A friend not-so-jokingly said recently that the global economy is secure for the next few months because of anticipated consumer spending on the upcoming Stars Wars movie and the new Adele album.
To be sure, Adele’s 25 will topple all competitors for shopping bucks just as The Force Awakens will most assuredly obliterate competition at cinema box offices. But as far as new music is concerned, something curious is also prevalent this holiday season: a flood of new boxed set anthology recordings.
Such epic releases are typically plentiful this time of year, as most bear price tags that place them outside of typical personal impulse purchases. But this year the choices are so numerous and diverse that our annual gift-giving guide is devoted exclusively to these multi-disc CD/DVD indulgences.
Because such packages are usually intended as career overviews or exhaustive examinations of specific musical events, the sounds favored are usually vintage.
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Want something new? Adele is the way to go — 25 is inexpensive and, given the record’s appeal and promotion, omnipresent. But if you’re looking for gifts of more lasting proportions, try thinking, quite literally, inside the box.
Here are 12 critic’s pick selections of newly released boxed sets by 10 artists of historically timeless music.
Bruce Springsteen – The Ties That Bind: The River Collection. The Boss offers a king-size serving of sessions that initially yielded the hit 1980 double-album The River. The Ties That Bind is a four CD-three DVD box set full of outtakes, live recordings, a full documentary film and the album’s initial, previously unissued single disc version that Springsteen recorded in 1979 but pulled from release. (Available Dec. 4).
The Velvet Underground — Loaded/The Complete Matrix Tapes. During its initial tenure, the wildly influential Velvet Underground released only five studio albums. Amazingly, these two boxed sets boast 10 discs of music. The unexpectedly accessible sounding Loaded was the band’s final outing with Lou Reed. Matrix constitutes perhaps the best quality live recordings available by the Velvets, covering four 1969 concerts.
The Grateful Dead — 30 Trips Around the Sun/Fare Thee Well: Celebrating 50 Years Of Grateful Dead. These two sets constitute a belated eulogy of sorts. The four-disc package 30 Trips offers one live tune from each year of the band’s 30-year history with the late Jerry Garcia. Fare Thee Well (available in multiple sizes and formats) fast forwards to this summer for the surviving members’ final shows together.
Rush — R40 Live.The never-say-die trio releases yet another concert album. This one is a triple CD-single DVD collection taken from a pair of June performances in their hometown of Toronto. The career-spanning repertoire runs from What You’re Doing and Working Man to Headlong Flight and Clockwork Angels. What other band would choose it to celebrate not the 40th anniversary of its present lineup but the 41st ?
Brad Mehldau — 10 Years Solo Live. Taking its cue from the prolific output of Keith Jarrett, this four-CD package (and, in early December, 10 LP vinyl set) offers a decade’s worth of solo piano recordings. But unlike Jarrett, whose solo albums revolve around improvisational music, Mehldau oversees a wide compositional repertoire that takes on tunes by Jerome Kern, Nirvana, The Beatles, Radiohead, Thelonious Monk and more.
Weather Report — The Legendary Live Tapes: 1978-1981. A must-have collection for fans of late 1970s fusion music, this four-disc set unearths a wealth of previously unreleased concert performances by the globally inclined electric troupe performing as a quartet (original members Josef Zawinul and Wayne Shorter with Jaco Pastorius and Peter Erskine) and quintet (with the addition of percussionist Robert Thomas, Jr.).
Aretha Franklin — The Atlantic Albums Collection. This no-frills boxed set covers the Queen of Soul’s entire Atlantic Records tenure by gathering 19 albums the singer cut for the label, from career-defining works like Lady Soul to such critical favorites as Live at Fillmore West. Adding to the fun is the addition of the recent archival find Oh Me Oh My: Aretha Live In Philly, 1972.
John Coltrane — A Love Supreme: The Complete Masters. It’s not easy, even upon the 50th anniversary of a classic recording, to offer something new. But the two- and three-disc editions of John Coltrane’s sublime A Love Supreme seek to do just that by unearthing nearly every note performed by the saxophonist during a two-day recording session for the album along with the famed July 1965 performance of the suite.
The Beatles — 1+ . The original edition of 1, which gathered 27 chart-topping hits by The Beatles, was released in 2000 and sold more than 30 million copies worldwide. For 1+, those songs reappear along with 50 promotional videos and films documenting the tunes. Best of all, the sounds and visuals have been remixed and restored. Available in two- and three-disc editions proving, after all these years, The Beatles are still the one.
Bob Dylan — The Cutting Edge 1965-1966: The Bootleg Series Vol. 12. The latest installment in Bob Dylan’s 24 year old Bootleg Series hits the mother lode with an examination of the 13-month period that yielded three vanguard albums: Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde On Blonde. Available in stores as two- and six-disc sets and through Dylan’s website as a wallet busting 18-disc indulgence.
Read Walter Tunis’ blog, The Musical Box, at LexGo.com