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Best of Music 2012: Sonic Sunshine-Jimmy Cliff’s “Rebirth”

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What stands to be regarded as one of the best albums of 2012 is reggae legend and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, Jimmy Cliff’s groovin’ new album REBIRTH [available from iTunes & Amazon].

This is an album I’ve been waiting for since I heard last year that Cliff was collaborating with ska/punk hero Tim Armstrong [Rancid, Operation Ivy].

Jimmy Cliff & Tim Armstrong in the studio.

The sonic symbiosis between Cliff’s buoyant Jamaican reggae groove and Armstrong’s melodic, up-tempo rocksteady vibe is a match made in sun-drenched heaven.

As it’s well known that Tim Armstrong is a Jamaican music nerd – he knows more about the naissance of  reggae, ska & rocksteady than the majority of Jamaican musicians – I was really hoping that the album would include each of those and Bam!, this dynamic duo did just that and then some.

In fact, in my opinion, this is a must-buy for music lovers of any genre – it will reinforce Cliff/Armstrong fans’ fervour and will garner them a legion of new fans.  [Cliff & Armstrong’s ability to bring the younguns into the swaying fold was evidenced by their appearance at this year’s Coachella festival when the 20-something hipsters, many of whom appeared to have no idea who Cliff was, fell under the rhythmic spell of his joyous set.]

Jimmy Cliff bringing the joy at Coachella 2012.

On Rebirth, Cliff is in perfect pitch, his voice has aged but he has looked after his instrument well, and you can hear his infectious smile throughout the record.  Cliff’s lyrics have stayed true to his political reggae roots – he speaks his truth about freedom, poverty, war and the quest for love without the listener feeling lambasted.  He updates his famous 1970 song, Vietnam , into the currently-relevant Afghanistan.

Musically, the horns and organ are holding down the melodic fort, the guitars & percussion are giving us mad rhythms and the vocals are taking us to church.

And what would a Tim Armstrong record be without a little nod to punk? :)  Voilà, Cliff and Co. KILL The Clash’sGuns of Brixton and just to make us all happier than we ought to be, there’s a piano-banging, soft-sell cover of Rancid’s Ruby Soho. 

It’s honest, moving, intellectual, sonic sunshine and will turn you into a smart, smiling, shuffle demon.

You can stream it from Rolling Stone here, but I’m going out on a smiley limb and saying just buy it already.  :0)  And have yourself a groovy little summer.

Poster from Cliff’s star making turn in 1972′s “The Harder They Come”. The soundtrack of the same name is another must-own.

Earlier this year, Cliff appeared on Late Night with David Letterman, in one of the most intimate and engaging performances ever on television:


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