by: Jimmy Cliff

Jimmy Cliff has always occupied an odd position in reggae music, first of all because he predates it significantly, but also because for much of his career he merged his musical interests with international pop considerations to the extent that he managed to record frequently for such major labels as Warner, EMI, Universal, and Sony. Although his commercial success was spotty, it was recurrent; he first hit the charts internationally in 1969 and was still scoring occasionally in the mid-'90s. His label hopping had made it practically impossible to assemble a thorough compilation of his work until the release of Anthology. Universal's Hip-O reissue subsidiary specializes in putting together anthologies that span record labels, and the compilers had quite a task on their hands when it came to Cliff. Early in his career, he recorded for Island, later controlled by Universal (including his contributions to the celebrated soundtrack to The Harder They Come), and in the early '80s he was on the Universal-controlled MCA label, so Hip-O could start with that material. But there was still a chunk of recordings issued by Warner/Reprise in the U.S. and EMI in the U.K. in the '70s as well as a period on Sony's Columbia imprint in the '80s and '90s to consider. Nevertheless, Hip-O's Anthology succeeds in being the perfect two-disc compilation of Cliff's work over 30 years, 1962-1993. There are early Jamaican hits; the international breakthrough "Wonderful World, Beautiful People"; the topical hit "Viet Nam"; tracks from The Harder They Come, including "Sitting in Limbo" and "Many Rivers to Cross"; Cliff's version of Cat Stevens' "Wild World"; numerous tracks from the Warner/EMI period; and Columbia hits like "Club Paradise" and Cliff's U.S. Top 20 hit revival of Johnny Nash's "I Can See Clearly Now" from 1993-1994. Not only is the compilation thorough, but for the first time, it gives a good sense of Cliff's career as a whole, revealing his talents as a songwriter and his ability to use Jamaican rhythms to make a music palatable to pop audiences around the world. ~ William Ruhlmann

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