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Music Review: Jimmy Cliff – Sacred Fire

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The Honorable Jimmy Cliff has been a reggae legend for nearly 50 years. The EP Sacred Fire, his first studio release in seven years, finds him strong and passionate and capable of touching hearts and minds as effectively as always.

Jimmy Cliff

Cliff is the only living musician to have received Jamaica’s Order of Merit, the country’s highest award for achievement in the arts and sciences. His commitment to social justice and unflinching desire to expose issues such as economic instalibity, war, and political hypocrisy shine through strongly on these five songs, which were produced by Tim Armstrong, who is known for his work with Operation Ivy, Rancid, and The Transplants. Armstrong gives the music a fresh sound while giving full respect to Cliff’s deep reggae roots.

“Jimmy is one of my musical heroes and I’ve been responding to his music my entire life,” explains Armstrong.

I especially love Cliff’s fantastic version of “Ruby Soho” and his original song “Ship is Sailing,” with its message of overcoming any obstacles with love and determination, a message reggae delivers more effectively, I think, than nearly any other kind of music. It is an important counter, too, to the heavier messages of the other songs on this CD. There is also a wonderful version of “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall” that I know Bob Dylan, who has called Cliff’s “Vietnam” the best protest song ever, must love.

The other two songs on the EP are “Guns of Brixton” and “Brixton Version,” a harder reggae take on the same song. These are hard-hitting, no-compromise protest songs, and they do not advocate peaceful protest in the face of violence:

When the law breaks in
How you gonna go?

Shot down on the pavement, or waiting on Death Row?
You can crush us
You can bruise us
But you have to answer to
Guns of Brixton.

“These songs are about the sacred fire inside of me. As an artist and activist, I feel I have more to accomplish. The fire is still there,” Cliff explains in the press release.

Yes, the fire is certainly still there.

This EP is a little taste to get us all ready for a full CD and tour coming in early 2012. Grab it–it’s a small treasure in its own right. I can’t wait to hear the full CD!

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About Rhetta Akamatsu

I am an author of non-fiction books and an online journalist. My books include Haunted Marietta, The Irish Slaves, T'ain't Nobody's Business If I Do: Blues Women Past and Present, and Sex Sells: Women in Photography and Film.
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