- The Washington Times - Monday, March 28, 2005

Earlier this month, Rolling Stone magazine celebrated what would have been reggae legend Bob Marley’s 60th birthday by placing his iconic image on its cover. The year’s most compelling reggae story, however, may be that of the late Mr. Marley’s living contemporary, Frederick “Toots” Hibbert and his band Toots and the Maytals, who in February took home the Grammy Award for best reggae album.

Mr. Hibbert, nearly 60 and a reggae legend in his own right, is credited with helping establish the very term reggae with “Do the Reggay,” the 1968 hit he recorded in Kingston, Jamaica.

Since those early days of the genre’s inception, Toots and the Maytals have released scores of seminal reggae albums. This year’s Grammy-winning “True Love (V2)” underscores the influence Mr. Hibbert has had not just over reggae, but ska, soul, and rock artists as well.

On “True Love,” Mr. Hibbert collaborated with Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Bonnie Raitt, Ryan Adams, Jeff Beck, Willie Nelson, No Doubt, Shaggy, the Roots, Ben Harper and others to re-record his standards. In reworking his essential tracks — such as the sublime “Pressure Drop” (with Mr. Clapton) and the upbeat but chilling jailhouse anthem “54-46 Was My Number” (with Mr. Beck) — Mr. Hibbert and his famous acolytes added an even brighter countenance and freshness to his already timeless songs.

Touring on the strength of the record, Toots and the Maytals performed a brisk set of high-energy reggae Sunday night before a packed dance floor at the State Theatre in Falls Church.

Clad in black denim jeans and a sleeveless, sequined black shirt, Mr. Hibbert commanded the stage in front of his ultra-tight seven-piece band, the Maytals. With his signature, raspy voice and phrasing closer to the Memphis sound of Otis Redding than the island grooves of Kingston and Mr. Marley, he ran through some 20 of his classics including, “Time Tough,” “Reggae Got Soul,” “Sweet And Dandy,” “Bam Bam,” “Funky Kingston,” “Monkey Man,” “Pressure Drop” and “54-46 Was My Number.” On “Time Tough” and “Reggae Got Soul,” Mr. Hibbert sounded as if he were a reverend of reggae and engaged the audience in a deafening, church-like call and response.

Incendiary performances of “Bam Bam” and “Monkey Man” offered indications of where popular groups such as No Doubt, UB40 and the English Beat derived the blueprint for their blazing ska sound.

To the audience’s delight, Mr. Hibbert reached back for an unlikely tune he first covered on 1973’s “Funky Kingston” album, John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads.”

Mr. Hibbert’s soulful version of Mr. Denver’s classic proved not only the right medicine for a rainy Sunday night in Northern Virginia, but confirmation that if you attended the concert, you were indeed witnessing one of the greatest and most original reggae talents in the genre’s history.

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