It’s always curious to see a veteran musician team up with their junior. Last year Jimmy Cliff joined with producer Tim Armstrong (Rancid) for the Sacred Fire EP, a pairing that sparked Cliff’s creativity and lead to this follow-up full-length. While it’s easy to note Armstrong’s presence on Rebirth (the album features a reappearance of the EP’s “Ruby Soho” cover), this record is Jimmy Cliff through-and-through. His backing band may be of another generation and his producer may hail from Oakland, CA rather than the Caribbean, but the team knows roots reggae and they wisely take a backseat to let Cliff lead his Rebirth.
“World Upside Down” is an effective opener, with one of the better beats on the album and a recurring, conscious focus typical of Cliff’s best work: “what is wrong with humanity…what about love, love, love?” he asks. The album explores a number of classic topics, as in ”Reggae Music,” an homage to his favorite musical form as well as a celebration of longevity, and “Children’s Bread” with a dark 99%er tone. Sure, the lyrics of “they took the children’s bread and gave it to the dogs” are a bit heavy-handed, but the song also contains the best rhythms on the record, making it a standout.
With the album’s best cuts already examined, that leaves a couple of stumbles: “Cry No More” is a slow, thoughtful jam, and “Blessed Love” is your typical “one love” reggae song—neither is bad, but they’re a bit par for the course. Meanwhile, Cliff expands his sound a bit with “Outsider,” which has something of a Blues Brothers thing going on, and “Reggae Music,” on which Armstrong makes his presence felt with a heavier, banging beat. When Cliff breaks into speak-sing, it definitely sounds like something Armstrong had a hand in. Still, it serves as more than a chance for Cliff to play with new styles, it gives a broader feel to the record. Rebirth doesn’t feel like an old-timer trying to recreate his legacy, it sounds like an artist who still has a full tank. It’s worth noting that some of the backing vocals on the record are a bit overdone, but not to the point where they detract from the overall song.
The album does recycle a few tracks from 2011’s EP and, while they are all solid tracks, the change-up between recording sessions can be felt, with the transition between “Rebel Rebel” and “Ruby Soho” always feeling just a touch out of place. It feels that the record could have been of equal quality if they’d just left it at 10 tracks and left the EP to stand on its own. Still, with Rebirth, it shows that the Cliff/Armstrong pairing has given Cliff a second wind and his last two recordings have surpassed most of his output of the past several years.
7.5 / 10
Posted Feb. 2, 2014, 10:42 a.m.
Perry Henzell's classic Jamaican reggae film The Harder They Come, starring Jimmy Cliff as Ivanhoe Martin, has been remastered and released in HD online via iTunes US, iTunes Canada ...
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