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Rock and Roll Globe’s Holiday 2020 Guide to Musical Gift Giving

Rock & Roll Globe Xmas (Art: Ron Hart)

Okay kids, it’s that time of year again where we reward friends and family members with presents that they might not be able to afford themselves, but which make them so much more special because we’re gifted them instead.

Granted, it’s an indulgence on their behalf, but that’s what the holidays are all about, right? So what better gift than a box set boasting a wealth of unreleased tracks, a booklet, maybe some memorabilia, and the deluxe repackaging that makes these special offerings so special. Indeed, the box set treatment tends to offer indulgence when giving a musical milestone its full due.

We here at Rock and Roll Globe understand that gifts of this sort can be costly. Most cost a pretty penny (or a nasty nickel, dirty dime or a cantankerous quarter — whatever the expression may be these days due to inflation). Shucking out $100 to $200, or maybe even more, isn’t a decision to be taken lightly. It’s an investment that’s made only for those we hold close to our hearts — and hopefully one that’s not motivated out of obligation or from fear of reprisal if a good gift isn’t given. (That said, the avoidance of being blackmailed is always a worthy motivation in our humble opinion.)

Whatever the reason, we’re here to help. Here are our choices from a box set bonanza released over the year past.

 

The Doors Morrison Hotel 50th Anniversary Edition (Rhino)

Box set reissues of seminal albums from Jim Morrison and company have become an annual tradition as the anniversaries of their original release make those special celebrations necessary. The main attractions here are the multiple, seemingly spontaneous, takes on various songs and snippets, and Morrison’s attempts at nailing down his vocals while in full frenzy.  Given the conversation between him and producer Paul Rothchild offers a rare insider’s opportunity to see how the album took shape. It ought to be noted that this isn’t the first reissue of this classic effort; indeed the box repeats a few of the outtakes offered on earlier versions. 

 

 

Jerry Garcia GarciaLive Vol. 15: May 21st, 1971 Keystone Korner (ATO Records)

In recent years, there’s been no shortage of live concert collections from Jerry Garcia and those he made music with outside the realms of the Grateful Dead. Like its predecessors in the GarciaLive series, Vol. 15 finds the musicians recasting select oldies and mixing them up with Garcia originals. This particular effort features keyboardist Merl Sanders, a frequent Garcia collaborator both live and in studio, and it’s no surprise that the two find a solid groove. Hints of funk, jazz and soul are mined in this mix, further evidence of Garcia’s remarkable versatility and dexterity when piercing the parameters in terms of musical exploration. FYI, it’s the perfect companion piece to Keystone Companions, Fantasy Records’ six disc box set celebrating Garcia and Saunders’ studio synergy.

 

Grateful Dead Workingman’s Dead/American Beauty 50th Anniversary Deluxe Editions (Rhino)

Deadheads were given further incentive to tout their tie dye in 2020, thanks to the rerelease of what were arguably the most essential albums of the entire Grateful Dead’s canon, post their earlier indulgence in ‘60s psychedelia. Both Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty helped foretell the advent of Americana, courtesy of songs that forever remained an essential part of their much revered repertoire. The material still retains its emotional embrace, but it’s the complete concerts culled from the same era that add an essential bonus to both packages.

 

 



Grateful Dead The Story of the Grateful Dead (Vinyl Me Please)

Indeed, 2020 might have sucked for most of us, but it’s been a bonanza for Deadheads. 

The Story of the Grateful Dead boasts eight vinyl remastered reissues that constitute what the producers consider as the band’s most essential albums— American Beauty, Workingman’s Dead, Live/Dead, Without a Net, Europe ’72, Reckoning, Wake of the Flood, and Terrapin Station — each presented in pristine condition with superior sound quality. Some may argue about the choices, but there’s no doubt that they all represent significant milestones in the band’s ongoing trajectory. Still, the real gem here is the accompanying booklet, which is filled with rare photos and authoritative commentary about each album.

 

VIDEO: VMP The Story of The Grateful Dead trailer 

 

Elton John Jewel Box (Rocket-UMe)

Speaking of gems, one ought to consider Jewel Box the holy grail as far as any Elton indulgence is concerned. It’s a collection of curios and classic cuts that takes listeners back to his earliest efforts, courtesy of assorted demos, unreleased recordings, B-sides and some of Elton’s own favorites which have been tossed in for good measure. Elton and Bernie provide the commentary, adding an important additive when it comes to understanding the evolution of their songwriting prowess and the musical choices made along the way. It’s an ambitious undertaking, one that justifies its hefty price tag while spanning some 55 years of creative keepsakes. More than that, Jewel Box defines the concept of what a box set ought to be — that is, one that offers an abundance of riches not to be found anywhere else. These are jewels indeed.

