John Peel, an innovator, father and king to the music industry, died in late 2004, having been one of England's most influential disc jockeys. He helped launch acts like David Bowie, the Clash and the Sex Pistols, and Mogwai was one of his latest discoveries.
Peel's baritone voice introduces Government Commissions like a '70s rock concert: "Ladies and gentlemen, Mogwai." A guitar melody crescendos and plummets like a roller coaster. On this compilation of re-recorded material spanning the band's entire career, the Scottish quintet floats through 10 songs with ease, playing old songs with a new passion that was unattainable on their previous releases. Suddenly you forget that you've heard all these songs before -- they sound completely different this time around. The raw live studio recordings create a textured ambience that puts you in the studio where the songs are being recorded.
On Government Commissions, Mogwai plays old songs with new style, adding a fresh layer to the band's already complex resume. The product is excellent -- even John Peel would have approved. -- JOE PRESTON
Songs FOUR STARS
Willie Nelson has never been shy about going to the well, so it would be easy to chalk Songs up to another quick buck. Yes, it's a greatest-hits package, but since Willie has recorded for just about every label, Lost Highway has pulled a coup by securing enough rights to take you through his career, starting with his demo of "Crazy," which Patsy Cline turned into gold.
His early, earnest stuff is the most compelling -- songs like "Touch Me" and the sardonic, anti-war (Vietnam, that is) "Good Times." And you get the big hits, like "Good Hearted Woman" (with Waylon Jennings) and "Pancho and Lefty" (with Merle Haggard). The later stuff is weak, especially his duet with Brian McKnight and an all-star version of "On the Road Again." But some surprising choices make up for that, like the Sesame Street song "Rainbow Connection" and "It's Not Supposed To Be That Way," a love letter to his daughter with a bit of advice that could be his epitaph: "Be careful what you're dreamin' / Soon your dreams will be dreamin' you." -- Ted S. McGregor Jr.