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CD Reviews:
Latest box sets cover a gamut of artists, albums

By Gary Graff
ggraff@medianewsgroup.com, @GraffonMusic on Twitte

Posted: Sunday, January 3, 2021

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Since the advent of the CD, music box sets have become as much a part of the holiday season as poinsettias, ties and ugly sweaters.

That said, with their stacks of unreleased material and lavish packaging, they're an opportunity to immerse ourselves in a favorite band or landmark album and take ourselves away from the pandemic world for a stretch.

Be forewarned that many of them don't come cheap, but here's a stroll through this year's key compilations...

Black Sabbath, "Paranoid (Super Deluxe Edition)" (Warner): The Sabs' classic sophomore album turns 50 with a five-disc vinyl set, adding the Quadrophonic mix of the era as well as recordings of two 1970 concerts in Switzerland and Belgium.

Elvis Costello, "The Complete Armed Forces" (UMe): A motherlode of unreleased material bolsters the rep of Costello's galvanizing third studio album, with 23 live performances showing that he and the Attractions could do it differently but with as much excitement on stage.

The Cranberries, "No Need to Argue" (Island/UMe): On ice after the death of singer Dolores O'Riordan and in the wake of its first-ever Grammy Award nomination, the Irish quartet's second album (and best-seller) gets retrofitted with demos, live tracks and The Orb's remix of the hit "Zombie."

"Crossroads Festival 2019" (Rhino): The most recent edition of Eric Clapton's six-string orgy for charity is loaded with top-shelf guests, including Peter Frampton, John Mayer, Jeff Beck, Gary Clark Jr., Bonnie Raitt and...well, a list that just doesn't stop. Nor would we want it to.

Derek and the Dominos, "Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs" (Polydor/UMe): A little more of the album you loved so much 50 years ago adds Phil Spector-produced singles, outtakes from the band's aborted second album and live performances from "The Johnny Cash TV Show."

Dire Straits, "The Studio Albums: 1978-1991" (Warner/Rhino): Exactly what the title says -- the group's six studio releases, exactly as they came out, with replicated sleeves and artwork intact.

The Doobie Brothers, "Quadio" (Warner/Rhino): Remember Quadrophonic sound? New Rock Hall inductees the Doobies offer four of their prime albums -- "Toulouse Street" through "Stampede" -- in both Quad and high-resolution stereo to see if the most ardent fans can find many differences.

The Doors, "Morrison Hotel: 50th Anniversary Deluxe Edition" (Elektra/Rhino): The quartet got back to, or at least closer to, basics after the experimentations of the preceding "The Soft Parade." The extras offer a look inside the raw studio creative process, including multiple developmental takes of "Road House Blues."

Fleetwood Mac, "1969 to 1974" (Warner/Rhino): The group's "mid" period is gathered together, with bonus tracks added to the seven studio albums and an unreleased late 1974 concert disc during Bob Welch's tenure with the band.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience, "Live In Maui" (Experience Hendrix/Legacy): The trio's famed July 1970 visit is preserved in both audio and video and stands up far better than the misbegotten "Rainbow Bridge" film that came out the following year.

Elton John, "Elton: Jewel Box" (UMe): The period (1965-71) may seem a bit random, but if you're a fan of the Rocketman this deep and bountiful (148 songs on eight CDs) collection catches John, with and without lyricist Bernie Taupin, preparing for an achieving liftoff, with a few later selections to acknowledge what came later.

John Lennon, "Gimme Some Truth: The Ultimate Mixes" (UMe): Lennon's widow Yoko Ono and their son Sean Lennon oversaw this package to commemorate what would have been his 80th birthday, remixing 36 favorites from scratch to make them sound more refreshed than redone -- and we wouldn't want it any other way.

Linkin Park, "Hybrid Theory: 20th Anniversary Edition" (Warner): You can bench press this box set, which celebrates the group's 12-times platinum debut with five CDs and three DVDs with almost too many rarities to count but that, in the end, make you feel more than one step closer to the band.

Joni Mitchell, "Archives Vol. 1: The Early Years (1963-1967)" (Rhino): Fascinating and illumination, the dawn of Mitchell's career is chronicled here via early studio sessions and live recordings -- including a Detroit-recorded 1965 demo tape and a 1967 concert at the Canterbury House in Ann Arbor -- all before she spread her wings on the David Crosby-produced 1968 debut, "Song to a Seagull," in 1968.

Pantera, "Reinventing the Steel (20th Anniversary Edition)" (Elektra/Rhino): The Texas metal quartet's final studio album gets a reinvention via a new mix by producer Terry Date and a disc of bonus tracks, including covers and rough mixes.

