I thought that with Christmas approaching some of you
might find this interesting.
I apologise for the length of this post.
might find this interesting.
I apologise for the length of this post.
|The Good, the Rare and the Nostalgic in Boxed Sets |
By THE NEW YORK TIMES
Published: November 25, 2005
In past pop eras, a disc was an album: a limited group of tracks presented in a certain order. Not anymore. The digital era has made the disc an information archive: audio, video, perhaps something interactive. Boxed sets released this year reflect that change. Along with the musical hits, misses, outtakes and second thoughts, more boxes include DVD's with something to watch: a vintage television appearance, a concert, studio moments, home movies. As storage capacity grows, it is easy to extrapolate the ultimate boxed set: one that holds every minute of a musician's career, and takes another lifetime to hear and see. For the moment, boxed sets still make choices - luckily.
Below, the pop and jazz critics of The New York Times review this year's notable boxed sets of three discs or more. (A selection of greatest-hits albums and two-disc sets will appear next Friday.) A few major boxed sets - including collections and reissues from Charlie Poole and Bruce Springsteen - have been previously reviewed. JON PARELES
Weird Tales of the Ramones
Rhino/Warner. Three CD's, one DVD. $64.98
Although box sets are often presented as serious scholarly enterprises (the better to justify the serious scholarly list price), most of them are quite obviously silly: real collectors already own all the obvious stuff, and novices would probably be better off just buying the best album, or a good single-disc greatest-hits compilation.
So let's give thanks that this new Ramones boxed set is eagerly and extravagantly silly. It's packaged like an oversize comic book, with the band's history told in vivid strips by two dozen cartoonists. (Yes, 3-D glasses are included.)
And the discs offer a brisk tour through the band's brisk catalog, highlighting its many lovable paradoxes. (For starters: how did the band manage to create such exuberant expressions of apathy?) The fast-and-tidy punk-rock classics are here ("Beat on the Brat" and the rest), along with a few contenders that should have been (like the furious but absurd 1984 shout-along "Wart Hog"). And if the evenhanded track selection grants a bit too much space to the band's 1990's output - well, those songs are over pretty quickly, too. The DVD includes the 15-year-old hourlong documentary "Lifestyles of the Ramones," plus a handful of newer music videos; if ever there were a punk band whose songs deserve to be repackaged every few years (and can survive it), it was this one. KELEFA SANNEH
One Kiss Can Lead to Another: Girl Group Sounds Lost and Found
Rhino. Four CD's. $69.98
The biggest girl-group hits aren't on this collection; try Rhino's "Girl Group Greats" and "The Best of the Girl Groups" (Vols. 1 and 2), or greatest-hits albums by the Crystals, the Ronettes, the Shirelles and the Supremes. These four discs are filled with also-rans, and without the glow of oldies nostalgia, they're more revealing now than when they were recorded four decades ago.
In songs often written by men for female voices and female audiences, insecurities and accusations keep piling up. For every song of romantic bliss, there are three or four of abject misery, like the Exciters' desperate "He's Got the Power," Carole King's masochistic "He's a Bad Boy," Roddie Joy's resentful "If There's Anything Else You Want," the Hollywood Jills' sullen "He Makes Me Mad" or the Shangri-Las' resigned "Out in the Streets."
The production covers the early-1960's spectrum: rhythm-and-blues pushing toward pop, orchestral attempts to recreate Phil Spector's Wall of Sound, early Motown, late doo-wop and glints of surf-rock and garage-rock. Groups share the album with solo acts. There are strong, professional voices and exuberant near amateurs, and some almost unbelievable material like Dawn's anxiously dependent, "I'm Afraid They're All Talking About Me."
Some of the 120 songs in the collection are familiar. It includes original versions of "Go Now" (by Bessie Banks, later a Moody Blues hit) and "You're No Good" (by Dee Dee Warwick, who was eclipsed by Betty Everett's competing version and then Linda Ronstadt's remake). Every now and then tables are turned: by Sandie Shaw in "Girl Don't Come," by the What Four in "I'm Gonna Destroy That Boy" and by Donna Lynn, who decides "I'd Much Rather Be With the Girls." But to hear all these long-suffering voices is to realize that feminism didn't arrive an instant too soon. JON PARELES
Jelly Roll Morton: The Complete Library of Congress Recordings by Alan Lomax
Rounder. Eight CD's. $115
In 1938, the New Orleans pianist and composer Jelly Roll Morton talked and sang into a microphone for about a month and a half, in an oral history project conducted by Alan Lomax at the Library of Congress. He knew keenly, at that point, how powerful jazz had become - the music that in his old days wasn't even called jazz - and how much fame he had been denied.
