Essential is a beautifully remastered 16-track overview of singer and songwriter Kim Carnes' eight years with EMI. Though she recorded two fine albums for A&M before, and a number of solid if underappreciated offerings for a number of labels after, Ms. Carnes is best known for the seven records she made for EMI between 1979 and 1986. Of course, her biggest hits are here: the ubiquitous pop classic "Bette Davis Eyes," "Cry Like a Baby," and "Don't Fall in Love with a Dreamer" (in duet with Kenny Rogers). But deeper than this are lesser-known but nonetheless excellent songs such as "I'd Lie to You for Your Love," "Abadabadango," "I Pretend," "Chain Letter," and the Faces-esque "It Hurts So Bad," all of them done in an nearly astonishing range of subgenres of rock and pop. What makes them work, obviously, is the iconic and instantly recognizable grain in Carnes' voice. It is at once smoldering in its passion yet simultaneously reflects a noir-ish, femme fatale's sense of cool. Her ability to choose or write songs that highlighted the many smoky shades in that voice is uncanny. These cuts represent the very best of seven albums -- though hardcore fans will always argue with the producer's choices. The only shame is that EMI didn't cross license songs from her periods with A&M, MCA, or even other labels (all of which have real merit), to make it a double. We can always hope that some enterprising independent will do so in the future. Ultimately, Kim Carnes' Essential reveals that while her moment in the pop spotlight was relatively brief, her depth as an artist preceded and outlasted it exponentially.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek
feat: Kenny Rogers