Reviews by - Lindsay Planer

There are a mere handful of labels that can accurately deem their artist compilations as ‘essential’. And Sony/Legacy is arguably the only one with enough creds to consistently pull it off. This week, we’ll prove it with examples of their top-shelf anthologies from practically every pop genre.

Yolanda Adams -- The Essential Yolanda Adams (Legacy/Columbia)

In terms of contemporary gospel, there are few voices as distinct or venerated as that of Ms. Adams. For the better part of twenty years, her R&B, jazz [think: Nancy Wilson or Natalie Cole] as well as pop crossover appeal has equaled the purity of her message. On this double CD set, over two dozen of her best-loved and most revered performances are gathered into what can aptly be described as the perfect primer for the uninitiated and a stellar collection for fans.

Among the signature selections are “Through The Storm,” “Even Me,” “The Only Way,” “Just A Prayer Away,” “Let Us Worship Him,” “The Good Shepherd,” “What About The Children?,” “More Than A Melody,” “Is Your All On The Altar?,” “Still I Rise,” and “Only Believe.” Listeners are likewise treated to incomparable live versions of “The Battle Is The Lord’s,” and an epic six-plus minute “The Lord Is With Us In This Place”. The latter features the legendary Fred Hammond alongside Hezekiah Walk & The Love Fellowship Crusade.

Alice In Chains -- The Essential Alice in Chains (Legacy/Columbia)

The 28 cuts here chronicle one of the founders and most consistently creative combos borne of the fertile Seattle grunge scene of the late ‘80s/early ‘90s. Quite a lot of turf is covered, spanning not only the groundbreaking albums Facelift (1990), Dirt (1992), the eponymously-titled Alice In Chains (1995) and the band’s acoustic-based MTV Unplugged (1996) entry, but also several hard-to-find offerings from EPs, soundtracks and the like.

The two hours of content are highlighted by the hit LP sides “We Die Young,” “Man in the Box,” “Sea of Sorrow,” “Them Bones,” “Rooster,” “Angry Chair,” “Dirt,” “No Excuses,” “I Stay Away,” “Grind,” “Heaven Beside You,” “Again,” “Would?,” and “Get Born Again.” Plus, rare remixes of “What The Hell Have I” and “A Little Bitter,” both from the soundtrack to Last Action Hero (1993), as well as the Unplugged incarnations of “Over Now” and “Nutshell”.

If any overt criticism can be leveled at The Essential Alice In Chains (2006) it is the conspicuous omission of “Down In The Hole" and "Rotten Apple," -- two of the aggregates most popular tunes. What’s up with that?

T-Bone Burnett -- Twenty Twenty: The Essential T-Bone Burnett ()

Remarkably, the whopping 40 songs found here represent the only truly comprehensive compile from one of America’s most underrated talents. We should all be thankful that someone, somewhere finally had the prescience to get the best of ‘The Bone’ onto this well-appointed package. That said, there are a few glaring omissions and a few downright puzzling inclusions -- namely the re-recorded versions of sides from Proof Through The Night (1983). But more about that in a moment.

For folks who have never had the pleasure of encountering Burnett, Twenty Twenty is an acceptable springboard into his prolific career. Without question, his unique style of writing and storytelling are truly miracles unto themselves. Similarly, the breadth of his vocation has taken him from being a core member of Bob Dylan’s merry band of rouges known as the Rolling Thunder Review, through to spearheading the globally-influential soundtrack to O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000).

Seminal entries found within are “No Love at All,” “River of Love,” “I'm Coming Home,” the talkin’ country-blues “House of Mirrors,” “I Wish You Could Have Seen Her Dance,"  ½ of The Coward Brothers -- flanked by none other than Elvis Costello -- on "The People's Limousine," an hilariously dry reading of Marilyn Monroe’s "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend” and the cover of J.B. Lenoir’s “Man Don’t Dog Your Woman.” Not to mention, the unreleased gems “Kill Zone,” “Song To A Dead Man” and “Bon Temps Rouler”.  

Now the bad news. Burnett has publicly (and repeatedly) stated his distain for the production values of the aforementioned Proof Through The Night. But why, oh why did he have to recut the tracks “The Murder Weapon,” “Fatally Beautiful,” “After All These Years,” “Hula Hoop,” “When the Night Falls,” “Hefner & Disney” and “Shut it Tight”? Can you say blasphemy?

Spinning a more positive side, the 52-page liner booklet is a tremendous addition as it is chocked full of photos, lyrics and song-by-song annotations from the man himself.

John Denver -- The Essential John Denver (Legacy/RCA)

Love him or loathe him, John Denver was a major force in popular music. Most of the world first heard from him beginning in the late ‘60s with Peter, Paul & Mary’s cover of his own composition “Leaving On A Jet Plane”. His success continued through the mid ‘80s Top 10 country hit “Dreamland Express”. While there are a multitude of ‘best-of’ packages readily available, these two discs seem to capture the quintessence of what made Denver so universally appealing.

If it is just the well-known tunes that you’re in search of, look (or listen) no further. “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” “Friends With You,” “Rocky Mountain High,” “Goodbye Again,” “I’d Rather Be A Cowboy,” “Farewell Andromeda,” “Sunshine On My Shoulders,” “Back Home Again,” “Thank God I’m A Country Boy,” “Annie’s Song,” “Sweet Surrender,” “Looking For Space,” “I’m Sorry” and “Calypso,” are but a few of the sonic treasures located here. There is no shortage of his timeless duets either, with the likes of Olivia-Newton John (“Fly Away”),  Plácido Domingo (“Perhaps Love”),  Emmylou Harris (“Wild Montana Skies”) and Sylvia Vartan (“Love Again”) all contributing.

More earnest enthusiasts however are encouraged to check out Sony/Legacy’s re-evaluation of Denver’s classic back catalogue as Rhymes & Reasons (1969), the multi-platinum John Denver’s Greatest Hits (1973) and Back Home Again (1974) have all been recently retro-fitted with previously unavailable bonus tracks.

Lindsay Planer is a freelance journalist and is the weekday on-air producer at WDYT 1220 AM in Charlotte, NC. He's also a contributor to All Music Guide, CrutchfieldAdvisor.com and the Gaston Gazette.
All comments and questions are encouraged and can be sent to <asthediscspins@earthlink.net>.


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