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Reviews by - Lindsay Planer

This week we’re saluting Gene Autry, Nick Drake, Cole Porter and Paul Williams -- four of the 20th Century’s most revered pop music singer/songwriters -- each of whom has recently been anthologized in respective career-spanning compilations.

Gene Autry -- The Essential Gene Autry ( Columbia / Legacy )

Unbelievably, of the dozen or so folks under 30 that I posed the question ‘Who is Gene Autry?’, only two actually knew. Hopefully, the double-disc Essential Gene Autry will go a long way in changing that. Although usually associated with his role as the silver screen’s most beloved ‘Singing Cowboy’ -- having starred in some 93 films -- Autry was also an entrepreneur in the truest spirit of the word. His array of interests led him to become the founding owner of the Anaheim Angels Major League Baseball team, in addition to a host of other profitable non-musical endeavours. That said, it is his contributions to the earliest days of Country & Western music which is being celebrated here.

The 40 selections span over two decades (1931 -- 1953), presenting the first project of its kind to focus on his seminal ARC and Columbia Records catalogue. Among those best-loved classics are “Back In The Saddle Again,” “Tumbling Tumbleweeds,” “Yellow Rose Of Texas,” “That Silver-Haired Daddy Of Mine,” “Deep In The Heart Of Texas,” “You Are My Sunshine,” “Jingle Jangle Jingle,” “Don’t Fence Me In,” “Home On The Range,” “On Top Of Old Smokey,” and the seasonal favourites “Buttons And Bows,” “Here Comes Santa Claus” and “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer”. The accompanying 12-page liner booklet contains an essay from Autry’s official biographer Holly George-Warren, surrounding a handful of definitive photos.

Nick Drake -- A Treasury ( UMe / Island )

The music of enigmatic British singer/songwriter Nick Drake has only recently begun to receive the recognition that it deserves. His legend has grown exponentially during the decades following his tragic passing in 1974, not to mention his three LPs Five Leaves Left (1969), Bryter Layter (1970) and Pink Moon (1972) are rightfully considered unquestionable classics of the era. In addition to featuring key entries from each of those albums, the newly compiled 15-song Treasury also draws from the Made To Love Magic (2001) rarities compendium.

Drake’s inventive and intimate blend of jazz and folk yielded a brilliant, albeit conspicuously modest catalogue, highlighted on sides such as “Introduction,” “River Man,” “Poor Boy,” “Place To Be,” “Fruit Tree” and “Pink Moon”. The latter being Drake’s most widely recognized song thanks to its use in a memorable television advertising campaign from Volkswagen.

Audiophiles will be especially pleased as the title is forward-compatible with dual layers of information that are accessible on all standard stereo CD players, SACD stereo and SACD Surround Sound units as well. After experiencing the practically palpable and aurally cocooning contentment of “Cello Song” or “Northern Sky” with its own understated organic warmth, even after decades of hearing these songs there is a definite feeling of rediscovery when being quite literally swaddled by Drake’s unique musical “Magic”. Here’s hoping his entire output is given a similar upgrade.

Cole Porter -- The Very Best of Cole Porter ( UTV Records / Hip-O )

Inspired by the recent hit cinematic biopic De-Lovely  -- starring Ashley Judd and Kevin Kline -- The Very Best Of Cole Porter (2005) includes one-and-a-half dozen classic renditions of Porter’s best-known and beloved songs. There are few composers whose respective catalogues have been as consistent and as highly regarded as Porter’s. His clever wit and refined cosmopolitan style has been perpetually rediscovered by every subsequent generation of music lover. Unlike the movie’s soundtrack, which contained current interpretations of Porter’s material, this decidedly old-school assemblage gathers time-honoured favourites from a host of stars. Dean Martin (“True Love”), Peggy Lee (“My Heart Belongs To Daddy”), Dinah Washington (“I Get A Kick Out Of You”), Billie Holiday (“Easy To Love”),  Tony Bennett (“Begin The Beguine”), Anita O’Day with Billy May & His Orchestra (“Just One Of Those Things”) and a two-fer from Ella Fitzgerald (“Too Darn Hot” and “You Do Something To Me”) are but a handful of the artists selected for their readings.

Seasoned listeners and curious new recruits alike are exceptionally well-served by The Very Best Of Cole Porter, as it not only presents a quintessential primer, but also a compact biographical essay by Wilt Friedwald, author of the highly recommended tome Jazz Singing (1996). The audio quality is likewise worth mentioning, as the digital remastering really brings out the best of these vintage recordings.

Paul Williams -- Evergreens: The Best of the A&M Years ( A&M / Hip-O Select )

The fine folks at the Hip-O Select on-line music emporium -- which can be located by pointing your  web browser to <www.hip-oselect.com> -- have filled a major void by providing the first comprehensive analecta of singer/songwriter Paul Williams venerable 1970s output. Although he issued six long players between 1971 and 1977, it was more often than not cover versions of his songs that garnered the most recognition. Among those to have gained significant acclaim are “We’ve Only Just Begun” (The Carpenters), “I Never Had It So Good (Kris Kristofferson & Rita Coolidge), “An Old-Fashioned Love Song” (Three Dog Night) “Let Me Be The One” (The Carpenters), “Out In The Country” (Three Dog Night), “Rainy Days And Mondays” (The Carpenters), “Dream Away” (Frank Sinatra), “That’s What Friends Are For” (B.J. Thomas), “Family Of Man” (Three Dog Night) and the set’s title track “Evergreen” (Barbra Streisand). The latter earned Williams both a Golden Globe and his first Grammy Award  -- although he’d been nominated in 1976. That initial nod was for the score to Brian DePalma’s rock ‘n’ roll horror flick Phantom Of The Paradise (1974) and suitably Williams' finale “The Hell Of It” from the soundtrack was chosen to conclude this collection. The 24-page oversized booklet includes plenty of photos surrounding a biographical essay, as well as a few paragraphs from Williams himself. Interested parties are urged to secure their copies as it is limited to an edition of 5,000.

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