There was a previous Ray Price compilation on Columbia/Legacy, The Essential Ray Price: 1951-1962, with an almost identical title to this 2007 release. This one is an entirely different anthology, however; not only is it merely titled The Essential Ray Price, but it's considerably bigger and its chronological span is much wider, as the two-CD, 40-track set covers material from 1950 to 1980. An astonishing 31 of these recordings were Top Ten country hits, which alone makes it a valuable summary of Price's most well known music. Of more importance, however, is how it charts Price's artistic journey from a fairly raw honky-tonker to one of country's most popular country-pop crooners. Hard country fans, of course, will be most impressed by the honky tonk sides (especially on disc one, all of which was cut in 1950-1961), and those who know Price primarily for smoothies like "For the Good Times" (which is on disc two, of course) will be surprised by the relatively hard-kicking tracks from his early years (including huge hits like "Heartaches by the Number" and "Crazy Arms"). There's a mixed blessing to a Price comp that covers thirty years, though; for all the success of his later work, there's no denying that it helped paved the way for bland countrypolitan, particularly when he started piling on strings and vocal choruses. Even in those years, however, he was recording songs by top composers like Willie Nelson, Hank Cochran, the team of Boudleaux Bryant and Felice Bryant, and (on his 1970 smashes "For the Good Times" and "I'd Rather Be Sorry") Kris Kristofferson. The Essential Ray Price: 1951-1962 is probably essential enough for those who prefer to remember Price in his honky-tonkiest days, but this two-disc anthology gives a more complete view of why he was a country music giant, without sacrificing much from the early years in which he was truest to his roots.
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AllMusic Review by Richie Unterberger
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2
feat: Willie Nelson