AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Forty years ago, reggae music gained popularity in the United States with the film, "The Harder They Come," and its soundtrack. The singer, Jimmy Cliff, was the star of both. Today, at age 64, Cliff has a new album out called "Rebirth" that harkens back to his early days. Our critic Will Hermes has this review.
WILL HERMES, BYLINE: Twenty-first century pop music has been flush with precise recreations of '60s and '70s American R&B. Think of Sharon Jones, Adele, Raphael Saadiq and the late Amy Winehouse. Meanwhile, I've been waiting for a similar revival of Jamaica's R&B, ska, rock steady and roots reggae. Jimmy Cliff's new record is exactly that.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
HERMES: In the decades since Bob Marley and Peter Tosh died, Jimmy Cliff has been the last man standing of reggae's first great international warriors. Frankly, he's made a lot of lukewarm crossover LPs over the years, but he finally decided to rewind his sound with the producer Tim Armstrong, the singer from the punk band Rancid. He's a huge Jimmy Cliff fan and he helped nail that old school sound everywhere on this record, even on a cover of his own song, Rancid's "Ruby Soho."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RUBY SOHO")
HERMES: There are other good covers here, too, notably the Clash's "Guns of Brixton," which mentions Ivanhoe Martin, the hardscrabble character Cliff played in the movie, "The Harder They Come."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GUNS OF BRIXTON")
HERMES: Cliff's originals here are just as exciting and they don't seem stuck in the past, like "Children's Bread," a song about poor folks and thievery that I think would play quite well in an Occupy encampment.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHILDREN'S BREAD")
HERMES: As a pop music fan of a certain age, I have to check myself when shouting out records that echo period sounds. Really, I'm as excited by Frank Ocean's next generation R&B as the next guy, but good is good, killer is killer and, if anyone should be able to reanimate the vintage Jamaican music I hear bumping out of every hipster coffee shop in town, Jimmy Cliff is the man.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
CORNISH: The new album from Jimmy Cliff is called "Rebirth." Our reviewer, Will Hermes, is author of the book, "Love Goes to Buildings on Fire."
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.