Steve Earle's tenure at MCA Records has seemingly been anthologized to death by now, with seven compilations drawn from his MCA material already on the market at this writing, so one might wonder what the point would be of putting out another one. However, 2006's The Definitive Collection 1983-1997 at least makes an honest effort to live up to its title by also offering a brief look at his work before and after he signed with MCA. While the bulk of this disc concerns itself with Earle's first three albums -- and six tracks come from his 1986 debut, Guitar Town -- the set opens with "Nothin' But You" from his rockabilly-flavored Pink & Black EP, first released independently in 1982, and the final six songs document Earle's triumphant comeback from his "vacation in the ghetto" with songs from his underrated acoustic album Train a Comin' (1995) and the brilliant, harder-edged I Feel Alright (1996) and El Corazón (1997), as well as a live performance of "Valentine's Day" and his superb contribution to the soundtrack of the film Dead Man Walking, "Ellis Unit One." During his first 15 years as a recording artist, Steve Earle made far too much good music to fit on one disc (which is one of the reasons to pick up the fine two-disc compilation Ain't Ever Satisfied: The Steve Earle Collection), but this set at least manages to match up the cream of his MCA years with some examples of the fine material he recorded elsewhere, and it's a good starter for anyone looking for an introduction to one of America's finest and most fearless songwriters.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming