Long live the box set

  • Article by: PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER
  • Updated: December 17, 2012 - 1:29 PM

Who said the CD is dead? Here's guide to this year's best gift options for big-time music lovers.

Among the big box sets available: "Johnny Cash, The Complete Columbia Album Collection."

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During gift-giving season in the digital age, boxed sets are absurdly anachronistic -- and more essential than ever. Sure, it's ridiculous to lust after doorstop-sized consumer goods when the sounds therein could easily fit on a flash drive the size of your fingernail. But then what are you going to give the music lovers in your life who need to hold a tangible treasure?

Michael Jackson, "Bad 25th Anniversary Deluxe Edition" (Epic/Legacy): Revisionist critics argue that this 1987 album is the best of Jackson's Quincy Jones-produced solo masterworks, from the wickedly swinging "The Way You Make Me Feel" to the time-tested "Man in the Mirror." An outtakes disc is noteworthy for the funk workout "Song Groove (A/K/A Abortion Papers)" and the combative "The Price of Fame." Also included is a concert disc and DVD. $35

Elvis Presley, "Prince From Another Planet" (RCA Legacy): This three-disc set documents the King's only New York City concert performances, at Madison Square Garden in 1972. Elvis rocks with conviction and soars majestically on the ballads, while grainy, fan-shot footage shows the superstar in all his blue-jumpsuited glory. 2 CDs, 1 DVD, $26

Johnny Cash, "The Complete Columbia Album Collection" (Columbia/Legacy): You can't help but be awed by the breadth and power of his work on this mammoth 63-CD set. A hitmaker not afraid to go against the grain, lover of the old (the Carter Family) and champion of the new (Bob Dylan, Kris Kristofferson), electric live performer, songwriter, gospel singer, folklorist -- Cash is always true to himself. The albums are packaged in reproductions of their original covers. $256

"Cooler Than Ice: Arctic Records & the Rise of Philly Soul" (Jamie): The Sound of Philadelphia story is usually told through Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff's Philadelphia International soul label. This adds a chapter, gathering every single from 1964 to 1967 on the Arctic label, which had its biggest hit with Barbara Mason's "Yes, I'm Ready" in 1965. The label was a proving ground for a number of artists, including Daryl Hall (his group the Temptones have four charming faux-Motown tunes here). Gamble struts his stuff as a singer with the Romeos and Floaters. 6 CDs, 6 vinyl 45s, $150

Rolling Stones, "Charlie Is My Darling" (ABKCO): Never mind the career-spanning HBO documentary "Crossfire Hurricane," this is the archival Stones find of the season. Unavailable for decades, Peter Whitehead's film captures Mick and the boys on a two-date tour of Ireland in 1965. The box includes a live CD and LP from the band at its primal best. 2 CDs, 1 DVD, 1 Blu-ray, and 1 LP, $72; or 1 DVD, $23

"Reggae Golden Jubilee: Origins of Jamaican Music" (VP): Before Edward Seaga was prime minister of Jamaica in the 1980s, he owned a record company. Now 82, he compiled this 100-song set, timed to the 50th anniversary of Jamaican independence. Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff and Burning Spear all show up, but the set's real value is in how Seaga pieces together a cultural history, including such obscurities as Pluto Shervington's "Ram Goat Liver." 4 CDs, $60

Charles Mingus, "The Jazz Workshop Concerts 1964-65" (Mosaic Records): Long before the current DIY craze, bassist and composer Mingus was recording his own music. Now, to honor what would have been his 90th year, his wife, Sue, has released seven discs of live concerts in New York, Minneapolis, Amsterdam and Monterey, Calif. The ambition is outsized, the energy undeniable. $119

Szymon Goldberg, "Vol. 2 Commercial Recordings 1932-1951" (Music & Arts): This violinist, who was the Berlin Philharmonic's concertmaster before the Nazi era, is said to have found the quiet center of everything he played. Such wisdom, especially when collaborating with pianist Lili Kraus, glimmers through the decades in some of the greatest-ever recordings of Haydn piano trios and violin sonatas by Mozart and Beethoven. A true connoisseur item. 8 CDs, $96

Heart, "Strange Euphoria" (Epic Legacy): Seattle's Wilson sisters started their alluringly melodic metal act with the notion of creating a female Led Zeppelin. From their 1976 debut to this box's finale (Zep covers, an Amazon exclusive) they've stayed that course, electrically and acoustically (save for their hair rawk/power ballad 1980s) with guts and grace. 3 CDs/1 DVD, $50; Amazon.com edition has an extra CD, $35

"Work Hard, Play Hard, Pray Hard: Hard Time, Good Time & End Time Music, 1923-1936" (Tompkins Square): This breathtaking old-time country music is all the more precious because a folklorist literally rescued most of it from the trash heap after the death of a Kentucky record collector. 3 CDs, $33; 3 LPs, $46

Preservation Hall Jazz Band, "50th Anniversary Collection" (Columbia/Legacy): New Orleans' landmark trad-jazz venue, Preservation Hall sits atop arguably the most important vein of popular American music extant. There is no way not to be charmed by these cuts, recorded between 1962 and 2010, which contain humor, pathos and enough energy to blow back a hurricane. 4 CDs, $60

"Surf-Age Nuggets" (Rock Beat): A delightful box of instrumentals by mostly obscure -- though Dick Dale does turn up -- crazy-about-reverb surf-rock bands of the '60s, with names like the Fugitives, Countdowns and Newport Nomads. 4 CDs, $59

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