The Best Boxed Sets of 2018

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The Best Boxed Sets of 2018

The Beatles: The Beatles
Once derided as the Fab Four’s most fragmented effort and an early indication of the band’s dissolving inner dynamic, the so-called “White Album” has been redeemed 50 years on and now seen as an example of the group’s divergent diversity. This sumptuous reissue offers everything associated with its recording: the early Esher demos (so named for the house where George Harrison hosted them), various sessions, outtakes and a Blu-Ray disc that shares it all. A tabletop book effectively sums up the circumstance and is worth the hefty price tag all on its own. —Lee Zimmerman


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David Bowie: Loving The Alien (1983 – 1988)
Parlophone Records deluxe culling of the vast Bowie discography landed on the Thin White Duke’s most commercially successful yet derided stretches. He swerved into the land of glossy, radio friendly pop and came away with one of his best-selling albums (Let’s Dance) and follow ups (Never Let Me Down, Tonight) that flopped in comparison. This set ignores the critical consensus and brings it all together in fresh CD and vinyl versions, as well as tossing in a pair of live recordings, a collection of musical ephemera—including the songs he wrote for Labyrinth—and a remix/re-record of Never that supposedly Bowie wanted to take on in his final years. A fascinating look into a fascinating period of his long career. —Robert Ham


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Country Joe & The Fish: The Wave of Electrical Sound
A late 2017 release, The Wave of Electrical Sound is worthy of mention regardless, given that it reintroduces the Fish’s first four albums, along with rare footage on DVD, a booklet, posters and other memorabilia marking the Fish’s San Francisco heyday from the mid to late ‘60s. They stood apart from their contemporaries courtesy of their political posturing and sarcastic sentiment which famously came together in the Fish cheer, the essential shout out at Woodstock (“One, two, three/What are we fighting for?/Don’t ask me I don’t give a damn/Next stop is Vietnam”) Credit this set with offering a quick catch-up.—Lee Zimmerman


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The Doors: Waiting for the Sun (50th Anniversary Edition)
Though not the Doors’ best album, Waiting for the Sun still deserves the half century celebration offered here, although boasting both CDs and vinyl in the same box does seem a bit redundant. Collectors will naturally be drawn to the second CD in the set, the disc that boasts rough mixes and five tracks from a Copenhagen concert recorded in September ’68. Nevertheless, some sort of booklet and/or liner notes might have been nice as well. Door-opening it’s not, but it is a nice memento regardless.—Lee Zimmerman


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Bob Dylan: More Blood, More Tracks (The Bootleg Series Vol. 14)
Critics have called Blood on the Tracks one of Dylan’s greatest accomplishments, a series of songs that allegedly documented the dissolution of his marriage to wife Sara. That may or may not have been the case, but in any event it found the Bobster in a heartbreak mode that was both painful and personal. This latest entry in his Bootleg Series gathers all the discarded sessions recorded in New York before Dylan opted to reconvene in Minneapolis and re-record the entire effort. Some of the differences are subtle, but for Dylan devotees, it’s all essential regardless. —Lee Zimmerman


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Fleetwood Mac: Fleetwood Mac
The second expanded reissue of the eponymous album that brought Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks into the Fleetwood Mac fold, Fleetwood Mac ignited a series of soap operas that only ended just recently when Buckingham was ignominiously booted from the band. Viewed in hindsight, it was a near perfect production, and with a live disc from the subsequent tour and a CD devoted to early takes and performances on the Warner Bros. soundstage, appreciation is enhanced even more. The real bonus comes in the form of a DVD of surround sound and stereo mixes, bringing these superb songs the richness and complete clarity they deserve. —Lee Zimmerman


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Lefty Frizzell: An Article From Life: The Complete Recordings
The exhaustive work of German label Bear Family is something that fans of roots music and jazz have long been in awe of. But recently, they’ve gone above and beyond as with 2018’s massive collection of material broadcast on the Louisiana Hayride radio show and this year’s set that compiles everything country legend Lefty Frizzell recorded during his three decades in the limelight. At 20 CDs, it’s a lot to absorb, but considering the breadth of his influence on fellow icons like Willie Nelson, George Strait and Pokey LaFarge, it’s deep dive worth taking. —Robert Ham


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Bobbie Gentry: The Girl From Chickasaw County: The Complete Capitol Masters
For an artist that is still beloved among fans of country, Southern R&B and psychedelia, it’s a wonder that Bobbie Gentry’s work has not been compiled in this manner until now. Regardless of the timing, this collection that brings together the seven albums that she recorded for Capitol Records in the late ‘60s and ‘70s, as well as a treasure trove of unreleased material, singles and rare gems like the long-shelved jazz album she recorded. It all adds up to an incredible, yet still short career for an artist that removed herself from the machinations of the music industry and has been living a quiet, secluded life ever since. If this collection helps bring her out of retirement, the wait for its creation will have been worth it. —Robert Ham