What came out was the richest tumble of American culture. There was valuable information about musical life in New Orleans, St. Louis and Chicago in the first part of the century. (It includes his disquisition on how "the Spanish tinge," or the habanera rhythm, influenced the blues.)
There is hero-story rhetoric about pimping, gambling and gang life, down to particular details of clothes and card games and violence, always implying more than what's there; and several dozen imposing, almost mournful performances of songs, some that were just in the air and some that were Morton's own, carefully composed with classical influences. He spoke handsomely while tickling blues progressions, as if reading from a script. The monologues are deceptively casual, sometimes scurrilous, and there have always been doubts about their veracity. Still, they remain an incredible achievement, as if Mark Twain happened to also be a masterful pianist.
Eventually, there was a successful first-person book, "Mister Jelly Roll" (1950), massaged into life by Lomax from the interview transcripts. The recordings themselves have had a much bumpier life: many partial or botched editions, and mostly concentrating just on the music.
In eight discs, this is the first full edition of everything available from Lomax's tapes - all the songs, all the talking. It includes a disc of 1949 interviews and songs from others who knew him in the old days, including the guitarist Johnny St. Cyr and the clarinetist Alphonse Picou, and also a reissued paperback copy of "Mister Jelly Roll." BEN RATLIFF
A Musical History
The profound, rootsy, mysterious songs the Band played on its two great albums (its first two) and five worthy follow-ups were part of a longer career as collaborators and catalysts that is recognized on "A Musical History." The bulk of the set is the Band at its best, with one foot in history, the other in roadhouse. But the collection also reaches back to the group's days as the Hawks, when it made the Canadian rockabilly singer Ronnie Hawkins sound dangerous, and its breakthrough alliance with Bob Dylan, including combative live tracks from their much-booed 1966 tour and their 1974 reunion. Rare studio outtakes reveal how carefully the Band pondered its albums, while the live tracks - including a DVD of concert and television performances - are richly, incurably rowdy. Capitol. Five CD's. $89.98. JON PARELES
Who says a boxed set has to include CD's? "Buddha Machine" is, literally, a small plastic box with a built-in speaker, a headphone jack and a little switch you use to toggle between nine different and quite lovely ambient electronic compositions. It's the product of FM3 (www.fm3.com.cn), the Beijing-based duo of Christiaan Virant (who compiled the recent Sublime Frequencies CD "Radio Pyongyang") and Zhang Jian. The members say their device is a modified version of a popular Chinese gadget that intones Buddhist prayers; this new model is a weird, mesmerizing, beautifully useless thing. Available in the United States through forcedexposure.com. $23. KELEFA SANNEH
The somber-voiced country singer Johnny Cash was almost a mythological figure during his lifetime; two years after his death, his legend has assumed Mount Rushmore proportions. Yet, as the biopic "Walk the Line" asserts, the Cash mystique had as much to do with human fallibility as with faith and redemption. That might explain why the deluxe version of this set feels so formal, despite an abundance of snapshots, testimonials and scrapbook reproductions: it captures the legend better than the man. The musical selection on both editions is unassailable, although most of it has already been thoughtfully repackaged in recent years. Previously unreleased material - including, in the deluxe edition, an early radio broadcast and a DVD with highlights from a 1980 CBS special - reinforces Cash's workmanlike professionalism, which is no small thing. But for a more intimate portrayal, turn to the 2003 collection "Unearthed" (American Recordings), which undercuts its monumentalizing tendencies with a chilling mortal clarity. Columbia/Legacy. Five CD's, one DVD and a limited-edition coffee-table book. $199.98. (Also available as just four CD's. $39.98.) NATE CHINEN
The Complete Atlantic Recordings, 1952-1959
