Jimmy Cliff sounds pretty spry for a 63 year-old. The reggae legend is a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer (whatever that means) and holds England’s esteemed Order of Merit in addition to releasing several notable albums. Cliff hasn’t released a record since 2004’s Black Magic, but this teaser EP for a forthcoming 2012 LP raises the bar. The CD consists of 5 tracks, 4 of which are covers, and one of which (“Guns of Brixton”) has two different versions. In other words, there’s one original song here.
Rancid’s Tim Armstrong twists the knobs on Sacred Fire, and he knows what he’s doing when it comes to reggae production (see Armstrong’s own A Poet’s Life). As a producer, he takes a backseat to the legend. You won’t hear his trademark slur or any aggressive guitars—just old school roots reggae and Cliff’s soft, falsetto voice. Well, that and a cover of “Ruby Soho” thrown in for good measure. The covers draw from The Clash, Rancid, and even Bob Dylan. The first two are obvious fits for the reggae treatment, with Cliff delivering Paul Simonon’s lyrics about a character that Cliff himself played in The Harder They Come back in 1972. The covers hold true to the originals in terms of tone and intent, but the melody and emotion that Cliff conveys give something of a positive, sunny-behind-the-clouds tone. His voice sounds unblemished over the years, and there’s a sense of heart and enthusiasm in his delivery that gives urgency to the songs that is counter to their laid back rhythms. In Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” the change-up from the original carries a sadness and beauty that haunts. The repetitive reggae beats give an echo effect that resonates as the lyrics climax, replacing the dramatic feel of Dylan’s version with something that—while definitely still a downer—suggests a little more hope.
While the production and backing band do an excellent job, and the throwback roots style is definitely Cliff’s strong area, his voice is what carries The Sacred Fire EP. The songs here, with the exception of “Ship Is Sailing” aren’t his originals, but Cliff takes ownership. I’ve heard The Clash’s “Guns of Brixton” probably hundreds of times, but listening to the EP, I think only of Cliff. That alone expresses what Cliff has achieved with this record.
7.3 / 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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