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Jimmy Cliff
Sacred Fire EP

Collective Sounds

Rancid’s Tim Armstrong revitalizes the recording career of reggae legend Jimmy Cliff for a new generation just like Rick Rubin became an inspirational foil for Johnny Cash. The two collaborate on an EP that should whet the appetite for a full-length album due later this year. As producer and guitarist on the project, Armstrong develops his obsession for reggae’s traditional styles with a different perspective that brings reverence, enthusiasm and energy. Rather than squeeze the music within the context of a modern, overstuffed production, the material has a classic ‘made in Jamaica’ feel without sounding as if it’s been newly-discovered in a storage vault. Balancing that fine line allows the five tracks to breathe instead of thud like the badly constructed wall of sound that permeates many 21st century recordings.

With solid backing from the band Engine Room, Cliff covers the Clash’s “Guns of Brixton,” Rancid’s “Ruby Soho” and Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.” He also offers a rock steady beat on his original number, “Ship is Sailing.” While the mood and rhythm are typically upbeat, the content is not, as it focuses on war, social unrest and political hypocrisy. It’s no accident that Cliff changes the song title in the Dylan tune, singing “A hard rain is falling.” Together, it’s a reminder of how reggae music can be uplifting as well as musical version of the day’s events.

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