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CD Reviews:
Rounding Up 2009's Music Box Sets

Of the Oakland Press

Posted: Tuesday, December 22, 2009

» See more SOUND CHECK

When it comes to holidays, it’s all about the boxes.

And what’s in them.

For today’s purposes, however, we’re talking about boxes of music — box sets, to be exact. They come in all shapes and sizes, from the decorative cubes of Genesis’ extensive reissue series to the fully functional mini-amplifier included in the deluxe edition of AC/DC’s new “Backtracks.” They make quite a statement wrapped up — and an even louder one when they’re popped into your choice of media player.

Read on for a roundup of this season’s key collections...

AC/DC, “Backtracks” (Columbia/Albert): The Australian hard rock icons celebrate their recent return to active duty with two CDs — one each of live and studio rarities — and an entertaining “Family Jewels 3” DVD collecting music videos, live performances and promotional clips. Splurge for the deluxe collector’s edition and you’ll get another CD and DVD (“Live at the Circus Krone” from Munich, Germany in 2003), a 164-page coffee table book and the aforementioned guitar amp — excessive, yes, but gloriously so.

Big Star, “Keep an Eye on the Sky” (Rhino): In its original incarnation this Memphis quartet clicked with critics but not the masses — until the Ramones, Nirvana, Pearl Jam and others began singing their praises. There’s a lot to dip into here — 52 of the 98 songs here are unreleased — but the immersion is pretty satisfying.

The Doors, “Live in New York” (Rhino/Bright Midnight): The Doors have been doing some serious vault-trolling in recent years, which is good for the coffers of the late Jim Morrison’s estate but also a welcome move for fans of the group’s incendiary and unpredictable concerts. Capturing four shows over two nights at Madison Square Garden, these six discs showcase the improvised musical nuances that made the Doors more than must pop provocateurs.

Ella Fitzgerald, “Twelve Nights in Hollywood” (Verve/Hip-O Select): Ella Fitzgerald in the studio was sublime — and in concert she might have been even better. These four discs — recorded during shows at Hollywood’s Crescendo club during 1961-62 with both a trio and a quartet — preserve her at a performing peak.

Genesis, “Live 1973-2007” (Rhino) and “The Movie Box 1981-2007” (Rhino): The British prog-rockers, newly announced Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees, complete a catalog overhaul with two more boxes with unquestionable fan appeal. All of the officially released concert material — aural and visual — are here, along with newly unearthed audio gems from Peter Gabriel’s tenure as frontman and some rare and unseen video from the Phil Collins era.

The Grateful Dead, “Winterland, June 1977: The Complete Recordings” (Rhino/Dead.net): The latest boxed offering from the Dead’s overflowing vaults showcases three nights of concerts in its home stomping grounds of San Francisco — nine CDs of trippy jamming, plus a bonus disc from a Chicago stop the previous month. Available exclusively via Dead.net.

Daryl Hall and John Oates, “Do What You Want, Be What You Are: The Music of Daryl Hall and John Oates” (Legacy/RCA): The Philadelphia-formed duo has had enough hits to practically fill up a box set, but this four-disc, 74-track set adds a slew of welcome rarities and lesser-known songs to the mix, supporting Rachael Ray’s new campaign for H&O to be inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Billie Holiday, “The Complete Commodore & Decca Masters” (Verve/Hip-O Select/Geffen): We tend to be wary of anything claiming to be “complete,” but these three CDs of material recorded between 1939-50 wear well, from seminal songs such as “Strange Fruit,” “God Bless the Child” and “I Loves You Porgy” through more obscure fare and a pair of duets with Louis Armstrong.

Dave Matthews Band, “Europe” (RCA): Matthews and company finish the year by looking back at a July 5 concert in Italy (on DVD) and a June show in London (on DVD), housing it all in a photo book that chronicles its entire 2009 tour.

Dolly Parton, “Dolly” (Legacy/RCA): The country queen’s career is packed into these four discs, with seven previously unreleased songs, a slew of duets with Porter Wagoner, Kenny Rogers, Ricky Van Shelton and others, and, of course, her 1974 version of the eventual Whitney Houston smash “I Will Always Love You.”

Oscar Peterson, “Debut: The Clef/Mercury Duo Recordings 1949-1951” (Verve/Hip-O Select): These three CDs add a pair of unreleased tracks to the influential jazz pianist’s first U.S. recordings and adds seven bonus tracks to the already fab “An Evening With Oscar Peterson.”

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, “The Live Anthology” (Reprise): Four CDs and 48 tracks from one of rock’s best live bands, recorded during a span from 1980-2007 and sounding every bit as good as it should. The Best Buy exclusive edition is worth the extra cost, lavishing fans with a fifth CD (which includes “The Last DJ” from a 2002 show at the Palace of Auburn Hills), a couple of DVDs, a vinyl “official bootleg,” some memorabilia and a Blu-ray disc of the whole package.

The Rolling Stones, “Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out! The Rolling Stones in Concert — 40th Anniversary Deluxe Box Set” (ABKCO): The original “Ya-Ya’s” has long ranked as one of the best rock live albums ever. This makes it even better with five more previously unreleased Stones song, performances by tour openers B.B. King and Ike & Tina Turner, and a DVD documentary by the Mayles Brothers, who first chronicled the tour in the notorious “Gimme Shelter.”

Frank Sinatra, “Sinatra: New York” (Reprise): Would you believe there’s only one performance of the “Theme From ‘New York, New York’ “ on this four-CD, one-DVD collection of Big Apple shows between 1955-90? But when The Chairman is in his natural habitat, you can believe that you won’t notice.

Rod Stewart, “The Rod Stewart Sessions” (Stiefel/Warner Bros.): A four-CD, 63-song treasure trove of rarities, ranging from an early version of “Maggie May” and “You Wear it Well” to alternative versions of “This Old Heart of Mine” and “The First Cut of the Deepest.” It won’t make you forget about those Great American Songbook albums, but it’ll help.

Various Artists, “Let Them Know: The Story of Youth Brigade and BYO Records” (BYO): The company names may not be familiar, but the bands represented on this 25th anniversary CD and DVD package — Bouncing Souls, NoFX, Alkaline Trio, Dropkick Murphys, Bad Religion and more — will be. A solid overview of one contemporary punk’s most prodigious stables.

Various Artists, “Woodstock 40 Years On: Back to Yasgur’s Farm” (Rhino): The most comprehensive representation yet of the legendary 1969 rock festival, spread across six CDs and loaded with previously unreleased material. Kinda makes you want to pull the tie-dye out of your closet.

Barry White, “Barry White Unlimited” (Hip-O/Mercury/A&M): The late soul singer gets his due on a four-CD, one-DVD set loaded with alternate and rare versions of his songs, productions for others and a full disc of Love Unlimited Orchestra rarities. Casual fans are better served by a more modest collection, but devotees will find themselves in ecstasy — and Barry wouldn’t want it any other way.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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