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Jimmy Cliff – Rebirth album review

In the tradition of late-career back to basics albums we now have Jimmy Cliff’s “Rebirth”.  One of reggae’s finest practitioners his early high point was his appearance on the soundtrack to the 1972 movie “The Harder They Come” which he also starred in (though we shouldn’t dismiss the other artists on that record).  His career started as reggae was still emerging from its horn heavy precursors, before Bob Marley had cemented it as guitar based Rock Hero territory.  This gave his sound a certain openness and bounce and fun that I think reggae lost as it started to take itself too seriously.

Cliff had a problem, however.  He wanted to expand beyond reggae and into a whole world of pop styles.  This led to a number of different albums, collaborations, and genres and even the occasional hit.  But somewhere we lost the reggae genius that started it all.  Rancid singer Tim Armstrong has never had the problem of casting his net too wide.  He’s a man who knows his small place in what he loves. Thank God he somehow managed to hook up with Cliff.

I remember reading an interview twenty years ago with Armstrong, in Guitar World magazine, where he said, I paraphrase from memory, “The first time I heard the music in the Harder They Come it was huge, gothic, like a medieval cathedral.”  He’s completely correct.  And he managed to bring it back to Cliff as producer and bandleader on the record.  There are a few nods to punk, a cover of The Clash’s “Guns of Brixton” and a surprising highlight in a cover of Rancid’s “Ruby Soho”, but this is really a pure roots reggae record.  And like Cliff’s early material it’s roots reggae that hasn’t forgotten about ska.

It also hasn’t forgotten about the black American music that started all of rock music in general, including reggae.  In short, this isn’t just a great reggae record it’s a fantastic rock’n’roll album.  I won’t bother to attempt to describe any of the songs here with a little verbal nugget.  There’s no point.  If you like rock you have no business not liking this.

By A. D. Terbush

Mr. Terbush would like to give you a back rub.

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