A review of key musical box sets

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Posted: Nov 25, 2014 12:43 PM
A review of key musical box sets

A collection of box sets reviewed by The Associated Press:

Bob Dylan & The Band, "The Basement Tapes Complete — The Bootleg Series Vol. 11" (Columbia)

NEW OLD DYLAN: "Complete" is right. This six-CD package of 138 tracks claims to include everything worth hearing from Bob Dylan's 1967 sessions with the Band. A few songs last less than a minute, many are offered in multiple renditions, and audio quality is poor at times, making "Complete" mostly for completists. But when it comes to Dylan, there are plenty of those, and they've been waiting nearly 50 years for this set.

BACK-PORCH MUSIC: These casual but intense sessions produced inimitable performances from the most imitated singer in rock history. They're the sound of an artist looking back to move forward as Dylan reinvents and recharges himself by exploring the American songbook with his backing group, which had not yet become the Band. Dylan sings ancient ballads, folk standards, 12-bar blues, drinking songs, sea chanteys, early rock 'n' roll and novelty tunes. He also tests out a handful of his own new compositions, including "I Shall Be Released," ''Quinn the Eskimo" and "You Ain't Going Nowhere."

REMASTERED: The original 1975 "Basement Tapes" release featured only 16 songs from these sessions, plus eight that had been recently recorded by the Band. The sound here is much improved, with a broader stereo stage and more clarity for individual instruments, but there's still some muddiness and distortion.

THE SONGS GET SHORT SHRIFT: The packaging is handsome, but only two pages are devoted to listing the songs, with virtually no historical information about them. They deserve better. Also absent are any details regarding who plays what on which cut, or specific recording dates. That's inexcusable for a package touting itself as definitive.

WHAT IT WILL SET YOU BACK: $120

— Steve Wine, AP Writer

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Bruce Springsteen, "The Album Collection Vol. 1, 1973-1984" (Columbia)

WHO'S IT GEARED FOR: Perfect for fans of The Boss looking for the finest quality recordings of his first seven records. Five of the seven had never been remastered until now, providing a fresher listening experience.

MUSICAL HIGHLIGHTS: Besides the improved sound quality, this collection shows Springsteen's evolution from his early lyrical prowess to his ability to tackle more serious social themes. The set includes his breakout "Born to Run" album, the career-turning "Darkness on the Edge of Town," and the commercially chart-topper, "Born in the U.S.A."

THE ADD ON WE DIDN'T NEED: Don't expect more than the remastered albums.

THE EXTRAS THAT MAKE IT WORTH IT: This box set comes with a 60-page booklet of rare photographs, press clippings, and other memorabilia. Be warned it's a little small, so perfect peepers, or reading glasses may be necessary to fully appreciate it. It also is available in vinyl, and as a download.

WHAT IT WILL SET YOU BACK: The Audio CD box set runs around $75, while the vinyl collection and MP3s are around $200 and $50, respectively.

— John Carucci, AP Writer

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David Bowie, "Nothing Has Changed" (Columbia)

WHO IT'S GEARED FOR: Those who've worn out their copy of the "Changes" compilation and are mildly curious about what David Bowie's been up to since "Let's Dance."

MUSICAL HIGHLIGHTS: A three-CD career retrospective in reverse chronological order, starting with a new song, "Sue (Or in a Season of Crime)." Pick your favorite era.

THE ADD ON WE DIDN'T NEED: The edited, single version of "Heroes." Really? You couldn't spare two and a half minutes to let the majesty of this song unfold?

THE EXTRAS THAT WILL MAKE IT WORTH IT: Going back — way back — to 1964 and the single "Liza Jane" by Davie Jones & the King Bees.

WHAT IT WILL SET YOU BACK: $39.98.

— David Bauder, AP Entertainment Writer__

Joni Mitchell, "Love Has Many Faces: A Quartet, A Ballet, Waiting to be Danced" (Rhino)

WHO IT'S GEARED FOR: Hopeless romantics.

MUSICAL HIGHLIGHTS: Mitchell tried, and failed, to put together a one-disc package of love songs. So she created this work, which the cinematic songwriter views as a four-act play. It sets her music out thematically, jumping through the decades, bringing ideas and characters together. Instead of greatest hits, you get her catalogue reimagined by the artist herself.

THE ADD ON WE DIDN'T NEED: All 53 cuts were previously released, so there's no 13th take of a hit or leftovers pulled from the trash bin.

THE EXTRAS THAT MAKE IT WORTH IT: Mitchell's accompanying essay, rich in name-dropping anecdotes, that superbly explains her vision for the set and her iconoclastic artistry as a whole.

