On the back cover of this two-disc compilation, the word "chrestomathy" is helpfully defined as "a selection of choice passages." The challenge in making such a selection from the recorded work of Dave Van Ronk, who says in his liner notes, "I've lost count of how many records I've made," adding, "(20?)," would seem to be getting permission from the many record companies that issued those records initially, including Folkways, Prestige, Mercury, Verve Forecast, Rounder, and Flying Fish. Apparently, permissions were granted, since tracks from those records appear, although no specific information about them is included. The material dates back to Van Ronk's second Folkways album, Van Ronk Sings, Vol. 2 (1961), the tracks "Tell Old Bill" and "Come Back Baby," which find him alone with his acoustic guitar in his initial folk-blues mode. He may be right to consider his subsequent tenure at the Folklore subsidiary of the jazz label Prestige (for the albums Dave Van Ronk, Folksinger, and Inside Dave Van Ronk) his first wholly satisfactory recording experience, and he draws seven tracks from that association, including one of his signature songs, "Cocaine Blues." He always denied the description "folksinger," and pointed to his past as a performer of traditional jazz in the mid-'50s, a heritage he called upon for his 1964 Mercury LP Dave Van Ronk & the Ragtime Jug Stompers, notably on such songs as the marijuana novelty "You's a Viper." And he finally conceded to the folk-rock trend by organizing another band for the 1968 Verve Forecast album Dave Van Ronk & the Hudson Dusters, resulting in half a dozen tracks here, including Joni Mitchell's "Chelsea Morning" and "Both Sides Now" (which he insisted on calling "Clouds"). That was the end of Van Ronk's recording for a while (there's nothing here from 1973's Cadet Records LP Songs for Ageing Children), but he was back in the mid-'70s on Rounder in more of a folk mode and by the '80s was even doing an album of Bertolt Brecht songs such as "Mack the Knife" and writing his own novelties like "Garden State Stomp" (its lyrics a recitation of the names of towns in New Jersey). All of this, along with his affection for the pop music of his childhood ("Two Sleepy People," sung with Christine Lavin, "Swinging on a Star"), makes for a more varied chrestomathy than those who think of Dave Van Ronk simply as a folksinger might expect. It's hard to summarize more than three decades in the career of a steadily working musician in less than two hours, even one who recorded in as piecemeal a fashion as this one, but this compilation does a good job.