The acres of Columbia’s Essential series I’ve plowed through dishonor a great packaging concept: two-CD best-of in single-size jewel box. Every title that isn’t a priori redundant is either too long or, yes, too short (the Johnny Cash and Janis Joplin editions are far less useful than their old three-CD boxes). The second discs unfailingly home in on late schlock, especially misbegotten collaborations (hint: Willie Nelson’s Hank Snow and Webb Pierce one-offs now occupy one budget disc), and the multi-artist Gershwin is pure hodgepodge (hint: better Columbia’s spotty Sinatra Sings Gershwin). Partial exception: The Essential Earth, Wind & Fire, which includes all but one of their Greatest Hits and improves and expands Best of Vol. II. But I’m also perversely fond of The Essential Santana. Its first disc is long-winded enough to evoke a real Santana album but not so long-winded you won’t give the next soundalike solo a shot, and so’s its second disc—except for the dreadful patch in the middle featuring Scots belter Alex Ligertwood, a textbook example of how horribly wrong “rock” went in the AOR ’80s. This clueless corporate greed, that clueless corporate greed—so different, yet so the same.