An enlightening if somewhat disappointing set that neither lives up to its title nor to this normally excellent series' reputation. Still, The Harder They Come: The Definitive Collection breaks new ground in the Jimmy Cliff stakes, finally putting the artist's early work in perspective. Few of the artist's best-of sets bother with Cliff's recordings prior to his breakthrough in the late '60s. Earlier in the decade, though, the singer unleashed a stream of Jamaican hit singles that also rocked the British reggae scene. This two-CD set dedicates the first half of disc one exclusively to a roundup of Cliff's ska 45s, presented chronologically. Leapfrogging to 1968's "Waterfall," a Brazilian number one, the set shifts into the early reggae age. The first half of disc two follows Cliff to world renown, with the release of the movie The Harder They Come in the U.K. and a clutch of international hits. Then, in August, 1971, his mentor/producer, Leslie Kong, died, and with the Island label turning its attention to Bob Marley, Cliff was left to struggle on his own. Although the chart hits dried up, the singer continued releasing strong albums, some of which were nominated or won Grammys. But Cliff's post-Kong career is dispensed with in half a disc, suggesting his golden years were gone, a far from accurate assessment. For devoting so much space to the ska years, this compilation rights many past wrongs, but by so abbreviating Cliff's past 30-plus years, it commits new ones. Perhaps there's just no winning with a canon so long and varied, but in the end this set is far from definitive.
AllMusic Review by Jo-Ann Greene
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2