26 November 2007

2007 Greatest Hits

Since 2007 has seen so many hits packages in country music, I thought I'd take a blog to run 'em down.  Here goes, in original release order:

Gary Allan Greatest Hits (3/6/07)The problem here is that Gary Allan has always been a stronger album artist than he has been a singles artist. Smoke Rings in the DarkSee If I Care and Tough All Over stand strong as solid, rewarding albums as anyone has released in the same time period.  Yet, somehow, Greatest Hits, despite drawing chiefly from these three albums, is not greater than the sum of its parts.  Maybe the exclusion of singles that didn't fare well on the charts (like "From Where I'm Sitting") from his earlier works has to do with the perfunctory feel of this collection, given that in concert (where Allan really shines) he's still prone to playing album cuts.  Perhaps it's the generic quality of the two new recordings, "Feelin' Like That" and "As the Crow Flies" that has to do with the disappointment of this hits volume.  Recommended as an introduction to Gary's music only, and even then I would strongly advise one of the previously cited albums over this collection.

Alison Krauss A Hundred Miles or More: A Collection 4/3/07
Not strictly a hits collection, but rather a collection of recordings, A Hundred Miles or More is akin to Dwight Yoakam's Dwight's Used Records and In Others' Words compilations.  Essentially, these are songs that Krauss has recorded in recent years, but not for her own albums.  There's material from tribute albums, soundtracks, other people's albums...pretty much everything except commercial jingles, but that's probably because she hasn't recorded any.  Like those Yoakam collections, though, somehow the collection manages to work quite well.  Perhaps this is a reflection of the quality of work Krauss has turned in over the years that songs recorded entirely independent of one another can manage to feel like a solitary volume.  Still, if you're looking for an introduction to Krauss's material, or at least a primer in case you're going to see her in concert for the first time, look elsewhere.  This volume is really more of a companion piece to a Krauss library.

Sara Evans Greatest Hits 10/9/07Sara Evans has become a strong presence on radio in the last ten years, and a trip down memory lane via herGreatest Hits package makes one ask, "Has it really been ten years?"  Then one reflects on the decade since her debut and wonders how it is that in ten years' worth of singles, the absence of only one is even noticeable ("Backseat of a Greyhound Bus").  Upon closer inspection, though, like Gary Allan, several singles are missing from her earlier years, but one could argue against their inclusion based on their chart success (or lack thereof).  Unlike Gary Allan's missing early singles, hers aren't as keenly felt here, perhaps because her image and sound have transformed so radically over the course of five albums.  So the question remains, is this package intended for new fans making their first purchase of Sara Evans's music or the loyal fans who already own most of this volume?  With only fourteen tracks, and four of them new, this is one of those rare hits packages that manages to somehow cater to both demographics.

Garth Brooks The Ultimate Hits 11/6/07
I've written much about The Ultimate Hits already, but here I would like to note where this set addresses the two primary question of a hits collection: Is it better for new listeners or hardcore fans?  The answer is, honestly, either.  Fans new to Garth's music will be hard pressed to find a more economical way of surveying his entire career, though to be honest new fans should really start with The Entertainer DVD package since live shows were where Garth made his name.  Older fans will find four new recordings, each rewarding in its own, along with a hit-or-miss DVD with a music video for 33 of the 34 songs on the CD's ("Leave a Light On" is classified as a "bonus track" and therefore exempt from receiving a video).  The DVD collects nine music videos with a ton of concert special excerpts; it wears a little thin re-watching many of the same performances from the same specials again, but there are performances from two of CBS's three Garth Brooks Coast to Coast specials sprinkled throughout to spice things up.

George Strait 22 More Hits 11/13However impressive Garth Brooks's 34 song The Ultimate Hits is, perhaps even more impressive is Strait's 22 More Hits.  Is it twelve songs shorter?  Yes.  But consider that these 22 songs include staples such as "Unwound," "Amarillo by Morning" and "The Cowboy Rides Away"...and these were songs that didn't make it to Strait's previously issued 50 Number Ones by virtue of not having hit 1 on at least one major trade chart.  That's right...these are the "not good enoughs" of George Strait's illustrious career.

For most artists, a career spanning collection like this would be a monumental achievement.  For King George, it's just another reminder how consistently good he's been over the years.  Unlike 50 Number Ones22 More Hits is not sequenced chronologically, nor does it include any new material.  In fact, the album opening "How 'Bout Them Cowgirls" seems out of place as it's the only single Strait has issued since 50 Number Ones to be included.  Serious Strait fans already own these songs, but will probably appreciate having them remastered, as many of the older songs haven't been remastered since their initial issue on CD quite some time ago.  Newer Strait fans would benefit more from 50 Number Ones, but that's not to say 22 More Hits isn't just as good; it's just not as prolific.

Keith Urban Greatest Hits: 18 Kids 11/20
To be honest, I don't have this volume yet.  Still, I thought I'd remark that I am impressed by at least one part of it: They did not include the album versions of most songs, as nearly every other hits package has done over the years.  This is nice as an Urban fan, because when I do get around to buying a copy of his Greatest Hits, I won't be getting the exact same versions of most of these songs I already have on his albums.  And, given that Urban has become self-indulgent in regards to running times of his songs, radio edits are nice for someone who often makes his own playlist and would rather have four three-minute songs than three four-minute songs.  (Or, in Urban's case, four three-minute songs instead of two six-minute songs.)  That fact, plus the two new recordings and the option of buying a limited edition of the CD with accompanying DVD (with a video for each song that had one) means that new and old fans alike can find a reason to add 18 Kids to their Keith Urban library.

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