Burl Ives

20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best of Burl Ives

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MCA/Decca's full-priced 18-track Burl Ives collection Greatest Hits, released in 1996, was still in print when the label issued this 12-track budget set five years later, so it's worth comparing the two. The less-expensive album actually contains a couple of big hits -- Ives' Top 40 pop/Top Ten country cover of Hank Thompson's "Wild Side of Life" from 1952 and the 1962 single "Mary Ann Regrets," which went Top 40 pop and Top 20 country and easy listening -- not featured on the more expensive one. In fact, there is an overlap of only seven tracks between the two albums. On the whole, Greatest Hits is the preferable compilation, boasting roughly chronological sequencing and including some minor chart entries not featured on the new album, as well as licensing the Top Ten pop hit "On Top of Old Smoky" from Columbia Records. But 20th Century Masters -- The Millennium Collection: The Best of Burl Ives (despite the hopelessly ungainly title) really covers the essentials, from the early signature songs like "Big Rock Candy Mountain" and "Foggy, Foggy Dew" to the early-'60s country hits like "A Little Bitty Tear" and "Funny Way of Laughin'." Ives recorded prolifically for Decca Records in the '40s, '50s, and '60s, and compilations of his occasional fluke hits over the years aren't really representative of his overall output. (For one thing, they make him seem like more of a country artist that he was.) But if one accepts the premise of a best-of that assembles an artist's most broadly exposed tracks on a single disc, this one is as good as any and arguably a better buy for the money than the 1996 Greatest Hits album.

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