Jimmy Cliff is sufficiently ensconced as a musical icon that he made it into a list in Nick Hornby's music-obsessive masterpiece High Fidelity. ["Many Rivers To Cross" was in third place, sandwiched between "One Love" by Bob Marley and "Angel" by Aretha Franklin.] And, speaking of movies, it was probably as a consequence of the soundtrack to The Harder They Come (which starred Cliff as Ivanhoe Martin) that most Americans came to Cliff's music in the first place.
The reggae star was born in Somerton, Jamaica, on April 1, 1948, as James Chambers. At 14, he moved to Kingston, ostensibly to go to school, but in fact to become a performer, taking the surname Cliff as a nod to his mountainous hometown. His early sides were produced by the late Leslie Kong, a record store owner from Kingston who embraced Cliff's music after the artist had been rejected by the likes of Duke Reid and Coxsone Dodd.
This collection was originally compiled by Island Records in the UK, gathering stray singles and previously-unreleased tracks, back in the Seventies. Why it got shelved is destined to be one of Life's Big Mysteries. After all, Cat Stevens, who was blazing, had produced both "Trapped" and "Waiting In Line," and anything at the time with his name attached seemed golden. "Keep Your Eyes On The Sparrow," not to be confused with the Baretta theme, is the spiritual descendent of the aforementioned "Many Rivers To Cross," and it is a jaw-droppingly beautiful track produced by Paul Samwell-Smith of the Yardbirds. It also includes the single version of "Waterfall," the tune with which Cliff represented Jamaica at the International Song Festival in Brazil.
Despite coming from a variety of sources and times, the album hangs together as a musical statement and is comprises some of Cliff's most powerful work.