"I believe I done did some of everything, man, just about," Ray Charles tells Ahmet Ertegun in a formerly unreleased bit of studio dialogue from this set. Charles's pioneering 1950's recordings forged soul music from blues, jazz, country, gospel, pop and mambo. At Atlantic, the young Charles grew up fast, trading the suavity of Nat King Cole for something rawer and bluer, more cantankerous and more jubilant. He soaked up regional ideas from every place he visited; he touched down regularly in jazz and transformed any song he chose, finding sorrow and redemption. Unreleased material includes Charles toying with songs on solo piano - it's all he needs - and a low-fi DVD of a 1960 Newport Jazz Festival set that moves from swing-band elegance to full-tilt, house-rocking soul. Rhino. Seven CD's, one DVD. $149.98. JON PARELES
Children of Nuggets
Original Artyfacts From the Second Psychedelic Era, 1976-1995
Lenny Kaye's two-LP set, "Nuggets," collected mid-1960's one-hit wonders that were blasts of garage-rock on the verge of psychedelia. Released in 1972, it was activist rock criticism: a fuzz-toned counterattack against overblown 1970's rock. And it worked, stimulating both punk-rock and widespread 1960's revivalism. The revival once called the Paisley Underground - mingling garage-rock, folk-rock and power pop - fills this collection. It mixes long-running bands (Flamin' Groovies, the Fleshtones, the Posies, Teenage Fanclub) with side projects (XTC as the Dukes of Stratosphear) and obscurities. As on "Nuggets," the songs are terse and catchy, the equipment is vintage and distortion-happy, and the recording budgets sound minimal; girl trouble is still the perennial subject. The difference is a broad streak of self-consciousness, but it rarely takes the fun out of the songs. Rhino. Four CD's. $64.98. JON PARELES
Columbia Small Group Swing Sessions, 1953-62
It was the high period for jazz in New York, and a time when practically everyone who had ever played the music was still alive. Columbia Records was in a privileged position to record it, and around its bigger artists - Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis and so on - the producers John Hammond and George Avakian set up one session after another with other first-rate soloists of the swing era, from Ruby Braff to Buck Clayton to Illinois Jacquet, along with face-offs between Coleman Hawkins and Clark Terry, as well as Ben Webster and Sweets Edison. Twenty-two of these sessions are represented here, and many are sharply turned out, not particularly inspired evidence of the working life of jazz in the 50's. Some sessions stand out, though: a couple of Braff's, and the superb pairing of the gruff, feral Webster and the concise, gentle Edison. Available only from Mosaic: mosaicrecords.com or (203) 327-7111. Four CD's. $136. BEN RATLIFF
Try for the Sun
The Journey of Donovan
The much discussed (if less often heard) freak-folk revival has made indie rock stars of obscure old murmurers like Vashti Bunyan and Gary Higgins. A new boxed set attempts to share the spoils with a singularly un-obscure old murmurer: Donovan. Inside the purple velvety box (which also contains a brief documentary on DVD), you'll find a clue about the intended audience: there are tributes not only from Jimmy Page and Alice Cooper but also from indie rockers like James Mercer (of the Shins) and Devendra Banhart. And the three CD's include a well-pruned selection of Donovan's music, focusing on his marvelous late-60's run; only five of the songs here were recorded after 1973. Donovan was once caricatured as a symbol of 60's self-absorption run amok, but decades later his best hits (the grand "Sunshine Superman") and not-quite-hits (the mischievous "Clara Clairvoyant") make a gentle but unsettling noise: a mellow, mesmerizing collision between acute self-consciousness and its opposite. Sony BMG. Three CD's, one DVD. $49.98. KELEFA SANNEH
The Sentimental Gentleman of Swing: Centennial Collection
History remembers Tommy Dorsey more for the starchy professionalism of his orchestra than for the measured croon of his trombone playing, although the two things are more or less inextricable. This compilation takes aim at that small injustice, devoting the first of its three discs to Dorsey's sideman work with the likes of Paul Whiteman, Ethel Waters and the Boswell Sisters. The parade of early performances is often intriguing, but it inevitably pales next to the Dorsey Orchestra material that follows. The band sounds especially vital on the third disc, an assortment of radio air checks that benefits greatly from the sterling contribution of Frank Sinatra. (Legacy has also recently issued a strong two-disc compilation, "The Essential Frank Sinatra and Tommy Dorsey.") Another contributor, Elvis Presley, sits in with "Heartbreak Hotel" - the only inclusion from the 1950's, and a mismatch that closes the set on a note of mild embarrassment. Bluebird/Legacy. Three CD's. $39.98. NATE CHINEN
The Complete Village Vanguard Recordings, 1961
