A definitive breakdown of the top 10 CD box sets of 2010.
Thursday, December 23, 2010
In an era where digitally downloaded music is king, box sets continue to be released and attract music lovers of all kinds. There’s something about a collection of sometimes more than 50 albums and collectible extras, all in one neat package, that’s much more satisfying than a virtual copy. Here’s a look at the best artifacts of ’10:
Matador at 21 ($40)
Over the past 21 years, the New York City-based outfit has been home to hundreds of eclectic bands, asserting itself as one of the most successful indie record labels on the planet’s playlist. This 100-song compilation is like a guided tour of the best of the quarter century, including a disc of unreleased and live tracks from Matador’s 10-year birthday concert.
Cool Extra: A set of commemorative Matador poker chips.
Standouts: “Good Woman,” Cat Power (live); “Slack Mother****er,” Superchunk.
Bruce Springsteen: The Promise: The Darkness on the Edge of Town Story ($115)
“Darkness [on the Edge of Town Story] was my samurai record,” Springsteen once wrote, “stripped to the frame and ready to rumble.” These three CDs contain a catalog of songs left off the album that are too good to be lost forever. The set also includes three DVDs of live shows and a documentary on the making of the landmark album.
Cool Extra: An 80-page reproduction of the Boss’s original notebooks he kept during the recording sessions.
Standouts: “Because the Night,” “Spanish Eyes.”
Bob Dylan: The Original Mono Recordings ($120)
Dylan’s first eight studio albums – from 1962-1968 – are now available in mono for the first time on CD. Each disc is housed in LP-replica jackets with reproductions of the original sleeves and inserts, from Blonde on Blonde to John Wesley Harding. A great introduction to the most important singer-songwriter of his generation and a great addition to a Dylan fanatic’s collection.
Cool Extra: Some 60 pages of in-depth liner notes from notable historians.
Standouts: “Isis,” “Hard Times in New York Town.”
Miles Davis: The Complete Columbia Album Collection ($300)
This 52-album collection, on 70 CDs, is a bargain at 300 bones and proof that the prolific trumpeter was always one step ahead of everyone in the music world and never sounded the same. From bebop to jazz-rock, Davis was constantly pushing the limits of the genre.
Cool Extra: Live in Europe ’67 DVD
Standouts: The Complete On the Corner Sessions, Kind of Blue: The Expanded Edition.
The White Stripes: Under Great White Northern Lights (Limited Edition Box Set) ($229)
This monster compilation of CDs, DVDs, vinyl, 45s and 7-inches is probably the most intimate look into the lives of the highly elusive boy-girl duo, tracking their 2007 Canadian tour, and is a must for diehard White Stripes fans.
Cool Extra: A 208-page hardcover book of photographs by Autumn de Wilde.
Standouts: “Jolene,” “Black Math.”
Hank Williams: The Complete Mother’s Best Recordings ($199)
This 15-CD collection showcases one of country’s most influential singer-songwriters with completely restored sound on unreleased recordings and live performances. Also included: A DVD featuring an interview with the last two members of Hank’s Mother’s Best Band.
Cool Extra: The set comes housed in a wooden replica of an old-time jukebox.
Standouts: “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” “On Top of Old Smoky.”
Jimi Hendrix: West Coast Seattle Boy: The Jimi Hendrix Anthology ($67)
My favorite of these four CDs is the first: It features Hendrix’s early years, as a sideman in bands like The Isley Brothers and Little Richard. You can hear the beginnings of the guitar god’s future. Plus, there’s a lot of unreleased material and intimate acoustic work that show just how good Hendrix was.
Cool Extra: A 90-minute documentary, Jimi Hendrix: Voodoo Child.
Standouts: Dylan’s “Tears of Rage,” “Long Hot Summer Night” (solo acoustic).
Leonard Bernstein: Bernstein Symphony Edition ($142)
This 60-CD behemoth features one of the most charismatic conductors of all time and his work with the New York Philharmonic from 1953-1976 and includes classical music for every season and occasion.
Cool Extra: Thirty-two pages of essays by classical music writers Klaus Geitel and Wolfgang Stähr.
Standouts: Beethoven’s symphonies 1-9, Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms.
John Lennon: Signature Box ($198)
These 11 CDs deliver digitally remastered versions of all Lennon’s studio albums plus a 2-CD collection of rarities called Lennon Home Demos. Signature is a testament to Lennon’s artistry and the genius he embodied post-Beatles.
Cool Extra: Three personal essays to John from Yoko Ono and Sean and Julian Lennon.
Standouts: “Isolation” (studio outtake), “God” (studio outtake).
Syl Johnson: Complete Mythology ($55)
The Tennessee-born bluesman has enjoyed a career spanning more than half a century thanks to throaty vocals that grip your soul like a vise. This journey through Johnson’s career comes with four CDs, six vinyls and includes 10 previously unreleased tracks.
Cool Extra: A 52-page booklet featuring a plethora of previously unpublished photos.
Standouts: “Come Sock it to Me,” “One Way Ticket to Nowhere.”