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World Music CD Reviews Reggae & Caribbean

JIMMY CLIFF

By Derek Beres
Published February 17, 2006

We Are All One: The Best of Jimmy Cliff
Columbia/Legacy

Jimmy Cliff was one of the first vocalists to successfully blend R&B melodies with the developing sounds of ska and reggae, as a good amount of this collection shows. His pop sensibility produced some of the catchiest songs of 1970s Jamaica, including "Roots Woman," the Johnny Nash cover "I Can See Clearly Now," and the album's highlight, "Third World People," where Cliff's social poetics fused with deep reggae swing to capture the essence of his music: ultimately danceable, intrinsically reflective melodies of revolt and understanding. His ultra-hit "You Can Get It If You Really Want," from the cornerstone soundtrack of The Harder They Come, serves as another marker of his accessible-yet-aggressive ragga style. Unfortunately, the title track from that album was overlooked, and a few others of less notability snuck on. Cliff, like most reggae artists, fared well until the 1980s, when the addition of drum machines, electric guitar solos and synthesizers made their way into roots music. But through it all, Cliff's unique voice and progressive lyricism held him a notch above most, as We Are All One holds testament to.