Online since August 2002

Pairing up

From the Spring 2004 issue.

Baby, Don't You Tear My Clothes
Baby, Don't You Tear My Clothes
By James Cotton

Telarc Records: 2004

To hear sound clips or learn more about this release, Turbula recommends viewing its Amazon.com entry.

True Love
True Love
By Toots & the Maytals

V2 Records / BMG: 2004

To hear sound clips or learn more about this release, Turbula recommends viewing its Amazon.com entry.

Santana's "Supernatural" collection, the 1999 Grammy winner for album of the year, may be a good example of what can result when a veteran performer is joined by a variety of guest stars, but its not the only one. Everyone from Frank Sinatra and Tom Jones to Willie Nelson and John Lee Hooker have mined the concept with varying degrees of success.

Chicago blues harp master James Cotton is no stranger to the all-star gathering. In 2002, he earned a W.C. Handy Award with "35th Anniversary Jam," a 12-song set that paired his band with such blues and blue-rock performers as Kenny Neal, Shemekia Copeland and Kim Wilson. So no one can blame him for a second go-round with "Baby, Don't You Tear My Clothes."

This time there's a difference. Cotton doesn't restrict his guest list to blues artists. He joined by roots-rocker Dave Alvin, zydeco star C.J. Chenier, and folk/country standouts Doc and Merle Watson, among others. Still, Cotton and company don't stray too far from the blues.

Opening with an instrumental workout, "Coach's Better Days," Cotton then brings in Bobby Rush to handle the vocals on the title cut and Marcia Ball to lend her skillful singing and piano playing to "When You Got a Good Friend." But Alvin's singing on "Stealin', Stealin'" and Odetta's husky vocal on "Key to the Highway" start to veer the album away from Cotton's signature sound. It completely heads off in a different direction when bluegrass favorite Peter Rowan starts yodeling on Jimmy Rodgers' "Muleskinner Blues."

Surprisingly, it's interesting to hear how Cotton's harp work blends in with each guest. The interplay between the harmonica and Chenier's accordion on "Rainin' In My Heart" is one such example.

For the most part, each pairing seems to work on "Baby, Don't You Tear My Clothes." That can't be said for "True Love," where Toots & the Maytals redo some of their reggae classics with the help of such admirers as No Doubt, Ben Harper and Bonnie Raitt. Still, a few missteps don't mean this collection is any less interesting.

While Bob Marley & the Wailers was the best-known reggae act, Toots & the Maytals was among the most influential. In fact, the Maytals are credited as being the first to use the word "reggae" in a song. One thing is for certain: Toots & the Maytals can't be topped when it comes to bringing some fun to the genre with such songs as the oft-covered "Monkey Man."

Leader Frederick "Toots" Hibbert has rarely been in better voice than on "True Love." It's just that his soulful vocals don't always mesh with the singing styles of his guests. While he and Willie Nelson may be a good match when it comes to enjoying some ganja, it's somewhat jarring to hear them sharing the mic on "Still Is Still Moving to Me." Likewise, alt-country singer-songwriter Ryan Adams should never try to sing reggae, especially when matching chops with Toots on the hard-edged "Time Tough."

Eric Clapton had the good sense to stay away from the microphone on "Pressure Drop," instead joining in with a guitar performance that brings a new energy to the well-known song. Jeff Beck takes the same approach on "54-46 Was My Number," providing some capable accompaniment.

It's also fun to find No Doubt going back to its ska roots on "Monkey Man," and to hear Bootsy Collins and The Roots add a Funkadelic vibe to "Funky Kingston."

Some of the most satisfying moments are when the rerecordings stick close to the originals, such as when Phish's Trey Anastasio joins in on the upbeat "Sweet and Dandy" or when reggae stars Ken Boothe and Marcia Griffiths add their vocals to "Reggae Got Soul."

Despite a few misses, there are a lot more hits to recommend this album.

Review by Don Weiner. Don is a writer and editor based in Scottsdale, Ariz.

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