Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Junior Toots - Music

Real reggae only comes from Jamaica. Don't get me wrong, the music that ends up making it's way to far-off places like the U.S. or the U.K. is swell, but unless the artist was born, raised, and/or cut his teeth in the homeland in or around Kingston, it's cool but it's not the genuine deal. I enjoy Hawaiian reggae and the American bands that I've heard throughout my career as a second-rate rock journalist, but when I listen to cuts from dudes like Peter Tosh, Junior Murvin or from groups like Burning Spear...it's like comparing light sockets to lightning bolts.

That's not to bash other artists who aren't blessed enough to be performing anywhere near the city of Kingston. Hey, if you are rockin' roots reggae as hard as you can somewhere out of a smokey bar in Tokyo, Japan, go for it. But reggae, like punk music, demands that it either have an air of authenticity, or be heir to some real authenticity, otherwise anyone listening to the genre can tell instantly that it's garbage. If you hear bad reggae, it's probably the jingle to an obnoxious ad campaign, and that's not music...that's Babylon, man.

It does not get more OG reggae than Junior Toots, who had named his own style "original roots." The artist knows all about the term because he was born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica, and his father is no one else than the legendary Toots Hibbert of the band Toots and the Maytals. If you didn't know that the father of Junior Toots is responsible for the name of the genre (1968's Do the Reggay by Toots and the Maytals made the term so popular it became permanent), now you do.

Junior Toots has walked well in the footsteps of his elders. One of his early albums, Reggae Got Soul, is a far more sophisticated, far more sublime work of reflexive skill than you'd expect from some young dude who hasn't had enough life experience to be that good just yet. You can tell that the man didn't just hear the conversation, music and teachings of the older artists that undoubtedly affected his early interest in music...he listened, too.

The lineage of reggae goes back all the way to Africa. If you listen, too, you can hear the same rhythms, melodies and up-tempo beats you'd find in modern American rock and roll, including artists that took ska and ran with it like The Police or Operation Ivy (ok, Op Ivy is more ska-core than anything else, but you get my point). Junior Toots has got something sweet with his own original roots sound, which is a smooth yet sophisticated composition of roots-reggae, ska and dancehall.

Any great artist takes the music around him and makes it his (or her) own, whether it's a fundamental tweak, a stylistic interpretation, or some other unique characteristic. You know what I mean...AC/DC and the Rolling Stones are both rock and roll bands, but when you compare them to each other the differences are obvious. Led Zeppelin is technically rock and roll, too, but they went to places other bands that call themselves rock and roll have never gone.

While Toots has a personal charisma that shines through his sound and underlines its uniqueness, he still knows what makes reggae good. His father, Toots Hibbert, spent a lot of time with his son while recording music with his band in Kingston, and the influence was a positive one. “I went to rehearsals and studio recording sessions when I was really young," he says. "I also recorded some music with him at an early age so the music is in my blood.”

Junior Toots demonstrates this sanguine sonic connection all throughout his new album, A Little Bit of Love. The album is certainly worth touring over. His personal combination of philosophy and reggae are on perfect display here, with tracks like "Puss and Dog," a quietly clever song about both being as fast and wise as a cat, so you don't end up in jail. Part of that strategy also involves keeping the peace by knowing when to run, something any street player can understand.

Another track, "Physically Spiritually," is a pure message of togetherness the world needs to hear, more. A sweet song, it preaches the wonder of diversity and the miracle of unity. “We need to encourage each other to do well and to stay healthy, mentally, physically and spiritually,” Toots says. Love is a big feature of reggae, and it's always cool to have something positive to play for the party.

You can tell from his songs and interviews that Junior Toots is an artist influenced as much by his benevolence as he is by the desire to make a living playing reggae. He likes to create what he calls, "conscious music."  “When I say conscious music, I mean my lyrics are aware of the needs of everyone: The need to be connected to nature and to other cultures besides your own," Toots says. "I hope my music encourages people to put away their egos and make intentions to heal, to love, and to care. Conscious means to come together.”

You can buy A Little Bit of Love right here.

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