Toots and the Maytals - Unplugged on Strawberry Hill

TMF is in Jamaica. The sun is beaming down, we can hear the waves in the distance and the condensation from our pitcher of rum punch is trickling down and leaving unsightly puddles on the poolside table. Despite a combination of straw hats and factor 50, we’re rocking the slightly embarrassing Hawaiian print, awkwardly placed tan lines and bright red noses. Tonight we’re heading to a beach party where we’ll dance the night away to reggae beats and steel drums…

Okay, so our budget doesn’t quite cover jetting off to the Caribbean for an authentic West Indian aural experience. So instead, whilst sheltering inside from the glorious British “summertime” with a cup of tea, we’re giving the latest Toots and the Maytals live offering a spin. Transporting the listener straight to the heart of Jamaica, Toots & co nail it- we can practically smell the sun cream and are even considering trading in the brew for a rum and coke (only one - it is a school night after all).

An acoustic session from reggae’s founding father, Toots and the Maytals rallying calls are reminiscent of summers spent whiling the hours away, perfected by their trademark upstroke guitar chords. Despite having six decades of playing together under their belts, the songs are still pumped to the brim with energy and enthusiasm. The fruity tones of Toots himself are sun-kissed and full of husky emotion. High pitched backing vocals simply serve to complement his smooth cries, as does the simple slapping percussion. The acoustic guitar is pacey yet not intrusive upon the cohesive male/female choruses, creating a chilled out, laid back atmosphere.

The call and answer vocal set up of ‘True Love is Hard to Find’ is commanding and gets across the team ethos of reggae music; perfect as this release has been timed to align with the 50th anniversary of Jamaican Independence Day. Playful percussion litters the set, particularly on ‘Monkey Man’ where the pace is upped to a speed that guarantees toe tapping audience participation. The recording is clean cut for a live performance, and allows true appreciation of the delicate details many live discs fail to pronounce.

Set highlight and closing track ’54-46’ is smoother than the original, without losing any of the soul which differentiated Toots from the crowd. The rhythm is quickened and years of live airings have paid off, making for a sugar sweet encore (TMF imagines this would probably be the point where we watch the sunset over the ocean, how romantic).

We were considering putting the heating on, but it is July and anyway, Unplugged on Strawberry Hill is keeping the temperature up in here. Think of it as an hour abroad, without the carbon footprint. Maybe next year, huh?



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