The Ultimate Collection

An overview of the career of Ladysmith Black Mambazo that far outdoes other compilations available (most notable of which is Shanachie's Classic Tracks). This album covers a good deal of ground, with a good deal of guest stars throughout. It starts out with a few of the basic tracks from Ladysmith: a congratulation to South Africa after the end of apartheid, "The Star and the Wiseman" ("Inkanyezi Nezazi"), which brought the group some fame in the U.K., and a song dealing with the Zulu culture. As the album progresses, Ladysmith performs a spiritual alongside China Black in "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" and a rendition of Bob Dylan's "Knockin on Heaven's Door" with Dolly Parton (yes, you read correctly). Along with this is "Homeless," a number originally done with Paul Simon (but without him here), and a pair of nice tracks from the Chillout Sessions remixed into ambient works by Marc Woolford's Soul Drummers. In the second album, they feature both a song with Paul Simon ("Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes") and a song in tribute of him ("New York City") for his work in exposing the Western world to their style of singing. Also featured is the original mbube, which was eventually turned into "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" in the U.S. British R&B diva Des'ree performs the old Bill Withers hit "Ain't No Sunshine" with Ladysmith, and Lou Rawls does Sam Cooke's "Chain Gang" with them a few songs later. The Rugby Cup's theme from 1995 is presented, along with a number of various tracks, eventually leading to some gospel (Joseph Shabalala's favorite genre to work in) in combination with the Heritage Gospel Choir on "Oh Happy Day." Overall, at 34 tracks, this stands as the longest compilation of Ladysmith tunes, and more importantly, it stands as the most comprehensive, showing off the highlights from each era of a long career for the band, with any number of highlights performed in conjunction with other performers thrown in for good measure. For the newcomer to the sounds of Ladysmith, this makes the perfect introduction thanks to its incredible breadth; for the collector, it provides a number of rarities that are more difficult to find otherwise.