Charlie Parker, "The Mercury & Clef 10-Inch LP Collection" (Verve/UMe): Celebrate Bird's centennial with this collection of collection of recordings from 1950-54, including the orchestral "Charlie Parker with Strings" and his 1952 "Bird and Diz" session with Dizzy Gillespie.

Tom Petty, "Wildflowers and All the Rest" (Warner): The late Petty originally intended his 1994 solo album to be a double disc, and that's realized on this reissue. The deluxe edition, meanwhile, adds home demo recordings and live versions that help make a good thing even better.

Elvis Presley, "From Elvis In Nashville" (RCA/Legacy): A year after returning to recording in Memphis, Presley rooted at RCA Victor Studio in Nashville during June of 1970 for sessions whose results were scattered across three subsequent albums. This four-disc set puts 'em all together in a testament to how much was accomplished during that short stay.

Prince, "Sign O' The Times" (Warner/Rhino) and "Up All Nite with Prince: The One Nite Alone Collection" (The Prince Estate/Legacy): His vaults continue to brim with wonderful, unreleased material, both from the studio and concert stage. The "Sign" package especially speaks to how much music he created -- and with purpose, not just for the sake of being prolific.

John Prine, "Crooked Piece of Time: The Atlantic and Asylum Albums (1971-1980)" (Atlantic/Rhino): Another one whose title says it all -- the first seven studio offerings from the late singer-songwriter hero, who passed away earlier this year of complications of COVID. His composing brilliance is not a news flash, but it's nice to be reminded that his delivery could be as compelling as those who covered his songs.

Pylon, "Pylon Box" (New West): R.E.M. and the B-52's stole the spotlight in Athens, Ga.'s alternative rock scene, but this quartet was every bit their equal -- and this four-LP vinyl set shows why. Listen, and learn.

Lou Reed, "New York (Deluxe Edition)" (Sire/Rhino): The late Reed's 15 studio album, released 30 years ago, was arguably his most conceptually consistent and fully realized. It still sounds great on its own, but the live recordings and unreleased bonus material add to the impact.

Keith Richards and the X-Pensive Winos, "Live at the Hollywood Palladium" (BMG): The Rolling Stones guitarist's 1988 concert souvenir gets the deluxe treatment with three additional songs and a beautifully designed vinyl/CD/video package that has everything except a bottle of Rebel Yell to complete the experience.

The Replacements, "Pleased To Meet Me" (Sire/Rhino): The Minneapolis group's critically lauded second major label album -- it's only release as a trio -- gets a multi-disc working over with all sorts of outtakes, rough mixes, alternate tracks, demos and other rarities.

Rolling Stones, "Goats Head Soup" (Polydor/Interscope/UMe): Following up the iconic "Exile on Main Street," this one always got short-shrift in the Stones' catalog. But this refurbishing helps give it some deserved due, adding three unreleased tracks -- including the Jimmy Page collaboration "Scarlet," as well as the 1973 "Brussels Affair" live recording.

The Staples Singers, "Come Go With Me: The Stax Collection" (Stax/Craft): There's almost too much soul to be held inside this seven-disc collection, with plenty of extras, studio and live, added to each title.

U2, "All That You Can't Leave Behind" (Island/Interscope/UMe): The Irish quartet's Grammy Award-winning "comeback" album celebrates its 20th anniversary via a variety of reissue packages packed with extras, many of them must-have for fans and including an entire Elevation Tour performance in Boston during June of 2001.

Wilco, "Summerteeth (Deluxe Edition)" (Reprise/Rhino): Sandwiched between the band's "Mermaid Avenue" projects with Billy Bragg, Wilco's third album steered into a more sophisticated pop space. The outtakes are fun to hear, but it's the unreleased 1999 show from Boulder, Colo., that really makes this worth the price of admission.

Neil Young, "Archives II: 1972-76" (Reprise): Long-awaited and 11 years after the first volume, Young unearths a jaw-dropping trove of treasures on this 10-disc set, 131 tracks -- 12 unreleased -- and welcome live recordings solo and with all of his bands.

Yusuf/Cat Stevens, "Mona Bone Jakon" and "Tea For the Tillerman" (A&M/UMe): Following his reimagining of the latter earlier this year, the veteran troubadour fills out the first two release of his "golden era," both from 1970, with an abundance of worthwhile demos, outtakes, alternate versions and live material.

Frank Zappa, "Halloween 81: Costume Box Set" (Zappa/UMe): Not only do we get six discs from his Oct. 31-Nov. 1 shows at the Palladium in New York -- there's a Count Frankula mask, too. Now, who's only in it for the money?

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