Greatest Hits

by: Al Stewart

Over the years, there have been plenty of Al Stewart collections, most featuring the same five or six songs, giving the impression that he's an easy artist to compile. That, however, isn't quite the case. Most of these collections are haphazardly assembled, focusing either on his early elaborate historical story songs or his lush productions of the late '70s and early '80s, choosing songs that were not necessarily hits and not necessarily good showcases for his idiosyncratic gifts. Despite its nondescript (and misleading) title and its cover art, which bewilderingly mimics the cover of Year of the Cat, Rhino's 2004 collection Greatest Hits is the first to truly to capture Stewart at his best, from his baroque British folk-rock in the late '60s to his soft rock hits a decade later. While all his American hits are here, this is more of a "best of" than a hits compilation, since it doesn't follow the charts and zeroes in on songs that capture his precious, sighing, sophisticated, lightly psychedelic and elaborately produced progressive folk-pop. It bypasses such dirges as "Nostradamus," which often appears on Stewart comps even if it's a bore, and includes such gems as the swinging '60s side "Bedsitter Images," "Electric Los Angeles Sunset," the wonderful "You Don't Even Know Me" (from Orange, one of his finest albums but one of the most overlooked), and "Carol" before settling into the familiar hits -- "Year of the Cat," "Lord Grenville," "On the Border," "Song on the Radio," "Time Passages," "Midnight Rocks" -- that all sound better here than on other hits collections because the context is right. Year of the Cat and Time Passages remain noteworthy albums in their own right, as do Orange and 24 Carrots, but as a career overview and introduction, this Greatest Hits is nearly perfect. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine

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