Gift Guide: A bounty of boxed sets for the music fan on your list
Special to the Daily
This year’s bounty of boxed sets is a strong one, with plenty of great choices for holiday gift giving. Here are the prime candidates for your shopping list.
• Bob Dylan and The Band: “The Basement Tapes Complete: The Bootleg Series Vol. 11” (Columbia Legacy) — Dylan’s comments over the years suggest he never viewed “The Basement Tapes” as being that important. But this six-CD set, which documents the summer 1967 writing and demoing sessions by Dylan and his backing group that would soon be known as The Band, proves otherwise.
There is a loose and relaxed quality to the recordings, and at times, the sessions get downright goofy, especially on several of the many covers of old folk, country and blues tunes. But there are also dozens of Dylan originals. Some, such as “I Shall Be Released,” “You Ain’t Going Nowhere” and “The Mighty Quinn,” were covered by other artists and also became staples of the Dylan live repertoire.
Others, such as “Odds And Ends,” “Too Much Of Nothing,” “Don’t Ya Tell Henry” and many more, had potential, and one wonders why they weren’t developed into finished studio tracks. A very good — and logical — follow-up to Dylan’s classic 1966 “Blonde on Blonde” album could have been made from this material. Instead, Dylan decided to explore the simpler country stylings of the “John Wesley Harding” and “Nashville Skyline” albums.
In any event, the many discoveries, curiosities and just plain good songs make this an important addition to the official Dylan catalog. Rating: 4½ stars.
• Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young: “CSNY 1974” (CSNY Recordings/Rhino) — In 1974, David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash and Neil Young launched a historic stadium tour famous for rock star indulgences and tension. Along the way, as “CSNY 1974” shows, some great music got performed. The electric songs here are full of energy and creativity, while the acoustic set was varied and strong enough to keep stadiums full of people entertained. The shows include CSNY favorites and solo songs (some of which weren’t yet released, such as Young’s “On the Beach” and “Pushed It Over the End”). This is a great document of a tour worth remembering. Rating: 4 stars.
• Joni Mitchell: “Love Has Many Faces: A Quartet, A Ballet, Waiting To Be Danced” (Reprise/Asylum/Nonesuch/Rhino) — This project started as an attempt by Mitchell to assemble songs from her catalog for a ballet about love. She couldn’t make it work within the time constraints of a ballet, but it evolved into this four-disc set using love (with its many highs, lows and complexities) as a connecting thread. This isn’t exactly a best-of anthology (some of Mitchell’s famous songs are omitted; presumably they didn’t fit the theme). But the compelling and at times challenging music, encompassing folk, jazz, pop, soul and rock, coupled with Mitchell’s own insightful liner notes, should give fans a new level of understanding and appreciation for her work. Rating: 4 stars.
• Michael Bloomfield: “From His Head To His Heart To His Hands” (Columbia/Legacy) — To the likes of Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton and Miles Davis, Bloomfield was one of most talented, versatile and soulful guitarists going. This set of three CDs and one DVD shows why Bloomfield so impressed fellow musicians, as it brings together performances from his work with Al Kooper on the Super Sessions projects, his time in the groundbreaking Paul Butterfield Blues Band and various session work. He died too soon, but Bloomfield left an indelible mark on rock history. Rating: 4 stars.
• John Denver: “All of My Memories: The John Denver Collection” (RCA/Legacy) — Critics may have bashed Denver for making lightweight country pop, but he had millions of fans. Whichever side of that fence you occupy, this four-CD set does a good job chronicling Denver’s best material. Rating: 3½ stars.
• Wilco: “Alpha Mike Foxtrot: Rare Tracks 1994-2014” (Nonesuch) — To celebrate its 20th anniversary, Wilco has given fans quite a gift: this four-disc set of unreleased music from the vaults. Many of the unreleased original songs (such as the perky country honk of “Tried and True” and the hooky pop-rocker “Glad It’s Over”) deserved release before now. Some alternate versions of familiar tunes (“Camera” and “Hummingbird”) are eye-openers. And the live tracks show why Wilco is so good in concert. No surprise here, but Wilco’s leftovers are better than the A-list material of most bands. Rating: 4 stars.
• Soundgarden: “Echo Of Miles: Scattered Tracks Across The Path” (A&M/Ume) — The unreleased originals, cover tunes, remixes and instrumentals that make up this three-disc set may not match the best material on Soundgarden’s studio albums, but core fans will find enough to want this collection. Rating: 3 stars.
• David Bowie: “Nothing Has Changed” (Columbia/Legacy) — This three-CD set summarizes Bowie’s adventurous 50-year career by collecting the singles (and a few key album tracks) from across his career. Because the excellent 1989 boxed set “Sound + Vision” featured demos and live versions of some of Bowie’s best known songs, the single versions of the classic hits featured here make “Nothing Has Changed” more essential than that earlier set. Rating: 4 stars.
• George Harrison: “The Apple Years 1968-75” (Universal/Apple) — If you don’t own the former Beatle’s early albums, this set is for you. It features the 2001 expanded reissue of “All Things Must Pass,” which remains the finest post-Beatles album from any of the members of the Fab Four. Harrison didn’t match that excellence on his three follow-up albums, “Living in the Material World,” “Darkhorse” and “Extra Texture,” but each album had its moments. This set also lets fans discover two obscure pre-“All Things Must Pass” instrumental albums. “Electric Sound” was his soundscape experiment using the then-new Moog synthesizer. It’s a snooze. But “Wonderwall Music,” which was largely recorded with Indian musicians in early 1968, is a fascinating journey into Indian music, cross-pollinated at times with pop. Rating: 4 stars.
• Rod Stewart: “Live 1976-1998: Tonight’s The Night” (Warner Bros./Arnold Stiefel Entertainment) — Stewart’s best work with the Faces and on his early solo albums was behind him by 1976. Nevertheless, Stewart was (and is) an accomplished performer, and particularly on the ’70s recordings, he shows plenty of grit, sass and swagger. He also shines at making the many covers here sound like his own songs. And the best news: The set stops before Stewart tried going Sinatra with the Great American Songbook. Rating: 4 stars.
JAZZ AND BLUES
• Johnny Winter: “True to the Blues: The Johnny Winter Story” (Columbia/Legacy) — This set traces the late bluesman’s career from late 1960s blues beginnings into the early 1970s rock albums that gained him major popularity and through his return to the blues that began with his 1977 album “Nothin’ But the Blues.” Drug problems slowed Winter’s output in the late 1980s, but he regained control of his life and returned to form in his final years. This set shows that when healthy, Winter was an exceptional blues guitarist and a fiery, first-rate singer — a major figure in the blues. Rating: 4 stars.
• Miles Davis: “Miles Davis 1970: The Bootleg Series Vol. 3, Miles at the Fillmore” (Columbia/Legacy) — Previously available in heavily edited form on a two-album set, this four-CD set presents the great jazz trumpeter’s four-show June 1970 run at New York’s Fillmore East as it went down. There’s plenty of inspired soloing and cohesive playing, as well as moments when the playing feels chaotic and aimless. But that was part of the bargain with Davis, who was continuing to break down song structures and redefine jazz. This set is an unvarnished snapshot of Davis’ sound and singular musical vision during this time. Rating: 3½ stars.
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