If there was ever an idea that sounded perfect, it was Tim Armstrong producing a Jimmy Cliff album. Armstrong’s a life-long ska/reggae obsessive who also knows a good deal about rock and pop music. If anyone could translate Jimmy Cliff into the 21st century, it would be him. While this idea sounded great in my head, it sounds even better in my headphones.
Cliff is a reggae legend who was recently inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Rebirth is one hell of a victory lap. Top to bottom, its a great album that explores the many facets of the genre, from the roots reggae of “One More” to the upbeat ska of “World Upside Down.” “Outsider” is celebratory soul music and “Bang” is a Clash style punky reggae party. Unsurprisingly, it’s followed by an excellent cover version of The Clash’s “Guns of Brixton.” This is the kind of awesome cross-pollination one hopes for and pretty much expects from a Cliff/Armstrong collaboration. The cover of “Ruby Soho” isn’t quite as good, but it’s still fun to hear.
What really makes this album what it is though is how good Jimmy Cliff still sounds. He’s 64 years old and his voice is flawless. When he hits his falsetto on “Cry No More,” the album’s ballad, its as beautiful as ever. There’s so much passion and energy in the performances that I can’t help but think he has a few more albums in him, making Rebirth a truly apt title. What’s more, Tim Armstrong has been singing about the reggae on his stereo since the 90’s. Getting to hear him live his dream and contribute to that legacy is a positively joyful experience. For fans of ska today, and old-schoolers, this is essential listening.