Two great albums were picked from the recordings of these five sets during one single afternoon-into-evening at the Vanguard - "Sunday at the Village Vanguard" and "Waltz for Debby." But if you've heard those, you will understand why you might want whatever else there might be, and in the order they really unfolded, to replicate that day. Bill Evans's chords, nearly all fascinating and unmoored by the expected root notes, motored along in muted drift. No single statement sounds complete; he's always gesturing ahead toward what's to come. His trio, with the bassist Scott LaFaro and the drummer Paul Motian, was operating at its peak: bass and drums working around and sometimes above the piano, not just beneath it; everyone melodically improvising. The set was released in Japan in 2003 and last year in Europe, but it's new to the American market. With the remastering, both the music - particularly Mr. Motian's cymbals - and the low crowd rumble are clearer. At one point there is a minute and 43 seconds of milling about. ("You want some ice in that?" "I'm gonna run out and go get something to eat." "I'll come with ya.") It's all of a piece. Fantasy. Three CD's. $29.98. BEN RATLIFF
Heaven Must Have Sent You
The Holland/Dozier/Holland Story
This is one of those sets that might help even knowledgeable listeners think about the music in a slightly different way. Many of the songs here are familiar, some hugely so: anyone with even a passing interest in soul music has probably memorized chestnuts like Freda Payne's "Band of Gold" and the Supremes' "Stop! In the Name of Love." But these three discs spotlight not the singers but the songwriters: Eddie Holland, his younger brother Brian, and their partner Lamont Dozier, who churned out an astonishing number of Motown classics (and sang a handful, too). The three had a knack for writing buoyant melodies that only hinted at melancholy and lyrics that emphasized a particular sort of heartache: not the feeling of love's absence but the feeling of its overabundance. Part of the fun of this set is hearing that spirit echoed in recordings by such a wide variety of performers, from Dusty Springfield to Michael Jackson to the Band. The only gripe is the liner notes, which trace the trio's biographies without ever explaining how, exactly, they did what they did. Hip-O/Universal. Three CD's. $39.98. KELEFA SANNEH
Jazz in Paris
Champs-Élysées/Montmartre/Saint-Germain-des-Prés/Rive Gauche, Rive Droite
Universal France has combed through its archives to lay out a selected history of a recorded jazz in France up to the early 1960's. Francophiles will be interested in the subject tout court - the music as well as the pictures and booklet commentary (in English and French) put some documentary truth behind the legends of an urbane, foreign Eden for jazz culture. The recordings go back to Josephine Baker, Jean Cocteau reading poetry over Dan Parrish's jazz orchestra in 1929, and Django Reinhardt, extending all the way up to the early 60's with the Algerian-born pianists Errol Parker and Martial Solal. But Americans abroad are more than equally represented: Benny Carter, Don Byas, Lucky Thompson, Miles Davis and Chet Baker among them, playing with the cream of the French musicians. Gitanes/Verve. Four boxed volumes of three CD's each. $30 per volume. BEN RATLIFF
After more than three decades, it's easy to imagine that we've experienced all of Billy Joel's moods and incarnations: Tin Pan Alley piano man, bridge-and-tunnel striver, muscular balladeer, headline historian, Broadway dance inspiration, classical dabbler. But a new sweetness emerges with "My Lives," four CD's and a DVD of clips from a 1994 Frankfurt show. Starting with youthful forays into folk, British Invasion pop and jazz-rock, the set mingles demos with the hits they later became, candidly exposing clunky scrapped lyrics that accompanied budding melodicism. Even if some covers showcase Mr. Joel's taste rather than his talents (Brian Wilson works well; Bob Dylan not so much), "My Lives" is sequenced for listeners, not archivists. A loose-limbed live version of the goofy tough-guy proclamation "I Go to Extremes" finds Mr. Joel at his least chameleonic. After Disc Four's vigorous live run through hits like "Goodnight Saigon" and "Movin' Out," you almost owe him a spin through the set's final classical numbers. Columbia. Four CD's, one DVD. 59.98. LAURA SINAGRA
100 Years of Jazz Guitar
