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Two Releases a Welcome Surprise

March 11, 1994|ROBERT HILBURN | TIMES POP MUSIC CRITIC

"Twenty-One Good Reasons: The Paul Carrack Collection" and Marty Robbins' "Lost and Found" are albums that arrive as surprises.

The first collection catches you off guard because you don't really expect a Carrack retrospective. The Englishman is a gifted singer and keyboardist, but since he's one of the most anonymous hitmakers of the modern pop era, you could easily imagine his being overlooked when executives at Chrysalis Records were putting together their list of 1994 retrospectives.

The Robbins CD is a surprise because few outside of Columbia Records knew that the tracks even existed. The album is filled with "lost" recordings that never appeared on the late country singer's numerous albums.

Both packages, however, are welcome, if highly uneven, works.

Carrack has only had one Top 10 U.S. hit under his own name: 1987's "Don't Shed a Tear." As a member of various groups, however, he sang lead on such high-profile singles as Ace's "How Long" in 1975, Squeeze's "Tempted" in 1981 and Mike + the Mechanics' "Silent Running (On Dangerous Ground)" in 1985 and "The Living Years" in 1989.

The key to making the album work was the decision to go beyond Carrack's solo recordings to his work with the other groups. What he often gains in those settings is better songs.

Carrack's own compositions, such as "You're All That I Need" from the Ace days and "A Little Unkind" from the solo years, tend to be rather colorless.

But there is a winningly soulful edge to his singing that shines on such songs as Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook's "Tempted" and even Mike Rutherford and B.A. Robertson's "The Living Years."

In the liner notes, Carrack reflects on each of the recordings. About "The Living Years," his biggest hit: "It related to my own life in that my father passed away when I was 11. . . . I am amazed at the number of people who stop me on the street and tell me how the song has moved them or actually made them call up a loved one."

Robbins, who had hits in styles ranging from pure honky-tonk and rockabilly to gunfighter narratives to ballads, had a remarkable career that included more than 75 Top 40 country hits and more than a dozen Top 40 pop hits before his death in 1982. They ranged from 1959's "El Paso" to 1970's "My Woman, My Woman, My Wife."

While the packaging is skimpy (there's no information on when the tracks were recorded, except to say they were all done between 1972 and 1982) and the song quality is weak, Robbins' voice remains endearing. As the album's most notable tracks--"The Beginning of Goodbye" and "Twenty Dollar Jim"--remind us, Robbins was one of the warmest of all post-1940s country interpreters.

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