WHAT IT WILL SET YOU BACK: $59.98.

— David Bauder, AP Entertainment Writer

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Sleater-Kinney, "Start Together" (Sub Pop)

RIOT GRRRLS REMEMBERED: As an introduction to the Olympia, Washington trio, this limited-edition colored vinyl set is a bit overwhelming — included are all seven of their albums, released from 1995 to 2005. The remastered records are also available individually on CD and black vinyl. But any newcomer to the group who buys one of the albums will likely want more, so this set might be worth the splurge.

HIGH FIDELITY: The discs look great and sound the same. Analog adds warmth to Corin Tucker's banshee vocals and to bass-less arrangements that leave plenty of space for Janet Weiss' drums and the guitar interplay between Tucker and Carrie Brownstein. For those who also want digital renditions, a coupon for downloading is included.

THIS BOX ROCKS: Perhaps the best rock band of its era, Sleater-Kinney combined the edgy thrum of Sonic Youth, the raw passion of the Sex Pistols and the overcast angst of Nirvana. This set shows how the group evolved while maintaining a remarkably consistent level of quality from album to album.

BIGGEST QUIBBLE: The packaging reinforces the LP's reputation as a shelf space-eater. A handsome photo book is included, but the box is enormous — 2½ inches deep — and the black-and-white cover is as dull as the weather in "Portlandia."

WHAT IT WILL SET YOU BACK: $125.

— Steven Wine, AP Writer

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Elvis Presley, "That's the Way It Is (Deluxe Edition," (Sony Music)

WHICH ELVIS? This eight-CD, two-DVD set is neither the thin Elvis of the "Sun Sessions" or the bloated king of his sad final years. This is Elvis at the peak of his powers: self-confident, amused by his impact on fans, completely in command of the music. And he looks fabulous in a jeweled white jumpsuit.

THE SINGLE THAT NEVER AGES: This set features seven different concert CDs that open with Elvis' sexy single, "That's All Right." Turns out those are just the appetizers — actually seeing him rip through this number on the concert DVD is a treat.

ROCK AND ROLL, DEFINED: The "Mystery Train/Tiger Man" combination that opens the first DVD.

A SURPRISE: On the rehearsal CD, Elvis sings a mean "Alla en el Rancho Grande" in credible Spanish, even trilling his "r'' like a pro.

A SURPRISING STINKER: The man who could sing just about everything makes a mess of Paul McCartney's "Yesterday" on the rehearsals disc. Much better is a casual but inspired medley that finds Elvis and his band switching between a nasty "Little Sister" and a very bluesy version of the Beatles' "Get Back."

UNSUNG HERO: James Burton on lead guitar. Just listen.

WHAT IT WILL SET YOU BACK: $180.

— Gregory Katz, AP Writer

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Grateful Dead, "Spring 1990 (The Other One)" (Rhino)

WHO'S IT GEARED FOR: This is strictly for die-hard Deadhead completists, particularly those who were deep into the band during this period shortly before Jerry Garcia died in 1995, and fans who missed out on the first box set of 1990 shows released last year that quickly sold out and now go for big bucks on eBay.

MUSICAL HIGHLIGHTS: The March 29, 1990 show featuring Branford Marsalis sitting in from the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York, is the standout show among the eight concerts spread out over 23 discs. Luckily for more casual fans who don't want to fork over the big bucks for the entire box set, they can also buy this show separately, and it's well-worth checking out.

THE ADD ON WE DIDN'T NEED: Three art prints that will likely remain tucked away, unseen and not on display, deep inside the box.

THE EXTRAS THAT MAKE IT WORTH IT: The 44-page paperback book with essays by Nicholas G. Meriwether and Blair Jackson does a wonderful job of putting this era of the Dead's long career into perspective, the good and the bad, and helps recreate the period for anyone who missed it.

WHAT IT WILL SET YOU BACK: $239.98

— Scott Bauer, AP Writer

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Wilco, "Alpha Mike Foxtrot: Rare Tracks 1994-2014" (Nonesuch Records)

WHO'S IT GEARED FOR: While hardcore Wilco devotees will salivate, rightly, over the 77 rare tracks culled together in one place, there's enough familiar and high-quality material here to satisfy more casual listeners who won't be able to tell, or care necessarily, that they're listening to hard-to-find songs.

MUSICAL HIGHLIGHTS: The punk-band live version of the usually languid "Passenger Side" is a curiosity, while other live tracks featuring guests such as Feist, Fleet Foxes, and Roger McGuinn are standouts. Alternate cuts to some of the band's best-known songs also provide a glimpse into what may have been. Even without any previously unreleased tracks, the set deftly touches on every part of Wilco's 20-year career to provide a worthy complement to the band's albums.