Spanning a full century of recordings, this survey puts forth almost a century-long chronology of jazz guitar, and with it an appealingly skewed take on jazz history. Its principles are canonical, but anti-purist (a couple of Depression-era Hawaiian guitarists make the grade, as do Jimi Hendrix and Carlos Santana), and its process strictly egalitarian: each of the 78 guitarists included makes only one appearance, with a recording identified as somehow emblematic. This policy creates some strange imbalances, although there's a refreshing justice in John Scofield, one of the set's producers, receiving the same track allotment as, say, the obscure swing player Otto (Coco) Heimel. A glossy and informative booklet, with several solo transcriptions, underscores the package's target audience. One only hopes that not every guitarist who picks up the set will fall for the title's promise of linear evolution, a notion that the music undermines repeatedly. Columbia/Legacy. Four CD's. $49.98. NATE CHINEN
Most bands are happy to be recognized for one style and cling to it. Not Talking Heads, who changed radically for every album: from spindly bubblegum new wave ("77") through ominous multileveled funk ("Fear of Music") to countryish rock ("Little Creatures") and supple world-beat ("Naked"). As the songwriter David Byrne mellowed from quizzical, flinty outsider to jovial humanist, his band grew and shrank, the music darkened and lightened, and every phase - especially 1977-84 - yielded memorable songs. All eight Talking Heads studio albums are in this box, with outtakes that are often wilder than the cooler-headed, more deadpan versions chosen for posterity. The discs also include surround-sound DVD-audio remixes and rare video, for a body of work that makes arty younger bands sound timid, even without live material. Individual albums will be released separately in January; grab "Remain in Light" for its extended funk-Minimalist jams. Rhino. Eight Dualdisc CD/DVD's. $149.98. JON PARELES
Mosaic Select 20
In the 1970's, the trumpeter Charles Tolliver was a righteous force in New York straight-ahead jazz. He pushed his energy to sustain sets of long, wending tunes with his quartet, which didn't include another horn player. The music - created in tandem with the pianist Stanley Cowell - was based on middle-period Coltrane: dark, modal, hard-driving, springy. Mr. Tolliver released it on his own label, Strata-East, setting an early and effective example of self-reliance in the jazz business. This set collects three out-of-print albums from Strata-East from 1970 to 1973, recorded live at Slugs' in New York and at a concert hall in Tokyo, and they're hard bop with a vengeance. Available only from Mosaic: mosaicrecords.com or (203) 327-7111. Three CD's. $39. BEN RATLIFF
The 90's Pop & Culture Box
Wrapping this boxed set in coffee beans and calling it "Whatever" effectively conjures the 90's image of the knit-capped Northwestern cafe slacker. This seven-CD collection prefers the music of that milieu - the "alternative rock" of the decade's first half - over the hip-hop, alt-country, electronica, rap-rock and teen-pop that also provided the soundtrack for the span from Nirvana to Y2K. Unfortunately, grunge dominates, with Tad, Mudhoney and Screaming Trees crowding out hip-hop beyond novelties like "O.P.P." and "They Want EFX." Oddly, the Northwestern stalwarts Sleater-Kinney and Mudhoney are represented by second-rate songs, though the box does right by grunge knockoffs like Bush and Stone Temple Pilots. Thankfully, there are happy glimpses of postalternative quirkiness that briefly passed as mainstream pop, like the Cardigans' "Lovefool," Fountains of Wayne's "Radiation Vibe" and Len's "Steal My Sunshine." But this overview may not sound like the 90's to anyone who followed electronic music beyond the Sneaker Pimps, alt-country past Wilco or hip-hop deeper than "Whoomp! (There It Is)." Rhino. Seven CD's. $105.98. LAURA SINAGRA
A Quiet Revolution
30 Years of Windham Hill
The biggest shock in this four-disc tribute to the world's most unshocking record company comes at the beginning of the liner notes, when the radio producer and host John Diliberto slyly compares the story of Windham Hill to the story of something else born in the 1970's: punk rock. It's true that there is something radical about the success of Windham Hill, the California label that became synonymous with New Age music. (It's a term the pianist Will Ackerman, the label's founder, strongly dislikes.) The label embraced music that was smooth and sentimental and unobtrusive and often vocal-free, ranging from the piano fantasias of George Winston to the Celtic folk-pop of Nightnoise. Much of this music is - now's the time to say it - more boring than silence, despite the presence of a few ringers, like Cesaria Evora. But this set should please not only New Age fans but also cultural anthropologists eager for an underexamined example of how to create - and satisfy - an unlikely musical market. Windham Hill/Sony BMG. Four CD's. $49.98. KELEFA SANNEH