Music News

Jimmy Cliff

With a career that reaches back four decades -- and with Bob Marley and Peter Tosh long dead -- Jimmy Cliff may be the closest thing to a visible elder statesman that reggae music has to offer.

Perhaps explosive mainstream success has eluded Cliff, but that hasn't prevented him from spawning a string of respectable albums over the years and penning some memorable songs. (Bob Dylan allegedly once named Cliff's "Vietnam" the "best protest song ever." Allegedly -- people are always claiming Dylan said something disproportionate.) Best of all, Cliff has never wallowed in the worst of reggae's crowd-pleasing clichés.

But even without these accomplishments, Cliff would still rank as a reggae legend if only for his involvement in the groundbreaking movie The Harder They Come. The 1973 film remains a powerful dose of shantytown vérité. Cliff not only starred as the film's protagonist Ivan -- an aspiring pop star who becomes a razor-toting criminal -- he also contributed the majority of the songs to the film's best-selling soundtrack. Three decades later, the record remains the finest reggae sampler ever.

Hip-O Records upped the ante on the landmark disc earlier in the year by repackaging a deluxe 30th-anniversary edition. In addition to the usual top-of-the-line audio enhancements, a second disc has been added, which contains 18 more "must have" reggae classics (including the aforementioned "Vietnam" as well as three other Cliff tunes). The collection serves as a reminder that there is a lot more going on in the tropics than we see in the Sandals ads -- and some of it is pretty scary.

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Jeff Hinkle