Jimmy Cliff - Rebirth (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Jimmy Cliff

Rebirth (2012)

Universal Music

Sacred Fire was just the beginning; with Rebirth, Jimmy Cliff has launched a full-on comeback. Much like that limited edition EP, Rebirth finds the reggae icon returning to his earliest roots. Cliff has said that this record offered him a chance to revisit the roots reggae of his self-titled 1969 album. That's a heck of a journey through time, but with a production assist from Rancid's Tim Armstrong, it comes off quite naturally.

Cliff's last album, 2004's Black Magic, found the singer utilizing a lot of electronic studio creations. It wasn't bad, but it lacked the organic feel of his best work. Armstrong, himself a reggae fanatic, instead helps Cliff return to roots reggae with retro-minded production. If anything, it's closer in spirit to Armstrong's own A Poet's Life than Cliff's last few releases.

Sacred Fire shows up, mostly, with Cliff's covers of the Clash's "Guns of Brixton" and Rancid's "Ruby Soho," as well as originals "World is Upside Down" and "Ship is Sailing," returning. Second time around, these cuts still shine. There's plenty more roots reggae tunes like these in the wings. The best of the new bunch is "Reggae Music," a history lesson and emotional appeal on the genre's importance. And given his lengthy career, Cliff has a lot of personal history to investigate.

But for all the hullabaloo about him returning to roots reggae, Cliff's voice is still very much engrained in soul. It's ridiculous how well his pipes have held up, and he puts them to good use on the epic, horn-laden "One More." It's a reggae tune for sure, but Cliff's voice soars so much higher, something illustrated again on "Rebel Rebel" (which is not a David Bowie cover). Guy just belts like no other.

If Rebirth has a flaw, it's that one-third of its tracks were already released on Sacred Fire. Still, hearing Cliff get so engaged in his music again is a major perk. Rebirth is just that, a reawakening, a reassessment of what made Cliff so compelling in the first place. And really, that Rancid cover is just awesome.