It’s no surprise that the catalog releases just keep getting better each year. Labels have learned that the best way to lift up their sagging bottom lines is to repackage their old material, and the trend of trying to fit as many hits as you can on one disc continues. Here are the ten best examples of labels doing right by their active artists and those of days gone by.
Crystal Gayle was not a one-hit wonder, though she may very well be considered one at this point of time. The 25-track Greatest Hits does a great job dispelling that perception, putting her mega-hit “Don’t it Make My Brown Eyes Blue” in its historical context, surrounded by all of Gayle’s other country-pop hits. Highlights include “Ready for the Times to Get Better”, “Half the Way” and the gorgeous Rodney Crowell classic, “‘Till I Can Gain Control Again.”
The Definitive Collection Series
Universal Music Group continues to be the best at collecting all of the hits for artists that can be defined with a single CD. This year, thorough collections were released for Tracy Byrd, Mark Wills, and Chely Wright, among others. The Definitive Collection series distinguishes itself from those of competing labels (I’m lookin’ at you, “16 Biggest Hits”) by being more generous and careful with the track listing choices, and putting remarkable effort into the liner notes, often including new interviews with the artist being profiled. Look for this line to continue with a Terri Clark edition on Feb. 5, 2008.
The Ultimate Hits
It doesn’t quite live up to its title, as it’s missing some major chart hits. Also, the sequencing is schizophrenic, with the new mixed in with the old, perhaps because Brooks knows most fans would only listen to Disc 1 if he went the chronological route. Disclaimers aside, this two-disc set (with bonus DVD) is the best compilation to date for the genre’s biggest act of all-time.
A relentless parade of pop-country confections, with two new songs and a live cut mixed in with all of Hill’s smash hits. Fans looking for a more nuanced compilation will have to wait a bit longer, but The Hits accomplishes its titular goal. The reverse chronology of the track listing proves just how good she’s been all along, with her earliest hits sounding just as great today as her recent ones do.
There’s no possible way to make a perfect Gary Allan compilation, with so many great album cuts that are either the equal of or superior to his radio hits. I’m hesitant to recommend this at all, as I would rather mandate that each country fan own each of his studio albums. Hopefully, this introduction to Allan’s distinctive brand of California country will entice listeners to go back and get the rest of his albums. If not, they’ll still have as solid a collection of country hits as any artist from the past decade could produce.