This review is published on Stereoboard.
Reggae python Jimmy Cliff is back to his roots with a message of hope that will keep your heart and soul on the sunny side; an open-hearted thirteen track showcase of his legendary talent which he calls “One more shot at the prize. One more shot at the goal.”
Rebirth’s cover art, boasting a silhouette of Cliff surrounded by rays of light, is an enticing introduction to an album devoted to injustice infused with spirited, feel-good Jamaican vibes, building cleverly on last year’s Sacred Fire EP. Think of it as a comfort blanket on a dismal day, a shot of neat dark island rum and a happy pill with a feisty edge. Whatever mood I’m in – wild, sensitive or angsty – Cliff makes me want to dance and spin around and feel good. He also makes me want to right the wrongs in the world.
His first studio work in more than seven years and second collaboration with Grammy award-winning producer Tim Armstrong of punk band Rancid, the collection is a blend of mostly original music with a couple of covers – Rancid’s ‘Ruby Soho’ and Clash classic ‘Guns of Brixton’ – the latter tapping into the uprisings for freedom in the Middle East and London riots, which took place as sessions for Rebirth were underway.
Highlights include the majestic, sun-beamy track ‘One More’ (I got one more song I must sing / Ding-a-ling / Freedom ring) – a statement of intent and purpose to himself and the world which was digitally released as a single on June 30th – and the equally infectious war and poverty track ‘World Upside Down’ with its pleas against social injustice (What’s wrong with humanity / Have they lost their sanity / For the sake of vanity?). The organ drenched ‘Cry No More’ and ‘Ship is Sailing’ and upbeat ‘Children’s Bread’, a hark back to his earlier works, also deserve a mention.
The entire album demands repeated listens and has done wonders for expanding my reggae horizons. When I can see an artist’s expressions through his voice, I know it will be an enchanting experience. There is an optimism in Cliff that really inspires me. He doesn’t just sing, he feels it with a soulful intensity that’s somewhere between roots reggae and punk rock. In just under an hour, the Jamaican born singer songwriter’s rich-as-rum voice and light-up-a-room crackle and pop charm brightened my week.
To be fully appreciated, the album should be listened to with at least some pre-existing knowledge of Cliff’s rich and colourful 50 year history. He has sold in excess of 25 million records, was canonized in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010, and is renowned for his passionate views against injustice in the world. But that’s not essential. Rebirth, as the title suggests, heralds a fresh chapter in the icon’s life and will appeal to new and old fans. Rave reviews from Mojo and The Los Angeles Times are a sure sign that Cliff’s star has no intention of diminishing.
The lyrics to ‘Reggae Music’ with its joyful chorus of “Reggae music making me feel good / Reggae music gonna make me feel good right now” sums up my verdict – a spunky album with attitude and punch. This is what authentic reggae sounds like. In Cliff’s own words: “Straight from the soul and in control.” It’s exciting to be privy to another instalment in a long and lasting career. For the love of everything sacred, don’t miss it.
‘Rebirth’ tracklisting is as follows:
1. World Upside Down 2. One More 3. Cry No More 4. Children’s Bread 5. Bang 6. Guns Of Brixton 7. Reggae Music 8. Outsider 9. Rebel Rebel 10. Ruby Soho 11. Blessed Love 12. Ship Is Sailing 13. One More (Alternate Version).