Think inside the box


POSTED: Monday, December 14, 2009

While the gift of music these days can come just as well in downloadable form—iTunes gift card, anyone?—those of the baby-boomer generation and older still appreciate holding something tangible. (I suspect it was these music lovers who made Susan Boyle's “;I Dreamed a Dream”; album the No. 1 best-seller in its first week by moving 701,000 CDs.)

So, out of this year's crop of well-annotated box sets, here's the pick of the bunch sure to gladden the ears of happy recipients this Christmas:


Under $100 ...

; » One box set that should have immediate appeal to local listeners is ”;Do What You Want, Be What You Are: The Music of Daryl Hall & John Oates”; ($49.98 retail). The white soulsters from Philadelphia had a strong fan base here during their heyday. This is Hall & Oates' first comprehensive anthology, containing 74 tracks dating from 1966 to today, including 16 previously unissued songs (live, studio and remixes) and hits like “;She's Gone,”; “;Sara Smile,”; “;Rich Girl,”; “;Kiss on My List,”; “;You Make My Dreams,”; “;I Can't Go for That (No Can Do),”; “;Maneater”; and “;One on One.”;

» For those who want to continue reliving the memory of seeing Richard Thompson in concert here last month, there's the guitarist-songwriter's ”;Walking on a Wire: 1968-2009”; ($59.98). Assembled with Thompson's assistance, it deftly covers his wide range of genres, his virtuosic guitar work—he's one of the Top 20, according to Rolling Stone magazine—and the scope of his songwriting.

; » Another artist who, surprisingly, has never got a career-spanning anthology until now is Dolly Parton. One of country music's finest, she's racked up seven Grammys, two Oscar nominations, a Tony nomination and a place in the Country Music Hall of Fame. Parton is not only a bona fide crossover star, but also a heck of a songwriter. ”;Dolly”; ($49.98) brings together a hefty 99 songs over its four CDs, including unissued songs and demos, and includes a 60-page booklet with an extensive biographical essay and rare photos.

» A constant favorite for recycling material is the one and only music king, Elvis Presley. Jan. 8, 2010, would have been his 75th birthday, so that's as good an excuse as any to bring out ”;Elvis 75: Good Rockin' Tonight”; ($59.98), with four CDs and 100 songs' worth of goodness. The music spans his entire recording career, from 1953's demo of “;My Happiness”; to his work for his final '77's “;Moody Blue”; album, and includes the 2002 dance hit remix of “;A Little Less Conversation.”;

» For rockin' sex appeal, it was tough to beat Mick Jagger and Jim Morrison in their prime. Proof of that is this year's release of ”;Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out: The Rolling Stones in Concert 40th Anniversary Deluxe Box Set”; ($59.98) and ”;The Doors Live in New York City”; ($89.98). “;Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out”; was the Stones' definitive concert album back in 1969, and the box set comprises three CDs, including a remastered disc of the original album of recordings drawn from the Madison Square Garden concerts, and a disc of five previously unreleased tracks from those shows. The third CD has unreleased performances by the shows' openers, B.B. King and Ike & Tina Turner. Also included is a bonus DVD by Albert and David Maysles of full-length performances of unreleased songs—“;Prodigal Son,”; “;You Gotta Move,”; “;Under My Thumb,”; “;I'm Free”; and “;(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction”;—as well as backstage and album cover photo shoot footage.

The Doors six-disc box set contains all four shows the band, at its peak, played at New York's Felt Forum in January 1970 before the release of “;Morrison Hotel.”; The music can now be heard in all its glory thanks to the restoration work of the band's longtime engineer Bruce Botnick.

; » Another great band, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, has released ”;The Live Anthology”; ($24.98), containing a wealth of concert recordings made from 1978 to 2007. It's the best culled from 169 shows that span the band's history. In addition to dozens of hits and key album tracks, there are also some astute covers like the theme from “;Goldfinger,”; the Grateful Dead's “;Friend of the Devil,”; Fleetwood Mac's guitar-driven “;Oh Well”; and Booker T. and the MG's “;Green Onions.”;

» And for lovers of the well-honed voice, you can't lose with ”;Sinatra: New York”; ($79.98) or ”;Ella Fitzgerald: Twelve Nights in Hollywood”; ($69.98). The sublime power of Frank Sinatra in concert is well represented in a box set filled with classics aplenty, featuring music from seven shows in the Big Apple, representing five decades, starting in the 1950s. Fitzgerald's top-caliber shows during her extended 1961 engagement in L.A.'s Crescendo Club, and her two-night return engagement the following year, are featured in her box set's 77 tracks, with only four previously released songs.


Price is no option ...

; » The reissuing of the remastered Beatles album catalog has been a big hit this year, and you can still get copies of ”;The Beatles Stereo Box Set”; ($259.98) and even ”;The Beatles Mono Box Set”; ($298.98), the latter quickly selling out its first run. The mono box set is for the true Beatles fan, as I can attest as a purchaser of said set. “;Rubber Soul,”; “;Revolver,”; “;Sgt. Pepper”; and the White Album, in particular, all lend new and different listening experiences.

» And then there's ”;Yo-Yo Ma: 30 Years Outside the Box,”; listing at a whopping $798.98. Commemorating his three decades with Sony Music, what you get is the entire recorded legacy—90 discs' worth—of the famed classical cellist in a deluxe, numbered, limited-edition box set with a 312-page hardbound book. Included in the set are his performances of seminal cello works like the Dvorak Concerto along with his tribute to film music maestro Ennio Morricone, and last year's all-star, world-music holiday celebration “;Songs of Joy and Peace,”; also featuring Renee Fleming, Chris Botti, Diana Krall and Dave Brubeck.