Music

Jimmy Cliff: Rebirth

Jimmy Cliff. Photo by Thomas Sheehan.

Jimmy Cliff's latest is a magnificent return to the roots reggae he first brought to America in the '70s. The result is some of his best work ever.


Jimmy Cliff

Rebirth

Label: UMe
US Release Date: 2012-07-17
UK Release Date: 2012-07-16
Artist website
Amazon
iTunes

Reggae music legend Jimmy Cliff turned 64 on the first of April this year. In 2010, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame, making him only the second reggae artist to ever achieve such status (the other, of course, is Bob Marley). In 1972, the singer starred in The Harder They Come, a movie that introduced him to the American mainstream as his Ivanhoe "Ivan" Martin proved to be a mesmerizing character for audiences everywhere. The film not only received critical praise, but its soundtrack also essentially single-handedly brought Jamaican music to the United States of America.

Jimmy Cliff, in other words, didn't ever need to make another record again to solidify his legacy and importance in the reggae music world. But he did. And that album, Rebirth, reminds music listeners everywhere that the reggae world would be forced to endure a hole the size of Kingston had the singer decided to give up making music for good. The record not only reclaims his position at the top of the Jamaican music mountain, but it also assures us that the man born James Chambers is far from finished when it comes to recording and performing.

Produced by Rancid's Tim Armstrong, Rebirth is every bit its title. From the excellent ska-oriented album opener "World Upside Down", to the final proper song of the bunch, "Ship Is Sailing", Cliff sounds as invigorated as ever. He's always had a delicate approach to the reggae croon, anyway, but here, his voice is weathered, proving that it has aged perfectly -- fit for a type of tone that pulls at your heartstrings -- vulnerable and poignant, yet confident and promising. It's a living, breathing reminder of why reggae music can be so affecting. His words are so hopeful, yet that voice can sound so hopeless.

The only thing separating Rebirth from perfection is when Cliff decides to veer away from the sun and sand and venture back into the grungy clubs of rock and roll he's been known to hang in every now and then. "Outsider", for instance, is admittedly a lot of fun with its immense gospel influence and obligatory backup female vocals, but compared with the rest of its counterparts, one has to be a tad disappointed that he didn't opt for another soulful reggae jam over a jam that's merely just soulful. "Guns of Brixton" incorporates an unnecessary acoustic guitar that is certainly forgivable, but until the rest of the track kicks in at the 45-second mark, it wouldn't be unnatural to feel a little bit of skepticism about where the song may end up.

But such reservation is actually one of the things that makes Rebirth so damn good. With Cliff having nothing left to accomplish and making the move to enlist a sidekick that spends his summers canoodling on Warped Tours with bands like Good Charlotte, it wouldn't have been unfair to express doubt about how this album might have turned out. Luckily, those feelings are dispelled quicker than one could utter the words "Ruby" and "Soho" as the Armstrong/Cliff combination proves its value in gold even before the first lines are uttered. The Rancid leader's influence is prominent, yet never overbearing, such as on the upbeat "Reggae Music", which is musically more pop-oriented than anything else here. The track's spoken-word storytelling is a treat, too, as one has to wonder if it was Armstrong's idea for Cliff to present his story in such a way. "Children's Bread" is another song that plays to the punk-rocker's strengths, as his knack for quick grooves turns what could have been a ballad into a dance-able, pop-ska party.

That said, Armstrong could have brought the music to Rancid's "Radio" and Cliff would have still made it sound every bit as tender and sweet as only he could, and that proves to be what -- over all else -- makes Rebirth so striking. "Cry No More" and "Rebel Rebel" both slip into the roots reggae feel that is impossible to upstage, and when such is combined with the singer's unforgettable voice, the outcome is always knee-weakening. While both songs slow the tempo down, each takes its own approach to that ageless traditional sound. "Cry No More" is delicate and heavy on the same type of organ that Marley's famous cry-related classic showcased so memorably while "Rebel Rebel" has an edge that is sure to set off Saturday nights on every beach in the Caribbean with its powerful horns and call-and-response refrain of "higher" and "fire".

