1. GREATEST HITS - Shania Twain
Weeks on chart: 2
Style: A scintillating blend of hook-rife country and big-beat pop.
Objectionable material: "Honey, I'm Home" (one casual curse, one double entendre).
Worldview: "I've already planned it. Here's how it's gonna be. / I'm gonna love you, and you're gonna fall in love with me. . . . / So don't try to run. Honey, love can be fun" ("I'm Gonna Getcha Good!").
Overall quality: Irresistibly catchy and good-naturedly playful.
2. GREATEST HITS 2 - Toby Keith
Weeks on chart: 2
Style: Brawny good-ol'-boy Southern rock.
Objectionable material: "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American)" (vulgarity).
Worldview: Stereotypical machismo.
Overall quality: The lack of dynamics in Mr. Keith's approach has the effect of leveling out his theoretically diverse emotions until his patriotic anger, sentimental mushiness, and "romantic" come-ons feel equally un-thought-out when not outright knee-jerk.
3. 50 NUMBER ONES - George Strait
Weeks on chart: 7
Style: Commercially blockbuster country distilled to its honky-tonk, Western-swing essence.
Worldview: If you ain't lovin', you ain't living or living well. Of course, even on the best day, you can't make a heart love somebody without end, amen.
Overall quality: Like all cornucopias, too much to feast on at one sitting, but ideal for refrigeration and turning into several weeks' worth of cold sandwiches or midnight snacks.
4. HERE FOR THE PARTY - Gretchen Wilson
Weeks on chart: 28
Style: Something-for-everyone country-by-numbers.
Objectionable material: "Redneck Woman" and the title cut (for casual cursing and/or slatternly white-trashiness).
Worldview: "Well, I'm an eight-ball-shooting, double-fisted-drinking son of a gun. / I wear my jeans a little tight / just to watch the boys come undone."
Overall quality: At seven months and counting, she apparently speaks to a broader demographic than one would've guessed (or hoped).
5. LIVE LIKE YOU WERE DYING - Tim McGraw
Weeks on chart: 14
Style: Commercially immaculate mass-appeal country.
Objectionable material: "Everybody Hates Me" (for those who object to S.O.B.); "Kill Myself" (casual cursing).
Worldview: "Everybody just wants to get high, / sit and watch a perfect world go by. / We're all looking for love and meaning in our lives. / We follow the roads that lead us / to drugs or Jesus."
Overall quality: Top-drawer professional country songwriting competently if not passionately interpreted.
In the spotlight
The release of Shania Twain's Greatest Hits (Mercury) preserves for posterity the high points of a phenomenal pop-music career. Unlike Madonna or Britney Spears, for instance, whose sensationalistic sensuality has often masked their lack of talent instead of enhancing what talent they actually possess, Ms. Twain has created a hit-filled body of work that functions as the aural equivalent of her playfully flirtatious (yet for the most part wholesome) public persona. Her songs also benefit from a unique meeting of pop-music opposites.
Under the production skills of her husband "Mutt" Lange, who until marrying Ms. Twain was best known for his hard-rock/ heavy-metal work, her best-known songs have a pop luster and an arena-rocking beat that has become the standard for any country musician intent on defying categorization and "crossing over." Never has envisioning a Greatest Hits, Volume Two proved more daunting.