Earlier this week I featured my favorite new CD discoveries. Today, I turn to my favorite boxed sets from 2014 in a range of genres—from country and jazz to rock and folk—for those still looking for a gift idea...
Ronnie Milsap: The RCA Albums Collection (Sony). I prefer my Nashville country straight up. Because I'm a romantic, I veer toward the classic. A big deep masculine voice or powerful female voice singing about passing through, moving on, dirty little secrets, feverish love, cheating hearts and misery. On the male side, one of my favorite country artists is Ronnie Milsap, probably the most popular country singers of the 1970s and '80s. Blind since childhood, Milsap sounds like small towns, long roads and diner cash registers. The winner of six Grammy Awards, he has had 40 #1 country singles, and this 21-CD boxed set features Milsap's RCA albums between 1973 and 2006. If you have a long drive, just set it on the seat next to you and roll. It's all great.
Bob Dylan and The Band: The Basement Tapes Complete (Sony). This set marks Vol. 11 of Sony's Bob Dylan "Bootleg Series" and features Dylan's at-home recordings with the Band. Newly electrified in 1967, Dylan retreated to a house near Woodstock, N.Y., and with the four-member Band he transformed folk into bluesy alternative country. At first, the quintet recorded in the house's Red Room upstairs but soon moved to the home's garage downstairs. The wistful, barefoot music blooms like a rose here, and Dylan's voice sounds fresh, vibrant and relaxed. A remarkable six-CD set that forces you to kick back and think. Which is what the this music was all about. In addition to the deluxe edition, there's an abreivated two-CD version here.
The Complete Dial Modern Jazz Sessions (Mosaic). This new nine-CD box unites all of Ross Russell's jazz sessions for his Dial label in Los Angeles between June 1945 and November 1948. The 185 tracks include critical studio dates with Charlie Parker, Howard McGhee, Miles Davis, Sonny Berman, Dexter Gordon, Wardell Gray, Erroll Garner, Earl Coleman, Fats Navarro and Dodo Marmarosa. While you may have some or many of these recordings on other collections, the material here has been brilliantly remastered and features a 32-page booklet of liner notes with a lengthy essay by Russell himself from 1995, before he died in 2000. Best of all, the set tells a fascianting story when heard chronologically. The music changes before your ears. Sample tracks at the Mosaic site linked above.
Tears for Fears: Songs From the Big Chair, Super Deluxe Edition (Island). This new-wave album was a Brit-pop game-changer when it came out in 1985. The album's big beats, rock guitar licks and synth layering introdcued a new cool, sophisticated energy that set Tears for Fears apart from many of the other U.K. groups. The MTV era had already begun four years earlier, and this song's video featured planes, cars, dune buggies, motorcylces and Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith singing in the studio. The album produced four big hits—Shout, Everybody Wants to Rule the World, Mothers Talk and Head Over Heels. On the new release are alternate takes and extra tracks. Still sounds great.
Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons: The Classic Albums and Frankie Valli: Selected Solo Works (Rhino). The Asphalt Beach Boys, in all their glory. The pre-Beatles band's 18 albums in the first box depict a post doo-wop era, when soul and pop-rock became big business. As a sidenote, one of the best concerts I saw this year was Frankie Valli singing for two hours in crisp falsetto, covering all of this hits with three male backup singers and a sizable band. If you're from New York, few bands can transport you back to a time when small speakers, cheap turntables and sharkskin suits ruled. As for the second box wtih eight solo albums by Valli, it includes Frankie Valli Solo (with Can't Take My Eyes Off You), CloseUp (with Swearin' to God), Our Day Will Come and Frankie Valli Is the Word. Forever summer!
Other superb boxes and sets released this year...
- Joni Mitchell: Love Has Many Faces: A Quartet, A Ballet, Waiting To Be Danced (Rhino)
- Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young: CSNY 1974 (Rhino)
- Bruce Springsteen: The Album Collection Vol. 1 (Sony)
- Simon and Garfunkel: The Complete Album Collection (Sony)
- This Is Gary McFarland: A Jazz Legend Who Should Have Been a Pop Star (Century 67)
- Henry Mancini: The Classic Soundtrack Collection (Sony)
- The Rosemary Clooney CBS Radio Recordings 1955-61 (Mosaic)
- The Allman Brothers: The 1971 Fillmore East Recordings (Mercury)
- The Velvet Underground: 45th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition (Universal)
- Led Zeppelin II Deluxe (Atlantic)
- Wings at the Speed of Sound Deluxe (Hear Music)