20th Century Masters compiles a dozen highlights from a pair of albums Asleep at the Wheel recorded for MCA. Most of the inclusions come from Asleep at the Wheel, a fine 1985 album, with the others coming from the lesser Framed, from 1980. One key highlight is "This Is the Way We Make a Broken Heart," a John Hiatt song popularized by Rosanne Cash in the mid-'80s. Each album sounds of its time, which differentiates this material from Asleep at the Wheel's early- to mid-'70s prime, when the band employed a rootsier, less-produced sound. Most fans prefer that '70s sound to this '80s one. Still, even if Asleep at the Wheel were mostly inactive during the early '80s, releasing nothing between 1980 and 1985, it's good to have the highlights of that era compiled in a package like this with modern mastering standards and some annotation. In any event, you'll want to start with Asleep at the Wheel's prime recordings before moving on to this latter-day collection, as these '80s-era recordings are less than essential and of secondary interest. If you're fan making your way through the band's catalog, however, you'll find 20th Century Masters to be a convenient and well-assembled sampler of a minor stage in the evolution of Asleep at the Wheel.
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AllMusic Review by Jason Birchmeier