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Box Set ()

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The eclectic career of gospel/country/comedy artist Ray Stevens creates a big challenge for anyone attempting to make a representational "best-of" album. He jumped from genre to genre as often as he switched labels, leaving compilers with mountains of unrelated song subjects and complicated licensing issues. When the 2005 Box Set was announced, Stevens' fans had high hopes for a comprehensive, career-spanning collection -- and it was -- kind of. After a successful television-only campaign, Curb Records released the set in 2006 and sales proved that the Stevens' market was still strong in the U.S.. Faithful fan support does not necessarily guarantee that a collection is good though. The Box Set is a sprawling three-disc affair (providing more than an ample amount of time to give the man plenty of room to show all of his facets), but the collection is plagued with glaring omissions and seemingly random sequencing. Stevens' strongest suit has always been his versatility -- blessed with a lovely voice, great musical talent, and uncanny comedic sense, Ray Stevens could (and did) successfully tackle anything that interested him. So why is so much of that good stuff missing here? Sure, there are the expected hits (both comedic and serious) like "It's Me Again Margaret," "Everything Is Beautiful," "Ahab the Arab," "The Streak," "Misty," "The Mississippi Squirrel Revival," "Nashville," and (one of his earliest outings) "Jeremiah Peabody's Polyunsaturated Quick-Dissolving Fast-Acting Pleasant Tasting Green and Purple Pills," but the majority of the Box Set focuses on lesser-known album cuts that would be obscure even for dedicated fans. Although it's not touted as "complete," the Box Set still suffers from the omission of some of Stevens' strongest material. His brilliant readings of the Coasters' "Along Came Jones" and Kris Kristofferson's "Sunday Morning Coming Down" aren't here, and neither are the moody "Mr. Businessman," the sublime "Unwind," or the hilarious "Santa Claus Is Watching You." The Box Set really only excels as a complementary collection for fans who have a hits compilation already and are looking to delve a little deeper. For fans looking for a more compact (and representationally sound) overview, Capitol's Classic Masters or Rhino's Best of Ray Stevens do the job more succinctly, and with more reverence. ~ J. Scott McClintock, Rovi Hide synopsis

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