As I've written before, every now and then despite my best efforts I'm simply unable to get all the CD releases of note jammed into our regular music coverage. Thus, the burden falls upon me to try and jam 'em into my column. This time I'm devoting not one, but two columns to recent releases; this week, I'll talk about some notable reissues (not necessarily "good," just "notable") and next week I'll tackle a batch of new music. Consider these two columns an extension of our holiday guide, as they may give you an idea or three about potential gifts for yourself … or, I guess, other people.
ALL BOXED UP
Seeing as the holiday season is upon us, box sets have dominated my mailbox recently. At the risk of sounding like a painfully out-of-touch and wishing-for-retirement "music critic," I'll sheepishly admit to finding soft spots for both Rhino's One Kiss Can Lead to Another box set a ridiculously fun four-CD set that collects 120 of the best girl group songs of the '60s (including, amazingly, The Whyte Boots) and 30 Years of Windham Hill. I've harbored a deep and unshakable animus toward New Age music, but the subtle repositioning that this box set insists upon for Windham Hill artists "contemporary instrumental music for grown-ups" rather than "audio wallpaper" makes it difficult to deny the quirky craftsmanship that's defined the label. Plus, it'll totally help you bag your frumpy-but-hot English professor.
Thematically divided along similar lines as the excellent Love, God, Murder box of Johnny Cash material, Turn Back the Years is a three-CD Hank Williams collection that pulls together 60 amazing tunes, from "Honky Tonkin'" to "Angel of Death," and separates them basically into drinking songs, crying songs and praying songs. There are a few songs missing ("I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive"), but it's still worth the reasonable list price of $39.98.
NOT QUITE A BOX
Four recent reflective releases from Anthrax might overestimate the thrash titans' importance in the current musical climate (not to mention their marketability). Sure, the double CD (Anthrology: No Hit Wonders) of their best Belladonna-era material is prime listening, but I wonder whether it really needs to be accompanied by a simultaneously released DVD with 13 videos. What I know for sure is that the recently recorded Alive 2 (2005) CD and DVD (also released simultaneously) absolutely pale in comparison to the "vintage" material.
Another thing I know for sure: I don't want to be reminded how disappointing last year's Nirvana box set was. But here's Sliver: The Best of the Box to do just that. As if fans weren't reamed hard enough by the lackluster material that made it to the box, here's a 22-track culling (with three previously unreleased tracks, naturally, to lure in the suckers) that still doesn't impress. If a three-CD box set of rare material can't be edited down to one impressive disc, that should give you a clue as to how numbingly awful the box is. But people will still buy it. After all, Courtney's got legal bills to pay.
NOT BOXES AT ALL
In other "raping the corpse" news, there's a new Bob Marley collection out. Entitled Africa Unite: The Singles Collection, it features exactly one unreleased song, the anemic "Slogans." Oh yeah, it's got two remixes too just what the world needs. Sure, the other 17 songs hit pretty hard, but this set goes nowhere that the frat-boy-essential Legend or the superior One Love sets don't.
That's not to say that all dead icons are letting their fans be so abused by their estates. Take, for instance, Salvation, a double-disc release of Bill Hicks' legendary 1992 performance at the Oxford Playhouse in London. Straight through from beginning to end with no edits, this is Hicks on the cusp of his brief bout with fame, and he is at the height of his powers. A lot of the material may be familiar to Hicks fanatics like myself, but the delivery is spectacular and the folks at Ryko should be commended for keeping this legacy alive in such an aboveboard fashion.
Similar props should be extended to the catalog mavens over at Verve/Universal. Having been in charge of the Impulse! records library for years now, they've consistently done a fine job of surprising jazz fans with hard-to-find gems. A recent batch of their limited-edition LP reissues included one of my personal favorites, Elevation by Pharoah Sanders, a 1973 live album that may not be his most abrasive, but is definitely one of his most spiritually touched.
Some crazy, hard-to-find psychedelic boogie rock from 1970 (Pagan by Born Again); a collection of EP and live tracks dating back to 1998 by metalcore mavens Unearth entitled Our Days of Eulogy; a stunning new recording of Henryk Górecki's Symphony No. 3 by the Sinfonia Varsovia with Ingrid Perruche singing soprano (released on Naïve); an 11-track, mastered-from-vinyl collection of the best freaky post-punk from Bristol's Maximum Joy that proves that England in the late '70s and early '80s was a very, very strange place for musicians. Especially those who mistakenly thought they were pop firstname.lastname@example.org