 



Paul McCartney Flaming Pie: Archive Edition (MPL-Capitol/UMe)

Leave it to Macca to set the bar ever higher. Although Flaming Pie wasn’t widely heralded at the time of its initial release, time hasn’t diminished its quality or creativity. That said, the add-ons found in the mega deluxe edition add even more interest thanks to a wealth of rarities spread across five CDs, two DVDs and four LPs. The latest entry in Paul’s archival series and its expanded reissues of his seminal solo catalogue, it’s easily the most elaborate offering of all thanks to the outtakes, demos, home recordings, collectors prints, its sumptuous tabletop book, handwritten lyrics, a documentary and other paraphernalia and memorabilia. The package is pretty weighty — best to work out with weights before trying to lift the thing — so it’s little surprise that the price tag might seem intimidating as well. In fact, this may be one you might want to buy for yourself and save something a little less costly for those less deserving.

 

 

Tears For Fears — The Seeds of Love Super Deluxe Edition (Fontana-UMe)

Rightfully considered a significant step in Tears for Fears’ trajectory, The Seeds of Love not only marked another step in the band’s intriguing evolution, but it also birthed their biggest breakthrough to date, that being the title song “Sowing the Seeds of Love. ” Originally released in September 1989, the album allegedly cost over £1 million to produce. However there was a bigger price tag to consider — the fate of the band itself. After a series of internal disputes over the  course of the album’s evolution, it proved to be the final time that Curt Smith and Roland Orzabel shared time in a studio for the next 15 years. Nevertheless, with five CDs that include the original album, various remixes, B-sides and alternative versions, this excellent expanded edition proves that it still remains the Tears’ triumph.

 

 

U2 All That You Can’t Leave Behind Super Deluxe Edition (Interscope/UMe)

Given the steady stream of expanded efforts tracking U2’s classic outings from early on, the new and massive redo given All That You Can’t Leave Behind is hardly surprising. Nevertheless, it overshadows the box sets that came before, courtesy of five CDs that encompass the original album, multiple remixes, various B-sides, outtakes, an array of alternative versions, and two live discs, all of which make this offering a true bonus bonanza. While the original album was a masterpiece to begin with, this spectacular set provides all that may have been left behind, but which could have still been included had the original production process permitted.

 

 

Joni Mitchell Archives – Vol. 1: The Early Years (1963–1967) (Rhino)

It was clear that Joni Mitchell possessed a potent potential even as a budding maiden minstrel, as evidenced by the five CDs that share the earliest recordings of her seminal career. Indeed, Vol. 1 offers a wealth of untapped treasures, beginning with her first live radio performance and continuing with other recordings culled from various intimate concerts, discreet demos, private tapings, and assorted television appearances. The results yield the most expansive overview of Mitchell’s initial endeavors yet, one that boasts both traditional folk songs as well as the first hints of her songwriting prowess. Calling this set an essential acquisition doesn’t serve to suffice. Yet it also peaks anticipation for further volumes yet to come.

 



Tom Petty
Wildflowers & All the Rest (Warner Music)

The loss of Tom Petty is still hard to fathom and the feeling is made no less tragic by what’s contained in this expanded edition of what many consider Petty’s ultimate masterpiece. Boasting a full 70 songs — nine of which are unreleased — as well as many tracks that appear here in demo form, it details the development of material that made the cut as well as the recordings that were left on the cutting room floor due to the record label’s reticence to release Wildflowers as the double album petty originally intended. Indeed, the intimate home recordings included here reflect the fact that Petty was ready with a batch of songs that already sounded fully fleshed, out even at the outset. That in itself makes their belated release all the more fortuitous. Consider this absolutely imperative for all those that are forever swayed by Petty’s perpetual genius.

