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Various Artists
Ultimate Grammy Collection
Shout! Factory Records
www.shoutfactory.com


This year The Recording Academy is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Grammy awards. In conjunction with the fine folks over at Shout! Factory Records, the Academy has put together seven awesome collections of time-tested and true Grammy winning songs, organized by genre, that feature some truly amazing and timeless music. The tracks have been cleaned up and remastered and sound simply fantastic. While I scanned through each release, it was nice to hear no fidelity breakdown on a track recorded some 30+ years ago, the sound quality easily matching the recordings on the newer contemporary collections. I don't have enough space to cover everything found on these collections, but I'll give you a little recap of each.

The Classic R&B CD begins with the queen of soul herself, Aretha Franklin, and her hit song "Respect". I can think of no better way to begin a collection of soul music. The CD also features tracks from Otis Redding, Bill Withers, The Temptations, Donna Summer, and so many more. Marvin Gaye's amazing "Sexual Healing" sits nicely in the mix right next to Billy Paul's "Me And Mrs. Jones" and The Isley Brothers' classic "It's Your Thing". The Contemporary R&B disc moves things up a few decades and features tracks like Terence Trent D'Arby's "Wishing Well," Sade's "No Ordinary Love", and Anita Baker's "Giving You The Best That I Got". But the 80's are not the only decade represented here, as Usher contributes "U Remind ME" and Beyonce gives a little "Crazy In Love". Don't forget Soul II Soul's awesome "Back To Life".

The Classic Pop CD contains a wealth of music spanning the 60's through the mid 80's, beginning with Petula Clark's "Downtown" and wrapping with Bill Medley & Jennifer Warnes singing "The Time Of My Life." Other classic tracks like Nilsson's "Everybody's Talkin'", Janis Ian's "At Seventeen", Phil Collins' "Against All Odds" and Toto's "Rosanna" are included, once more covering a breadth of material loosely fitting in the pop category… I don't quite know how The 5th Dimension's "Aquarius" fits, but it's here! On the Contemporary Pop disc we get music mostly from the 90's, including Seal's "Kiss From A Rose" and the incredible Annie Lennox cover of "No More I Love You's". Madonna pitches in with "Ray Of Light", while Macy Gray takes us into the new millennium with "I Try", and John Mayer wraps the collection with his incredible "Gravity".

There is no classic rock CD, but we do have Contemporary Rock, featuring the likes of Green Day, Fiona Apple, Living Colour and more… I don't quite understand how someone at the Academy voted Tracy Chapman's "Give Me One Reason" as a rock track, or Melissa Ethereidge's "Ain't It Heavy," but those small incongruities are sandwiched in between great tracks like Smashing Pumpkins' "Bullet With Butterfly Wings", Lenny Kravitz's "Fly Away", and The White Stripes' amazing "Seven Nation Army". Do all of these tracks rock? No. Coldplay is awesome, but "In My Place" isn't really rock… but Soundgarden's "Black Hole Sun" gets a bit closer to it.

The final two discs are the Contemporary and Classic Country CDs. The dividing line between the two is drawn somewhere back around the late 70's. On the Classic Country disc songs range from the wild twang of Jerry Reid's "When You're Hot You're Hot" to the lonely wail of George Jones' "He Stopped Loving Her Today." Dolly Parton's "9 To 5", Ray Price's "For The Good Times", Jeannie C. Riley's great "Harper Valley PTA", and more round out a collection that spans the era from Roger Miller's excellent "King Of The Road" to Willie Nelson's amazing ballad "You Were Always On My Mind". The Contemporary Country disc includes such notable greats as Dwight Yoakam performing "Ain't That Lonely Yet" and Vince Gill's "When I Call Your Name." There are tracks from more recent hitmakers like Carrie Underwood and Tim McGraw, but this CD really shows how the country standbys continued to have success in the more recent years. Emmylou Harris' "The Connection" is included, as is June Carter Cash's beautiful "Keep On The Sunny Side."

These discs are a right smart collection of songs and celebrate the vast variety of music that the Academy has recognized throughout the past five decades with their Grammy awards. There is a taste of something for everyone, and each disc celebrates its genre very well. The songs are amazing, the sound quality is superb, and the overall feeling is that the world has turned out some pretty amazing music in the past 50 years. Here's to another 50 more!

-L. Keane


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