Produced by Rancid member and Hellcat Records owner Tim Armstrong, Jimmy Cliff’s Sacred Fire EP is a wonderful jumble of time and place that ends much too soon. To realize this mini-dream, Armstrong recorded the legendary singer on vintage equipment, and all parties agreed on a songbook that’s pop, although pop influenced by Cliff’s era of reggae. As such, you get the Clash’s “Guns of Brixton” skanking as if Coxsone Dodd were at the controls, Rancid’s “Ruby Soho” done with some Jackie Mittoo-esque organ, and Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” sounding like classic Black Ark material, recorded when the studio was fresh and clean and long before Lee Perry burned it to the ground. These impossible, time-spanning recordings work because Cliff is both in fine form and deep into the material, bringing all his wisdom to the Dylan performance while kicking “Ruby Soho” across the field as if he were a Young Lion. Armstrong and crew step lively and provide plenty of inspiration for the legend, plus they deserve special mention for approaching the one original cut here, “Ship Is Sailing,” with true Island hearts, giving the light song a proper, irony-free lilt. Crying shame there’s not more of it, but what could have been a meta mess ends up the eternal punky reggae party, and if UB40 hadn’t already stolen the title, they could have slapped Labor of Love on this one and watched Cliff, Armstrong, and the reggae faithful all nod in unison.
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AllMusic Review by David Jeffries