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The Jimi Hendrix Experience: Electric Ladyland: 50th Anniversary Edition
Given the spate of reissues, compilations and greatest hits, it’s hard to believe that the Jimi Hendrix Experience only recorded three studio albums prior to the band’s break-up. If judged on the sprawl and scope alone, Electric Ladyland deserves due honors as the band’s greatest accomplishment. This expanded three-CD/one Blu-Ray set includes all one might expect: digital remasters, demos and sketches of songs destined for the finished album (and then shelved for later consideration), a heretofore unreleased concert recorded at the Hollywood Bowl before the album’s release, and a fascinating visual documentary to boot. —Lee Zimmerman


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Jethro Tull: This Was: 50th Anniversary Edition
Following on the heels of other expanded reissues of seminal Tull albums, This Was delves deep into the band’s early beginnings. Steven Wilson adds his usual due diligence with stereo and surround sound remixes, but a host of bonus tracks, rarities, assorted mono and stereo mixes and early BBC sessions sweeten the pot considerably. Add in a book detailing the album’s history, track-by-track liner notes from Ian Anderson and wealth of unseen early photos, and it becomes yet another tease for Tull fans some 50 years on. —Lee Zimmerman


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The Police: Every Move You Make: The Studio Recordings
Like a lot of reissues that have been popping into the marketplace in recent year, new pressings of the studio albums of The Police seems particularly egregious. The British trio sold millions of copies of their full-lengths during their late ‘70s/early ‘80s run, all of which can be had for a pittance in your local used record shop. The draw for these new editions is their hugely improved sound. Re-mastered at Abbey Road Studios using a half-speed process, the five LPs that The Police produced during their brief run together positively sparkle, with sharp high-end that emphasizes drummer Stewart Copeland’s intricate playing and the tang of Andy Summers’ guitar work. Things get even better when the band started introducing synthesizers and other technology into the mix on their final two albums Ghost In The Machine and the massively successful Synchronicity. The set is rounded out by a sixth LP, featuring b-sides and unused album cuts including the late period classics “Murder By Numbers” and “Someone To Talk To,” the latter of which featured a rare vocal turn by Summers. These are fantastic upgrades for long standing fans of the group and a way for newbies to snap up the discography in one fell swoop. Everybody wins. —Robert Ham


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Elvis Presley: ‘68 Comeback Special: 50th Anniversary Edition
The King’s comeback via a widely viewed 1968 NBC television special was rightly hailed as a return to form after Elvis spent much of the ‘60s immersed in cheesy movies and recording irrelevant songs of insubstantial value. Happily then, this expansive five CD/two Blu-ray box offers every bit of evidence that Elvis was again ready to rock. Rehearsals, early takes and every known recording of the special are included, along with multiple sequence from the show that haven’t been widely viewed in the past 50 years. The book of comments, commentary and photos is a treat too. —Lee Zimmerman


R.E.M.: R.E.M. At The BBC
BBC has been vital to the success of an untold number of artists throughout the U.K., thanks to their willingness to cede airtime to live performances and in-studio sessions with artists big and small. This set proves that point, pulling together recordings of R.E.M, broadcast over the airwaves at various junctures of the band’s time together. Fans get to hear as the group gained songwriting strength and commercial power through full live performances from 1984, 1995, 1999 and 2004, as well as radio sessions and a DVD of their various TV appearances. —Robert Ham


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Various Artists: The Complete Cuban Jam Sessions
In the ‘50s and ‘60s, Panart Studios and the record label of the same name was the epicenter for Cuban music in Havana. It was through that imprint and that recording studio that now-venerated artists like Jose Fajardo, Celia Cruz and Daniel Santos achieved their first blushes of acclaim outside the shores of their island home. At the same time, there was also some demand by American fans to capture the spirit of the late night jam sessions that went on at clubs around Havana. That’s, in part, what spurred on the release of this five volume series of albums, now being reissued in a handsome boxed set by Craft Recordings. Recorded mostly at Panart in one-off sessions, these aren’t as loose and heated as some of those after midnight gigs could get but the buoyant pulse and joy of the music is apparent throughout, infectious as ever some 60 years after the fact. It’s near to impossible to play favorites on this set, but the spirited piano solos on Volume 5, a spotlight disc for Fajardo and his All Stars and the 17 minute track that kicks of Volume 2, with key contributions from percussionists Oscar Valdes and Jesus Ezquijarrosa (known better as Chuchu), are particular highlights.—Robert Ham


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Various Artists: Battleground Korea: Songs and Sounds of America’s Forgotten War
While terming the Korean Conflict “America’s forgotten war” hardly seems appropriate given the recent wave of headlines spawned from that faraway peninsula, starting with the sabre rattling shared by Trump and Kim to the unexpected rapprochement that promised a big breakthrough. This superb box set gives that dark and dire post World War II conflict a new view, thanks to four CDs of archival music and commentary, and a definitive tabletop book that brings the war and its effect on the home front into perspective. Consider this a fascinating treat for both historians and archivists alike. —Lee Zimmerman

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