For those who don't want or can't afford to plonk out for the Toots & the Maytals' Time Tough: The Anthology, The Very Best Of provides the perfect solution, distilling down that two-CD, 41-track set to a single 19-song disc. There are a few subtle differences, however; for starters this set boasts two different versions of the band's reggae smash "54-46, That's My Number," as well as the original ska version of their Jamaican Song Festival winner "Bam Bam," unlike the anthology, which included only a later remodel. However, the "Never You Change" found on this set is not the trio's original ska hit, but a reggae-fied remake. The rest of the album pulls directly from the anthology, with the disc divided almost evenly between the trio and a solo Hibbert's pre- and post-Island career. Thus, for those who prefer the Maytals' ska and/or reggae hits, this is not the collection for you, as there are much better compilations of those periods. But for fans looking for a larger overview of both the band and Hibbert himself, this is an excellent place to start.
While they never achieved the commercial success or cultural impact of the Wailers, Toots & the Maytals were nearly as important in the history of Jamaican music; like the Wailers, the Maytals thrived as ska gave way to rocksteady and then evolved into reggae, they boasted one of the island's finest singers and most charismatic frontmen in the great Toots Hibbert, and they worked with many of the most important producers and sidemen on the island. the Maytals were also the band that most clearly demonstrated the links between Jamaican sounds and American R&B (Hibbert's rich, emotive vocal style was informed by Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, and other soul icons), and the group's catalog contains a number of crucial, frequently covered tracks, most notably the classic "Pressure Drop."
A beautiful pairing – the keyboards of Bill Evans and harmonica of Toots Thielemans – presented here in a space that marks the record as one of the best from both players in the 70s! Some tunes are sad and blue, and very spare – others a bit more upbeat and lyrical, almost taking us back to Bill's more sprightly modes of the early 60s – and the clear, clean sound offers up the best tones from both players in a perfect space. Other musicians include Marc Johnson on bass, Eliot Zigmund on drums, and Larry Schneider on flute, tenor, and soprano sax – and Evans plays a bit of electric piano in addition to acoustic, something we always love!