Jimmy Cliff - Sacred Fire EP [12-inch] (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Jimmy Cliff

Sacred Fire EP [12-inch] (2011)

Collective Sounds

If given the chance, Rancid's Tim Armstrong will always choose to work with his musical idols. Whether it's putting out records from Joe Strummer or playing with X's D.J. Bonebrake in Devils Brigade, the guy is a fan just like the rest of us. So it shouldn't be a surprise that Armstrong produced and played guitar with reggae icon Jimmy Cliff for his new EP Sacred Fire. But what is surprising is just damned good it sounds.

Have you heard the The Harder They Come soundtrack? If you want to know why Jimmy Cliff is a big deal, give it a spin. While Cliff's output has been spotty over the years, his clean, strong voice is still a mighty force on his songs. The rest of Cliff's discography could disappear, but his legacy would be assured as long as that soundtrack survives. And Sacred Fire nearly matches it.

Granted, the EP consists mostly of covers, but they're damn good covers. Cliff kicks off with the Clash's "Guns of Brixton," and he imbues the gang song with a sense of grief. Rancid's "Ruby Soho" gains a new found softness. Bob Dylan's "A Hard Rina's A-Gonna Fall" takes on an angelic quality that Dylan's own voice could have never provided. Armstrong's influence might get overstated, but Cliff's delivery cannot. The guy remains a master interpreter.

The originals are great too. "World Upside Down" and "Ship is Sailing" have a carefree beach vibe that serve Cliff's voice well. For all the problems he's had over the years, Cliff's voice remains remarkable. The guy can belt as loud as he wants, but he packs just as much power in a whisper.

Another aspect that makes Sacred Fire so strong (besides the covers) is that it plays to Cliff's strengths. Black Magic, Cliff's last proper release, sought to supply the singer with a bevy of celebrity duets (Strummer, Sting, Annie Lennox) and contemporary arrangements. Armstrong, though, provides Cliff with retro '70s ska/reggae, playing to the legend's strengths and roots. After A Poet's Life, I'm not surprised. Aside from an unnecessary "Guns of Brixton" reprise, Sacred Fire is a great EP, and one heck of an advertisement for Cliff's upcoming 2012 full-length.