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MUSIC Without Hope
by Gregg Shapiro

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The obvious jokes aside, the world lost one of its most beloved entertainers when Bob Hope died at the age of 100 in July of 2003. Released shortly before his death (talk about timing), Best of Bob Hope (Capitol) is a 16-track compilation that covers more than a 55-year timespan and closes with Hope's trademark tune 'Thanks For The Memories.' Twelve of the 16 numbers feature Hope performing with others, including Bing Crosby ('Teamwork,' 'The Road To Hong Kong'), Margaret Whiting ('Lucky Us,' 'Ain't We Got Fun'), Jane Russell ('Wing-Ding Tonight') and Edie Adams ('The Flip Side'), among others. Always the funny man, Hope makes light of each of these musical situations, including his rendition of 'The Last Time I Saw Paris.'

Frank Sinatra is the subject of yet another collection of his recordings. The Essential Frank Sinatra: The Columbia Years (Columbia/Legacy) is the latest anthology to focus on the nine years Sinatra spent on Columbia, following his years on Capitol and preceding his time on Reprise. Among the Sinatra standards on the single-disc 'essential' set you will find 'I've Got A Crush On You,' 'Nancy (With The Laughing Face),' 'The House I Live In (That's America To Me),' and 'One For My Baby (And One More For The Road),' to mention a few.

Like Sinatra, The Beach Boys have had what seems like countless repackagings of their greatest hits, beginning as early as 1966. The Very Best of The Beach Boys: Sounds Of Summer (Capitol) is a sunny and warm 30-track assemblage, stretching from 1962 ('Surfin' Safari') through the Boys' unexpected mid-'70s comeback single 'Rock And Roll Music' and '80s hits such as 'Getcha Back' and 'Kokomo.' As good as this disc sounds during the summer months, it will sound even better in the deep freeze of winter.

More than 30 years ago, when the multi-faceted War was still known as Eric Burdon & War, they released 'Spill The Wine,' one of the most original singles to ever grace the top of the pop charts. Intoxicating and a little freaky, 'Spill The Wine' is unique unto itself. In the years that followed, after the band evolved into more of a funky fusion unit, they continued to have hit singles that were almost as unique as 'Spill The Wine.' These songs, including 'All Day Music,' 'Slippin' Into Darkness,' 'The World Is A Ghetto,' 'The Cisco Kid,' 'Gypsy Man,' 'Why Can't We Be Friends,' 'Low Rider,' and 'Summer,' to name a few, can be found on the double-disc set The Very Best Of War (Avenue/Rhino).

George Benson had already established himself as the rightful heir to jazz guitar genius Wes Montgomery's throne when he suddenly became a pop music sensation. Beginning in 1976, with his soulful cover of Leon Russell's 'This Masquerade' and the instrumental 'Breezin',' Benson began his tenure on the pop charts. Both of those songs, as well his other hits, including his original version of 'The Greatest Love Of All' from 1977, his live recording of 'On Broadway,' dance hits such as 'Love Ballad,' 'Give Me The Night,' and 'Turn Your Love Around,' and the adult contemporary hit 'Lady Love Me (One More Time),' and others are on the concise single-disc collection The Greatest Hits Of All (Warner Brothers/ Rhino).

White, Texas, roadhouse blues never sounded quite the same as it did when performed by The Fabulous Thunderbirds. Co-founded by Jimmie Vaughan, brother of the late blues-guitar legend Stevie Ray Vaughan, The Fabulous Thunderbirds took its blues seriously—just listen to 'Wait On Time,' 'Marked Deck,' 'Low Down Woman' and 'C-Boy's Blues' on the the Tacos Deluxe (Benchmark) compilation. They also knew how to transform the blues into a party, as they did on 'You Ain't Nothin' But Fine,' 'She's Tuff,' 'Can't Tear It Up Enuff' and 'I Believe I'm In Love.'

The exceptional work of the New Zealand band Crowded House, which at one time or another has counted the remarkable Finn Brothers (Neil and Tim of Split Enz fame) among its members, has already been celebrated on the highly recommended Recurring Dream: The Very Best of Crowded House disc. The 12-track Classic Masters (Capitol) album is worth having for a pair of live recordings ('When You Come' and 'Sister Madly') and for mixing up lesser-known album tracks with true classics such as 'Don't Dream It's Over,' 'Something So Strong,' and 'Weather With You.'

The B-sides collection Bastards & Rarities 1989-1994 (Badman) by Swell is indicative of the way the San Francisco band could make classic pop music references one minute ('If I Only Had A Brain' on the song 'Come Tomorrow') and be emulating the Jesus and Mary Chain the next ('Get Higher'). They play the shoe-gazer card with the best of them ('This Is How It Starts,' 'What I Saw') and even try their capable hands at experimental sound structures ('Forget About Dean').

One of the most long-awaited collections of its type, Pulp's Hits (Island) draws from the band's four most recent albums—His 'n' Hers, Different Class, This Is Hardcore and We Love Life. Led by the sarcastic Jarvis Cocker, Pulp's songs are as sexy ('Underwear') as they are cruel ('Razzmatazz,' 'Lipgloss') and dramatic ('Do You Remember The First Time?,' 'Disco 2000'). The chameleon-like Cocker can emulate Bowie one minute ('Party Hard') and create mellow Brit pop ('Trees') the next. Underrated and underappreciated, Pulp's Hits hits the spot.

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