**** out of *****
Rebirth, that is a bold title for anyone, but for reggae legend Jimmy Cliff' who hasn't produced any new music of note in quite a long time (let's safely say decades) the statement is large indeed. Produced by Rancid's Tim Armstrong this collection of songs are quite simply the strongest of the Jamaicans career since his earliest releases. Stripped down to the roots of reggae and ska, Cliff sounds alive and fresh with his singing and phrasing as the album puts out one good song after another.
The opening "World Upside Down" is an instant ska/reggae classic with it's simple approach and direct message, setting the plate nicely for the rest of the release. "One More" pumps along with horns fueled by an artist singing about his one last shot at "singing his song", and while it sounds hokey in theory it is performed winningly behind a group of up beat players.
Even when Cliff strains his vocal chords, or gets silly lyrically there are factors that make everything seem all right, like the back up singers on "Cry No More" or the surf guitar styling that wiggles throughout "Bang". Armstrong deserves credit for these touches as the album feels extremely well crafted. An admiring fan and incredibly talented producer should take some of the credit, but Cliff surprisingly shows he still has something to prove throughout the disk.
"Outsider" cooks like a 50's soul shakedown, while "Reggae Music" recalls Cliff's own personal history over some funky keyboard's that seem to be stolen from Stevie Wonder circa '72. Both tracks pulse, bringing a smile to the face upon first listen.
Much has been made of the cover song choices since the Sacred Fire EP came out last year and with good reason as they are spot on. "Guns Of Brixton" rawness fits like a glove and must be making Paul Simonon smile over in London as he hears Cliff sing a song which Simonon name checks The Harder They Come. Having Cliff cover his own "Ruby Soho" also proves to be genius on Armstrong's part as the track bubbles with energy.
"Ship Is Sailing" ends things on a smooth drifting note (before a tacked on remix of "One More") that places this collection of tracks on par with anything Cliff has produced since The Harder They Come and gives him a whole new set of music to cull from for his great live sets. Even if Rebirth proves to be an singular event rather then a full on career revival it is a great work that all involved should be proud of.
Color RtBE pleasantly surprised that when our good friend Glen sent us this album and we got more then one listenable song from it. Glen and I actually saw Jimmy Cliff at BB Kings years ago and I was blown away by his stage fire, something that has never dulled throughout his career, however his new songs were weaksauce all over.
Rebirth is far from that, a great listen to any fans of good music regardless of the genre, but fans of ska/reggae need to check it out. Start to finish a good one, grab it here, see Cliff on tour here, and peep some samples below:
"Guns Of Brixton"
"Ship Is Sailing"
"World Upside Down" Live on Jools Holland