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Various Artists

Best Of Austin City Limits: Country Music's Finest Hour – 1996 (Columbia/Legacy)

Reviewed by Don Yates

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This is the first in a promised series of releases to feature music from the long-running public television program. As an overview of the show, it plays it a little too safe. While Austin City Limits has provided exposure for countless quality artists ranging from the well-known to the obscure, this collection primarily sticks with big stars and hit singles - even if some of those big names were relative unknowns when they performed on the show.

Still, it's hard to argue with the quality of what's included. With performances stretching from 1975 to 1996, selected highlights include a young Dwight Yoakam performing "Guitars, Cadillacs," Tammy Wynette with a heart-rending version of "Stand By Your Man," and Mary Chapin Carpenter's spirited "I Feel Lucky."

With other fine performances from Merle Haggard, Alison Krauss, The Mavericks, Patty Loveless, George Jones, Tammy Wynette, Willie Nelson, the Judds, Trisha Yearwood, k.d. lang and others, this winning collection showcases the consistent quality of this remarkable television show and gets the Austin City Limits album series off to a good start.