Review : Jimmy Cliff - Rebirth
AltpressJimmy Cliff is not a likely candidate for the American Recordings-style, late-career comeback. Since his 1970s heyday—most notably with the game-changing soundtrack of The Harder They Come—the singer has maintained his status as one of reggae’s most dependable artists. But there’s been a slick sheen and bloodless professionalism with much of his recent output. That’s been rectified with Rebirth. Just as Rick Rubin revitalized Johnny Cash two decades ago, producer Tim Armstrong has injected a fresh dose of passion and urgency into Cliff’s stately, soulful voice. The Rancid frontman has done more than just produce; he also leads the backing band as guitarist, and he co-wrote many of the tracks with Cliff. Of those collaborations, the keening, organ-drenched “Cry No More” and the outraged but upbeat “Children’s Bread” are most successful. Each sounds like a lost classic of late-’60s/early-’70s Jamaica, infused with warm, vintage tones and bare-bones arrangements.
Cliff also performs much-needed overhauls on older songs of his, such as the haunting, harrowing “One More.” Surprisingly, it’s the disc’s two unlikeliest remakes—the Clash’s “Guns Of Brixton” and Rancid’s “Ruby Soho”—that truly shine. The apocalyptic skank of “Guns” is sung by Cliff with such ghostly dread, it sounds like the Clash covered him. And despite the fact that “Ruby Soho” is originally a straight-up punk tune rather than one of Rancid’s ska excursions, Cliff credibly reggae-fies it, drawing out a wistful poignancy that Armstrong himself never mustered. But it’s the Cliff/Armstrong composition “Reggae Music” that’s the crowning jewel of a flawless album. Over a lush, jaunty rhythm steeped in syncopated swagger, Cliff cuts loose with the full, sweet force of his voice—in the meantime delivering a mini-lesson on the history of the genre. Cliff has never needed to reaffirm his place in the reggae pantheon. With Rebirth, he went ahead and did it anyway—and then some....full text
BbcHas anyone ever sounded as joyous as Jimmy Cliff when expressing such deep concern for the state of the world? Now aged 64, the reggae superstar sounds as socially engaged as ever on this remarkably consistent set of mostly self-penned songs, which explicitly revisit the sonic terrain of his biggest 60s/70s hits.
What could've felt like an ageing artist desperately chasing past glories instead succeeds as a vibrant reconnection with what made him so great in the first place. The refusal to modernise that signature fusion of reggae, pop and soul is an astute decision on the part of Cliff and his producer, Rancid frontman Tim Armstrong.
These crisp, uncluttered arrangements are perfectly in tune with the instantly memorable, pleasingly familiar material Cliff’s made his name with. And much of it compares favourably with his best work.
He remains in tremendous voice, sounding fully engaged with a project that clearly means the world to him. Indeed, Rebirth is nothing if not his urgent state of the planet address.
And yet whether pointing his finger at corporate greed and expressing support for the Occupy movement in Children's Bread, or offering a heartfelt prayer to recession-hit families in Cry No More, he never sounds overly-earnest. Instead, the sheer exuberance and grace that he brings to these universal protest anthems more than makes up for the occasional lyrical lapse.
So, while a line like “Rebel, rebel, rebel, take it to the next level” is rather nebulous – a clarion cry generalised into meaninglessness – it's the spirit of Cliff's performance that matters most, rather than any specific meaning....full text
IndependentWell, yes. Rebirth. Jimmy Cliff has been reborn as exactly the same person he was 40 years ago, when his high-energy skank and wail adumbrated the Marley breakthrough into mainstream tastes: Cliff was a sort of reggae John the Baptist.
If only we all wore so well. And while there is nothing here which startles, the spirit of the music is vivid. Cover versions abound (only "Guns of Brixton" disappoints); the atmosphere crackles....full text
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