Big Room Buyers' Guide to Anthologies & Compilations, pt. 1

(appeared on June 18, 1998)

One of the goals of the Big Room O' Music is to help people get the best music for the least money. I used to write columns aimed at people who liked to overpay for mediocrity, but there were two problems. For one, it was too easy: Major labels put out too much mediocre pap and too many people were willing to overpay for it; there was no challenge in it for me. The other problem was dealing with the praise I got from readers. What does it mean when people with an affirmed taste for mediocrity say they like my writing? But I digress.

When people look for the best music for the least money, they often look at "Best Of" albums, often good places to gather the highlights of an artist's career without unwanted filler. Always eager to help, the Big Room returns with this installment of The Big Room Buyers' Guide to Anthologies and Compilations. This week, our track lighting shines on anthologies of Jackson Browne, Little River Band, and David Lee Roth. If there's an album you'd like to see in the Big Room Buyers' Guide, let me know by email at big_room@yahoo.com.

Jackson Browne -- _The Next Voice You Hear_ (Elektra, 1997)

Strengths: Sometimes it seems that "Doctor My Eyes" needs to be played somewhere on Central New York FM radio every 20 minutes. This album contains that song, helping people deal with those awkward gaps between airings. It also has both "Somebody's Baby" and "Running On Empty," which is good. Even better, the previously unreleased title track fuses jazz rhythms and Miles-tone trumpet lines into Browne's folk-pop style; if the song were any more perfect, I seriously might never listen to anything else. The thematic coherence of the album is rare for "Best Of" packages. Lyrics to all songs are in the liner notes.

Weaknesses: The next voice you hear may be mine, griping about omissions of major radio singles like "Lawyers In Love", "That Girl Could Sing," "Boulevard," "I'm Alive," "For A Rocker," and "The Load Out/ Stay." It's such a thin representation of Browne's catalog that Sally Struthers is raising money for it on TV.

Overall: I really want to dislike the collection, but I can't. I just hope they remedy all the omissions with a "Best Of, Volume 2" in the near future.

Little River Band -- _Reminiscing_ (Rhino/CEMA Special Products, 1994)

Strengths: Every song is great pop and/or classic rock, from rootsy country/ bluesy rock to polished pop and edgy hard rock. Their vocal harmonies, musicianship, and compositional mastery are on full display here, showing us how tremendous they really were -- *much* better than their radio tracks alone would have us believe. The album covers all their singles extremely well, even including the two that were previously only available on their past "Greatest Hits" album. The liner notes tell the band's story very well.

Weaknesses: Their great, later albums like "No Reins" and "Playing To Win" are cruelly ignored.

Overall: This is the only single package available that really shows why they were so huge in Australia and the first Aussie band to really break big in the USA. More casual listeners may find this 2-CD bundle more than they need, but fans of '70s pop and classic rock will treasure this outstanding compilation from an underrated supergroup.

David Lee Roth -- _The Best_ (Rhino, 1997)

Strengths: The album does an excellent job of spanning every stage of his career, containing all his singles and most major album tracks, so every fan will find plenty to enjoy. The previously unreleased tune, "Don't Piss Me Off," is in his current, bluesier style and it's pretty good. The tracks with Steve Vai on guitar kick serious butt. Lyrics to all songs are in the liner notes.

Weaknesses: Since practically every fan disliked some stage of his career, they will all find something here to dislike. The previously unreleased tune is only pretty good, disappointing his harder rockin' fans. The tracks with Steve Vai on guitar kick so much butt that the other ones pale a bit in comparison. Photos in the liner notes may make people remember "styles" of the '80s that are better off forgotten.

Overall: It's Diamond Dave, and people have strong feelings about him. (When I told one quick-witted friend about the Best of David Lee Roth record, she immediately quipped, "That must be a *very* short album.") Unless you're biased against him -- perhaps you don't like how shy and understated he is? -- you will probably be impressed with what you hear. It is an outstanding collection of strong and popular rock, a great way to get a complete Roth collection.

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Eric Aaron agrees with the philosopher from Bloom County who once said that the whole country has gone to hell in a handbasket since David Lee Roth left Van Halen. He would also like to thank quick-witted friends everywhere for making the world a better place. For more information about the Buyer's Guide or the Big Room website, he can be reached by email at big_room@yahoo.com.


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