At 62, Jimmy Cliff is still delivering music with a message, as evidenced on his new album.
Jimmy Cliff still brims with spirit and charm in Rebirth
Trojan Records / Universal
Contrary to received wisdom, it wasn't Bob Marley who first popularised reggae music worldwide; it was his fellow Jamaican, Jimmy Cliff. Cliff's role as Ivanhoe Martin in The Harder They Come was key, Perry Henzell's 1972 movie lifting the lid on Jamaican music and culture, and making a superstar of Cliff, who sang the title track.
Rebirth sees Cliff, 62, return to reggae and ska. As befits the man who sang Vietnam and Many Rivers to Cross, this is also music with a message. "Morality is in demise / immorality on the rise", sings Cliff on World Upside Down, but the song's vibrant organ and taut, skanking guitars provide sunshiny contrast to his damning report on our planet's health.
Tim Armstrong of Rancid's production (the punk star met Cliff through the late Joe Strummer back in 2002) also impresses on the potted history of Jimmy's career that is Reggae Music, and the affectionate take on The Clash's Guns of Brixton is a nice touch. A rebirth? Not quite, but Cliff's first album in four years has spirit and charm.