All I want for Christmas … For the music fan on your shopping list, think inside the box
By Alan Sculley , Correspondent
A year like 2007, with its bountiful selection of box music sets and special DVD packages, makes it especially tough to choose which releases should top shopping lists for music fans this holiday season.
This list of favorites, though, offers fine choices in just about every genre of contemporary music. No need to settle for a gift card: Just read on and deliver the real thing.
Best of box sets
Emmylou Harris: “Songbird: Rare Tracks & Forgotten Gems” (Rhino Records) – Most of Harris’s most familiar songs were compiled on the 1996 box set, “Portraits.” “Songbird” digs into more obscure album tracks (as well as unreleased tunes) and proves to be just as essential and enjoyable as “Portraits.” List price $74.98.
The Stanley Brothers: “The Definitive Collection: (1947-1966)” (Time Life/Universal Records) – It’s hard to believe that until now, there’s never been a box set devoted to Carter and Ralph Stanley, who along with Bill Monroe, stand as the chief architects of bluegrass. This three-CD set nicely fills that void and documents the mountain soul sound for which the Stanley Brothers and were known. List price $39.98.
Various Artists: “Classic Bluegrass Collection” (Time Life/Universal Records) – For newcomers to bluegrass, this three-CD set offers a solid introduction to the genre’s defining songs and artists, while mixing in songs from contemporary stars such as Alison Krauss, Del McCoury and Rhonda Vincent that show the renewed vitality of today’s bluegrass scene. List price $119.98.
Merle Haggard: “The Original Outlaw” (Time Life/EMI/Sony/BMG Records) – Sixty songs strong, “The Original Outlaw” includes virtually all of Hag’s hits. Of course, as an artist with some 75 albums to his credit, “The Original Outlaw” only skims the surface of Haggard’s output. But these prime cuts are enough to show that Haggard, an accomplished songwriter, created a hard-scrabble version of country music that remains one of the most distinctive sounds in the genre. List price $39.98.
Various Artists: “The Brit Box – UK Indie, Shoegaze and Brit-Pop Gems Of The Last Millennium” (Rhino Records) – This four-CD set would have been better had it concentrated on only 1984-1992, when so-called shoegazer bands (the Cure, Ride, the Stone Roses, Echo & the Bunnymen) flourished. Instead the set dilutes its focus by extending through the ’90s to touch on the likes of Oasis, Supergrass and Elastica – later-vintage bands that were not part of such a stylistically defined movement. Still, there’s no arguing with the quality of the music, and “The Brit Box” offers a solid, if over-broad, survey of the best British rock of the post-punk era. List price $64.98.
Genesis: “1976-1982″/Genesis: “1983-1998” (Rhino Records) – Forget for the moment that Genesis was at its best prior to the 1975 departure of Peter Gabriel. The fact is, the group became popular only after Phil Collins stepped out front and the band moved away from its progressive rock roots to pursue a more commercial pop sound. These two sets treat Collins-era fans to all nine studio CDs, each with a bonus DVD that includes a new interview about the making of its respective album (and on some of the DVDs, full concert performances). List prices $129.98/$99.98.
Luther Vandross: “Love, Luther” (Epic/J Records) – For a 20-year run that began in 1982, Vandross was arguably the leading man of R&B. “Love Luther” celebrates a career tragically cut short by a debilitating stroke in 2003 and his subsequent death two years later. As popular as Vandross was during his life, “Love, Luther” suggests that appreciation for his command of balladry, jazzy R&B and funk will grow with time. List price $49.98.
Other notable box sets
Various Artists – “The War: Soundtrack and Music From The Second World War” (Legacy Records) – The music of World War II is more than a companion to filmmaker Ken Burns’ PBS series on World War II. It actually offers a worthy overview of a golden era in American music. List price $49.98.
