Deep Purple

The Very Best of Deep Purple [Rhino]

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Rhino Records first attracted notice for its ability to assemble good, well-thought-out, best-of and greatest-hits compilations of acts who had enjoyed a chart placement (or two) without ever getting a proper hits package from their own labels; a little later Rhino started their "Very Best Of" series, which managed to be medium-weight but pretty thorough overviews of a lot of major acts (especially in R&B) from the past that needed a fresh look. But in 2000, when they released The Very Best of Deep Purple -- a band that needed no helping hand in the exposure area -- in conjunction with Warner Archives, that was something new for the company. And damned if Deep Purple and their fans, casual or serious, didn't benefit stunningly from Rhino's usual excellence on this CD. For one thing -- and this is pretty amazing -- this disc, with nearly 80-minutes of music, was the most thorough and thoughtful overview of the band's work ever released in the United States; EMI may have come close in England with Singles A's & B's but the sound here is better, to put it mildly. It's not just that Bill Inglot's tape research and engineering are very good -- it's that the sound here is so rich and resonant (as well as -- natch -- loud), that even original lead singer Rod Evans is finally shown at his best, doing what amounted to heavy metal "crooning" next to Ian Gillan's rock-god shrieks. What's more, with the sound as clear and crisp as it is here, one even gets to hear the action on Jon Lord's savage organ cadenzas, which are in-your-face along with Ritchie Blackmore's early but ever-bolder guitar attacks, and one gets some idea of what that version of the band at its best could do. Ian Gillan's arrival and the single "Black Knight" switch the balance away from Lord's classically based experiments in favor of loud, crunchy hard rock, and it's only a step from there to "Speed King," where this band really showed what it was capable of. Even with the volume turned low, you can hear the action on Lord's organ keyboard on "Child in Time," everything else -- including Gillan's falsetto cry -- is close enough to jolt even the most jaded listener -- even 30 years after its release. Mostly it's that classic 1969-73 lineup that's featured, with a two-song acknowledgement of the David Coverdale lineup, and the CD closes with the classic lineup on "Knocking at Your Back Door" from their 1980s reunion. Designed to complement, not compete with, the four-disc box set Shades (1968-1998) that Rhino released the prior year, this is one compilation that will impress hardcore, longtime fans, even as it whets the appetite of new listeners.

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