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CD Reviews:
Rounding up the fall's best box sets

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

Posted: Tuesday, December 23, 2014

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As we near a) the end of the year and b) the panic portion of holiday season gift-buying, here's a look at the most notable boxed set collections of the fall and early winter...

Bob Dylan and the Band, "The Basement Tapes Complete: The Bootleg Series Vol. 11" (Columbia/Legacy): These casual but accomplished 1967-68 sessions -- which gave us "I Shall Be Released," "Tears of Rage," "Quinn the Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn)" and more -- have been legendary since they were initially bootlegged during the late 60s. This six-disc treasure trove documents the prolific period in fine fidelity, with the most extensive annotation to date about what went on in that basement. Grade: A.

Joni Mitchell, "Love Has Many Faces: A Quartet, A Ballet, Waiting To Be Danced" (Reprise/Asylum/Nonesuch/Rhino): This carefully curated overview of Mitchell's career across four CDs and 53 tracks tells a story rather than merely reprising her best-known moments. So no "Big Yellow Taxi" or "Both Sides Now," but a joy just the same. Grade: A-.

R.E.M., "REMTV" (Rhino): Six DVDs that document the group's timely and extensive relationship with MTV, including Video Music Awards performances, "Unplugged" episodes (with outtakes), concert specials and more. Grade: B+

Bruce Springsteen, "The Complete Album Collection Vol. 1" (Columbia/Legacy): Fans likely have all or most of Springsteen's first seven albums, up through "Born in the U.S.A.," on CD already. Is the remastered sound on this edition worth replacing them? Let's just say the Boss is always right. Grade: A.

Wilco, "Alpha Mike Foxtrot: Rare Tracks 1994-2014" (Nonesuch): The group celebrates 20 years -- and an evolution from Americana rock to ambitious eclecticism -- with this four-disc set of demos, alternate versions, live tracks and more from the vaults. An essential complement to the library of albums any music lover should already own. Grade: A.

Wings, "Venus and Mars: Super Deluxe Edition" and "Wings at the Speed of Sound: Super Deluxe Edition" (MPL/Hear Music/Concord): The latest releases from the Paul McCartney Archive Collection aren't as good or essential as "Band on the Run," but the bonus audio and video material boost the appeal of both of these mid-70s bestsellers. Grade: B for both.

David Bowie, "Nothing Has Changed" (Columbia/Legacy): Bowie has packaged is past hits so many times it's comical, but after re-emerging with last year's fab "The Next Day" this three-disc collection brings the story up to date and even gives us a worthwhile new tune, "Sue (Or in a Season of Crime)." Grade: B+.

Soundgarden, "Echo of Miles: Scattered Tracks Across the Path" (A&M/UMe): The Seattle rockers follow up a deluxe 20th anniversary reissue of their "Superunknown" album with three CDs of B-sides, soundtrack contributions, cover songs and older material recently completed by the band. A much better than average gathering of odds 'n' sods. Grade: B+.

Frank Sinatra, "Sinatra: London" (FSE/UMe): Three CDs and a DVD that captures Sinatra`s 1962 sessions in London for his "Sinatra Sings Great Songs From Great Britain" album. More than 50 of these tracks have been unreleased, and a recording of the BBC's "Light Programme" includes a rare appearance by Sinatra himself, introducing the tracks. Grade: B+.

Rush, "R40" (Anthem/Zoe): Another six-DVD set, comprising mostly previously released DVDs (with bonus tracks) but sporting an early 1974 concert from an Ontario secondary school that will rock any true Rushhead's world. Grade: B.

Bryan Adams, "Reckless: 30th Anniversary Edition" (A&M/UMe): The Canadian rocker's five-times platinum fourth album turns 30 with seven bonus tracks, a concert recording from 1985 and its collected videos that will be "Heaven" for any of the album's fans. Grade: B.

John Denver, "All of My Memories" (RCA/Legacy): So much fun was poked at this guy while he was alive and active that many of us failed to notice he actually made a considerable amount of very good and even occasionally barrier-breaking music. Four discs of it may seem like overkill to some, but you'll come away from it with more than just a Rocky Mountain high. Grade: B+.

Jethro Tull, "A Passion Play: An Extended Performance" (Chrysalis/Rhino): Tull's 1973 concept album still feels like a bit of overreaching but has aged surprisingly well, and a disc of early, work-in-progress session recordings add a bit more flesh to our perception of the project. Grade: B-.

Simon & Garfunkel, "The Complete Albums Collection" (Columbia/Legacy); Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble, "The Complete Albums Collection" (Epic/Legacy); Johnny Mathis, "The Complete Albums Collection (Columbia/Legacy): The titles are pretty self-explanatory, all sporting remastered sound to please the completist on your shopping list. Grade: B for all.

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