The rising tide of teen-pop phenomenons like 'N Sync and Britney Spears washed in with it the return of the all-star hits compilation, an idea that had been sleeping soundly since the glory days of K-Tel in the 1970s. This resurrection paid off with humongous sales for CDs in the pop Now and Totally Hits series, and now it's country's turn to try for a piece of that pie with Totally Country.
This CD, the first in a planned series, brings 17 different acts to the table and serves up a heaping helping of hits from the last three years (all but two of which went Top 10). And for most of its 66-minute running time, Totally Country is about as good a snapshot of the current state of mainstream country as you could want.
The secret weapon of a hits compilation is surprise - a fresh new sound appears every few minutes, each one a chart-tested crowd-pleaser. Totally Country is dominated by the rough 'n' ready likes of Brooks & Dunn's wide-open "Only In America," Lonestar's gleeful "With Me" and keith urban's thumping "Where The Blacktop Ends." For what it's worth, Totally Country's most irresistible cut is also the one that was least successful on radio: Dwight Yoakam's rip through Cheap Trick's classic "I Want You To Want Me" only made it to No. 49.
Totally Country runs out of steam toward the end as it settles in for a long stretch through ballad territory. But by then, the album has already proven its point -that today's country can match today's pop, hit for hit.
-- Chris Neal