Jimmy Cliff - Rebirth

  • By Jamie Wolfert @tonereport
  • December 19, 2013

A wise man once said “don't call this a comeback, I've been here for
years”. Perhaps Jimmy Cliff should have opened his new record, Rebirth,
with that same line. A lot of people would call this a comeback anyway,
though, and they'd mostly be right. Rebirth tops anything the reggae
pioneer and recent Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame inductee has done in recent
memory, with guts and roots energy that put it right up there with his
best work.

Much of the ballsiness on display here can be credited to Cliff's new
musical ally, and Rebirth producer, Tim Armstrong of Rancid. Armstrong is
a lifelong reggae / ska / rocksteady aficionado and a huge Jimmy Cliff
fan. His keen ear for what people love about Cliff's music elevates
Rebirth to the level of transcendency. In a way, he's doing for reggae
what Daptone Records has done for classic soul music; taking it back to
its dirty roots, cutting tracks live in the studio, and keeping the
production old-school. It's about time! Rebirth sounds amazing. It's not
as deliberately grimy as some Daptone productions, but it's certainly fat,
punchy, and sweet in the mid-range, the way that great old recordings are,
with nary a bit of modern hype or slickness to be found. Lovers of vintage
Jamaican sonics will feel right at home.

The cover tunes on Rebirth seem to be getting the most attention, and it's
not unwarranted, but Cliff's fresh batch of originals are just as
impressive. “One More” required immediate repeat listening for me, with an
unstoppable groove, menacing horns, and lines like “I got one more arrow
in my bow / got to let it go / just watch me flow”. “Bang” takes a similar
tack, with a ruff-and-tuff feel that makes the connection between classic
reggae and punk rock seem obvious. Songs like “World Upside Down” and
“Children's Bread” tackle social injustice and poverty in the way that
only Jimmy Cliff can pull off.

Now, about those covers....they're pretty awesome. Cliff covers both The
Clash's “Guns of Brixton” and Rancid's “Ruby Soho”, bringing his massive
influence on punk rock full circle, as well as paying homage to friends
and collaborators, Joe Strummer and Tim Armstrong. He delivers each tune
with authority, making them his own without radically altering them. It
works, and makes for two of Rebirth's high points.

Rebirth is a resounding success, and I would not be at all surprised if it
brought Jimmy Cliff back into the popular consciousness in the same way
that Johnny Cash's collaborations with Rick Rubin did for him. I, for one,
am very excited about the possibility of a Daptone-esque roots reggae
revival with Cliff and Armstrong taking the lead. Modern reggae has been
plagued by formulaic songs and slick production for too long, and Jimmy
Cliff's Rebirth could be just the thing to bring this once-vital music out
of its artistic doldrums.

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