Arts & EntertainmentMusic

Better than ‘Best Of’

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Compilation albums give ‘big picture’ insight to musicians’ bodies of work

by Gregg Shapiro

Ani DiFranco dominated the alt-folk singer/songwriter scene of the 1990s. But don’t forget about Dar Williams, who released three amazing studio albums during the ’90s (including End of the Summer and Mortal City), and four more in the 2000s (such as The Green World and My Better Self). The double disc set Many Great Companions (Razor and Tie) refers not only to the 32 songs compiled here, but also to the fine musicians with whom Williams has worked over the years. As if to exemplify that, the first disc, Songs Revisited with Guitar and a Few Friends consists of a dozen acoustic renditions of Williams favorites re-recorded with guest musicians including Mary Chapin Carpenter, Gary Louris, Sara Watkins, and Sean Watkins. Ranging from “The Babysitter’s Here” and “When I Was a Boy” (featuring out singer/songwriter Patty Larkin, who did something similar on her 25 disc, which included Williams) to “The Christians and the Pagans,” “As Cool as I Am,” and “What Do You Hear in These Sounds.” The second disc, The Best of Dar Williams, draws from her seven albums and includes “It’s Alright,” “Teens for God,” “Spring Street,” and much more.

If Williams and DiFranco had a male equivalent in the alt-folk world, it was probably the late Elliott Smith. The Oscar-nominee’s tragic death in 2003 remains an unsolved mystery, but his musical legacy lives on, including a 2004 posthumous release. The 14-track single disc An Introduction to . . . Elliott Smith (Kill Rock Stars) includes an early version of his Academy Award-nominated “Miss Misery” (from Good Will Hunting), as well as songs from his independent and major label releases, such as “Waltz #2,” “Needle in the Hay,” “Pretty (Ugly Before)” and “Happiness,” to name just a few.

Is it fair to call The Dandy Warhols a one-hit wonder? The 2000 hit single “Bohemian Like You,” from their third album was inescapable (and subsequently used in a few TV commercials) and introduced us to the band from Portland, Oregon, with the clever name. But nothing from their prior albums or those that followed captured the Rolling Stones-like energy of “Bohemian.” Nevertheless, the band has earned a 15-track compilation, The Capitol Years 1995–2007 (Capitol), which includes “Not If You Were the Last Junkie on Earth,” “We Used to Be Friends,” and “Holding Me Up” to remind us of its contributions. Filter, on the other hand, could lay claim to two hits—“Hey Man Nice Shot” and “Take a Picture”—both of which can be found on The Very Best Things: 1995-2008 (Reprise/Rhino), along with a dozen other tunes.

At the beginning of the 1990s, it seemed like the decade might belong to Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and other Seattle bands. But lo-fi heroes Pavement arrived, with its warped melodies and distinctive style, and changed the scene forever. Like the aforementioned Smith collection, the 23-track single-disc collection Quarantine the Past (Matador) draws on the band’s independent and major label recordings, and provides a thorough overview. You can find everything from Pavement’s “hit” single “Cut Your Hair” to “Unseen Power of the Picket Fence” (from the various artists Red Hot AIDS benefit disc No Alternative) to early tracks such as “Debris Slide” and “Frontwards,” as well as fan favorites (“Rangel Life,” “Here,” and “Unfair”) and later standouts including “Stereo,” “Fight This Generation,” and “Spit on a Stranger.”

By now, Blur, probably Oasis’s greatest rivals during the 1990s, has released at least two double-disc hits compilations. With the double-disc, 27-track complete singles collection Time Flies . . . 1994-2009 (Big Brother/Columbia), Oasis catches up with Blur. Although not in chronological order, the anthology definitely strikes the right chords, beginning as it does with essential cuts from the band’s superb first two albums, such as “Supersonic,” “Roll With It,” “Live Forever,” and “Wonderwall.” The rest of the set celebrates both the sensitive (“Stop Crying Your Heart Out,” “Don’t Look Back in Anger,” “Champagne Supernova”) and the raucous sides (“The Shock of the Lightning,” “D’You Know What I Mean,” “Cigarettes & Alcohol”) of the brawling brothers Gallagher.

Like Liam and Noel Gallagher, the late Gerald LeVert (son of O’Jay Eddie) was part of a brother act (LeVert, with brother Sean and friend Marc Gordon) beginning in the mid-1980s. By 1991, Gerald released his first solo album, featuring the hit singles “Private Line” and “Baby Hold On to Me.” The Best of Gerald LeVert (Atlantic/Rhino) compiles 16 of his classics such as “My Body” (as part of LSG), “Thinkin’ Bout It,” “Taking Everything,” and the previously unreleased “Can It Stay.”

In between releasing three self-titled albums whose only distinguishing marks were the colors of the covers, Weezer deigned to give specific titles to albums such as Raditude, Maladroit, and Make Believe. The first of those titled albums, Pinkerton (DGC), has been reissued in an expanded deluxe edition. Described as Rivers Cuomo’s struggle with his “inner-Pinkerton” (the name of the betraying sailor in Madame Butterfly), the disc is particularly notable to LGBT fans for the song “Pink Triangle.” The song, which details Cuomo’s attraction to a lesbian, contains the clever, if misguided, line “if everyone’s a little queer/can’t she be a little straight?” Pinkerton is meant to be played loud, so be sure to blast “Falling for You” and “Tired of Sex.” The original album is expanded with the addition of nine “B-Sides and More,” while the second disc boasts previously unreleased live tracks, alternate takes, and more. Weezer’s latest disc Hurley (Epitaph) features Rivers Cuomo’s songwriting collaborations with out music legends Desmond Child (“Trainwrecks”) and Linda Perry (“Brave New World”), as well as Mac Davis (!), Ryan Adams, and Dan Wilson, among others.

Minneapolis’ The Jayhawks reached its creative peak in the early- to mid-1990s with a pair of unforgettable albums, Hollywood Town Hall and Tomorrow the Green Grass (American Recordings), both of which have been reissued in expanded editions. Former Jayhawk Mark Olson’s newest solo disc Many Colored Kite (Ryko) is deserving of your attention.

More ’90s acts continue to make themselves heard in the 21st century, including Bettie Serveert with Pharmacy of Love (Palomine/ 2nd Motion) and Jimmy Eat World with Invented (DGC/Interscope).

Gregg Shapiro is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.

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Gregg Shapiro

Gregg Shapiro is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine.

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