THE ADD ON WE DIDN'T NEED: There are none. This is an economical, compact box set.

THE EXTRAS THAT MAKE IT WORTH IT: Jeff Tweedy's comments on the songs, peppered throughout the richly illustrated 63-page book, show rare candor and honesty, particularly when singling out songs either he or others in the band disliked. Essays from other band members and those close to Wilco also offer meaningful perspectives.

WHAT IT WILL SET YOU BACK: $32

— Scott Bauer, AP Writer

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Metallica "By Request" (Metallica.com)

WHO'S IT GEARED FOR? Anyone who ever wondered what it would be like to follow their favorite band from city to city. This box set contains every concert Metallica played this year — 27 in all. The best box sets give the fans something extra; this one gives them everything — virtually every note. By definition, all future box sets will be inadequate by comparison.

MUSICAL HIGHLIGHTS: All but two of these concerts let fans vote on the songs the band would play, and each show has a different set list; this is metal as heavy as it gets. The audiences are a featured performer on all these shows: At the Glastonbury Festival concert, the English fans yell "Hoo_RAH!" as one, super-loud voice. During breaks between songs in the Latin American shows, crowds sing their national soccer anthems. And the band invites fans onstage to introduce songs for which they voted.

THE EXTRAS THAT MAKE IT WORTH IT: None, just music: 2 ½ solid days of it. There's plenty of between-songs noodling by drummer Lars Ulrich and bassist Robert Trujillo, and guitarist-singer James Hetfield adds growls and grunts to almost every song he sings, ordering the crowd to shout out lyrics on songs including "Creeping Death," ''Seek And Destroy" and their biggest hit "Enter Sandman." He even good-naturedly berates audiences who aren't voting for a particular song he wants to play that night.

WHAT IT WILL SET YOU BACK: $417 (or $15.44 per concert).

—Wayne Parry, AP writer

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Henry Mancini, "The Classic Soundtrack Collection" (Legacy Recordings)

WHO'S IT GEARED FOR: Film soundtrack aficionados who previously had to rely on pricey European imports to fill out their Mancini collections, fans of Audrey Hepburn and Julie Andrews, aging boomers looking for seductive mood music for '60s-style bachelor pads.

MUSICAL HIGHLIGHTS: This nine-CD collection of 18 Mancini soundtracks from 1960-1973 includes some of the most beloved and enduring movie themes: "Moon River," ''The Pink Panther Theme," ''Moon River," ''Charade," ''Two for the Road," and the whimsical "Baby Elephant Walk." Mancini's lesser-known soundtracks showcase his versatility, including the Sicilian folk music of "What Did You Do In the War Daddy?" and the darkly menacing "Experiment In Terror," with the brooding ballad "Nancy" performed by jazz pianist Jimmy Rowles.

THE ADD ON WE DIDN'T NEED: The forgettable soundtrack to the forgettable 1973 movie "Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe?"

THE EXTRAS THAT MAKE IT WORTH IT: The 17 bonus tracks include a previously unreleased recording of Julie Andrews singing "Nothing to Lose" from the Peter Sellers comedy "The Party" and Lola Albright performing the wistful ballad "Dreamsville" from the TV series "Peter Gunn."

WHAT IT WILL SET YOU BACK: $90.

— Charles J. Gans, AP Writer

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Various Artists, "Blue Note: Uncompromising Expression" (Blue Note)

WHO'S IT GEARED FOR: This five-CD collection of Blue Note singles offers jazz newcomers a concise overview of the evolution of jazz styles over the past 75 years from boogie-woogie pianist Meade "Lux" Lewis to pianist Robert Glasper with his hip-hop, R&B and jazz fusion. There's also a companion hardcover book separately available marking the 75th anniversary of one of the most influential labels in jazz history.

MUSICAL HIGHLIGHTS: The collection includes many jazz classics, including pianist Thelonious Monk's "Straight No Chaser," pianist Horace Silver's "The Preacher," Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers' "Moanin'," trumpeter Lee Morgan's "The Sidewinder" and pianist Herbie Hancock's "Watermelon Man."

THE ADD ON WE DIDN'T NEED: Jazz-rap group Us3's "Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia)," as if Herbie Hancock's original "Cantaloupe Island" wasn't funky enough; Marlena Shaw's disco-like "It's Better Than Walkin' Out" from the mid-'70s when the label almost went under as it strayed from jazz to more commercial recordings.

THE EXTRAS THAT MAKE IT WORTH IT: Singles by organist Jimmy Smith, saxophonists Lou Donaldson, Hank Mobley and Dexter Gordon, guitarist Kenny Burrell and Grant Green, and trumpeter Dizzy Reece from 1953-65 when Blue Note was the place for hard-bop and soul jazz.

