There won't be a new album by the Who in connection with the band's 25th anniversary tour this summer, but there are 21 past Who packages available in CD from MCA Records.
For an introduction, "Who's Better, Who's Best" is ideal. The 65-minute collection, released last year by MCA, includes 19 of the British band's most celebrated numbers.
The early tracks (notably "My Generation" and "I Can't Explain") show why the Who reflected the energy, idealism and doubts of youth as well as any rock group that ever stepped on a stage. The later numbers (including "Won't Get Fooled Again" and "Baba O'Riley") demonstrate how the band moved into more sophisticated musical areas without sacrificing vitality and vision.
Next, "The Kids Are Alright" offers an absorbing look at the band live. The two-disc sound track is drawn from a 1979 film featuring the Who in concert at various stages of its career--from a late '60s guest spot on the Smothers Brothers' TV show to the Who's legendary Woodstock appearance.
Recommended next stops: "The Who Sings My Generation" (the 1965 beginning), "Who's Next" (the band, in 1971, at perhaps its creative peak), "Tommy" (the landmark 1969 concept album that rivals "Sgt. Pepper" in sheer rock ambition) and "Quadrophenia" (the second, generally underrated 1973 concept album).
"Who's Better, Who's Best" is a full-priced CD, but all the other albums cited are in MCA's budget lines. "Generation" is in the "Compact Price" series, which means it can be found around town for less than $10.
The remaining albums are in the slightly higher "Priced Less" series, which means "Who's Next" (a single disc) retails for around $12, while "Alright," "Tommy" and "Quadrophenia" (all two-disc sets) retail for around $22.
"From Barrooms to Bayous" is the sixth volume in ROM Records' highly recommended All-Ears Review sampler series. Though the album title doesn't suggest the eclectic nature of the series as well as such earlier volumes as "The Hottest New Sounds From African to Jazz to Rock to Zydeco," the music remains a rich mixture of roots-oriented contemporary sounds.
While that diversity may worry listeners who are accustomed to more homogenous samplers, Keith Holzman, ROM president, and series consultant Mara Zhelutka (of KCRW-FM), continue to put together collections with imagination and taste.
The music on "From Barrooms to Bayous" ranges from the Stones-flavored rock of EIEIO ("That Love Thang") and the barroom country of Lucinda Williams ("Crescent City") to the Bulgarian harmonies of the suddenly fashionable Trio Bulgarka ("Oi Yano Yanke") to the Cajun zest of Zachary Richard ("Love My Zydeco").
BUDGET CD REVIEWS
*** 1/2 "The Best of Gordon Lightfoot" (EMI-Manhattan)--This Canadian didn't crack the U.S. Top 40 until "If You Could Read My Mind" in 1970, but the best of his earlier material on United Artists Records (spotlighted in this 37-minute collection) displayed his feel for infectious melodies ("For Lovin' Me," "Did She Mention My Name") and sweeping narratives ("Canadian Railroad Trilogy"). Lightfoot is an uneven writer, but his best tunes earned him a place near the front of the folk-flavored singer-songwriter movement of the '60s and '70s.
*** Gloria Gaynor's "Greatest Hits" (Polydor)--There aren't a lot of reasons to look back fondly on the disco era, but Gaynor's "I Will Survive"--a No. 1 song in 1978--was one of them. Written by Dino Fekaris and Freddie Perren, the tune was a statement of independence and strength in the face of romantic disappointment that rivals Phil Spector's hits in terms of sheer emotional sweep. Not everything on this 61-minute disc approaches that power, but several tracks come surprisingly close. Among them: remakes of "Never Can Say Goodbye" and "Reach Out, I'll Be There."