Binge­ing on boxes

Look up a box set for a loved one or your­self this hol­i­day sea­son. Here are some picks from lo­cal record shops.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - MUSIC - Com­piled by DARYL GOH and N. RAmA LO­HAN en­ter­tain­ment@thes­tar.com.my

THERE is noth­ing like a fab­u­lous box set (or two) un­der the Christ­mas tree for mu­sic fans. And that leads us to the ques­tion of what’s avail­able at lo­cal record stores.

We agree that most record stores here have been neg­li­gi­ble. Only a hand­ful are worth vis­it­ing th­ese days in the Klang Val­ley, but nuggets ex­ist, too, if you look hard enough.

For the Christ­mas sea­son, there has been a serv­ing of sump­tu­ous box sets – ex­panded and deluxe edi­tions – to stir up some ex­cite­ment. Of course, there is no repli­cat­ing the tan­gi­ble and tac­tile sen­sa­tion of run­ning your fin­gers over a lav­ish card­board box and shiny pieces of plas­tic.

The top of the tree pick would be the stylish Verve: The Sound Of Amer­ica: The Sin­gles

Col­lec­tion (Uni­ver­sal Mu­sic) five-CD box set, which re­traces the il­lus­tri­ous story of the leg­endary jazz la­bel through 100 cru­cial sin­gles from its cat­a­logue (and more) dat­ing back to the late 1940s. The la­bel’s logo on this lift-top box is all you need to guar­an­tee qual­ity.

You get the jazz favourites in spades since Verve’s early years were driven by founder/ jazz im­pre­sario Nor­man Granz’s vi­sion to el­e­vate jazz as a so­phis­ti­cated art. The way Granz nur­tured jazz queen Ella Fitzger­ald’s ca­reer has also be­come the stuff of leg­end.

Apart from Fitzger­ald’s strong pres­ence, this box set also col­lects clas­sics from Louis Arm­strong, Stan Getz, Char­lie Parker, Dizzy Gille­spie, Jimmy Smith and many more. Thank­fully, the com­pil­ers were smart enough and kept to Verve’s golden age record­ings. No An­drea Bo­celli in sight!

If the in­for­ma­tive liner notes aren’t enough, then you can also track down the hefty book Verve: The Sound of Amer­ica by Richard Havers, which makes a nifty com­pan­ion to this re­lease.

The Ry Cooder 1970-1987: Al­bum Box Set (Warner Mu­sic) has been a long time com­ing. Eas­ily one of Amer­ica’s most ac­com­plished folk gui­tar play­ers to have graced pop­u­lar mu­sic’s land­scape, the 11 al­bums (un­til 1987’s Get Rhythm) in this well-priced col­lec­tion all ex­hibit his adept­ness as in­ter­preter of var­i­ous song forms, while dis­play­ing his ge­nius on vir­tu­ally any type of gui­tar (steel string, elec­tric, slide etc). The picks of the bunch are nat­u­rally his older al­bums, like the con­sis­tently bril­liant Into The Pur­ple Val­ley, Par­adise

And Lunch and Chicken Skin Mu­sic (all in the early to mid 1970s). And there’s his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance in this col­lec­tion, too – 1979’s Bop

Till You Drop is the first dig­i­tal record­ing of a com­mer­cial al­bum. This box set comes with mini LP-type repli­cas of the orig­i­nal al­bum, thought there’s noth­ing in the way of a book­let with lit­er­a­ture. Good value for money, but you just wish it came with a cigar.

