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Black Magic

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Album Review

This is an intriguing record. Although his greatest music is nearly 40 years in the past, Jamaica's Jimmy Cliff still has tons of charisma, and he still has that clear, high, and slightly world-weary voice, not to mention complete control of it, even at the top of his range. Ostensibly a record of duets with the likes of Sting, Annie Lennox, Joe Strummer, Wyclef Jean, and others, Black Magic remains very much Cliff's album, and while producer Dave Stewart factors in a whole range of contemporary R&B and hip-hop touches, its Caribbean lilt dominates, although it isn't particularly Jamaican in feel. Forget the guest stars. None of them, with the possible exception of Tessane Chin (on the delightful and radio-friendly "The World Is Yours") and Bounty Killer (whose hoarse, lion-throated rumble would dominate any stage in the world), particularly sticks out, which is good, because Cliff outsings them all. It's a pity, though, that there aren't more good songs on Black Magic. "The World Is Yours" is solid, even featuring what passes for a Jimmy Cliff rap, and "The City," which eulogizes cites like Kingston, New York, Hong Kong, and Paris, has a moody grandeur, but tracks like "People" sound like overblown TV commercials, and one song here, "Jamaica Time," actually is a commercial for Air Jamaica. The best track is the relatively straightforward "No Problems Only Solutions," a song that sounds like it could have been a Leslie Kong production circa 1970. Charming, direct, melodic, and positive, "No Problems" features no fancy guests, and proves that Cliff really doesn't need them when he's at his best. Joe Strummer, who died in 2002, makes one of his last appearances on "Over the Border," but the tune is a middling affair that unfortunately never truly catches fire. Stewart produced all but one of the tracks on Black Magic, and while the sound here is steady and cohesive, one can't help but wish that it had a little bit more Kingston in it. More Kingston might have made this a great record rather than simply an intriguing one.


Born: 01 April 1948 in St. James, Jamaica

Genre: Reggae

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

It's one of the music industry's great ironies that today, outside of reggae circles, Jimmy Cliff is perhaps better known for his film appearances than his music. Even after a string of hits, the singer never quite managed to break into the mainstream, although he seemed poised for international stardom during the late '60s/early '70s. The singer was born in St. James, Jamaica, on April 1, 1948, with the less prosaic name James Chambers. His talent was evident from childhood, and he began his career...
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