Songs in the Key of Life (1976) was the highest high point of Stevie Wonder's career. More sprawling than Innervisions and Talking Book, this two-LP-plus-EP was also less of a consistent stunner than either of those masterworks. That Songs retains an enormous amount of visionary relevance, though, is demonstrated not only in Coolio's borrowing of "Pastime Paradise" as a template for "Gangsta's Paradise," but in the cold-as-ice synthesized string quartet of "Village Ghetto Land." This is Stevie, so naturally that cut's anger is balanced by the ultra-buoyant "I Wish," "Sir Duke," and "Another Star." The 2000 reissue boasts radically improved remastered sound. --Rickey Wright
Stevie's first career-spanning, single-CD collection, featuring 21 hits from 1963's Fingertips Part 2 to 1985's Part-Time Lover ! And featured in between: the rare 45 version of You Are the Sunshine of My Life; I Was Made to Love Her; For Once in My Life; Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours; Superstition; Higher Ground; Living for the City; Boogie on Reggae Woman; Sir Duke; I Wish; Master Blaster (Jammin'); That Girl; I Just Called to Say I Love You; Hey Love , and more. A 16-page booklet puts Stevie's incredible career in context. Like the Beatles' The Beatles 1, this rundown of Stevie Wonder chestnuts is merciless in cutting a huge list of classic tracks down to a single disc's worth of the most recognizable. Anyone who's treasured even one or two of these songs and yet never bought a Wonder record will be more than pleased with the acquisition of The Definitive Collection. These records continue to ring with importance and history, but more important, all except two or three remain fresh and capable of surprising even veteran fans. Those listeners may note, though, that Wonder is among the few performers who could release a retrospective containing 15 No. 1 R&B hits and still invite the complaint that the album felt incomplete--not least in explaining how the man transformed himself from a multitalented teenage hitmaker into the funk-pop visionary of Talking Book, Innervisions, and Songs in the Key of Life. --Rickey Wright
The greatest single-disc Sam Cooke collection ever, 30 tracks in SACD sound! Includes You Send Me; Chain Gang; Twistin' the Night Away; Shake; Little Red Rooster; Good Times; (What a) Wonderful World; Another Saturday Night; Cupid; Only Sixteen; A Change Is Gonna Come; Having a Party , and more career highlights. Indispensable!
James Brown Sealed CD A towering figure in postwar American music, for over 40 years James Brown has written, produced, and performed some of the most compelling R&B ever recorded. 20 All Time Greatest Hits! distills Startime!, itself a four-CD set that barely scratched the surface of Brown's prodigious output. As such, this collection concentrates on Brown's best-known records: "I Feel Good," "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," and "Cold Sweat." The propulsive one- or two-chord vamps with Brown's hoarse, declamatory vocals laid the groundwork for modern funk. It's a perfect starter set for anyone unfamiliar with Brown's work. But be warned--Brown is addictive. Like peanuts and potato chips, it's impossible to stop with just one. Buy this and don't be surprised if one day you find yourself scouring used record bins for a rare copy of Grits and Cornbread. --Steven Mirkin
Manufacturer: Concord Records / Hear Music
"I've recorded with so many amazing artists in my career but never on a duets album of my own. I thought it was time to have some of the friends that I love & the artists that I admire come into my studio & sing with me live, the way we did it in the old days," explains Ray Charles on the genesis of Genius Loves Company. "All the guests brought their own magic to each song. That's what we wanted & that's exactly what we got." Ray's confidence is understandable. Genius Loves Company stands as a remarkable hallmark in a remarkable career. In his brilliant debut for Concord Records, Ray sings a dozen duets with a dazzling array of guest artists from virtually every genre, who have won a combined 79 GRAMMYr Awards. "We cover it all," Ray adds, "from country to R&B, pop, rock & blues. I've never let them put me in a little box, & this CD expresses that open feeling. A beautiful song is a beautiful song-and to sing with so many beautiful singers is a blessing from God." The fact that Genius Loves Company will be Ray Charles's final new album inspires an unavoidable blue feeling. But it's also a happy reminder that the man spent the last months of his life at work doing what he loved. The overall effect of these dozen duets is autumnal and smooth. Brother Ray is on point and cruising here. Fine moments abound--you can hear his delight even in the rather stiff company of Diana Krall and Natalie Cole. His voice sounds a bit frayed by ill health at times, but it also allows for great performances like the slyness behind the ache in his version of the old soul hit "Hey Girl" with Michael McDonald and a grand "Crazy Love" with Van Morrison. Potently, he and Gladys Knight remind us of the continued timeliness of Stevie Wonder's "Heaven Help Us All." Its best moments make Company one more essential purchase for Ray Charles fans. --Rickey Wright
From the summer of '73, every cut a winner. Includes Higher Ground; Living for the City; Don't You Worry 'Bout a Thing , and more. One of Stevie Wonder's best albums, and the one where his more fanciful, free-form moments gel perfectly with his knack for irresistible pop singles, 1973's Innervisions swings between delicate and airy ballads, Latin-influenced rhythms (the hit "Don't Worry 'Bout a Thing"), and his own synth-heavy versions of gut-bucket soul (the determined spiritual questing of "Higher Ground"). The striking juxtaposition between "Vision," a barely breathed hope that a world of peace might be upon us, and the great "Living for the City," a funky, pulsing tale of racism, is powerful, haunting, and still all too relevant. --David Cantwell
The title gets right to the point: 17 Marvin Gaye classics from the '60s and '70s, including I Heard It Through the Grapevine; Let's Get It On; Got to Give It Up; Ain't That Peculiar; What's Going On; I'll Be Doggone; Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing; Your Precious Love; You're All I Need to Get By (last three with Tammi Terrell), and more. A best-selling anthology, expanded and improved!
Manufacturer: Sony Legacy
A sparkling 21-track collection of Sam Cooke favorites! Includes You Send Me; (I Love You) for Sentimental Reasons; Everybody Loves to Cha Cha Cha; Only Sixteen; Wonderful World; Chain Gang; Cupid; Twistin' the Night Away; Having a Party; Bring It on Home to Me, and more. Now we have Greatest Hits, a 22-song collection of Cooke's pop hits in addition to the 13-song Best Of collection and the 28-song The Man and His Music. Only The Man comes close to presenting a complete portrait of the legendary soul singer: At least there are examples of Cooke's gospel and R&B material. (Any collection without "A Change is Gonna Come" is an automatic failure.) Cooke's melodious voice and deft songwriting touch are worthy of more than a single-disc compilation. If you want just the pop smashes, the sublime ballads, and infectious mellow grooves, this set will suffice. Otherwise, The Man offers a more comprehensive and well-rounded look at Cooke's legacy. --Marc Greilsamer
Every Day Is A New Day by Diana RossWhen sold by Amazon.com, this product will be manufactured on demand using CD-R recordable media. Amazon.com's standard return policy will apply. Rather than riding the headwinds of continued interest in vintage disco--this is the lady who sang "I'm Coming Out," after all--Diana Ross's 1999 entry is a set of soggy adult-contemporary ballads and would-be "inspirational" numbers. If she's ever to score a radio comeback Ã la Cher, however, it'll be with one of the remixes tacked on at the CD's end. --Rickey Wright