 

 

Elvis Presley From Elvis in Nashville (Legacy Recordings)

Contrary to rumor, Elvis never actually left the building. The fact that there has been a constant stream of Elvis albums since his passing in 1977 seems to prove that point. However given Elvis’ iconic stature and the consistent demand for Presley product, that steady product flow seems to be justified. Happily then, in recent years, the quality of the material has leaned to more essential offerings. That’s been borne out of late by a spate of exceptional releases, among them, a series of brilliant box sets that include Young Man With the Big Beat: The Complete ’56 Elvis Presley Masters,’68 Comeback Special, last year’s Live ’69, and now, From Elvis in Nashville, a four CD set that includes the sessions the Big E recorded in Music City over the course of several productive days in June 1970. The commentary and liner notes that accompany the box paint a vivid view of all that transpired, giving intimate insight into Presley’s purpose and his ongoing interaction with some stellar session players. Much of the music made at the time would find its way to future releases, but hearing the different takes and assorted studio patter puts it all in perspective. 

 

 

 

The Rolling Stones Goats Head Soup: Deluxe Edition (Rolling Stone-UMe)

After the expanded treatment given earlier Stones epochs such as Beggars Banquet, Their Satanic Majesty’s Request, and Let It Bleed, it seemed only natural that the powers that be would opt to revisit the band’s’70s sessions. Even so, Goats Head Soup seems an odd choice, given the somewhat lukewarm reception it received early on. So too, its varied material seems more confounding than consistent. Nevertheless, there’s plenty to tempt the Stones’ faithful, including the usual bounty of outtakes, unreleased tracks, alternate mixes and, best of all, a live concert recorded in Belgium mere months after the album’s release. Among the treasures — a song titled “Scarlet,” a funky jam featuring a guest appearance from Jimmy Page, another called “All the Rage,” a sturdy Stones rocker, and “Criss Cross,” another unreleased entry that reflects the band’s usual swagger and sway. Still, the coffee table sized book included in the package is the real treat, an additive well worth the considerable cost all on its own. Also of note: The Stones’ Bridges to Buenos Aires CD/DVD package which was released this past year as well. It documents the Stones’ South American swing of their Bridges to Babylon tour, and shows the band  in fine form.

 

 

Wilco Summerteeth: Deluxe Edition (Rhino)

Following the reissues of Wilco’s earlier efforts A.M. and Being There, this four CD revisit to Wilco’s landmark Summerteeth album shares the genesis of how this particular set of songs eventually came to be. Additives include Jeff Tweedy’s homegrown demos along with the usual outtakes and outcasts initially intended for inclusion. Many of Tweedy’s original ideas were stillborn, but hearing his solitary readings allows for some interesting comparison with what eventually gelled later on. As an added bonus, there are two additional discs containing a November 1999 concert from the Boulder Theater, recordings that demonstrate decidedly that Wilco remained as resilient as ever. 

 

 

Frank Zappa Halloween ’81 (Zappa/UMe)

Both a genius and an eccentric, Frank Zappa was noted for his innovation and experimentation in ways that defied any absolute identification whatsoever. It’s appropriate, then, that this archival offering, featuring a series of shows recorded at New York’s Palladium is both revelatory and remarkable. Zappa’s musical instincts are well served, and with a typically top notch combo in tow, it provides an excellent example of Zappa at his creative crest. Ah, but there’s more. A mask depicting the man himself in the guise of “Count Franklula,” complete with cape, provides the perfect Halloween garb for those in need of a quick costume assist. 

 

 

 

Bobby Bare Bobby Bare Sings Shel Silverstein Plus (Bear Family)

Bear Family Productions does its usual exemplary job of compiling archival recordings, thanks to this sumptuous box set dedicated to the songs of songwriter, screenwriter, playwright, cartoonist, author, and entertainer Shel Silverstein, all interpreted by erstwhile devotee and country crooner Bobby Bare. Although Silverstein’s compositions were covered by any number of notables — Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Dr, Hook and the Medicine Show, Marianne Faithful, Emmylou Harris, Steve Goodman, Ray Stevens, and Loretta Lynn, among the many — Bare recorded more of Silverstein’s songs than anyone else, and the duo’s collaboration helped boost both their careers.  This box gathers 137 of those songs — more than two dozen of them heretofore unreleased — while also tracing their partnership as it evolved over the course of the ‘70s and ‘80s. An accompanying hardcover book featuring lyrics for all the songs, an insightful essay on Silverstein’s life and legacy, and a compelling interview with Bare himself. 

 

VIDEO: Bobby Bare Sings Shel Silverstein Plus (Bear Family)

 

 

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Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman is a writer and columnist based in beautiful Maryville Tennessee. Over the past 20 years, his work has appeared in dozens of leading music publications. He is also the author of Americana Music: Voice, Visionaries, and Pioneers of an Honest Sound, which will be published by Texas A&M University Press early next year.

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