The Jimi Hen­drix Ex­pe­ri­ence (Sony Mu­sic) four-CD box re­turns from out-of-print limbo. You wouldn’t be blamed for some­times slip­ping into the de­bate that Jimi Hen­drix is over­rated, but just pop in the Ex­pe­ri­ence’s Are

You Ex­pe­ri­enced, and that ar­gu­ment van­ishes as quickly as it sur­faced. There’s good rea­son why he’s of­ten re­garded as the great­est elec­tric gui­tarist ever. Three stu­dio al­bums were all he re­leased in his life­time, but the leg­end tran­scends. This beau­ti­ful pack­age (with mouth-wa­ter­ing lit­er­a­ture and pro­duc­tion de­tails) pools to­gether out­takes, demos and dif­fer­ent mixes of renowned songs. While the early Ex­pe­ri­ence ma­te­rial is the star of the show – in­clud­ing a scin­til­lat­ing live ver­sion of

Voodoo Child (Slight Re­turn) – there are some

gems from his later era, too, par­tic­u­larly

the al­ter­na­tive mix of Earth Blues, which, by it­self, is worth the price of ad­mis­sion. This is what gospel-meets-rock should be about. Apart from the Europe-only box set

Some­day We’ll All Be Free in 2010, soul man Donny Hath­away’s ca­reer has al­ways been un­der­served in terms of cat­a­logue. That shouldn’t be the case. Hath­away’s mu­sic – so­cially aware and fiery soul­ful – de­serves to be right up there with Marvin Gaye and the

rest. This four-CD Donny Hath­away – Never My Love: The An­thol­ogy (Warner Mu­sic) goes a long way in set­ting things right. This col­lec­tion brings to­gether the man’s es­sen­tial solo tracks ( The Ghetto, Tryin’ Times, Some­day

We’ll All Be Free and A Song For You) as well as his stir­ring duets with Roberta Flack, which raised the bar for soul-based col­lab­o­ra­tions in the 1970s. The en­tire Roberta Flack & Donny

Hath­away al­bum from 1972 has also made the box set. A 28-page book­let sheds in­valu­able light on one of soul’s for­got­ten sons. Two CDs of un­re­leased solo and live record­ings com­plete this highly rec­om­mended trawl through the genre’s lost cor­ners. Roberta Flack said it best in de­scrib­ing Hath­away: “Phe­nom­e­nal and just awe­some.”

Van Mor­ri­son isn’t an artiste short on clas­sic al­bums. His Astral Weeks and Saint

Do­minic’s Pre­view rank right up there with the best, but Moon­dance, orig­i­nally re­leased in 1970, is a time-de­fy­ing master­piece. Talk about a song-based al­bum that never fails to leave an af­ter­glow in the room. This four-CD (plus one Blu-ray) deluxe linen-wrapped fo­lio edi­tion from Warner Mu­sic def­i­nitely sounds like an al­bum to fall in love with all over again – thanks largely to the dig­i­tal up­grade. The ad­di­tional tracks (out­takes, al­ter­na­tive cuts) shine a light on the then 24-year-old Ir­ish­man’s at­ten­tion to de­tail and his achingly in­ti­mate songcraft.

Ad­mit­tedly, the un­re­leased ma­te­rial (50 of­f­cuts from the Moon­dance ses­sions!) and stu­dio chat­ter (ol’ Van sounds grumpy, at times) can di­min­ish the per­fect in­tegrity of a sub­lime al­bum, but worry not, you’ll be to­tally ab­sorbed by mul­ti­ple early ver­sions of

Car­a­van, Come Run­ning and Into The Mys­tic. Raw and ragged might be the or­der of the day, but there’s al­ways a vel­vet lin­ing in ev­ery­thing Van Mor­ri­son touches. A crackin’ ver­sion of blues stan­dard No­body Loves You When

You’re Down And Out is also another rea­son for true col­lec­tors to take the plunge when it comes to this bumper edi­tion. A two-CD ex­panded ver­sion of Moon­dance is also avail­able for fans want­ing only the ac­tual al­bum and a short­cut to the best of the rar­i­ties.

If any­thing, Moon­dance makes the per­fect record to rein­vig­o­rate your­self once the hec­tic fes­tive sea­son winds down. A far more soul­ful op­tion than a mas­sage chair, we feel.

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