WHAT IT WILL SET YOU BACK: $70.

— Charles J. Gans, AP Writer

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Queen, "Live At The Rainbow '74" (Hollywood)

WHO'S IT GEARED FOR? Fans of one of the greatest rock bands of all time, tired of hearing or watching crappy, incomplete bootleg versions of these shows that have circulated over the years. In less than one year, Queen brought two different tours to London's famous Rainbow Theatre with their "Queen II" and "Sheer Heart Attack" albums, a fascinating transition from their first three harder rock albums to the more melodic and operatic songs that would become rock and pop classics.

MUSICAL HIGHLIGHTS: Soaring, dramatic vocals from Freddie Mercury, the most dynamic, dramatic singer ever to grab a microphone stand in anger. The heavy metal crunch of "Ogre Battle," ''Stone Cold Crazy," ''Son and Daughter," and "Liar" can all make eardrums bleed, yet the unexpected live goodies like the "Killer Queen" medley, "Bring Back That Leroy Brown," ''Big Spender," and "Jailhouse Rock" are true unreleased nuggets.

THE EXTRAS THAT MAKE IT WORTH IT: the deluxe version includes CDs of two full 1974 Rainbow shows, from March and November; the DVD has the full November show and four tracks from the March one; there are also souvenir reproductions of pin-on buttons sold at the shows, tickets that guitarist Brian May's parents used to enter the show; a backstage pass sticker; a 60-page hardcover photo book; a concert poster for the March show and a reproduction of the eight-page concert booklet; reviews of the shows from British press.

WHAT IT WILL SET YOU BACK: $80 (super deluxe version)

—Wayne Parry, AP Writer

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Led Zeppelin, "Led Zeppelin, Led Zeppelin II, Led Zeppelin III, Led Zeppelin IV, Houses of the Holy" (Atlantic/Swan Song)

WHO'S IT GEARED FOR: Each of Led Zeppelin's first five records are available in various formats to please all levels of the seminal rock band's fans. For the most casual, they can simply purchase the original release as remastered by Zep's lead guitarist Jimmy Page. More dedicated listeners can go for the two-disc expanded versions, which include outtakes, alternative takes and live versions. The most die-hard will one to fork over for the super deluxe, which includes both the CD and vinyl expanded versions, digital downloads, and a hardcover 70-plus page book of photos and other archive material.

MUSICAL HIGHLIGHTS: Come on, it's Zeppelin. Where do you start? "Whole Lotta Love," ''Rock and Roll," Stairway to Heaven," ''Dazed and Confused" and "The Song Remains the Same" are just some of the tunes included on these albums that form the backbone of 1970s rock and are essential for any music fan. The companion audio to "Led Zeppelin," featuring eight songs from a 1969 concert in Paris, is particularly stirring.

THE ADD ON WE DIDN'T NEED: The print of the original album cover, included in the super deluxe editions, may be suitable for framing by some, but for most it will just sit unseen tucked inside the box.

THE EXTRAS THAT MAKE IT WORTH IT: The hardcover books that come in the box sets include a treasure trove of Zeppelin photos, copies of newspaper articles, and other vintage 1970s material, but they are oddly devoid of any liner notes, a major miss for otherwise musically extraordinary box sets.

WHAT IT WILL SET YOU BACK: The deluxe box sets range from $104 to $140 each, but the CD versions of the records only sell for $9 while the double-disc versions, with the outtakes and other previously unreleased tracks, come in around $15.

— Scott Bauer, AP Writer

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R.E.M., "REMTV" (Warner Music Group & Rhino Records)

BUY IT IF: You're an absolute R.E.M. fanatic who has always admired their visual aesthetic as much as their music. And you've forgotten Michael Stipe once had a glorious mop of hair.

FORGET IT IF: You're all about the music. This is nearly 15 hours of video on six DVDs. It won't play on your iPod.

MUSICAL HIGHLIGHTS: The band's triumphant MTV Unplugged performance in 1991 at Chelsea Studios, and their haunting rendition of "Man on the Moon" at their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction in 2007.

THE EXTRA WE DIDN'T NEED: Outtakes from various MTV interviews over the years. No, they didn't break up at 12:01 a.m. on January 1, 2000. Get over it.

THE EXTRAS THAT MAKE IT WORTH IT: Who are we kidding? It's all extras. For super fans only.

HOW MUCH IT WILL SET YOU BACK: $99.99 is the list price, but it's already discounted to $75 on Amazon.

— Rob Merrill, AP Writer