Frederick “Toots” Hibbert spent much of his lengthy career singing about resilience during hard times – Pressure Drop, Time Tough, 54-46 That’s My Number are prominent among old hits. What will now stand as the Jamaican veteran’s last album, following his death on Friday, hits the same gritty spot: it was the product of a determined return to the fray after a misplaced bottle thrown at a concert in 2013 put him out of action. At 77, said Toots, he had to get the job done, and accordingly produced, arranged, played several instruments (his basslines are unerring) and wrote all but one song.
Much of the album takes a muscular, uptempo approach that mixes call-and-response vocals with soul-style horns (a trademark since early days), though Warning Warning has the tuneful breeziness of past classics. Toots’s themes are serious, however. Just Brutal revisits slavery days, while Drop Off Head, Struggle and Stand Accused concern wrongful censure. Even sweeter moments such as Good Thing You Call come with an edge, while a version of Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds trades the original’s skipping ease for driving intensity and squealing guitar. Toots may sing in a more confined register, but the exuberance and moaning soulfulness from his youth in the Baptist church remain splendidly intact on this vigorous final outing.