Is it fair to append a couple of new tracks to "best of" collections to tempt fans into spending $14 on songs that they have? Whatever your view, it's become standard procedure, so it must work. The question is whether the new tracks are worthy additions to a collection or simply toss-offs.
With these four-star singer-songwriters, the new selections are a mixed bag. Browne, on his first-ever anthology, fares best. "The Rebel Jesus" and "The Next Voice You Hear"--two biting calls for a cultural conscience tuneup, with matching production by T-Bone Burnett on the latter--continue the upward roll he's been on with his latest albums.
Costello's recent work has been hit-and-miss, and that's the case here too. "The Bridge I Burned" recalls the sonic intrigue of his "Armed Forces" era but lacks the old barbed hooks, while "My Dark Life" (previously on the album from "The X-Files") sheds little new light.
Cohen, known for laboring for years over a song's poetry, seems to have made "Never Any Good" a conscious attempt to be lightweight -- and he succeeds all too well. A second track, "The Great Event," is a brief forecast of global salvation "spoken" by a female computer voice. It's poetically ironic but still a mere trifle.
Rather than actually write new songs himself, Joel turns to other sources. Bob Dylan's "To Make You Feel My Love" (also done by Dylan on his new album) is inferior even without Joel's lugubrious lounge delivery, but the Muzak-y desiccation of the Carole King-Gerry Goffin chestnut "Hey Girl" is sinful. Joel's version of Cohen's "Light as the Breeze," previously issued only on a soundtrack album, isn't much better.
You pay your money, you take your chances.
Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor) to four stars (excellent).
(Note: The star ratings apply only to the albums' new songs.)
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* Excerpts from these albums and other recent releases are available on The Times' World Wide Web site. Point your browser to: http://www.latimes.com/soundclips