DOUBLE A-SIDE DIGITAL SINGLE OUT NOW!
The Expanders – the Los Angeles-based roots reggae powerhouse band – began this project earlier this past summer, before Toots Hibbert became sick with coronavirus (which eventually took his life in September). They had been asked to record cover versions of two of their favorite Toots & The Maytals classics for an impending month-long celebration of Hibbert’s life and career that was happening on Rootfire.net in September. Sadly, Hibbert’s illness and death came quickly, just as the band was finishing these songs. Now they are releasing these as a single, with plans to distribute any proceeds made from the release to Hibbert’s family. Two For Toots, as the release is being called, is out now via the band’s longtime label partner, Easy Star Records. Stream/download at moremusic.at/TwoForToots.
Being the celebrated iconoclasts they are, The Expanders dug deep in choosing the two songs. They would not be satisfied doing rote covers of some of Toots’ better known hits, and instead, went for much more obscure, but still extremely powerful, tracks. “True Love” was first released in the ‘60s before the band had broken internationally and were still just popular in Jamaica, while “Love Is Gonna Let Me Down” is best known for appearing on the American version of the band’s breakthrough album Funky Kingston in 1972. Even for some of Toots’ biggest fans, these songs may sound new. Regardless, in The Expanders’ expert hands, they come as revelations, digging deep into the soulful strains that made Toots Hibbert such a unique talent in the history of music. “Toots personifies the ‘soul’ of – and in – reggae music,” says the band’s drummer John Asher. “His music speaks to my soul and makes me dance the dance of life.”
The recordings feature the current line-up of the band: John Butcher (guitar/vocals), Chiquis Lozoya (guitar/vocals), John Asher (drums), Roy Fishell (organ, piano), and Evan Highs (bass), along with Chris Brennan, who helped with production and added backing vocals. The band has been working on a new album, their first full-length album of original material since 2015’s celebrated Hustling Culture. Since then, they released a second collection of covers of classic, lesser known Jamaican hits, Old Time Something Come Back Again Vol. 2, as well as a single collaborating with Slightly Stoopid, “Sweet And Slow,” in 2019. The new record will come out in 2021.
The Expanders may play vintage reggae, but they’re more than revivalists. They champion classic ‘70s and early ‘80s roots reggae, heavy on three part vocal harmonies and conscious songwriting. Butcher grew up listening to the record collection of famed reggae archivist Roger Steffens, and credits much of his love and knowledge to the accessibility and education of those experiences. While many of their contemporaries in the current U.S. reggae scene play music that is one or two steps removed from these original influences – often coming at reggae by way of Sublime, for example – The Expanders are distinct in that they draw inspiration directly from these foundational tracks and bands, and manage to replicate the sound while bringing their own current style and approach.
Two For Toots is further evidence that The Expanders are simply the best in their field at interpreting the deepest classic cuts in the genre. Their further music coming in 2021 will show how they can also manage to twist these inspirations into of-the-moment masterpieces. Soon come!