Album Review: Sara Evans, <i>Playlist: The Very Best of Sara Evans</i>

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January 29, 2013

sara evans playlist

Sara Evans
Playlist:

 The Very Best of Sara Evans

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While Sara Evans is reportedly in the studio hard at work on her forthcoming seventh studio album, Sony Legacy has released a new fourteen track retrospective of her sixteen-year career – the latest installment in the label’s Playlist series.  Coming nearly five and a half years after Evans’ 2007 Greatest Hits package, Playlist:  The Very Best of Sara Evans intersperses several of her biggest hits with a few less expected inclusions.  While there is some great material to be heard, there are a few missed opportunities as well.

The most glaring omission is Evans’ 2011 smash “A Little Bit Stronger,” which returned her to the top of the charts after a six-year dry spell, and became the first platinum-certified single of her career.  Its absence is made particularly disheartening by the fact that the song post-dated Evan’s original Greatest Hits album.  Her other four number one hits – “No Place That Far,” “Born to Fly,” “Suds In the Bucket,” and “A Real Fine Place to Start” – are all present and accounted for, as are Top 10 hits “I Could Not Ask for More,” “I Keep Looking,” and “Cheatin’.”  Her 2003 #2 hit “Perfect” is curiously omitted, while “Backseat of a Greyhound Bus” gets the short shaft for the second time.

Among the lesser-known cuts, the most worthwhile inclusion is Evans’ 1997 single “Three Chords and the Truth,” from her critically acclaimed, commercially unheralded debut album of the same name – a project which Greatest Hits pretends never existed.  Another pleasant surprise is Evans’ rendition of the Barbara Mandrell hit “Crackers,” from the 2006 Mandell tribute She Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool.   Two unreleased album tracks (“You Don’t” from Born to Fly and “Niagara Falls” from Restless), one hymn (“The Sweet By and By,” after which Evans’ first novel was titled), and the pretty but forgettable Jim Brickman collaboration “Never Alone” round out the set.  The collection closes on an unnecessary sour note, tacking on the mediocre non-hit “Feels Just Like a Love Song,” from a 2009 album project that never materialized.

In theory, Sara Evans should be well served by a compilation that mixes hits with hidden treasures – especially considering that many of her finest moments never made it to heavy radio rotation.  Unfortunately, Playlist all too often includes questionable choices at the expense of superior material.  In some cases the songs included are decent, but pale in comparison to what might have been included instead.  If you’re going to include an unreleased track from Born to Fly, why “You Don’t” instead of “I Learned That from You”?  If you’re going to include a track from Restless, why “Niagara Falls” instead of “Rockin’ Horse”?  If you’re going to include one of her cover songs, why “Crackers” instead of “I Don’t Wanna Play House”?  Why not include excellent underrated singles like “Coalmine,” “Tonight,” or “Fool, I’m a Woman”?

Evaluated purely on the merits of its content, Playlist:  The Very Best of Sara Evans is an enjoyable listen with many fine tracks.  It’s a decent introduction to Sara Evans’ music, but it neither adequately summarizes her hit-making career, nor offers an effective representation of her best work.  Her 2007 Greatest Hits remains an overall better value.

Track listing:  1. Born to Fly/ 2. I Could Not Ask for More/ 3. I Keep Looking/ 4. No Place That Far/ 5. You Don’t/ 6. A Real Fine Place to Start/ 7. Sweet By and By/ 8. Three Chords and the Truth/ 9. Suds In the Bucket/ 10. Niagara Falls/ 11. Crackers/ 12. Cheatin’/ 13. Never Alone (with Jim Brickman)/ 14. Feels Just Like a Love Song

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  1. It’s particularly curious if you contrast Playlist with the 2005 Cracker Barrel exclusive Feels Like Home compilation:

    Songs on both:
    “Born to Fly” (Feels Like Home features a live version)
    “No Place That Far” (Feels Like Home features an acoustic version)
    “You Don’t”
    “Three Chords and the Truth”
    “Niagara”

    Songs on Feels Like Home only:
    “The Great Unknown”
    “Fool, I’m a Woman”
    “Why Should I Care”
    “Let’s Dance”
    “Rockin’ Horse”
    “I Give In”
    “Every Little Kiss”

    Of course, we expected the Cracker Barrel compilation to focus on album cuts instead of singles particularly as her Greatest Hits had yet to be assembled. By your estimation, Ben, it did a finer job delving into her catalog (and I agree with you on that).

    I think what’s most striking to me about this is that the disc isn’t full. There’s just no obvious reason to me why, in 2013, any compilation CD shouldn’t be completely full of music. We live in the MP3/make-your-own-playlist era. The CD format itself is dying, and the compilation album is a niche within a dying format.

    I understand why that niche continues to exist, of course; the hope is that people who would ordinarily pass on buying a CD at all might be tempted if there’s enough familiar material in one place. But why isn’t there 80 minutes of that material?

    The three compilations (Feels Like Home, Greatest Hits and Playlist) could easily be combined and distilled into what would amount to the definitive Sara Evans compilation, combining radio hits, solid album cuts and some rarities from outside her main discography. The most appealing thing about Playlist series is that some volumes do collect some of those miscellaneous recordings from tribute albums, soundtracks, etc. and at least they did some of that for this Sara Evans collection. Still, though, there’s an awful lot of dead space on that CD that could easily have been filled with some deserving material.

  2. “There’s just no obvious reason to me why, in 2013, any compilation CD shouldn’t be completely full of music.”

    They’ve still got to pay a share of the royalties out to the songwriters.

  3. “There’s just no obvious reason to me why, in 2013, any compilation CD shouldn’t be completely full of music.”

    They’ve still got to pay a share of the royalties out to the songwriters.

    At some point, the music industry has to quit seeing that as a tax to dodge and start accepting it as part of their business model. If we can piece together our own playlists, then the labels are going to have to start doing something different to wow us if they want us to continue buying their dying CD format.

    Besides, maybe actually hearing more than the most obvious radio hits would encourage buyers to bother hearing more of a given artist’s discography. How do they expect buyers to go beyond the core radio hits if they’re so stingy about circulating other recordings?

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