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The Best of Willy DeVille

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Performer Notes
  • This generous 17-track compilation of Willy DeVille's live performances covers a large swath of time from his early years with Mink DeVille in 1977 extending to solo work in 2006. All songs were recorded in Europe, perhaps an indication of how well he was accepted there as opposed to his home country. That's especially interesting given how much his music drew almost entirely from American influences such as '60s Brill Building pop, New Orleans/Cajun, R&B, and an inner city Latin style best exemplified in a sizzling version of "Demasiado Corazon." Not surprisingly, the sound quality varies but it's always acceptable and some of the later tracks are particularly well recorded. The set also functions as a decent overview of his extensive if rather inconsistent career, something that has been difficult to document because his albums have been scattered over an array of major and indie labels. Some might quibble with this disc's title, since a few of DeVille's well-known tunes such as "Maybe Tomorrow" and "Each Word's a Beat of My Heart" are M.I.A., yet a cover of Bryan Ferry's "Slave to Love," which wasn't a hit for him, appears. But most of the heavy hitters are present in generally fired-up versions, many of which trump the studio ones. The proceedings kick off with a spirited "Venus of Avenue D" which, not coincidentally, was the opening track of Mink DeVille's debut. It's especially revelatory to hear how some of the material transformed over the years with "Cadillac Walk," here in a 2002 performance, sounding even meaner and more lascivious than the comparatively sterile 1977 original. Female backing on "Can't Do Without It" adds a searing gospel angle to the song that makes it come alive. Unfortunately, a Latin take on "Hey Joe" doesn't fare as well, with the rearrangement losing the edge inherent in the murderous lyrics. A bluesy "Steady Drivin' Man" with the soul-women backup vocals and a modified Bo Diddley beat nearly explodes with intensity over its six minutes, and shows DeVille at his most aggressive. Conversely, a stripped-down "Storybook Love" shimmers with just piano, bass, and DeVille's gruff but emotional voice bringing a passion to the song that shows why he was so magnetic on-stage. Well meaning but somewhat fawning liner notes by the ex-president of the Willy DeVille Fan Club don't provide many insights, and the information listing song information is printed in eye-squinting type and nearly impossible to follow. Worse is the complete lack of musician credits, a major oversight in a historically driven release such as this. Regardless, the music is consistently dramatic and inspired, and shows those, who will sadly never get a chance to see him, how explosive DeVille was in his prime. ~ Hal Horowitz
Professional Reviews
Record Collector (magazine) (p.90) - 4 stars out of 5 -- "DeVille's music is more like the atmospheric rock of Lou Reed's STREET HASSLE than New York Dolls or Blondie."
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