Reviewed by Janey Lee Grace
I was once given an interesting gift, a huge box, beautifully wrapped in shiny paper and decorated with a huge gold bow. I feverishly unwrapped it to find another box, also spectacularly packaged. And inside that one another one, and so on until I finally reached the actual gift - something very small and cute and very well received, but paling into insignificance after the excitement of the unwrapping. To say that the packaging on Michael W Smith's double CD collector's pack is 'over the top' would be an understatement. 'The Wonder Years' is a collection of 32 tracks recorded by Michael between 1983 and 1993. The two CDs are almost insignificantly tucked away at the back of a 24 page retrospective photographic album, complete with sleeve notes, lyrics, interesting facts and graphics (and for some unfathomable reason - several sheets of delicately printed greaseproof paper!) all held together in a stylish ring-bound book complete with full colour cardboard folder. So, full marks for presentation, but what does it sound like? I checked out the music..all 32 tracks...no mean feat even for a dedicated MWS fan. There's nothing new here of course, if you're familiar with the last couple of albums, 'Go West Young Man' and 'Change Your World' you'll already know that Michael W has had phenomenal chart success in America with his brand of "inspirational pop'. And he seems to mix with the right people too. Most of the tracks are co-written with Wayne Kirkpatrick and on two songs fellow crossover gospel popster Amy Grant is credited as collaborator. The highlights for me are the ballads, on "I Miss The Way", "Emily" and "Friends" the combination of the crystal clear piano (production courtesy of the legendary Brown Bannister) and Michael's gravelly American drawl is breathtaking. So, if you're new to the delights of Michael W Smith this collection is a must, get the whole lot in one go for £16.99. If, however, you've already got the other albums it may be hard to justify. Obviously, it's a great present. I don't think it was a coincidence that Reunion Records released this in time for Christmas! On the inner sleeve the first quote from Michael says, "I just wanted to write songs...and maybe if I was lucky one day cut a record." 10 'Wonder Years' on and he's been lucky enough to record more than most and notch up a few successes too... Isn't it nice when dreams come true?
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