Various Artists

Parasol's Sweet Sixteen, Vol. 4

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Since Parasol is one of the biggest and best indie pop labels in America (as well as a leading distributor of other left-of-center labels), it would make sense that their line of budget-price label samplers would be equally great. However, early volumes of Parasol's Sweet Sixteen series suffered a bit from overly cautious song selection, functioning merely as a sampler of new releases from Parasol and affiliated labels instead of hanging together as albums in their own right. The fourth volume, on the other hand, wisely ups the quantity of otherwise unavailable tracks (six out of 20 selections, by White Town, Adam Schmitt, Neilson Hubbard, June & the Exit Wounds, Fonda, and Jenifer Jackson) and previews of as-yet-released albums. More importantly, these 20 tracks flow together much better than the haphazardly sequenced earlier volumes in the series, moving from a strain of guitar-heavy neo-psychedelia into a stretch of wistful pop tunes highlighted by Schmitt's exquisite "Overdone" (possibly the singer/songwriter's best song yet) and a surprisingly affecting reworking of Howard Jones' "No One Is to Blame" by Neilson Hubbard. June & the Exit Wounds' previously unreleased ode to bubblegum singles and true love, "Where I'm Taken," introduces a stretch of more upbeat pure pop tunes that includes the disc's only misstep, Fonda's rotten version of the Supremes' eye-rolling attempt at social protest, "Love Child." From that low point, however, the disc regains its footing for a low-key selection of low-key tracks, culminating in a pair of acoustic gems by Jack Logan and Jenifer Jackson. Better sequenced and more listenable than many "real" albums, Parasol's Sweet Sixteen, Vol. 4 is the first essential volume in the series.

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