This year figures to go down as a memorable one for box sets and other special releases. Several landmark albums have been re-issued with lots of worthy additional music, Bob Dylan’s vault got raided once again, and some all-time great acts were celebrated with new retrospectives. There is no shortage of hip gift choices this season. Here are my favorites.
Abbey Road, The Beatles
Abbey Road marked the end of the line for the Beatles and my vote for rock’s greatest group went out in style with an album that showcased both exceptional songs– “Come Together”, “Here Comes The Sun”, “Something”, and “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” to name a few– and the wide range of musical styles the group had mastered. This 3-CD deluxe reissue supplements the original with two discs of outtakes that have some contrasts to the album versions and finds the Beatles sounding more harmonious than at any time since Sgt. Pepper’s.
Dead Man’s Pop, The Replacements
This is the Replacements’ Don’t Tell A Soul album as it was originally intended by the band. Gone is the radio-ready mix that was done in 1989 in hopes it would turn the album into a hit. Instead, this box set debuts a remix by Matt Wallace, the producer of Don’t Tell A Soul, that restores the natural sound of the band and turns an album that featured some of frontman Paul Westerberg’s best songwriting into the masterpiece it should have been. This set raises the stakes with a disc of outtakes and a full concert from 1989 that finds the Replacements mostly on point while retaining their rebellious spirit.
1999 Super Deluxe Edition, Prince
I’ve always felt Prince hit his peak with this 1982 double album. This great box set does nothing to diminish that notion. It adds a disc of b-sides and remixes, 23 unreleased songs, alternate versions of some 1999 tracks, a concert from Detroit on CD, and a Houston concert on DVD– both from the 1999 tour. The unreleased songs are the biggest curiosity, and they reaffirm how prolific and creative Prince was during this period. They’re almost all entertaining, and some– like the bouncy romp, “You’re All I Want”, the perky “Turn It Up”, the funk-laced rock of “Money Don’t Grow On Trees”, the reggae-ish “If It’ll Make U Happy”, and the splashy piano/synth-centric jam “Bold Generation”– are among the keepers that suggest 1999 could have easily been a three-album set.
Travelin’ Thru, 1967-1969 The Bootleg Series Vol. 15, Bob Dylan
The latest collection from Dylan’s vaults focuses on his post-Blonde On Blonde return to his folk and country roots. Outtakes from John Wesley Harding and Nashville Skyline are included, but the highlight is two discs of unreleased collaborations between Dylan and Johnny Cash. The pair doesn’t take things– or themselves– too seriously here. Still, they deliver some fine performances of classic covers and Cash originals. Travelin’ Thru is rounded out by four tracks Dylan recorded with bluegrass legend Earl Scruggs for a PBS special and three more Dylan performed on Cash’s television show.
Welcome to the Vault, Steve Miller Band
The first in a promised series of releases, this 3-CD/DVD set is packed with choice outtakes, including alternate versions of such hits as “Rock’n Me” (a frisky & fast take and a slowed-down version), a grittier “Swingtown” and “Jet Airliner” (stripped back with different guitar solos), great live performances, and tracks showing Miller’s love and mastery of the blues. Judging by this terrific first installment, Miller’s “Vault” series will mine plenty more musical gold.
Rock ‘n’ Roll Rebel, Little Steven Van Zandt
This comprehensive set includes all five of Van Zandt’s 1980s/early ‘90s solo albums plus 51 unreleased outtakes that mostly come from Men Without Women and Voice of America. A highlight is a 1977 rehearsal with Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes (Van Zandt wrote songs and produced for the band) that includes several release-worthy songs that never appeared on a Southside album.
Country Music: A Film By Ken Burns- The Soundtrack, Various Artists
The five-disc soundtrack to Burns’ documentary covers lots of ground– formative early songs, key songs from the biggest names of the 1950s & 1960s and the new traditionalists of the 1980s. It’s a great summation of country’s development and an entertaining listen as well.
Ann Arbor Blues Festival 1969 Vols. 1 & 2, Various Artists
The summer of 1969 will always be synonymous with Woodstock. But this 2-CD set suggests the far smaller Ann Arbor Blues Festival was plenty historic in its own right! Bringing together a who’s who of the blues world, the recordings are from field tapes, but the sound is mostly clear and very listenable. These two CDs provide a good sampling of the proceedings but leave you wanting to hear much more.
Glenn Campbell- The Legacy (1961-2017)
This excellent 4-CD survey of a long and highly successful career includes Campbell’s hits as well as worthy album cuts and tunes he cut before succumbing to Alzheimer’s Disease in 2017.
Blues, Rory Gallagher
This 3-CD set, made up almost entirely of unreleased live performances and alternate studio takes, is a treat for fans of this under-appreciated blues rocker– and a good introduction for those who have yet to hear his work.
Arthur or The Decline and Fall of the British Empire, The Kinks
This 2-CD reissue of the Kinks’ underrated album features a few bonus tracks and songs recorded for a shelved first solo album from Dave Davies, bandmate and brother of Kinks frontman Ray Davies. The songs were agreeable enough to have deserved a release back in 1969.
HONK, The Rolling Stones
This hits collection does a fine job collecting 36 of the Stones’ best songs from 1971 through 2016. A third disc featuring 10 live performances from recent tours–including collaborations with Florence Welch (“Wild Horses”), Ed Sheeran (“Beast of Burden”), and Brad Paisley (“Dead Flowers”)– is a nice bonus.
The Best of Everything, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
This 2-CD set presents 38 hits and prime album cuts from across Petty’s career. His catalog, though, was deep and good enough to merit a more expansive version.
40: The Best 0f 1979-2019, Simple Minds
Still alive and kicking, this 3-CD set is a fine summation of this popular band’s first 40 years of music.
Souvenir, Orchestral Maneuvers In The Dark
This fine 5-disc set starts with hits and outtakes from the pioneering synth-pop group then adds a full disc of demos and live shows from 1983 and 2011.
The Collection, Roger C. Reale & Rue Morgue
Reale is hardly a household name, but noted guitarists Mick Ronson and G.E. Smith both passed through his band. The real stars on this 24-track CD, though, are the songs which mixed punk, early rock n’ roll, and pop. This is your chance to discover one of the best lost bands of the late ’70s.