While Steve Earle reached his commercial peak with the 1988 album Copperhead Road, his reputation with critics and discriminating music fans has grown steadily since his 1996 "comeback" album, I Feel Alright, and since then the material from his first five albums -- Guitar Town, Exit O, Copperhead Road, The Hard Way, and Shut up and Die Like an Aviator -- has been recycled on a number of different compilations aimed at new fans looking to catch up with his earlier stuff. The Collection is the fifth such album to be released since 1993, and it's neither the best nor the worst of the lot; the track selection focuses on the usual suspects from the first three albums, shortchanges the uneven but interesting The Hard Way (how come "Justice in Ontario" made the cut instead of the superb "Billy Austin"?), and gives you more than you really need from the road-weary Shut up and Die Like an Aviator. The Collection does tack on two hard-to-find live cuts for completists, "Little Sister" and a cover of Bruce Springsteen's "Nebraska" (another Springsteen cover on this disc, "State Trooper," popped up on an edition of Guitar Town), and the mastering and liner notes are fine, but someone looking for an overview of Steve Earle's years at MCA would be better served by picking up Ain't Ever Satisfied: The Steve Earle Collection.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming