Thursday, November 24, 2011

On Par With The Very Best Of Sheryl Crow, Hits And Rarities Satisfies!

The Good: Good lyrics, Good vocals, Decent mix, Good length, Generally good instrumental accompaniment.
The Bad: Some repetition, Question of necessity
The Basics: An impressive enough compilation, Hits And Rarities is a two-disc set that eliminates the need for fans to hunt down obscure singles or import albums.

In the rush to make a quick buck off artists in their arsenals, many record companies produce "Best Of" albums for artists well before they have had enough legitimate hits to warrant such compilations. There are some where the compilations become simple condensing the two albums a one-hit wonder produced before the artist fades forever into obscurity. Such is not the case with Sheryl Crow, yet The Very Best Of Sheryl Crow might have seemed premature when it was released in 2003 given that it took hits from four albums she had released at that time. What might seem odd to fans and radio-only fans is that Crow released only one more album before her record company put out Hits & Rarities. Given how the album in between (Wildflower) had limited success commercially, one has to wonder about how essential Hits And Rarities truly was.

That said, Hits And Rarities, available with a free bonus disc, does offer some things that The Very Best Of Sheryl Crow did not. In addition to the song "Wildflower," which would not have been available for the prior compilation, Crow replaces her Kid Rock duet with her Sting duet (yea!) and has the decency not to crowd the album up with two remarkably similar versions of "The First Cut Is The Deepest." Instead, A&M releases a slightly different mix of recognizable songs by Sheryl Crow alongside several tracks that have not been available on albums, certainly not in the U.S. Fans who do not want to have to buy obscure soundtracks or hunt down imports will do well to find a copy of Hits And Rarities as it includes such songs as "Always On Your Side" (performed with Sting), "Sweet Child Of Mine" (which fans who bought the initial release of "The Globe Sessions" were screwed out of), and Sheryl Crow's James Bond theme, "Tomorrow Never Dies." The second disc has alternate versions of songs like "Run, Baby, Run" and "Leaving Las Vegas" as well as several live versions of more obscure songs.

With two discs and a total of thirty tracks, Hits And Rarities offers a lot for one's Sheryl Crow-loving dollar. The first disc has eighteen songs occupying 79:17 and the second disc has a dozen songs taking up 61:36. The thirty-song compilation duplicates four songs on the second disc, but the second disc version are alternate cuts that enhance the listener's view of Sheryl Crow's music. And this album is mostly the musical vision of Sheryl Crow; Crow wrote eight of the songs, co-wrote nineteen and the remaining three are cover songs - Yusuf Islam's "The First Cut Is The Deepest," Guns N' Roses' "Sweet Child Of Mine" and Eric Clapton's "Keep On Growing."

In addition to writing or co-writing almost all of the songs, Crow provides the lead vocals on all of the songs. She also plays at least one instrument on each track. As well she produced or co-produced about a dozen of the songs. The album was compiled without any apparent involvement from the artist, but it does seem to be a good mix of songs that illustrate Crow's musical talents and vision.

The thing about Hits And Rarities is it truly does have all of Crow's recognizable hits alongside a decent number of rare tracks or songs that have clear sentimental value to the artist, like Crow's first track from her debut, "Run, Baby, Run," which appears in its studio and and orchestra-backed forms. This album does what the best "Best Of" albums do, though, in that it provides a good mix of the recognizable and songs that challenge the listener to expand their knowledge of an artist. While The Very Best Of Sheryl Crow did that through songs that did better on the Country or Adult Contemporary charts (like "Home" and "There Goes The Neighborhood"), Hits And Rarities seems to be more of a reward for fans who have the common albums but do not want the expense of hunting down the rare singles or Japanese import albums. Indeed, the bonus disc makes her rare import "Live From Budokan" almost unnecessary as five of the tracks are from that obscure import.

That said, Crow does include some great songs which never gained the mainstream popularity they deserved. She gives listeners "I Shall Believe" from Tuesday Night Music Club which is arguably one of her most beautiful songs that never cut it as a single in the United States.

The first disc of Hits And Rarities is a highly-refined, well-produced album with content that is largely familiar to those who listened to pop-rock stations in the 1990s. Songs like "All I Wanna Do," "My Favorite Mistake," "Soak Up The Sun," "Everyday Is A Winding Road" and "A Change Would Do You Good" fill up the album with tracks that most of us can sing along to. In fact, the only noticeable omission is "Anything But Down," which did not make it into this compilation, just as it was neglected for The Very Best Of Sheryl Crow. And while the first album has vocally and instrumentally refined tracks, the bonus disc is made up of live versions of songs like "Steve McQueen," "Subway Ride," and "Riverwide," which are more obscure or previously unreleased songs.

For those who have not heard of Sheryl Crow, Crow is a pop-rock artist who makes guitar and keyboard-driven tracks in a style that has more of a rock and roll flavor than the generic pop-rock coming out of the late-1990s. Percussion and guitars keep beats on songs like "Light In Your Eyes" as Crow bleats out her lyrics in an alto voice which has an occasionally dusty quality to it. Crow tends to pick one range and stays in it as opposed to going all over the scales. As a result, higher, slower ballads like "I Shall Believe" sound very different from her lower vocals on "Leaving Las Vegas" where she performs lower and faster.

On almost all of the tracks, Crow is performing her own lyrics and she manages to have most of them produced in front of her instrumental accompaniment. Only on a few songs, like the more epic "Tomorrow Never Dies," which accompanied the film of the same name, have Crow being drown out or competing with heavy instruments. As a result, when she sings her lines like "Your friends are sorry for me / They watch you pretend to adore me / But I'm no fool to this game / Now here comes your secret lover / She'd be unlike any other / Until your guilt goes up in flames / Did you know when you go / It's the perfect ending / To the bad day I'd gotten used to spending / When you go all I know is / You're my favorite mistake" ("My Favorite Mistake"), she is able to infuse each word with a real sense of wrenching pain that is appropriate for the lyrics.

What robs this two-disc compilation of perfection? First, I'm not a huge fan of albums where the same songs are duplicated, even if the versions on the bonus disc truly are produced to have a very different sound. Second, for all of her creativity, Sheryl Crow does have some limitations as a singer-songwriter. Most notably, the music that accompanies "C'mon, C'mon" is virtually identical - especially in the opening notes - to that of "The First Cut Is The Deepest." Having heard a load of talented female singer-songwriters - or any singer-songwriters! - I know this is not impossible to do, even when one has enough of a repertoire to release multiple "best of" albums.

Still, this is a good compilation album and offers fans of the radio hits a more extensive collection to appreciate Sheryl Crow with. And for fans who have shelled out for her full albums, Hits And Rarities offers a way to get a good mix and something extra without having to hunt the world over.

The best tracks are "I Shall Believe" (Disc 1) and the live version of "The Difficult Kind" (Disc 2) and the low points are the unimpressive "Tomorrow Never Dies" (Disc 1) and the underwhelming live version of "You're An Original" (Disc 2).

For other works by Sheryl Crow, please visit my reviews of:
Tuesday Night Music Club
Sheryl Crow
The Globe Sessions
C’Mon, C’Mon
The Very Best Of Sheryl Crow


For other music reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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