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  The Very Best of Avalon
Artist: Avalon
Label: Sparrow Records (2003)
Length: 16 Tracks (71:05)

If releasing a greatest hits collection after only four albums' worth of original material seems a bit premature; with two gold record certifications, five Dove Awards and 12 consecutive Number One singles to their credit, the new, 16-song Very Best Of set from Avalon is probably more a matter of bursting at the seams than cashing in.  While the quartet's particular permutation of inspirational pop hardly classifies as ground-breaking, few groups of their ilk are able to pull off music so consistently engaging.  To be sure, the R&B-inflected lite pop of "Testify to Love," the dance floor-friendly "Take you at your Word" and made-for-special-music anthems like "Can't Live a Day" are all tied together by a surefire combination of letter-perfect vocals, angelic harmony work and hooks big enough to hang a winter coat on.

Perhaps interestingly enough, the newly-written tracks, usually relegated to the domain obligatory or toss-off material on greatest hits packages, stand among the strongest material on the record.  The gripping power ballad, "Everything to Me," transitions faultlessly from its quiet, story-telling beginning to an all-out instrumental tour de force by song's end.  "Pray" is a likewise rousing, if perhaps slightly opportunistic, nod to the Latin and teen-pop genres.  And the soaring, best-of-album entry, "New Day," sports a refreshingly stripped-down production aesthetic and earthy, acoustically-driven groove that suggests the Nashville four-piece may very well be on the way to finding its proverbial funk.

Of course, one could argue that the Avalon collective is, in a manner of speaking, preaching to the converted since little on the new record seems destined to change the minds of, say, hip-hop lovers or nu-metal devotees at large.  Then again, the listener should recall that it wasn't all that long ago that Alice Cooper stepped up to declare on VH-1 that the Bee Gees' Saturday Night Fever was one of the greatest albums ever recorded.  Indeed, in light of the Best Of set's rock-solid lineup, the idea of legions of aging Gen-X types coming forward in ten to fifteen years time to say that they secretly liked the Nashville foursome from the beginning suddenly doesn't seem so implausible after all.  Parents of hard rock-loving teenagers are advised to pick up a spare copy, just in case.

Bert Gangl  4/16/2003


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