Portrait: The Music of Dan Fogelberg From 1972 - 1997
Dan Fogelberg

By Ralph Hunt Sidway

Celebrating the 25th anniversary of his recording career, Dan Fogelberg has followed the example of numerous artists before him by remastering his analog recordings and releasing a retrospective boxed set for his loyal fans in the digital age. One of the first singer-songwriters of the seventies and eighties to put his entire catalog on CD's, this project afforded Fogelberg the opportunity to upgrade the sound quality of the earlier works, while peppering the collection with several unreleased gems, as well as a new single, "Don't Lose Heart," recorded just for this project. Classic Fogelberg, this inspirational, R&B inflected anthem produced by Peter Asher takes a familiar (and near cliche´) phrase and works it into a musical mantra of hope even in the midst of the darkest times. Mature and classy, and very un-nineties, this cut grooves, and is vaguely reminiscent of the old seventies hit "Lean On Me."

Unlike many such compilations, this is a compact, manageable package, dressed to look like a leather-bound keepsake diary, and boasts a seventy-plus page book complete with biography, song-by-song notes by Dan, extensive credits, and a complete discography, extending even to Fogelberg's session work for other artists, guest appearances, and pre-Columbia releases in his home state of Illinois. Lots of photos and tidbits round out the presentation, and one can't help but wonder if a couple dozen collectors' edition sets with real leather binding on the slip-cover and a true fabric, ribbon-bound booklet have been created, as the package just begs for the full treatment.

But the real treat is the music. Expertly remastered, the four discs (Hits, Ballads, Rock & Roll, and Tales & Travels ) sparkle anew, and offer a well-rounded, if not exhaustive perspective on a career that has delighted audiences and confounded critics for a quarter century. But here's also where many fans may take exception to Fogelberg's choices and exclusions. Inexplicably missing, for example, is one of Fogelberg's all-time classics, "There's A Place In The World For A Gambler." A small sacrifice however, as Dan's track notes reveal his own personal favorites including "Same Old Lang Syne," "Magic Every Moment" (from the recent River Of Souls), "Seeing You Again" (from Exiles), and his all-time favorite track, "Tucson, Arizona (Gazette)." Getting his perspective leads one to listen anew, and let tracks make a fresh impression where they may have been neglected before. The new cuts fit in beautifully, with the haunting ballad, "Mountains To The Sea" being an instant classic, and the Irish whimsy of "Song For A Carpenter" (recorded with the Chieftains) providing a fitting, simple counterpoint to the hits by which Fogelberg is so often pigeonholed. "Hearts and Crafts," the original B-Side to "Same Old Lang Syne," and "Democracy," a politically charged tribute to John Lennon written during the Reagan/Bush years, are included for the first time to make a total of five new tracks.

And perhaps that is the secret of this collection: at once both eclectic and familiar, each disc stands on its own, offering the listener pure entertainment (Hits), cathartic melancholia (Ballads), up-tempo fun (Rock & Roll), and wistful contemplation (Tales and Travels). And, thanks in part to the compact packaging, at a selling price around fifty dollars (a good twenty dollars less than some 4-disc sets), Portrait: The Music of Dan Fogelberg, 1972 - 1997, is both a must-have for fans, and an excellent introduction for anyone interested in this gifted artist.