There are plenty of legendary reggae artists in music history but only two have been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame: Bob Marley and Jimmy Cliff. While Marley maybe the best known reggae artist internationally, Jimmy Cliff is the genre’s living ambassador and at age 63, he is still making music. Next year, Cliff will release a full length album, Existence; his first new album in 8 years and his first working with Rancid‘s Tim Armstrong. To preview the album he has released Sacred Fire EP.
Although it is only five songs, the EP gives the listener a good idea of what to expect from Existence. Questions like “what will Tim Armstrong influence be?” are answered. Armstrong is known for mixing reggae, ska, and punk but it seems his main influence on the EP is the song selection. Cliff is known for his covers of artists like Cat Stevens and Johnny Nash but on Sacred Fire, he branches out even more covering The Clash and Rancid.
The EP begins with Cliff’s unsurprisingly amazing cover of The Clash’ classic, “Guns of Brixton.” Cliff keeps the reggae feel of the original but adds in a horn section to help embellish the tune and make it his own.
Cliff’s version of Rancid’s “Ruby Soho” takes even more liberty with the original tune. He sucks all the punk out of the original and instead turns it into a straight rocksteady track. The arrangement stands out with the guitar and drums accenting the off-beat while an organ keeps the melody with Cliff’s vocals.
The only original track on the five song EP is “Ship is Sailing.” The track is a fine reggae tune with Cliff’s vocals shining on the higher notes.
While Sacred Fire is no substitute for a full length album, it does leave the listener’s mouth watering for next year’s Existence. The EP stands as a triumphant return for the reggae legend.