The goal of Universal Music's compilation series The Definitive Collection is to encapsulate an artist's career on one CD, a task sometimes complicated by that artist's many hits or a catalog that spreads across several labels. Such challenges did not present themselves to the usual extent in the disc devoted to '90s/2000s country singer Chely Wright. Wright recorded first for Polydor Records, starting in 1994, then for MCA as of 1997; starting with 2004's The Metropolitan Hotel, she had her own independent label, Painted Red. Throughout this period, Wright consistently figured in the country singles charts, with no less than 17 entries. Only three of those entries got as high as the Top 20, however, and only one, "Single White Female," crossed into the Top Ten and, for a week, went to number one in 1999. Until now, Universal, repository for both the Polydor and MCA catalogs, had contented itself without a Wright greatest-hits album, except for a release in the discount-priced best-of series, 20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection. Definitive Collection makes up for that lack, including all of Wright's solo chart entries (her duets with Brad Paisley on "Hard to Be a Husband, Hard to Be a Wife," and with Radney Foster on "Scary Old World" are missing), and filling out the 18-song, 64-minute running time with three album tracks. Wright's two chart entries from The Metropolitan Hotel, "Back of the Bottom Drawer" and "The Bumper of My S.U.V." have been licensed from her, making for a complete overview of her recording career so far. It's easy to hear why Polydor and MCA stuck with her through five albums despite her many chart disappointments, and why radio programmers kept giving her singles a spin; she's an excellent country singer no matter whether she's given contemporary or traditional material to handle, and since, like so many Nashville acts, she was heavily dependent on the songs she got to record and the producers who shaped them, even as the records didn't quite succeed, one after another, they usually sounded enough like the ones that did to make you think she was always right on the verge. Of course, after "Single White Female" topped the charts, that should have been a breakthrough, which is why, when her subsequent album, Never Love You Enough, lacked a comparably successful single, she was soon without a major-label affiliation. The songs from The Metropolitan Hotel, one written and the other co-written by Wright, are more personal efforts that suggest her best days may be ahead of her. Meanwhile, Definitive Collection lives up to its name through 2004.
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann