Thursday, 2 August 2012

REVIEW: Jimmy Cliff - Rebirth - listen

When musicians become producers, working with their heroes will always be somewhere on the wishlist and when it happens it can often produce interesting results. Especially if that hero happens to have been a massive influence on the music they've been making throughout their careers. Rancid's Tim Armstrong is part of many generations that have been inspired by Jimmy Cliff, a legend who has now been in the business for more than years. On 'Rebirth', Armstrong provides Cliff with the perfect musical partner and lends his new album a lively and crisp production that packs many punches. It's like two kindred spirits from different eras setting off on a musical journey together, or even like a student teaching his master some tricks of his own. 

This album is no modern overhaul of the reggae veteran's style and perhaps isn't exactly the Rebirth that its title suggests. However it is a return to his roots and certainly a reinvigoration of his sound, revisiting the golden age of reggae and throwing away the bland crossover material that has filled the gap between the late 70's and now. It's less of an interesting record, more like an instantly likeable and often highly enjoyable one. Now five decades into his career, Jimmy sounds truly revitalised and in truly fine voice on this wonderful album. 

Opener 'The World Is Upside Down' is like a modern day update of the classic 'Wonderful World Beautiful People', except the story itself doesn't need updating because in 2012, his old political and social stance is just as relevant now as it was in the 60's. The warm upbeat ska arrangement updates Joe Gibbs's original, and revises the lyrics brilliantly, ensuring that Cliff truly makes it his own. Another standout track is the superb 'One More', the sound of Cliff proving that at years old he is in mean form, and still has plenty of vigour: "I got one more shot at the goal, straight from the soul and i'm in control". The horns are sharp, the atmosphere is vibrant, and the direct addictive chorus brings to mind Bob Marley And The Wailers. But with Marley no longer here, who better to resurrected those vibes than the ageless Cliff? Some versions of the album come with a bouncy ska reprise of 'One More' as a bonus track, which provides a fine alternative take and makes it hard to figure out which version you like best. 

Two covers are particularly well chosen and demonstrate how Cliff's influence on modern music has come full circle. The Clash's 1979 classic Guns Of Brixton is given a fine organic reggae treatment, an apt choice of cover since it directly references Cliff's role as Ivan in the 1972 film 'The Harder They Come'. A laid back rendition of the Rancid classic 'Ruby Soho' (which of course was written by Armstrong) also sees Cliff tipping his hat to those who he has inspired. It may not hit the same heights as the other cover versions here, but when Armstrong wrote the lyrics "Echoes of reggae coming through my bedroom wall", there's a very strong chance that he may have been referring to Jimmy Cliff records. 

Elsewhere 'Cry No More' is a gentle paced lover's rock number that lends a voice of support to underprivileged families and features a charming falsetto, while the hugely addictive 'Children's Bread' is an instant highlight that puts a tale of greed and injustice to a massively infectious singalong. Another immediate favourite of equal strength is the enjoyable autobiographical celebration of 'Reggae Music', with Jimmy commanding another fantastic vocal performance throughout while paying tribute to the music he has always loved most. Throughout this album the man sounds alive and passionate, and the music reveals a living legend back in truly great form once again. 8.2

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