A Broadway performer, a best-selling novelist, and a TV presenter, Belfast-born balladeer Brian Kennedy appears to have done it all since emerging from his troubled surroundings in the early '90s. Despite his extracurricular activities, the former Van Morrison backing singer is still best known for his MOR Celtic pop albums, which have seen him challenge the likes of Divine Comedy's Neil Hannon, Snow Patrol's Gary Lightbody, and Ash's Tim Wheeler as his homeland's most successful contemporary male songwriter. Released to celebrate his 20 years in the business, The Very Best Of is Kennedy's second hits compilation following 2000's Won't You Take Me Home -- The RCA Years. This 15-track collection shares seven of its predecessor's tracks, including early singles, the emotive acoustic ballads "Captured" and "Town," and his trio of consecutive U.K. Top 40 hits, "Life, Love and Happiness," "A Better Man," and World Party cover "Put the Message in the Box." But ten years on, it also includes eight other compositions, several of which have far transcended his loyal Northern Irish fan base. "Every Song Is a Cry for Love" is the Enrique Iglesias-esque acoustic midtempo song that he performed for Ireland in the 2006 Eurovision Song Contest, while "Carrickfergus" and "Curragh of Kildare," here performed with actor Adrian Dunbar, are two of the most popular traditional Irish numbers as featured on his well-received TV show, On Song. But of course, it's his powerful collaboration with Irish-Norwegian neo-classical duo Secret Garden, "You Raise Me Up," which has since gone on to become a modern classic thanks to covers by Josh Groban, Westlife, and Il Divo, among hundreds of others, that has become his most iconic and career-defining tune. Originally a lesser-known album track on the pair's 2002 Once in a Red Moon, it later became his biggest hit, reaching number four in the U.K. after he performed the moving piece at legendary footballer George Best's funeral in 2005. Surprisingly omitting his 1999 hit duet with Ronan Keating and the material he recorded with Morrison and Fairground Attraction's Mark E. Nevin as part of Sweetmouth, The Very Best Of doesn't paint the full picture of his illustrious career. But with tracks taken from his 1990 debut, The Great War of Words, right up until 2008's Interpretations, it's still a fairly reflective and consistently strong collection of songs that explains why Kennedy can count the likes of Bill Clinton and Bob Dylan as his admirers.
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AllMusic Review by Jon O'Brien