Jimmy Cliff "Rebirth"

Jimmy Cliff revives his roots reggae for an inspired collection of new songs

Only 2 reggae artists have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Bob Marley and Jimmy Cliff. Both men were instrumental in introducing reggae to the world. Both Cliff and Marley were Jamaican nationals who wrote exuberant melodies while relaying political messages. Each in his own way influenced popular music and brought a wider global awareness to American audiences.

In 1972 Cliff starred in and contributed to the soundtrack of Perry Henzell’s classic film The Harder They Come. His 1970 song “Vietnam” marked a growing social consciousness and was hailed by Bob Dylan as the best protest song ever written. After his initial success Cliff headed to Muscle Shoals to record covers of hit songs like “Wild World” and “I Can See Clearly Now." As he embraced American soul his focus on reggae receded.

With the release of Rebirth Cliff returns to his roots to, as he puts it “complete a chapter of my career that was incomplete." Behind the raw, high energy passion of the album is producer Tim Armstrong, member of the Ska band Operation Ivy as well as the punk band Rancid. Armstrong recorded Cliff live in the studio with six musicians, coaxing out a spontaneous performance from the band and singer. He also used vintage gear and the same recording techniques employed in 1967-68 when Cliff began recording. Rebirth captures the essence of Cliff’s early recordings and his voice is as strong and supple as ever.

Cliff also is in top notch form in terms of writing. His songs range from personal to political. “Reggae Music” captures in four minutes the story of his career.“Our Ship is Sailing” is a love ballad, but most tracks deal with sociopolitical issues. “World Upside Down” challenges the questionable priorities of modern life. “Children’s Bread” a screed against economic divide, bops along on a happy ska bop. “Bang” begins with a Joe Strummer inspired scream and guitar, and carries the kind of self-affirming attitude that would have made the Clash singer proud.Speaking of that band, Cliff and Armstrong cover
The Clash’s “Guns of Brixton.” “Ruby Soho” is an Armstrong track from his Rancid catalog.

Rebirth doesn’t pull any punches in the studio. You’ll find no over-dubbing, no fancy sound effects or reverb. It is as pure and true a reggae record as I’ve heard in decades.

Rosemary Welsch (Afternoon Mix)