Playlist: The Best Of Edwin McCain, by Edwin McCain
Seeing as we have just reviewed a five-song EP by Edwin McCain, how much more impressive is it to review a best-of compilation that has four times as many songs on a single disc? It should be noted, in looking at the list of songs included here, that this best-of collection focuses on Edwin McCain’s four Atlantic albums, for the most part, and even among that section of the artist’s overall work there are plenty of great songs left out from albums like Misguided Roses (“The Rhythm Of Life,” “Darwin’s Children,” “Grind Me In The Gears,” and “The Holy City” are not included), Messenger (“Ghosts Of Jackson Square,” “See Of This Mountain”), and Far From Over (“Letter To My Mother,” “Kentucky”) among them, are not included despite the large amount of songs on this collection. Still, this album gives the listener a pretty fair understanding of the appeal of Edwin McCain.
The songs in this collection demonstrate a striking degree of range in terms of subject matter and style, far more than one would expect from a meat and potatoes wigwag like Edwin McCain. The album is bookended by two versions of I’ll Be, the second an acoustic version that appeared on Messenger. In between is a mixture of minor hits (“I Could Not Ask For More,” “Solitude”), should-have-been hit singles (“Sorry To A Friend,” “What Matters,” “Go Be Young,” “Hearts Fall,” “Write Me A Song,” and “I Don’t Know How I Got By”) and plenty of deserving album tracks as well (“Beautiful Life,” “3 AM,” “The Promise Of You,” “Cleveland Park” among them). Not every song here is equally entertaining, as at times the music supporting Edwin McCain’s songs, especially the material from Honor Among Thieves, can be a bit of somewhat basic and boring strumming. Most of the time, though, supporting instruments including some inspired saxophone and electric guitar playing add a great deal of warmth to the songs and McCain’s mixture of romantic devotion and thoughtful introspection encourages the listener to be in a similarly charitable mood.
Whether or not you like this album will depend on whether McCain’s musical and lyrical range is in line with the listeners own tastes. McCain’s basic approach is to strum an acoustic guitar and sing about the lives and loves of common people like himself. He shows broad human sympathies, with fellow musicians (even in “Radio Star,” where he constructs a cynical anti-Edwin McCain persona to muse on the ephemeral nature of popularity), with single mothers, with privileged college students, with the homeless, with drug addicts, with the young and with the old. He manages to blend genre effectively, ranging from gospel (the haunting “Promise Of You”) to soaring romantic ballads (“I’ll Be,” “I Could Not Ask For More,” “Hearts Fall,” among them), to solid Southern pop-rock (“Beautiful Life,” “Pop Star,” “Cleveland Park”), as well as his acoustic numbers. If thoughtful introspection, a charitable compassion on others, and a strong interest in encouraging the broken in their efforts at redemption and recovery are your cup of tea, Edwin McCain is an artist you will likely appreciate, and if this album is far from the last word on the artist’s career, like 500 lawyers at the bottom of the sea it is a good start.
Key tracks: “Go Be Young,” “Cleveland Park,” “Beautiful Life,” “Promise Of You,” “Hearts Fall,” “Write Me A Song,” “Sorry To A Friend,” “I’ll Be,” “I Could Not Ask For More,” “Solitude,” “What Matters”