Although Alton Ellis was never to receive the international recognition of such contemporaries as Desmond Dekker or Delroy Wilson, the singer was at least their equal. Launching his career as the duo of Alton & Eddie (Parkins) at the dawn of the ska age, Ellis' career has continued unabated since, both as partner with other singers (including his equally talented sister Hortense Ellis) and as a solo artist. Although he recorded for a multitude of producers, some of his most glittering work during the rocksteady/early reggae eras was cut with Duke Reid, and it is from Reid's Treasure Isle chest that this compilation is drawn. There were scores of classics to choose from, and Cry Tough contains many of the best, a sumptuous entrance to the singer's world. Accompanied by a string of Reid's superb session bands and backed by the Flames (initially the Maytals and then a new grouping with Winston Jarrett at its core), Ellis proceeded to turn up the heat on the island with a flood of evocative hits. However, some of his best-known songs included within this compilation are not the original releases, but alternate takes. As these versions are in no way substandard to the actual releases, this a boon for collectors, while not penalizing new fans. In the case of his best-known number, "Girl I've Got a Date," the alternate is arguably superior, as Ellis reaches new soulful heights. The version of "Cry Tough" is also a masterpiece of emotional shading, almost overwhelmed by its sheer poignancy. And it was this emotive power that defined the singer -- a sweet soulfulness, rich with feeling, that Ellis brought to all his records. This was as true for his many self-penned songs as for the American pop hits he often covered, and it's arguably the latter that best showcase his talent, as Top 40 fluff resonates with new depth under his attention. With 20 classic songs and Ellis at his best, it's not all you'll need -- because after hearing this, you're guaranteed to want more.
AllMusic Review by Jo-Ann Greene
feat: Phyllis Dillon
feat: Phyllis Dillon