Music Maker

by: Jimmy Cliff

The second of Jimmy Cliff's three albums for Reprise in the mid-'70s, Music Maker has on the surface all of the ingredients that went into Cliff's wonderful late-'60s work with producer Leslie Kong. The songs are melodic and wise while the production yields a bright pop sound with subtle reggae rhythms that are implied more than they are front and center, and floating over the top of everything is Cliff's distinctive, expressive tenor. But something intangible is missing, and while it is tempting to suggest that what's absent is Kong's input (Kong died in 1971, shortly after The Harder They Come was completed), the truth is that Cliff's songwriting sounds a bit labored here. Not that there isn't strong material on Music Maker. "Foolish Pride" is a lovely song, for instance, while "I've Been Dead for 400 Years" carries the kind of historical and political commitment that made Bob Marley an international icon. But nothing on Music Maker has the kind of easy universality that earlier Cliff songs like "Many Rivers to Cross" or "The Harder They Come" exhibited. Another problem with this album, at least in retrospect, is the heavy use of the Moog synthesizer, which gives the whole enterprise a kind of dated feel, while the Kong-produced material, by contrast, comes across as wonderfully timeless. Still, Cliff is too good a singer and writer to ever put out a completely bad album, and his obvious well-meaning sincerity comes close to making this one work. The best of Jimmy Cliff's work on Reprise has been collected on The EMI Years 1973-1975, and that may be the best way to sample this time period in the singer's career. [The British edition has entirely different artwork and was titled House of Exile.] ~ Steve Leggett

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