Although he's tossed in a few torrid reggae classics on nearly every album he's recorded, there hasn't been an across-the-board, consistently great, wonderful sounding Jimmy Cliff album since his true breakthrough of 1972: his songs on the soundtrack to "The Harder They Come" and its immediate follow-up, the mighty and mournful "Struggling Man." There simply hasn't been the strength of empowered lyrical composition and dynamic melody to go along with his trademark angelic wail since that time.
That is, until "Rebirth."
Mirroring Mr. Cliff's longtime relationship with his producer, the late Leslie Kong, Tim Armstrong (of ska punk's Rancid) gives the aged-like-fine-wine Jamaican icon the sympathetic, roots-reggae sound that was part of Cliff's initial groundswell. The pair create a softly spiraling groove to back the pensive, troubled-world lyrics that made Mr. Cliff a universally concerned citizen. While "Children's Bread" and "One More" look for solutions with soul as their self-help aid, a loving take on Rancid's "Ruby Soho" and a torrid version of The Clash's slow-dub sensation "The Guns of Brixton" rocks Cliff's casbah and updates the track, applying it to contemporary troubles in the Middle East.
This is the first album in 30 years by the original lineup of the dB's -- Peter Holsapple, Chris Stamey, Gene Holder and Will Rigby. That's the foursome who in 1981 and '82 delivered the one-two punch of "Stands for Decibels" and "Repercussion." It was the jangle heard 'round the world, helping set the template for indie-pop.
"Falling off the Sky" proves to be a winsome return. Melodic pop songcraft again holds sway. The songs, meanwhile, retain a certain air of youthful earnestness while also reflecting the musicians' advancing age. They can be yearning ("Send Me Something Real") and wistful ("Far Away and Long Ago"), sweetly romantic ("Before We Were Born,") and poignant ("She Won't Drive in the Rain Anymore"). But a sharper edge also surfaces, as on the punchy, garage-rock-inflected opener, "That Time Is Gone." In that vein even drummer Rigby gets into the act -- his pointedly clever "Write Back" is his first composition to appear on a dB's album.
-- Nick Cristiano, The Philadelphia Inquirer
NEW THIS WEEK
Baroness, "Yellow & Green": With double album "Yellow & Green," Baroness finally surfaces from the suffocating Georgian sludge-swamps to sit amongst the upper echelon of progressive rock royalty. Baroness has outgrown its previous post-metal categorization. This double album may not connect with those unwilling to grow with Baroness, but for those willing to support a progressive band in its selfish exploration of its musical capabilities -- give "Yellow & Green" enough time to bear its soul to you. Sure, it comes with its imperfections, but it's such humanity that makes music so life affirming. (Dean Brown)
Nas, "Life Is Good": Nas tries to power through uneven production with fiery raps, but the sad truth is that the self-conscious way "Life Is Good" is put together undermines his energy and intention. For all the energy here that was sorely lacking on its predecessor, this album is still wildly inconsistent. This is unfortunate for basic reasons, namely that Nas is a rapper that's easy to root for, the kind of artist that both genuinely loves what he does. It's also sad because everything about "Life Is Good" suggests starting over, from the artwork that finds Nas holding his ex-wife Kelis' green dress to how much these songs take stock of the past, not to relive it but to move beyond it, on to the next thing. (Matthew Fiander)
Billy Joe Shaver, "Live at Billy Bob's Texas": To say Mr. Shaver's had a hard life is like calling the Pacific Ocean a large body of salt water. "Live at Billy Bob's" does a wonderful job of showcasing his charismatic stage presence and providing a run down of the man's best songs. The CD also comes packaged with a DVD of the show, but you don't need to see Mr. Shaver to feel his power. The man who invented the term "honky tonk hero" clearly is one. You can hear it in its voice. He may believe Texas is the closest thing to heaven, and America is the best country in the world, but he's not wrong about much. And as long as he's in the Lone Star state of the USA, he may be right. (Steven Horowitz)
Other notable releases this week: Citizen Cope, "One Lovely Day"; Fixx, "Beautiful Friction"; Missy Higgins, "The Ol' Razzle Dazzle"; Hot Panda, "Go Outside"; Icky Blossoms, "Icky Blossoms"; JEFF the Brotherhood, "Hypnotic Nights"; Kinky, "Sueno de la Machina"; Matisyahu, "Spark Seeker"; Old Crow Medicine Show, "Carry Me Back"; Smashing Pumpkins, "Pisces Iscariot" (Deluxe Edition); Soul Asylum, "Delayed Reaction."