The Essential Jim Reeves [RCA Nashville/Legacy]
Professional baseball's loss became country music's great gain when a leg injury short-circuited Jim Reeves's big league dreams. Big league in baseball, that is -- Reeves, since he signed with RCA in 1955, became a fixture in the upper reaches of both the country and pop charts on the strength of his Chet Atkins-produced, pop-influenced "Nashville Sound." Reeves's smooth, personable tenor and engaging personality on disc had real staying power: For some 20 years following his death in an airplane crash in 1964, his posthumous releases, with newly overdubbed instrumental parts that fit perfectly, continued to sell briskly -- one of his biggest hits, Cindy Walker's brooding "Distant Drums," was a No. 1 country record for four weeks in 1966; several other Reeves singles went Top 10 right into 1970, and still others continued to chart into 1984. Few artists have ever done more with a heartbreaking ballad as Reeves did with the likes of "Four Walls," "He'll Have to Go," "Two Shadows on a Window," and the lush, string-enriched "Is It Really Over." Impeccably remastered and incorporating Reeves's early, swinging novelty hits for the small Abbott label (including his No. 1 debut in 1953, "Mexican Joe") and all the essential RCA sides up to 1970's tear-stained "Angels Don't Lie" (a No. 4 country single, six years after his demise), this double-disc anthology (which includes an impressive capsule history of Reeves's career by Rich Kienzle) is an essential, must-have survey of Gentleman Jim's enduring legacy in song.