Holiday brings a barrage of box sets

December 18, 2011

Extras-filled Updates Sure to Please Collectors

By Alan Sculley for The Columbian | Friday, December 16, 2011

Music always makes a great holiday gift, and this year, the record industry worked hard to put together a wide selection of box sets and other collections to please fans of just about any style of music. Here are some excellent options:

Elvis Presley, “Young Man With The Big Beat,” (RCA/Legacy). These five CDs document Presley in 1956 — the year he became a full-blown phenomenon. Featuring two discs of studio recordings with plenty of hits, outtakes, concert recordings and audio interviews, this is the sound of rock and roll being revolutionized. Rating: HHHH

Ray Charles: “Singular Genius: The Complete ABC Singles,” (Concord). Charles had his biggest success on ABC, and this five-CD set compiles his singles from 1960-1973. So it has hits like “Georgia On My Mind,” “Hit The Road, Jack” and “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” plus a wealth of other fine material. Rating: HHHH

Howlin’ Wolf: “Smokestack Lightning/Complete Chess Masters (1951 to 1960), (Hip-O Select). This 97-song set features several classic songs that established Wolf as a towering figure in blues, plus alternate takes of songs and superior album tracks. It’s a great document of Wolf’s first decade. Rating: HHHH

Various Artists: “The Best Of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum Live,” (Time Life). This highly entertaining three-CD set includes 51 live performances from a who’s who of rock royalty at Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame ceremonies. Rating: HHHH

Johnny Cash: “From Memphis To Hollywood: Bootleg, Vol. III,” (Columbia/Legacy). This two-CD set collects 53 mostly unreleased live performances from 1956 through 1979. Many of Cash’s famous songs are included as one gets to hear Cash’s growth as a live performer. Rating: HHH

Also recommended: Johnny Cash: “Live Around The World: Bootleg Vol. II” (Columbia/Legacy)

Etta James: “Heart & Soul: A Retrospective,” (Hip-O Select). Aretha Franklin may be the Queen of Soul, but James is a close second. Spanning 1955-2008, this four-CD set covers everything from the lush balladry of “At Last” to the rough and tumble sounds of “Pay Back” and “Tell Mama.” Rating: HHHH

The Jimi Hendrix Experience: “Winterland,” (Experience Hendrix/Legacy). This four-CD live set finds Hendrix and the Experience in fine form as they take tracks like “Foxy Lady,” “Purple Haze” and especially “Are You Experienced?” to fresh and adventurous new places. Rating: HHHH

Miles Davis: “Miles Davis Quintet Live In Europe 1967,” (Columbia Legacy). This three-CD/one-DVD set features unreleased performances by what many consider Davis’ greatest band, (Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams). Rating: HHH

Also recommended: Miles Davis: “Bitches Brew Live” (Columbia/Legacy)

The Temptations: “50th Anniversary Collection 1961-1971,” and The Supremes: “50th Anniversary Collection 1961-1969,” (both on Hip-O Select). This pair of three-disc collections include every A and B side from these legendary vocal groups. The hits from each group are here, but so are lots of intriguing lesser-known songs. Ratings: Temptations: HHHH; Supremes: HHHH

Various Artists: “Live From The Old Town School Of Folk Music,” (Old Town School Recordings). More than 50 years of live performances from this famous Chicago venue’s two locations are included on four CDs. With Pete Seeger, Odetta, Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, Taj Mahal, Donovan and dozens of other artists, this is a treasure trove for fans of folk music and its related forms. Rating: HHHH

Pink Floyd: “Discovery Box” and other releases, (EMI). The “Discovery Box” collects remastered versions of all 14 of the group’s studio CDs. Even more exciting for dedicated fans are reissues of three key albums, “Dark Side Of The Moon,” “Wish You Were Here” and “The Wall,” in expanded “Experience” sets and massive multi-disc “Immersion” packages filled with outtakes, concert recordings and more. Ratings: HHHH

Nirvana: “Nevermind,” (Universal Music Enterprises). A two-disc reissue features the original groundbreaking album plus outtakes, unreleased early recordings and rehearsals of “Nevermind” songs. For those who want more, a “Super Deluxe” edition also includes a previously unreleased 1991 concert and producer Butch Vig’s previously unreleased mixes of “Nevermind.” Rating: HHHH

Beach Boys: “The Smile Sessions,” (Capitol/EMI). Planned as the follow-up to the classic 1966 Beach Boys “Pet Sounds” album, “Smile,” remains pop music’s most famous unfinished recording. Wilson eventually re-created what “Smile” was supposed to be on a 2004 CD. Now “The Smile Sessions” collects the actual Beach Boys recordings that were intended for “Smile.” Available as a two-CD set or as an outtakes-filled box set, “The Smile Sessions” includes the closest thing to the original “Smile” that we’ll hear. It’s understandably a bit disjointed, but there are enough moments of brilliance to know that Wilson had the makings of a whimsical masterpiece. Rating: HHH

Rolling Stones: “Some Girls,” (Universal Republic). Along with the original 1978 “Some Girls” album, this two-disc reissue also has a dozen unreleased bonus tracks from the period. These tracks make the reissue an essential addition to any serious Stones fan’s collection. Rating: HHHH

R.E.M.: “Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage 1982-2011,” (Warner Bros. Records). This 40-track collection hits the highlights of R.E.M.’s stellar catalog. Plus it features three fine new songs. Rating: HHHH


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