Friday, July 13, 2012

Jimmy Cliff: "Rebirth" (2012) CD Review

Jimmy Cliff's music is as relevant as ever, though I'm not sure if that says good things about him, or bad things about the state of the world. All I know is this music is absolutely needed.

Reggae has always had a strong social conscience, and often addresses important issues while simultaneously bringing joy to its listeners.  It's never too heavy. It mentions problems, but makes them feel solvable. This music makes it seem that it's in our power to do something about the world's troubles and injustices. The music is never cynical or defeatist. And maybe it's worth having all these troubles if it means Jimmy Cliff keeps writing great songs.

His new album, Rebirth, is a wonderful collection of mostly original songs. There are only two that he didn't write or co-write (both are songs by punk bands, including a wonderfully fun rendition "Ruby Soho," a tune originally done by Rancid). This CD features some strong vocal performances by Jimmy Cliff. And the vibes are all positive. I've been feeling down lately, and this album really raised my spirits. There is an inherent optimism in reggae music that really affects us.

"World Upside Down"

Rebirth opens with "World Upside Down," which has a fun party-type beat and vibe. Jimmy Cliff sings, "So much war and poverty/While few enjoy prosperity." The refrain is "They say the world is spinning around/I say the world is upside down." This song reminds us of all our problems, and yet makes us feel good. It's pretty amazing how it's able to do that. I think it's at least partly because reggae brings people together, and creates the feeling of community. It's the you're-not-alone message we all need to hear.

This song also has a Shakespeare reference. Jimmy Cliff sings, "Looking at the world, I agree/Oh what fools we mortals be," a reference to Puck's line in Act III Scene ii of A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Co-written by Joe Higgs, "World Upside Down" is an excellent opening track.

"One More"

"One More" has kind of an intense vibe. This one demands volume. I love the horn section. In this one, Jimmy Cliff sings, "I've got one more story to tell/Mystery, my story/I've got on more story to tell/True story, my glory."  I really like these lines: "I've got one more shot at the goal/Straight from my soul/And I'm in control."

A second version of this song is included as the last track of the disc. This version has even a funkier rhythm. It's more of a dance song.  Though of course the first version will have you dancing too.

"Cry No More"

What Jimmy Cliff does vocally on "Cry No More" is different from what I've heard from Jimmy Cliff in the past. Different sections make different vocal demands on him. His voice is so sweet and clear in the opening section. And then there is the strange weariness on the line "Cry no more." 

"Cry No More" is such a sweet and positive tune, with lines like "We'll live for each other, doing our best/Nothing can ever keep us apart/With love in the heart, everything is all right/Cry no more."  Jimmy Cliff co-wrote this one with Tim Armstrong, who also produced the album.  (Tim Armstrong will be familiar to folks as the front man of Rancid.)


Another great vocal performance is in "Bang," one of the CD's strongest tracks. This song also features some wild and decidedly non-reggae electric guitar work.

"Guns Of Brixton"

One of the two tracks on this album that Jimmy Cliff didn't write is "Guns Of Brixton," a song by The Clash (from the 1979 album London Calling).  It's a really interesting cover, but of course a reggae version of a Clash song totally makes sense, particularly this song, which has a strong reggae influence (and a reference to "The Harder They Come"). This rendition features a horn section.

For those who don't know the song, here is a bit of the lyrics: "When they kick out your front door/How you gonna come/With your hands on your head/Or on the trigger of your gun/When the law breaks in/How you gonna go?"

"Guns Of Brixton" was also included on Jimmy Cliff's Sacred Fire EP.

"Reggae Music"

Reggae music often mentions itself in songs. So it was no surprise to find a song called "Reggae Music" on the track list. But it's a song in which Jimmy Cliff looks back at his own career in music, even mentioning "The Harder They Come." And some of the things he does vocally makes me laugh; the song is truly delightful. And of course he brings it to the present with the lines, "Now 2012, reggae music is still here/Have the voice of the people everywhere/Whenever there is injustice and tyranny, reggae music is there/Standing up for the rights." 

"Reggae music gonna make me feel good."  Indeed.


"Outsider" comes as sweet a surprise, being a mid-1960s R&B soul type of tune that will have you twisting. It's a seriously fun song, with fantastic energy (even with hand-claps and spelling out the song's title).  This song features a horn section, and groovy backing vocals. Plus it celebrates being an outsider - pridefully, joyfully. Jimmy Cliff co-wrote this one with Tim Armstrong. "Making music keeps us alive/Life without music I just can't survive." 

CD Track List
  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

Joining Jimmy Cliff on this album are Tim Armstrong on lead guitar and rhythm guitar, J. Bonner on bass, Scott Abels on drums, Kevin Bivona on piano and guitar, and Dan Boer on organ. Tim Armstrong also produced the album.

Additional musicians include Michael Bolger on trumpet and trombone; James King on baritone sax, tenor sax, and flute; David Moyer on saxophone; Liam Philpot on saxophone; and Jordan Katz on trumpet and trombone. Backing vocalists include Jean McClain, Ashli Haynes, Dash Hutton, Aimee Allen, Nicki Bonner, Jordis Unga and Tim Hutton.

Rebirth is scheduled to be released on July 17, 2012.

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