November 29, 2011 - Collective Sounds
To the outside observer, the news of Rancid frontman Tim Armstrong working with reggae legend Jimmy Cliff might be cause for alarm. But if you've dug into the work that Armstrong has done outside the Rancid fold—particularly his 2007 solo effort, A Poet’s Life—you'd know that Cliff is in very good hands. For one, Armstrong is obviously a huge Cliff fan, and with that fandom comes a desire to want to do right by his peer. So, he's not going to tart up these songs with loud guitars and aggressive tempos. Instead, Armstrong and backing band the Engine Room give Cliff a comfy bed of rocksteady reggae with a hint of candyfloss pop to whet listeners' sweet teeth.
Really, what Cliff, Armstrong & Co. are trying to do is whet people's appetites for Cliff's next full-length (his first in seven years). To do that, they have put together a quick collection of cover songs with one original, including takes on the Clash's "Guns Of Brixton," the Bob Dylan classic "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall," and even a run through Rancid's "Ruby Soho." In the case of the Rancid and Clash numbers, the anger has been pulled out of the music and replaced with head-bopping warmth that hints at the underlying tension of both tracks. Cliff helps bring some bile to the fore, especially with his performance on "Brixton," but otherwise, he plays aims for a cooing kind of smoothness that perfectly matches the buoyancy of the music.
Cliff hasn't sounded this loose and giddy in years, and it's a thrill to find that side of him back in the music game. Here's hoping this is only the beginning of a beautiful friendship between the elder statesman of reggae and his young benefactor.