In 1968, Island Records released Jimmy Cliff's debut album, Hard Road, swiftly following it the next year with a self-titled full-length set (retitled Wonderful World, Beautiful People for U.S. release). Under any name it was a superb set, one that would further bolster Leslie Kong's reputation as the producer with the golden touch. Of all the early Jamaican label heads, it was Kong who garnered the most chart action, raising the likes of Desmond Dekker, the Maytals, and Cliff, of course, to international stardom. In the late '60s, Kong's session band, Beverley's All Stars, comprising members of Gladdy's All Stars and other local luminaries, were laying down some of the most delectable reggae to be heard on the island. Their sound, however, was buttressed with sympathetically applied symphonic overdubs, adding a further lushness to the band's own lavish style. The musicians positively glowed on this set, assisted by Cliff's own strong and infectious melodies. "Many Rivers to Cross" would later resonate across The Harder They Come movie and soundtrack, while "Wonderful World" and "Vietnam" were both destined for international chart success. Many more of the album's tracks could have joined them, and in Jamaica, they did. "Suffering in the Land," "Hard Rock to Travel," (reprised from Cliff's previous set), and "Come into My Life" would all spin successfully on 45 on the island as well. As magnificent as the music was, lyrically it was arguably even stronger, with Cliff chomping at the bit to show off his talent with the pen. Sweeping across universal themes, sufferer's songs, and romance, Cliff is the master of the school of hard knocks, imparting an optimistic message of overcoming the odds with finesse. This reissue reproduces the album in full and adds another seven numbers to further sweeten the set. Some, including "Give a Little, Take a Little" and "My World Is Blue" were originally Jamaican singles; a pair of numbers -- "Those Good, Good Old Days" and "Better Days Are Coming" -- were pulled from Cliff's 1974 Struggling Man album. A clutch showcase the singer's R&B side, others his more Jamaican styling. And although a few feel a bit out of place here, recorded as they were years later, fans won't mind a bit.
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AllMusic Review by Jo-Ann Greene
feat: Trojan Cliff