytals specifically. And if you want to hear Eric Clapton take a giant dump all over it, then True Love is the record for you.

I'm really at a loss to understand why this collection of retreads of classic Maytals songs with glommed-on guest stars exists. To this reggae fan, it's kind of like listening to an audio book of the Old Testament read by Gilbert Gottfried. Toots still has that voice -- the high notes aren't as sweet, but the purring lows are deeper -- and when he unleashes it, the results can be devastating. Just ask the hapless Ryan Adams, who embarrasses himself profoundly trying to keep up with Toots on "Time Tough." Adams is typical. The overwhelming majority of these collaborations are disasters of the first order.

Jeff Beck wheedle-wheeing his way through "54-46 Was My Number." Whose bright idea was that? No Doubt's plastic "Monkey Man" can't even compete with the Specials' second-wave ska version. Willie Nelson and Bonnie Raitt just seem lost. Shaggy's dancehall take on the Maytals' first hit, "Bam Bam," fares slightly better, but only because it's been completely torn down and reconstructed in Shaggy's image -- proving, perhaps, that the gap between dancehall and roots reggae has grown too wide to bridge. Despite the presence of the Skatalites and legendary toaster U-Roy (one of the unheralded forefathers of rap) on "Never Grow Old," the only real alchemy to be had is when Toots and Keith Richards take turns growling "Careless Ethiopians."

Of course, the real reason this album exists is to help pad Hibbert's retirement fund. And frankly, he deserves it. To find out why, go pick up any of the several Maytals compilations already in circulation. You'll be glad you did, and you'll never know the pain you missed by avoiding True Love.

-- Chris McCoy

Grade: D (for Depressing)

One Moment More

Mindy Smith

(Vanguard)

Pleasant and nice. Damn, this record is pleasant and nice. I hesitate to say anything bad about it because the whole thing just goes down so smoothly, like treacle or pudding. Mindy Smith is not only a preacher's kid, but she's adopted too. Being a preacher's kid and adopted is a lot for anybody to overcome, don't you agree? I don't want to say this, but she bores the barnacles off me. Here's why:

Smith comes across somewhere between a less shrill Alison Krauss and a not so edgy Gillian Welch. According to One Moment More's press kit, Smith had tons of offers from major labels in Nashville before she accepted a deal with worthy but dull Vanguard Records because they weren't going to push her into the standard CMT female country singer straitjacket of tangled, flowing curls and bustier-wearing videos. So she sings her own tunes on this, her debut recording and even produced half of it. Chalk up a small victory then for independent-minded women singer-songwriters in Nashville who want to resist "the process" in order to get a recording contract. So why does all this artistic freedom and integrity translate to a set of songs that I can't even remember unless I'm looking at the track listing on the back of the CD?

Okay, "Come to Jesus" is the first track and it's about, well, the pale Nazarene himself and also about a boyfriend who needs saving or spiritual comforting, I think. After that one, I get lost, and I can't place melodies with song titles until the final hidden track which is a cover of Dolly Parton's "Jolene." And it's, y'know, tasteful --easy on the ears. There should be nothing wrong with that either, but sometimes tasteful and nice just ain't enough. Oh heck, leave her alone; she's an adopted preacher's kid, for cryin' out loud. -- Ross Johnson

Grade: B

Hoot Your Belly

Jimmy Lee Williams

(Fat Possum)

This is the latest installment of the George Mitchell series put out by Fat Possum Records. Mitchell, in the grand tradition of Alan Lomax and other folklorists, traveled the Deep South from the '60s to the '80s, discovering and recording local blues talent. The series features field recordings of electric blues but played in the raw acoustic style. Jimmy Lee Williams' Hoot Your Belly is the fifth CD in the series, which has included early works by luminaries such as Fred McDowell and Furry Lewis, as well as previously unknown artists.

Williams was one such unknown, a peanut farmer from Georgia who just loved to play the electric guitar, which his boss sold him for the princely sum of $75, as he recalls in his liner notes. There's nothing new under the sun here, blueswise, just a country farmer playing the hell out of his cheap guitar and singing for all he's worth. But Mitchell and Fat Possum deserve kudos for bringing this music to the masses. It represents a way of life and song that was passing even when it was recorded some 20 years ago. All the tunes are traditional, with a slapping guitar style that can be hypnotic and vocals that are pleasant in a whoop-and-holler way. Thankfully, this recording is clearer and less homespun than some of the other records in the series, which makes for easier listening.

Williams passed away in the early '80s and these songs, recorded in 1979 and 1982, make up his only recordings. Hoot Your Belly won't make Jimmy Lee Williams a household name, but it will give a shot of immortality to the former sharecropper who would play his guitar and sing all night for half a gallon of 'shine. n --Lisa Lumb

Grade: B

E-mail: herrington@memphisflyer.com

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