Best of the Vanguard Years marks the first upgrading of the Ian & Sylvia CD catalog with an improved version of The Essential Ian & Sylvia; with cleaner mastering and some songs added (most notably a pair of numbers -- the best here -- from the Live at Newport disc issued in the '90s) for a total of 25. The sound is an improvement over the earlier CD versions, although the duo's music was so utterly underproduced -- what annotator Ed Ward calls a hallmark of their sound -- that this is represented by quieter background, rather than any astoundingly vivid textures. The obvious songs ("Four Strong Winds," "Some Day Soon," "You Were on My Mind," "The Circle Game," "Early Morning Rain," "Changes") are here, along with many less familiar numbers ("Mary Anne," "This Wheel's on Fire," "Satisfied Mind," "Keep on the Sunny Side," a live version of "The Greenwood Sidie"), although quite a few superb album tracks are still to be found exclusively on the duo's individual CDs. The main drawback is that the duo weren't always that interesting -- both are surprisingly credible working in a blues idiom ("Rocks and Gravel," in a previously unissued alternate take), but when they cut with a full rock band, as on "When I Was a Cowboy," it's not always very inspired or effective; on the other hand, the harmonizing on "Play One More," melded with the unobtrusive string and horn section, is breathtaking.
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AllMusic Review by Bruce Eder