Guess WhoThe start of a new year is always a slow time for new releases from major music labels. They spit out all product for Christmas, and it takes a few weeks to ramp back up. Nearly every disc I've seen come out in the past two weeks has been a "best of" collection of some kind, which is good news for fans of those artists who haven't got the work on CD.

RCA/Legacy partnership has reissued collections from two artists under the banner "The Hits." Each disc includes the original hits collection lineup, as well as a couple of bonus tracks. The first comes from '70s rock band the Guess Who, titled The Best of the Guess Who. The disc offers its signature "American Woman," as well as "Share the Land," "These Eyes" and "No Sugar Tonight."

RCA/Legacy also has dug back to the days of Philly soul to reissue a Daryl Hall & John Oates collection, "Rock 'n Soul Part 1." This disc offers 14 tracks and includes "Say It Isn't So," "Sara Smile," "She's Gone," "Rich Girl," "Kiss on My List," "Private Eyes," I Can't Go For That (No Can Do)" and more.

The label also offers a new (and perhaps unnecessary) collection from one-hit wonder Terence Trent D'Arby. All the casual fan really needs of D'Arby's work is his 12 million-selling debut album from 25 years ago that had his mega hit "Wishing Well." RCA/Legacy's collection The Very Best of Terence Trent D'Arby includes that hit, as well as "If You Let Me Stay," and others, including some live tracks and remixes.

Legacy also has paired with Epic to release the first hits collection in over a decade from another one-hit wonder, Living Colour. Aaron CarterThe band hit it big on its first album 18 years ago with "Cult of Personality." A few minor singles followed, but never achieved the chart presence of that first single that leads off Everything Is Possible: The Very Best of Living Colour. The disc also includes "Glamour Boys" (produced by Mick Jagger), "Elvis Is Dead," "Pride" and more.

On the opposite end of the age spectrum, Legacy and Jive paired to issue a "best of" collection from Nick Carter's (Backstreet Boys) younger brother, Aaron Carter. The young teen's been around the media block a few times already in his short career, and this rappy, funky kid-pop collection, titled Come Get it: The Very Best of Aaron Carter offers "That's How I Beat Shaq," "Bounce," "To All the Girls," and more.

 

Sheryl Crow Sheryl Crow
Wildflower
(A&M)

I wish I had plugged Crow's disc into the CD player earlier. Wildflower was released in the fall, after a three-year gap between studio albums (her Very Best of Sheryl Crow collection filled the gap, and gave us her hit take on Cat Stevens' "The First Cut Is the Deepest," also popularized by Rod Stewart). My first reaction to Wildflower was that it was pretty sedate, not up to her usual hit 'em-with-a-pop hook and reel 'em-in songwriting. I put it aside and reviewed Christmas albums and a couple of other big names to close out the year, and then did my "best of the year" list.

Wildflower should have been on it.

My first reaction was right; this album isn't penned in Crow's usual style of upbeat hitcraft. It's a more contemplative album of material, and more personal, perhaps, than a lot of her work. And after a handful of listens, I found it grows on you, and establishes its place quickly as one of her best albums.

From the gentle guitar strums of "I Know Why" to the light piano trills of the closing song, "Where Has All the Love Gone," this is an album infused with a bittersweet, melancholy mood. Rather than chunky guitar riffs and leads, Wildflower is heavy on string orchestrations and light guitar playing, often with a '70s-era George Harrison-esque slide guitar feel.

Crow sings more in her upper register than usual throughout, which makes tracks like "I Know Why" and "Perfect Lie" feel like dreamy Nina Gordon songs. There's a hint of the meditative East on "Chances Are" ("my karma was living inside of failure" she sings) while the spare guitar plucks of the title track are reminiscent of the Beatles' "Blackbird," at times. The latter song is a beautiful, stirring tour de force, as is the Elton John-esque piano-ballad "Always on Your Side," an uncannily heart-wrenching song professing undying love.

There are some usual poppy Crow tracks amid the slower numbers; the electric piano and twangy guitars of "Lifetimes" make an instantly catchy hit single, as does the rockin' call to party, "Live it Up."

But for the most part, Wildflower is a gentle questioning breeze, rather than Crow's usual blast of forceful, confident air. In many ways, it's more powerful for the restraint.

Catch Sheryl Crow live at the Auditorium Theater in Chicago on Jan. 28.