Various Artists

And I Write the Songs

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One of the most eclectic singer/songwriter compilations you'll ever encounter, And I Write the Songs: 34 Singer/Songwriter Classics works on many levels by gathering extraordinary original songs by a diverse group of original artists. The fact that the album that opens with Richard & Linda Thompson and closes with James Brown ought to tell you the mission -- and in-between there's some unforgettable music like Joe Jackson's "It's Different for Girls" a step away from Kirsty MacColl's driving "There's a Guy Works Down the Chip Shop Swears He's Elvis." Certainly Tim Hardin's "The Lady Came from Baltimore" is as deserving as Neil Sedaka's lilting "Our Last Song Together," but putting those titles kitty-corner to Roger Miller's "King of the Road," well...perhaps Hardin would've been the better segue. The CD is a strange mix of country singer/songwriters like Jim Stafford and Billy Ray Cyrus just a few cuts apart from Elton John's "Daniel" and Rod Stewart's "Mandolin Wind." Nils Lofgren, Chris De Burgh, and Rosie Vela will, no doubt, be pleased to be included, as will Lloyd Cole, and where Steve Winwood's "While You See a Chance" has a relationship to Marianne Faithfull's "Broken English," at least as labelmates, they share little with Dillard & Clark. But the envelope-pushing mix is what makes this so intriguing. Liner note writer John Collis misses the mark a bit on Bobby Hebb, though the album uniquely places Hebb's "Sunny" (resplendent in a little extra reverb in the mastering) next to Marvin Gaye and James Brown, who both covered the Hebb classic, and two spaces away from Hank Williams' "Cold Cold Heart," which Bobby Hebb covered on his That's All I Wanna Know album. And, yes, Joan Baez being associated with country is not a stretch, but her "Diamonds & Rust" on an album with "Achy Breaky Heart" is, and it is that warped sense of irony that makes this collection so very intriguing and exciting. Gallagher & Lyle deserve wider exposure, as do Joan Armatrading and Murray Head, but chances are they never thought they would all be sequenced together on one album. Seek it out, for though there's a plethora of singer/songwriter compilations through the ages, this one is very special. Leaving Bruce Johnston's title track off of the collection was a mistake, however. The proverbial softball coming at you at one mile per hour, it would have been the frosting on the cake.