Review Summary: A powerful album from one of the true masters of reggae
A fantastic return of triumph for the great Jimmy Cliff. Rebirth is an album that seeps with the sound of classic roots reggae.
Rebirth was produced by Rancid front-man Tim Armstrong (who also provides guitars on the album). Within 48 hours of the two meeting in Hollywood’s Sound Factory studio they had laid down covers of the Clash’s ‘Guns Of Brixton’ and Rancid’s ‘Ruby Soho’. Both cover versions are successfully reggaefied without sounding cheesy or trite and carry an ambiance similar to Cliff’s material from the late 60s/early 70s. ‘Guns Of Brixton’ is the better of the two and certainly pays its respects to the original. Ironically the character Ivan that is named in the song was played by Cliff in the Film The Harder They Come. The songs’ vocal harmonies and percussion give it remarkable depth and power.
‘One More’ has the appeal of an anthem to it and is definitely the albums strongest moment. It could certainly take its place along side Cliff’s other classics ‘The Harder They Come’ and ‘Many Rivers To Cross’. ‘One More’ cuts the ice perfectly and can put anyone into a skanking mood. The horn arrangement on songs like this gives an extra edge that beautifully compliments the razor sharp rhythm section.
It should be noted that the instruments and recording methods are the same that were used in the late 1960s and many songs were done in live takes. This gives the whole album a sound that is not too dissimilar to many classic Studio 1 recordings.
Many other tracks like ‘Outsider’, ‘World Upside Down’ and ‘Reggae Music’ are also bona fide classics. The latter is a celebratory song of Cliff’s career and also focuses on the changes reggae has been through not just musically but also politically.
There are also more reflective moments on the album with songs such as ‘Ship Is Sailing’ and ‘Cry No More’. Both are delightfully soulful and slow down the pace a bit. ‘Cry No More’ is particularly potent in its musical delivery and pulls strongly on the listeners heart strings.
Although Cliff’s voice is fantastic there are one or two bits in the album where he sounds like he is struggling to keep the high notes such as in ‘Bang’ and the intro to ‘Blessed Love’. That is the only minor point on the record along with the alternative version of ‘One More’ stuck on the end of the album, which is rather unnecessary. (It might have been a good idea to have done a dub version of the song instead).
On the whole Rebirth is a brilliant album that proves Jimmy Cliff still has the skill to make awe inspiring music. The album will not disappoint fans of reggae and ska and is one of the greatest reggae releases this year. It is also a joy to hear Cliff returning to his classic sound. Rebirth is certainly a high point in his long career that is already full of landmark albums. Fans of Rancid might also want to check this out.