Ah... now this, hear this, hear dis, hear DiS: this record is something special and self-indulgent and summery and sweaty and evening-like and simply an essential purchase for anyone who wants to create a sun-soaked scene in the dankest of bedsits.
'Many Rivers To Cross' comprises the best of Jimmy Cliff’s oeuvre between 1961 and 1970 – the nascent years of populist reggae in many ways – and its 25 tracks show both the development of an artist and the development of the genre toward a wider audience. Of course we’re all familiar with the joyful strings-n-stomp of ‘Wonderful World, Beautiful People’ or the mighty, mighty evocation to positivity that is ‘You Can Get It If You Really Want’ and the tearful, soul purity of ‘Many Rivers To Cross’ (or at least you should be) but it is some of the less immediately popular tracks that, more than anything, make this an essential addition to bustin’ CD collections.
Nestling amongst the remaining ska, rocksteady and pop-reggae workouts is what Bob Dylan once called ‘the best protest song he’d ever heard’, ‘Vietnam’. All tape-distortion and pristine dance which masks some pretty damned hard-hitting lyricism - and a track that inspired Paul Simon to visit Jamaica for the first time. So it’s not all good then, I guess...
As ever with high-end reggae-soul artists, the collection passes through personal tales of love and loneliness (‘Time Will Tell’_ and ‘Hurricane Hatty’); social commentary, justice and spirituality (‘The Man’ and ‘Hard Road To Travel’) and the sheer joy of being alive and musical (‘Bongo Man A Come’). Every sense of the human experience is stimulated and satisfied. In other words, this has power inside. Better be prepared.
The only frustration with this collection (and it is a purely selfish one) is the cutoff point of 1970. We are denied the genre-defining ‘The Harder They Come’ from the seminal ’72 rude-boy-strives-for-success Kingston movie of the same name. But that story and that era of Cliff’s career will no doubt be dealt with when the time is right.
In the meantime, spend some time with this great record. The artist that launched a thousand two-tone bands has dignity and devilry, vocal smile and varnished soul.