Music lovers will flip for these box sets
For fans who like to give career-spanning box sets as Christmas gifts, 2016 was not a great year. This makes sense — most acts that deserve a box set have had one released in previous years.
At this point, we’re seeing more and more complete album collections being released, and 2016 brought some fine ones. There’s the Lou Reed “RCA and Arista Album Collection,” which features all of his solo albums released through 1986; Kris Kristofferson’s “The Complete Monument & Columbia Albums Collection”; the Turtles’ “Complete Original Albums Collection”; Bright Eyes’ “The Studio Albums 2000-2011”; and the whopper of them all, Elvis Presley’s 60-disc “The Complete Album Collection,” to name a few.
For those who don’t want to go the wallet-busting complete album collection route, there are still some good choices. Here are my picks for multi-disc sets that should please music fans on your shopping list.
Pink Floyd: “The Early Years 1965-1972" (Columbia/Legacy) — Call this massive (and pricey) 27-disc CD/DVD collection the “Syd Barrett Years,” as it goes in depth on the music Pink Floyd made before Barrett’s breakdown and the group’s commercial breakthrough with “Dark Side of the Moon.” This set collects album tracks, outtakes (including 20 unreleased tracks) and BBC and other live performances from the era. Pink Floyd was diverse, trippy and experimental during its early years, which means fans of “The Wall”-era Floyd may not be into this material. But the collection also illustrates the group’s influence on progressive rock, space rock, ambient, synth rock and other free-form music and hints at the greater songcraft that would soon emerge with David Gilmour replacing Barrett in the lineup. For those interested in just the highlights, a two-disc distillation of the set, “The Early Years: CRE/ATION,” also is available.
NRBQ: “High Noon: A 50-Year Retrospective” (Omnivore) — Considering its longevity and catalog numbering dozens of albums (including the 1978 classic, “At Yankee Stadium”), NRBQ may be rock’s most overlooked band. Rooted in early rock and classic pop, but capable of mixing in styles ranging from country to jazz to blues, the Q cranked out dozens of songs that rate as classics. Most of those (“Green Lights,” “This Love Is True” and “I Want You Bad,” to name a few) are included in “High Noon,” a five-CD retrospective. This set also captures the group’s good humor (songs like “RC Cola and a Moon Pie” and “Puddin’ Truck”). Sometimes things could cross the line from playfulness into kitsch (“Paris”), but that was part of NRBQ’s charm.
Van Morrison: “…It’s Too Late To Stop Now…Volumes II, III, IV &DVD” (Legacy) — The four concerts from 1973 included in this set capture “Van the Man” at an early peak in his legendary career. The concerts feature markedly different song selections, providing an extensive survey of Morrison’s song catalog at that point. There were plenty of soul-rooted songs in those shows (demonstrating why Morrison is considered a great soul singer). But he also touches on blues (covers of “I Just Want To Make Love To You” and “Take Your Hand Out of My Pocket”) while the jazzy side that’s always been apparent in Morrison’s music gets the spotlight in “Snow In Anselmo,” “Buona Sera” and “Moondance” (which interestingly appears only in the Troubadour show). The sound quality of the shows is excellent, and Morrison is in fine form, making this three-CD/one DVD (a film of part of the Rainbow shows) a great addition to the Morrison catalog.
Eric Clapton and Guests: “Crossroads Revisited” (Rhino/Reprise/Duck) — This three-CD set captures performances from the 2004, 2007, 2010 and 2013 Crossroads Guitar Festivals organized and headlined by Eric Clapton. Each of the festivals brought together dozens of guitar slingers who took advantage of the rare opportunity to perform together in various combinations. So you get to hear Clapton, B.B. King, Buddy Guy and Jimmie Vaughan doing “Rock Me Baby”; Vince Gill, Sheryl Crow, Albert Lee, Earl Klugh, James Burton and Keb’ Mo’ shuffling through “Lay Down Sally”; and Clapton reuniting with Steve Winwood to play Blind Faith’s “Presence of the Lord.” The list goes on, and there are also plenty of standout individual performances. Personally, I’d love to see each complete Crossroads concert released in full, but “Crossroads Revisited” is a tasty and generous best-of sampler of these epic shows.
The Beach Boys: “Becoming The Beach Boys: The Complete Hite & Dorinda Morgan Sessions” (Omnivore) — This two-CD set collects every take of the first nine songs the Beach Boys recorded in 1961 and 1962 before getting signed by Capitol Records and achieving fame and fortune. With multiple takes (including partial performances) of each song, this collection is mainly for die-hard Beach Boys fans. What’s notable is how polished and professional the Beach Boys sound on these demos — even in the group’s nascent stage.
Otis Redding: “Live at the Whisky A Go Go” (Stax/Concord) — The seven shows over three days in 1966 at the famous Los Angeles club (released for the first time in full here) raised Redding’s profile in the pop world and cemented his reputation as a great soul artist and singer. The shows include many of Redding’s best songs, including “I Can’t Turn You Loose,” “Respect,” "I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now)” and “These Arms of Mine,” and demonstrate that few artists could match the kind of emotion that Redding could wring out of a lyric. There’s plenty of overlap in the song selections in the seven shows, but it’s hard to get tired of the passion and excitement Redding brought to the stage during this peak period of his tragically all-too-short career.
The Highwaymen: “The Very Best of The Highwaymen”/”The Highwaymen Live: American Outlaws” (Columbia/Legacy) — Country’s supergroup — Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson — is celebrated with two separate releases. The single-CD “The Very Best of the Highwaymen” includes the best songs from the group’s three studio albums. The gem, though, is “The Highwaymen Live: American Outlaws,” which features the full audio and DVD of the group’s 1990 show at Nassau Coliseum on Long Island (plus audio from a pair of Farm Aid appearances). The Nassau show finds each of the stars taking the spotlight to perform favorite songs from their solo catalogs and trading vocals on several songs from the Highwaymen albums. The camaraderie, rebellious spirit and musical authenticity these four country greats brought to The Highwaymen is apparent on both of these releases.
Led Zeppelin: “The Complete BBC Sessions” (Atlantic) — The original 1997 release of these live performances from six studio sessions and concerts in 1969 and 1971 returns with a third CD of unreleased material. If you don’t have the original, this new edition is essential for Zeppelin fans — a chance to hear this potent band playing live without overdubs (on most tracks) and improvising more than one might expect on multiple performances of such classic early songs as “Dazed And Confused,” “I Can’t Quit You Baby” and “Whole Lotta Love.” The nine-song third disc is made up of unreleased performances and includes the rare rowdy blues song “Sunshine Woman” and a cool extended version of “Communication Breakdown.”