Artist: Album (label, release date) 1-5 stars
Blind Melon: The Best of Blind Melon (Capitol, September 27, 2005) ****
The Yardbirds: Very Best of the Yardbirds (Metro, September 27, 2005) ****
Natalie Merchant: Retrospective 1995-2005 (Rhino, September 27, 2005) ****
The Clash: The Essential Plus (Legacy, September 27, 2005) *****
Blind Melon: The Best of Blind Melon
It’s not easy to cobble together a best-of from a band that only released two albums in their lifetime. However, Capitol tries its best, taking six songs from Blind Melon, six from Soup, adds “Three is the Magic Number” from the Schoolhouse Rock Rocks! “tribute” album, and a handful of tunes from the posthumous Nico odds and sods collection. You can buy this with or without the bonus DVD of concert and video clips. The package is beautifully constructed, with revealing, and sometimes sad, liner notes by guitarist Roger Stevens. Blind Melon were an anomaly in their day; a product of late 80′s Sunset Strip, which was all glam-metal in those days, Blind Melon kept an earthy rootsiness to their music that bore some metal influence, but also southern rock, jam-band, and traces of Neil Young; the doomed Shannon Hoon’s high-pitched expressive voice remains one of the most distinctive of the 1990′s. Soup, an excellent album, largely tanked when it was released in 1995, but it was a fine album, even though its sessions were famous for chaos, a drug arrest, and Hoon’s downward spiral. Here’s a chance to hear the full range of this band in one place; it’s a pity things turned out as they did.
The Yardbirds: The Very Best of the Yardbirds
Nice try. No, this isn’t the “very best” of the Yardbirds; it’s mostly selections from the 1964 album Five Live Yardbirds, the 1965 album Having A Rave Up plus “For Your Love”, Chuck Berry’s “Talking ‘Bout You” and Jimmy Reed’s “Baby What’s Wrong”. Missing is anything from Roger The Engineer (Over Under Sideways Down in America) (1966) or Little Games (1967). Thus, this compilation touches on the Clapton era, and is weighted towards the Beck era; Jimmy Page’s era is absent, unless “Stroll On” (from the film Blow Up) counts (Page isn’t on it, but he appears with the band, as does Beck, in the film). Of the group’s 9 singles to chart in America, 5 are missing. “Heart Full of Soul” is not the hit version, but the rarer version with sitar. Is this collection worth it? Not if you want a thorough overview on the band’s notoriously confusing discography. However, there’s nothing wrong with the 20 cuts it includes, and they do cover the band’s best period. One wanting a complete picture should get Rhino’s pricier 52-track Ultimate!, from 2001, which cross-licenses all Yardbirds material from the beginning to the end. If you want a cheap fix, this will do.
Natalie Merchant: Retrospective 1995-2005
I’ve said plenty of nasty things about record companies many times here and elsewhere, but I always have only kind words for Rhino. With Rhino’s new Natalie Merchant retrospective, her first solo best-of, they do the smart thing. They have released two versions of the album; one is a straight 13-cut best-of, with no rarities, for non-diehards who just want the hits and key album cuts. The other one is for the fans, with a bonus disc of 15 additional tracks including rarities and non-album cuts like her work with R.E.M., Billy Bragg, and the Chieftains. Merchant has released four studio albums since leaving 10,000 Maniacs, all are represented here. While some 10,000 Maniacs fans have been disappointed in her solo career, which for the most part is a moody, atmospheric but somewhat slick professional pop, it’s hard to deny the hooks of “Kind and Generous” and “Carnival”; most of the rest of the single disc is of a similar caliber. The double-disc is probably too much for the casual listener, but it’s the better of the two; much of her best work aren’t the obvious singles. It also boasts three unreleased cuts. For some strange reason, Amazon and other websites call this package “Greatest Hits”, although the CD itself is labeled “Retrospective”.
The Clash: Essential Plus
If I wanted to get into a splendid argument, I could call the Clash ‘The Beatles of Punk’. How else to describe the enormous impact they had not just on the music of their day, but their lasting cultural significance? Of course, that’d be a silly comparison, but this godsend of a compilation is every bit as essential as The Beatles Anthology collections. Clash fans already have this stuff; the double CD Essential Clash came out in 2003, and the DVD Essential Clash came out the same year. Legacy combines them into one three disc package here, giving the Clash the most thorough and representative audio/video compilation you can get in one shot. The CD’s contain 40 cuts, spanning from the 1977 debut through the 1985 Mick Jones-less Cut The Crap album. Fans can argue about what should and shouldn’t be here, but the track selection is very inclusive and smart, and is presented chronologically. The DVD is a riot, with their videos, interview clips, a trailer for The Clash on Broadway, and other goodies. Anyone who has meant to check out the Clash, but have hesitated thusfar, here’s what you’ve been waiting for. This will keep you busy for weeks.
Also noteworthy: Universal Music Group has released Chronicles collections for Asia, The Carpenters, Cher, John Hiatt, Elton John, Tom Jones, The Moody Blues, Velvet Underground, and Whitesnake. Each of these repackages three original albums into a single new package, with new cover art. I can’t really recommend these, unless you like the tall, unweldly boxes they come in, which don’t fit in my CD rack. The albums aren’t remastered, and there are no additional notes. The Velvet Underground one is best by far on the quality of the music, Elton John and John Hiatt are probably next. Why anyone would need a three-CD box of Whitesnake is beyond me, but it’s there if you want it.
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