November 28, 2008
If labels were as creative and resourceful in marketing the music of their artists before they left the roster as they are once they’re gone, maybe some big names would stick around a little longer. Both Billy Ray Cyrus and Trisha Yearwood have been the subjects of several compilations since leaving their first labels, and it’s no surprise to see two more come along this year, with both artists getting their own entries in the Love Songs series.
Billy Ray Cyrus is mostly remembered for “Achy Breaky Heart” these days, but the rest of his admittedly modest string of hits were anything but novelties. He was quite the heartbreak king back in the day, playing the role of the fool left behind who is coming to terms with the mistakes that led to his loss.
His Love Songs set opens with two of the best such songs in his catalog, “In the Heart of a Woman” and “Somebody New.” There may be quite a bit of New Jersey arena rock in the mix, but at the core is hillbilly heartache. It’s the songs of loss that make the Cyrus set shine, and there’s a thrill of rediscovery hearing the forgotten hit “Somebody New”, which is brilliant in its passive-aggressiveness. Also worthy of note are lesser-known tracks like “It Won’t Be the Last” and “I am Here Now”, both of which are just waiting to be covered by a resourceful country star looking for a hit.
Unfortunately, much of the Cyrus set is given to actual love songs. Sure, it’s what the package advertises, but what a disappointment it is to suffer through the mediocrity of “Only God Could Stop Me Loving You” and “A Heart With Your Name On It.” With only twelve songs included, we’d be far better served if the compilation producers had gone with the lovesick nature of the best tracks, and made room for “Words By Heart” and “It’s all the Same to Me” instead.
The Yearwood set is slightly better, even if the concept doesn’t serve her any better than it does Cyrus. The reality is that you could take pretty much any fourteen tracks from her MCA catalog and still have a solid compilation, so the more generous helping of tunes gives Yearwood the edge.
As with the Cyrus set, there are some classic hits here, most notably “She’s in Love With the Boy”, “Down On My Knees”, “Thinkin’ About You” and “That’s What I Like About You.” There are also some wonderful album cuts that are among the best in her catalog. It’s a shame that MCA put out “If I Ain’t Got You” as a Marty Stuart single, as Yearwood’s could’ve been a smash. The gospel-tinged “One Love” and gorgeous “The Nightingale” also provide powerful moments here.
But there are also some strange choices, with the album cuts included from Jasper County being two of the weakest tracks from that album. Also, while “Powerful Thing” and “I’ll Still Love You More” were top ten hits, they’re as close to disposable as anything Yearwood has ever recorded. The hits quotient could’ve been met with far better hits without diverting from the theme, perhaps “Perfect Love” or “Where Your Road Leads.”
Of course, the biggest mystery is why anyone would release a Trisha Yearwood Love Songs collection without including “How Do I Live”, the one bona fide love song smash of her career. But its absence only serves to remind us that these collections aren’t meant to be definitive, they don’t even have to make logical sense. They only exist to make dollars and cents, keeping the money rolling in after the artist is long gone.