It would be easy to think this might be the final great outing from such an important reggae music figure, but part of Rebirth's lore is that it sounds so fresh. For as unlikely as it once may have appeared, Jimmy Cliff couldn't have asked for a better partner in crime than Tim Armstrong, and this album is proof of that. The rocker made the reggae superstar sound energized, and the reggae superstar gave the rocker a sense of roots. To simply call this record a rebirth would be too obvious. It certainly isn't the first time Cliff has made timeless music, and if these 13 songs are any indication, this also won't be the last time, either. These songs aren't the sound of a man being reborn -- they are the sound of a man finally getting back to living life to its fullest. And if this album is any indication of where he wants to take his musical existence, one can only hope that Jimmy Cliff's life in the reggae music spotlight is far from over.

9
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

The 60 Best Albums of 2007

From tech house to Radiohead and Americana to indie and everything in between, the 60 best albums of 2007 included many of the 2000s' best albums.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Solitude Stands in the Window: Thoreau's 'Walden'

Henry David Thoreau's Walden as a 19th century model for 21st century COVID-19 quarantine.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Will COVID-19 Kill Movie Theaters?

Streaming services and large TV screens have really hurt movie theaters and now the coronavirus pandemic has shuttered multiplexes and arthouses. The author of The Perils of Moviegoing in America, however, is optimistic.

Gary D. Rhodes, Ph.D
Television

Fleabag's Hot Priest and Love as Longing

In season two of Fleabag, The Priest's inaccessibility turns him into a sort of god, powerful enough for Fleabag to suddenly find herself spending hours in church with no religious motivation.

Music

Annabelle's Curse's 'Vast Oceans' Meditates on a Groundswell of Human Emotions (premiere)

Inspired by love and life, and of persistent present-day issues, indie folk band Annabelle's Curse expand their sound while keeping the emotive core of their work with Vast Oceans.

Music

Americana's Sarah Peacock Finds Beauty Beneath Surface With "Mojave" (premiere + interview)

Born from personal pain, "Mojave" is evidence of Sarah Peacock's perseverance and resilience. "When we go through some of the dry seasons in our life, when we do the most growing, is often when we're in pain. It's a reminder of how alive you really are", she says.

Television

Power Struggle in Beauty Pageants: On 'Mrs. America' and 'Miss Americana'

Television min-series Mrs. America and Taylor Swift documentary Miss Americana make vivid how beauty pageants are more multi-dimensional than many assume, offering a platform to some (attractive) women to pursue higher education, politics, and more.

Hilary Levey Friedman
Music

Pere Ubu 'Comes Alive' on Their New, Live Album

David Thomas guides another version of Pere Ubu through a selection of material from their early years, dusting off the "hits" and throwing new light on some forgotten gems.

Music

Woods Explore Darkness on 'Strange to Explain'

Folk rock's Woods create a superb new album, Strange to Explain, that mines the subconscious in search of answers to life's unsettling realities.

Music

The 1975's 'Notes on a Conditional Form' Is Laudably Thought-Provoking and Thrilling

The 1975 follow A Brief Inquiry... with an even more intriguing, sprawling, and chameleonic song suite. Notes on a Conditional Form shows a level of unquenchable ambition, creativity, and outspoken curiosity that's rarely felt in popular music today.

Music

Dustbowl Revival's "Queen Quarantine (A Home Recording)" Is a Cheeky Reproach of COVID-19 (premiere)

Inspired by John Prine, Dustbowl Revival's latest single, "Queen Quarantine (A Home Recording)", approaches the COVID-19 pandemic with wit and good humor.

Books

The 2020 US Presidential Election Is Going to Be Wild but We've Seen Wild Before

Americans are approaching a historical US presidential election in unprecedented times. Or are they? Chris Barsanti's The Ballot Box: 10 Presidential Elections That Changed American History gives us a brief historical perspective.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.