Dave Matthews Band - The Best of What's Around (Volume 1.) Review

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26 Nov 2006, 13:30

Dave Matthews Band has reached that point in its career where the members can say they have two different fan bases. There are those fans that love the early material, almost to the point of worship, but claim in recent years the band is a shadow of its former self. Then there are those that still stand by the band and argue their recent work is just as good ,if not better, than the older material. The former group probably has the stronger position. The last genuinely great DMB album was Before These Crowded Streets. The album was filled with a wide variety of musical styles, an eclectic mix of instruments, and some of the most impassioned singing in Dave Matthews career. The subsequent Everyday was good, but ultimately a poppy let down from its predecessor, and the next two albums were flat out weak. Their most recent 2005’s Stand Up being one of the worse albums of the year. This makes the release of Dave Matthews Band first best of compilation, The Best of What’s Around (Volume 1.), an interesting album. The Best of What’s Around captures some of the key early hits from the band, and puts the best material from recent years forward. They even include a second disk of fan picked live tracks. However, no matter how great the selection is, the price tag makes it hard to recommend.
For the first disk of studio cuts the band chose two tracks from every studio release since Under The Table And Dreaming. Unfortunately, this means the very early material, such as Remember Two Things, isn’t’ represented, but its only a minor fault. The actual selection is quite good. The band’s biggest hits, such as “What Would You Say,” “Crush,” and, of course, “Crash into Me” are on the album. There is a lot more material that could have and should have been on the album, such as “The Stone,” “The Dreaming Tree,” and “#41,” but their absence is understandable. Where the album had the potential to fall apart is in the second half, where it covers songs from Everyday to Stand Up. The band wisely chose its biggest hits from this time period, especially “The Space Between” and “Grey Street.” They took some risks and chose some lesser known but great tracks such as “So Right.” However, they do make a few selections that mar the album. In particular “Hunger For The Great Light” was a very sub-par song from Stand Up where Dave Matthews sounds like he smoked two packs of cigarettes (and maybe some other stuff) before he recorded the song.
The real draw of the album is the second disk of live tracks. DMB’s live material is always better than the studio work since it’s loaded with improvisation and spontaneity that the studio versions lack. These tracks selected for this album are genuinely best of material. It has on of the most energetic versions of “Don’t Drink The Water” I’ve ever heard, a surprisingly good version of “Louisiana Bayou” that almost redeems horrendous studio cut, and fun rendition of “Everyday” with Vusi Mahlasela. Sadly, the second disk is only eight tracks long and over way to quickly. If only the band has made a best of fan picked live tracks this would have been a great disk.
I find it very hard to recommend The Best of What’s Around. The reason isn’t the content, which despite it’s flaws, it actually good. The problem is its price. The double disk set costs around $18 to $20 in most stores. For that price you can easily pick up on of the live disks, such as Live at Folsom Fields, or The Central Park Concert, which are equally if not better representations of the band’s work. If you have never heard of the band The Best of What’s Around is a safe bet, but otherwise, I’d advise caution, even for the hardcore fan.

Grade: C+

There is little that makes this Dave Matthews Band “best of” compilation worth buying.

- Originally published in Franklin and Marshall College newspaper, The College Reporter on November 20, 2006, which is located in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
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RockAdd, F&M College, Gill St. Bernards

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