Toots & the Maytals’ first LP for Chris Blackwell was originally released in the early ’70s, and it includes solid sides like “Pomp and Pride,” a whacked-out restructuring of Richard Berry’s “Louie, Louie,” and the wonderful title track, “Funky Kingston.” Blackwell reissued a bulked-up version of Funky Kingston in the mid-’70s on his Mango subsidiary, adding in the immortal “Pressure Drop,” the brilliant “Time Tough,” and a reimagining of John Denver’s “Country Roads” (simply called “Country Road”), to make a much better and stronger set.
In the Dark is a ska/reggae classic that captures the Maytals in their prime, brimming with energy. In the group’s music, the positive vibrations of reggae and the deep soul of singer Frederick “Toots” Hibbert are united and elevated by a pervasive spirituality. Exuding warmth and goodwill, Toots & the Maytals seek to excise their sorrows through joyful celebration and praise. “Got to Be There” sets the mood perfectly with its jubilant roll call into heaven. Hibbert’s religious concerns are equally strong on “In the Dark,” a song directed at those lacking belief. But he continually succeeds in reaching across lines of strict faith. The emotions in the Maytals’ music always defy such boundaries. Similarly, this soulful reggae blend has the power to communicate to diverse musical tastes, reggae converts and unbelievers alike. “I’m from Jamaica/I want to do my Jamaican stuff,” sings Toots, inviting everyone to watch and listen. Backing him is a formidable rhythmic force, capable of luring anyone out onto the dancefloor. At times, the grooves are so dense with reggae’s characteristic syncopation that rhythms seem to spring forth from multiple directions. “Time Tough” layers organ stabs, chopping reggae rhythms, and tight, coiled guitar lines along with call and response vocals. In the Dark’s classic status may be assured from three songs alone: signature numbers “54-46 Was My Number,” “Time Tough,” and the Maytals’ rendition of John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” (which sounds like it was written for Hibbert to sing). But the Maytals hit the mark with every song on this collection. Like the best of the blues, gospel, and soul, they turn struggle into strength. When Hibbert sings “I’m so lonely/I’m so blue” on “In the Dark,” he makes the emotions seem truly addictive; if the blues felt as good as they sound here, people would be lining up to get their dose.
-Nathan Bush, allmusic.com