Jimmy Cliff

In Concert: The Best of Jimmy Cliff

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Reprise attempted to capitalize on the success of The Harder They Come and Cliff's own charting album Follow My Mind by pushing for a greatest hits collection. Thankfully, the singer had other ideas. Recorded at shows in Massachusetts and New York, and overseen by producer Andrew Log Oldham of Rolling Stones fame, the album does indeed include some of Cliff's greatest songs, but this was no golden oldies tour. Accompanied by a coterie of steller Jamaican musicians, the singer totally reinvents his back catalog in a way that has never been equaled by any artist before or since. Much of the credit for his success belongs to legendary guitarist Ernest Ranglin, whose superb performance drives the entire set. In simplest terms, Cliff resurrected these songs in rockers style, but that only hints at what's actually going on, and, besides, much of the set is too laid-back to really qualify as rockers. Regardless of the label, the phenomenal guitar work feeds through the songs, and, assisted by the supple basslines and solid rhythms, these tracks are all given new life. "Many Rivers to Cross," for example, originally was a powerful spiritual number, but here it becomes epic in delivery, as the melody swings from Ranglin's sublime flourishes to Sterling McLeod's keyboards, while Cliff himself let's loose with one of the strongest performances of his life. The singer's delivery is absolutely awe inspiring throughout, and on-stage he must have sent shivers down the audiences' spines. Even a piece of fluff like Cat Stevens' "Wild World" (a pop sop to stateside fans) discovers hidden depths, while a deep number like "Fountain of Life" throbs with an almost pensive quality, as Cliff muses over his less than righteous behavior. Every one of the ten songs here is a masterpiece of arrangement and performance. The best-of title suggests a performance of hits as they were; you don't get that, but you do get Cliff at his very best, regardless.

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