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CD Review | Reggae

Jimmy Cliff, ‘Rebirth’

Credit the Clash’s Joe Strummer for getting this album in motion. Joe told reggae pioneer Jimmy Cliff that he should one day work with Rancid frontman Tim Armstrong, and the result is a refreshing return to form. Armstrong loved Cliff’s early work, back to the heyday of “The Harder They Come” soundtrack, so he and Cliff set out with vintage studio gear (including the organ from the soundtrack sessions) to create “Rebirth,” arguably Cliff’s best work since then. Joined by Armstrong’s band the Engine Room, they revive Cliff’s classic, ska-influenced sound (this is also the 40th anniversary of the soundtrack) with a wealth of new originals that pay homage to the era but also hit hard on modern politics. Cliff and Armstrong penned four songs together, including the Africa-inspired “Children’s Bread,” the autobiographical “Reggae Music,” and the horn-stoked “Outsider,” which shows the influence of American soul singer Sam Cooke. It’s a tour de force that comes complete with covers of the Clash’s “Guns of Brixton” and Rancid’s “Ruby Soho.” This is Cliff’s first studio album in seven years — and he indeed sounds reborn. (Out Tuesday) Steve Morse

ESSENTIAL “Reggae Music”