With 27 tracks recorded between March 1957 and September 1959, this 78-minute single-disc CD is a good-value retrospective of the period in Jacques Brel's early career in which he established himself as a major singer/songwriter. The packaging doesn't quite make the grade; the liner notes offer a fair overview of his career but few specific details about the recordings on this CD, which include most (but not all) of the tracks from his second, third, and fourth albums, as well as some other odds and ends. Still, there's no faulting the quality and quantity of the music, which showcases the elements that made Jacques Brel distinguish himself as a special talent quite different from French-language performers that preceded him. The melodies are strong, sentimental without succumbing to excess, and dramatic; his delivery is emotional, yet wry and humorous as the material demands; and the arrangements are by and large relentlessly imaginative. Of course, some of the subtleties of the compositions will be lost on the English-speaking audience to which this compilation is directed. Plus, only a few songs -- "Ne Me Quitte Pas" ("If You Go Away"), "La Mort" (more familiar in its English translation, "My Death"), and perhaps the circus-like "La Valse à Mille Temps" -- will be quickly recognizable to non-French-speaking listeners. In all, however, it's a good survey of highlights of his early work.
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AllMusic Review by Richie Unterberger