Wednesday, 10 June 2015

"Better Days Are Coming: The A&M Years 1969-1971" by JIMMY CLIFF (2005 Hip-O Select 4CD Book Set Remasters) - A Review by Mark Barry

“…Don’t You Get Downhearted…Don’t You Cry…”

Featuring his 1970 LP "Wonderful World, Beautiful People" by JIMMY CLIFF

Reggae superstar JIMMY CLIFF was released on A&M Records in the USA and Island Records in the UK - so this October 2005 4CD hardback book set by Hip-O Select of the USA on B0005362-02 (Barcode 602498322994) crosses over releases in ‘both’ countries and requires some detailed explanation because of it. Here's a breakdown of what’s what:

Disc 1 (36:47 minutes):
1. Time Will Tell 
2. Many Rivers To Cross
3. Viet Nam
4. Use What I Got 
5. Hard Road To Travel
6. Wonderful World, Beautiful People
7. Sufferin’ In The Land
8. Hello Sunshine
9. My Ancestors 
10. That’s The Way Life Goes
11. Come Into My Life
Tracks 1 to 11 are the album "Wonderful World, Beautiful People" released in January 1970 on A&M Records SP-4251 in the USA

Track 12 is “Waterfall" - the non-album B-side of the 7" single "Wonderful World, Beautiful People" released in November 1969 on A&M AM 1146 in the USA 

Disc 2 (36:48 minutes):
1. Wild World 
2. The Song We Used To Sing
3. Aim And Ambition
4. Better Days Are Coming
5. Hey Mr. Yesterday
6. Be Aware
7. You Can Get It If You Really Want 
8. Pride And Passion
9. Honey Hush
10. Give And Take
11. Let Your Yeah Be Yeah
12. I’ve Got A Feeling (And I Can’t Stop)
Tracks 1 to 12 are an unreleased and untitled USA-only album compiled in Island's London studios by Bob Porter - it was slated for release in September 1970 and even allocated a USA A&M Records LP catalogue number - SP-4286

Disc 3 (40:30 minutes):
1. Take A Look At Yourself 
2. Please Tell Me Why
3. Rap
4. Opportunity Knocks Only Once
5. My Friend’s Wife
6. Another Cycle
7. Sitting In Limbo 
8. Oh, How I Miss You
9. Inside Out, Upside Down
10. Our Thing Is Over 
Tracks 1 to 10 are the album "Another Cycle" released in 1971 on Island ILPS 9159 in the UK only

Disc 4 (47:27 minutes):
1. Those Good Good Old Days
2. Sooner Or Later
3. When You’re Young
4. Struggling Man (Original Version)
5. Let’s Seize The Time
6. Goodbye Yesterday
7. The Bigger They Come The Harder They Fall
8. I Can’t Live Without You 
Tracks 1 to 8 are an unreleased and untitled USA-only album compiled in Island's London studios by John Burns - it was slated for release in December 1971 in the USA and was allocated an A&M LP catalogue number - SP-4334
9. Going Back West
10. Struggling Man (Horn Version)
11. Can’t Stop Worrying, Can’t Stop Living You
12. Come On People 
Tracks 9 to 12 are 4 songs are from the "Struggling Man" album released in June 1974 on Island SW-9343 in the USA

His UK albums on Island Records either entirely or partially covered by this set are:

1. ”Hard Road To Travel" (1968 on Island ILP 962, Mono)
Tracks: Reward, Let's Dance, Can't Get Enough Of It, I've Got A Feeling (And I Can't Stop), All I Know About You, Give And Take, Pride And Passion, Searchin' For My Baby, Hard Road To Travel, A Whiter Shade Of Pale, Call On Me, Aim And Ambition 
 (Unfortunately tracks 1, 2, 3 and 5, 8, 10 are not on this set, but you can sequence the remaining 6 using tracks 12, 10 and 8 on Disc 2, 5 on Disc 1 and 3 on Disc 2)

2. ”Another Cycle" (1971 on Island ILPS 9159) (as per Disc 3 on this set)

3. ”The Harder They Come O.S.T." (1972 on Island ILPS 9202 - track list is identical to the USA version - available separately as a 2CD DELUXE EDITION)

4. ”Struggling Man" (1973 on Island ILPS 9235 - identical track list to the USA version)
Tracks: Struggling Man, When You Are Young, Better Days Are Coming, Sooner Or later, Those Good Good Old Days, Can't Stop Worrying, Can't Stop Loving You, Let's Seize The Time, Come On People, I Can't Live Without You, Going Back West
(Sequence is tracks 4 and 3 from disc 4, 4 from disc 3 - and 2, 1, 11, 5, 12, 8 and 9 from disc 4)

The packaging is exceptional - a long hardback book with embossed sleeve in what feels like recycled card and paper, pictured and themed CDs, superb US and UK discographies, detailed liner notes - it's beautiful to hold and look at. But the real goods as ever lie in the sound...

GAVIN LURSSEN has remastered the original master tapes at the Mastering Lab and the sound/audio is gorgeous. One of the complaints about reggae CD reissues is that they always sound muffled and compressed compared to the whack of their original vinyl counterparts - and as a lover of old records - that's actually true. One of the reasons for this is that some small independent reggae labels had to reuse tapes for economy, so the originals don't exist - and their reissues use a copy of a copy. But this is A&M/Island Records - so the tapes are still in tact and as evidenced here - in tip-top shape. Lurssen has restored life into these songs and brought out the lovely musicianship on them, excessive hiss levels are kept to a minimum without loss of feel and track after track is a joy to listen to. The clarity of the bass, piano, drums and backing vocals on "Please Tell Me Why" is just one of many examples - an absolute revelation. 

The downside is of course is the ludicrously short playing times of each disc - and the omissions. Hip-O could easily have been doubled up on each CD and the tally of 46 tracks increased to include all of the "Goodbye Yesterday - The Legendary Lost Album" CD of only 9 tracks which you have to buy separately - and included the 6 missing tracks from the "Hard Road To Travel" UK LP. And then there's the 2CD Hip-O Select DELUXE EDITION of "The Harder They Come" which you also need to get a complete picture of Jimmy Cliff at that time (another CD gem too). A musical upside worth noting however is that there are many tracks on this set that cross over into Sixties and Seventies soul - "I've Got A Feeling (And I Can't Stop)" could easily pass as a 1968 Motown dancer - punchy and brill - while "Can't Stop Worrying, Can't Stop Loving You" could easily have been an Al Green hit in 1972. Cool!

To sum up - sure it's expensive and it could have been sequenced to feature more of what we want - but "Better Days Are Coming" is still a peach - a thing of beauty to behold and more importantly to listen too. Frankly - cross as many rivers as you can to get this set into your life…

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