Having demonstrated its multiplatinum muscle and then succumbed to
inevitable shortfalls, country music endures as a bastion of hit
radio and professional songwriting. It lives off a singles
aesthetic--clever lyrics set to catchy tunes backed by a cadre of
crack studio musicians and, if we're lucky, infused with a stirring
vocal. So if we stay lucky, the way to buy country artists is in
the greatest-hits format.
The current prize is Mark Chesnutt's Greatest Hits (MCA), by a homely little powerhouse from East Texas who did well to survive Nashville's hunk boom with his cowboy hat intact. Much is made of Chesnutt's authenticity, but whether Bubba Shot the Jukebox actually reminds him of his long-gone tour of duty in honky-tonk dives needn't concern outsiders. What matters is that it exploits good-old-boy myth with grit and humor, just like Goin' Through the Big D ("and I don't mean Dallas") and It Sure Is Monday (catching Z's on lunch break). If he puts less juice into his ballads, songs as well-crafted as Almost Goodbye and I'll Think of Something stay moist on their own.
Skip current best-ofs by Clint Black, who turned hunk after a superb debut album; Vince Gill, Nashville's answer to Julio Iglesias; and Keith Whitley, who got better after he passed away in 1989 because his label could no longer produce him to death. Instead, try John Anderson's Greatest Hits (BNA). The veteran's second album by that name is less classic than the one on Warners but does top MCA's You Can't Keep a Good Memory Down. After a hellraising youth, Anderson has come to specialize in warm, humorously observed songs of country and/or married life like Money in the Bank and I've Got It Made. And after all these years he still knows how to stir them up.
Playboy, Jan. 1997