In over 50 years, classic rock band Petra has no shortage of greatest hits offerings, from the slew released by Star Song or the handful from Word up to more recent multi-disc versions (including one commemorating 40 years). So what's one more? While it may seem like a cash grab, their latest compilation, Fifty (released through Girder Records), actually makes sense. Fifty years is a massive milestone for any band and with one that has the pedigree and fan base like Petra, a fifty-year best-of release is a great way to celebrate. But if you have most of their records or even some of their other compilations, is this one worth adding to your collection?
There are several unique aspects to this greatest hits collection. First, the track list was chosen entirely by band founder/songwriter/guitarist Bob Hartman. Next, to commemorate 50 years, Hartman chose 50 songs. When you look over the nearly 200 songs they released over their initial 33-year run (not counting live versions or redone takes), they have an over-abundance of tunes that could easily fill a compilation. From radio hits to fan favorites, Hartman's task was not an enviable one. Die-hard Petheads may have complaints about the track listing, but there's no way to make everyone happy. However, there are some questionable exclusions, like "The Coloring Song," for example. Also, both of their versions of "God Gave Rock and Roll to You" make an appearance when that '80s version could easily have been left off in favor of something else. There are also times where ballads get grouped together and slow the flow of listening. Again, not everyone can be happy, but knowing that Hartman himself picked these does help overlook some of the choices.
Beyond the track list, the main draw for this collection comes in the bells and whistles around it. The packaging itself is top-notch. Not only is the design simple and effective, but when you open the case, you're greeted with reflective quotes from Hartman and long time lead singer John Schlitt. The liner notes booklet not only contains plenty of pictures from the band's history, it includes a detailed account of Petra's ministry written by John DeLaurentis. If you splurge for the collector's edition (surprisingly not that much more), three trading cards are sent along as well. Not sure who you'll be trading with, but they are cool additions. Also, all the songs have been remastered. How you define "remastered" may affect your listening experience, though. Apparently the Girder model is to bring the songs up to CD quality. All of the older tunes certainly needed that treatment. But if your expectation is to hear the drums have a better "snap" or the guitars have a meatier crunch, you may be disappointed. Still, updating the sound quality is for the best and listening to these songs on good speakers is very rewarding.
All of these factors combined easily make Petra's Fifty their best "best-of" release yet. The personal touch from Hartman and the high quality packaging keep the 3-CD (or 5 LP) set from feeling like an unnecessary cash grab. I've personally owned and listened to numerous Petra collections over the years, in spite of collecting the original albums. Some are unique, some feel well put-together, but Girder's offering outshines them all. Petheads may find it worth the price to add Fifty to their collection. Those who have never really given Petra a chance, might find this as a good entry point. No matter what, this compilation is a worthy marker of a pioneering band's legacy.- Review date: 8/4/23, written by John Underdown of Jesusfreakhideout.com
Record Label: Girder Records
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