In 2002, Mark Lanegan was looking to make some changes in how he approached his music – the Screaming Trees had finally collapsed at the end of the '90s, he'd found a new fan base as a frequent guest vocalist with Queens of the Stone Age, and the spare, blues-leaning solo efforts Lanegan cut for Sub Pop were no longer side projects but the first chapters of a new career. As Lanegan was strategizing his next move, he went to Houston, Texas and in five days recorded a dozen songs with a handful of talented local musicians, including guitarist Ian Moore and longtime Willie Nelson sideman Mickey Raphael on harmonica, with Justice Records founder Randall Jamail as producer. While the sessions were meant to be demos for a stack of songs Lanegan had written for Jamail's publishing house, the finished product sounded good enough to be an album, and in 2015 Lanegan finally released the material under the title Houston: Publishing Demos 2002. The jolly irony is that while these are supposed to be demos, in many respects the performances sound more polished and "commercial" than most of Lanegan's early solo efforts, capturing a laid-back but buoyant mood that's informed by country and blues as much as rock, and Lanegan seems comfortable singing with the group, rather than simply laying his vocals over the top.
This 1987 best-of compiles the work from A&M efforts that marked a stylistic change from her Vanguard years, yet a pretty consistent level of success. Relying on the work of other artists seemed to be more hit and miss during the A&M era. In Baez's interpretations of songs like Bob Dylan's "Simple Twist of Fate" and "Forever Young" and John Lennon's "Imagine," her pitch-perfect tone might strike some as unemotional, but her singing is engrossing nonetheless. Not surprisingly, Baez sounds the best here with the tracks that deviate from weighty issues. "Gracias a la Vida" (sung in Spanish) and the haunting "Di Da" (with Joni Mitchell) have her giving off more charm and emotion than usual. "Children and All That Jazz," from her best-selling 1975 album Diamonds & Rust, has a gorgeous, heavily produced '70s L.A. pop/rock style that suited her voice. Unlike many greatest-hit sets, Classics, Vol. 8 also offers strong live performances, including "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" and the CD closing "Amazing Grace." Classics, Vol. 8 has the strength of a regular release effort and more than captures the time frame and the artist it's spotlighting.