Ike & Tina Turner: “The Ike & Tina Turner Story – 1960-1975” (Time Life/EMI Records) – The decision to include the entire 1969 “In Person” live CD in this set means fans get a bit short changed on studio material. Still this three-CD set shows that, in bridging the worlds of soul, blues, and rock and roll, Ike and Tina made some of the most timeless music of their era. List price $39.98.
Miles Davis: “The Complete On The Corner Sessions” (Columbia/Legacy Records) – Davis’ controversial move into free-form funk on the 1972 album “On The Corner” didn’t please jazz critics. To his credit, Davis was chasing interesting ideas, but these tracks still pale in comparison to his earlier work. List price $139.98,
Frank Sinatra: “A Voice In Time: 1939-1952” (Columbia/RCA Victor/Legacy Records) – A fair chunk of “A Voice In Time” has appeared on other box sets, but this collection nicely sums up Sinatra’s early career. List price $49.98.
Various Artists: “Love Is The Song We Sing: The San Francisco Nuggets” (Rhino Records) – This four-CD set features songs from many familiar and long-forgotten Bay area summer of love acts. List price $64.98.
Various Artists: “The British Beat: Best Of The ’60s” (Shout Factory Records) – Though far from complete (no Beatles, Who or the Stones, for starters), these three CDs feature many of the best known British hits of the mid-60s. List price $49.98.
Various Artists: “Forever Changing: The Golden Age of Elektra Records – 1963-1973” (Rhino/Elektra Records) – Five CDs provide an in-depth document the rise of one of the most eclectic and adventurous record labels ever. List price $199.98.
Various Artists: “Vee-Jay: The Definitive Collection” (Shout Factory Records) – This four-CD set mines the catalog of Vee-Jay Records, a label that thrived from the mid-1950s through the 1960s, with a strong roster that spanned blues, R&B, soul, gospel, jazz and pop. List price $59.98.
Various Artists: “Live Earth” (Warner Bros. Records) – The Live Earth concerts to raise awareness about climate change may not have had the “shot heard ’round the world” impact of 1985’s “Live Aid,” but they did yield some memorable moments. This one-CD/two DVD set includes many of the highlights, such as Keith Urban and Alicia Keys tearing through the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter,” John Legend and Corinne Bailey Ray recasting Marvin Gaye’s “Mercy Mercy Me” as an environmental anthem, and Roger Waters and a kids choir “Another Brick In The Wall.” This is a good collection for a good cause. List price $29.97.
Various Artists: “The Best Of The Johnny Cash TV Show” (Columbia Music Video/Legacy Records) – Over its three-year run, Cash’s variety show featured an amazing array of stellar musical guests. They’re all here in this two-DVD set – Bob Dylan (returning from a three-year absence), Louis Armstrong, Derek & The Dominos, Ray Charles and a who’s who of country music royalty. The performances are interspersed with interviews that give perspective to a DVD that’s as historic as it is entertaining. List price $39.98.
Bob Dylan: “The Other Side Of The Mirror – Bob Dylan Live at the Newport Folk Festival, 1963-1965” (Columbia Music Video/Legacy Records) – As historical documents go, “The Other Side Of The Mirror” is about as important as they come. Directed by Murray Lerner, this 83-minute film captures Dylan’s three performances at the Newport Folk Festival. Lerner wisely skips outside commentary and presents the performances as they happened. The result is a pure and objective look at Dylan during a period when he moved beyond his protest singer roots, transformed his sound (going electric at the 1965 festival) – and changed the face of folk, and rock and roll in the process. List price $19.98.
Eric Clapton/Various Artists: “Crossroads Guitar Festival 2007” (Rhino/Reprise Records) – Two DVDs are hardly enough to contain all the worthy performances from the second edition of Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival July 28 in the Chicago suburb of Bridgeview. But this set preserves most of the highlights, including Clapton’s much-anticipated reunion with Steve Winwood for stirring versions of three Blind Faith songs and the mid-day blues summit that featured guitarists B.B. King, Hubert Sumlin, Jimmie Vaughan and the Robert Cray Band. List price $29.98.