Billy Joel

The Essential Billy Joel

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Released in conjunction with Billy Joel's grand experiment with classical music, The Essential Billy Joel was a welcome reminder of Billy Joel's way with a pop song, improving on the previous Greatest Hits, Vol. 1 & 2 by extending into the '90s and delving deeper into his catalog. There were some casualties along the way -- it's easy for a fan to carp about the absence of personal favorites like "She's Right on Time" or "Travelin' Prayer," and it may even make some sense that "You're Only Human (Second Wind)" or "Shameless" didn't make the cut, but it's mind-boggling that "Scenes From an Italian Restaurant" isn't here (we won't mention that the classical pieces that end the record, no matter how surprisingly good they are, are as out of place as Attila would have been) -- but for the most part, this has every one of Joel's heavy-hitters, and his craftsmanship, both as a songsmith and record maker, has never shone brighter. The biggest fault is that there is a notable drop-off in quality after 1986's The Bridge (which ends midway through disc two), but even so, this is as good a distillation of Joel's talents imaginable. In fact, as the first disc unfurls, even cynics may wonder why he's been dogged by the critics, since singer/songwriter pop doesn't come better than "Say Goodbye to Hollywood," "New York State of Mind," "Only the Good Die Young," "My Life," "It's Still Rock and Roll to Me," "Don't Ask Me Why," "Allentown," and their seven companions.

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