Coming up to Christmas is a prime time for releases of box sets. Here are some that could be a vital added to a collection or given as presents
Michael Jackson, “Hello World: The Motown Solo Collection”
By Solvej Schou,
While the documentary “This Is It” shows Michael Jackson as a man able to thrill with his smooth moves and voice up until his death, the three-CD box set “Hello World: The Motown Solo Collection” shows Jackson as a boy launching into the pop stratosphere.
With a bright yellow package depicting a cherubic, Afro-haired Jackson on the cover, the superb collection features every Jackson solo recording released from 1971 to 1975 — albums “Got To Be There,” ”Ben,” ”Music & Me” and “Forever, Michael.” Also included are songs released from the Jackson vault after he became the King of Pop, the 1984 album “Farewell My Summer Love” and 1986’s “Looking Back to Yesterday,” featuring previously unreleased masters.
Bonus tracks, colorful photos, album covers, original liner notes and essays by Motown’s Suzee Ikeda and author and professor Mark Anthony Neal complete the box set.
Most of all, “Hello World” showcases Jackson’s glorious voice, an instrument so nuanced that he sounds much older and wiser than his young years. A spoken word intro leads into Jackson’s soulful cover of the Bill Withers classic “Ain’t No Sunshine”: Jackson lets his boyish falsetto soar over backing strings, in complete control over the vocal dips and swoops.
Other tunes span from harpsichord-tinged ballads to funky gems such as “Rockin’ Robin,” a sure-fire hip shaker. His voice lowers in register on “Forever, Michael,” taking on the more mature tone to define his later albums and hits.
Just to hear a sweet-voiced Jackson take on Edwin Starr’s soul stomper “Twenty-Five Miles,” wailing over distorted guitar, makes this collection truly worth it.
“Miles Davis: The Complete Columbia Album Collection”
By Charles J. Gans,
Miles Davis never liked to look back, always staying contemporary as he moved from bebop at the beginning of his career to hip-hop at the end. With this 70-CD collection, released to coincide with a major exhibition “We Want Miles” at a Paris museum, Davis deservedly becomes the first jazz musician to receive the comprehensive treatment usually reserved for a Mozart or von Karajan in the classical realm.
But the trumpeter’s constant evolution caused some fans to drop away — particularly post-1970 when he turned away from acoustic music to play electro-fusion jazz. Those fans probably won’t have much need for this collection — comprising the more than 50 albums Davis recorded for Columbia from 1955-85 — because they’ve already collected their favorite sessions plus bonus material in reissues from Columbia/Legacy’s ambitious Miles Davis Series since 1996.
But this collection has a smattering of rarities and unreleased material to whet the interests of the Davis completist — including the first official release of Davis’ full-length concert at the 1970 Isle of Wright festival in a band with keyboard players Chick Corea and Keith Jarrett, and a bonus DVD “Live in Europe ’67,” the first video to be officially commercially released featuring Davis’ groundbreaking quintet with Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter. There are also two unissued tracks from a live recording of Davis’ bebop quintet with pianist Tadd Dameron from a 1949 Paris concert, the only CD in the collection representing the trumpeter’s formative years (originally released as an LP by Columbia in 1977 during Davis’ five-year health-related hiatus).
The CDs — packaged in Japanese-style mini-CD jackets replicating in most cases the original cover art work — are also presented chronologically by recording session date. That enhances the collection’s appeal for younger, open-minded listeners who may have heard only a few Davis albums and want to follow more closely his remarkable career. The collection — sold exclusively through Amazon.com for about $330, or under $5 per disc — includes a booklet with a basic biographical overview by French critic Frederic Goaty and capsule descriptions and discographical details on each album.
The collection does not include Davis’ earliest and last recordings for other labels, but his 30-year relationship with Columbia yielded an extraordinary body of work that’s all here with bonus material from previous Legacy reissues.
Various Artists, “Woodstock — 40 Years On: Back to Yasgur’s Farm”
By Scott Bauer,
First there was the triple album. Then came its sequel, a double album.
Now the single largest collection of music from the three-day Woodstock festival has been gathered in the six-CD box set “Woodstock — 40 Years On: Back to Yasgur’s Farm.” Even with 77 songs, what’s presented is a mere sliver of what was actually played at the concert 40 years ago. It would take 30 discs, not six, to release all of it.
The box set does a lot of things right — including sequencing the music in the actual order in which it was played, to at least give a reasonable semblance of what it was like there over those three days.
It also offers up more snippets of stage banter, including the entirety of farmer Max Yasgur’s gracious speech to the half-million concert-goers on his property and prolonged warnings about which type of acid (not the brown!!) to take.
Unfortunately, only half of the songs are previously unreleased. That means true Woodstock aficionados will have to pay, again, for much of the music they already own.
But for anyone who hasn’t upgraded from the vinyl of the original soundtrack, or never bothered to buy any of the music, this is the way to go.
There’s really no way to put out a decent box set on Woodstock without including most of the music that was on the first record, anyhow. Those songs from Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Country Joe & The Fish, Jefferson Airplane and Janis Joplin were, and are, the best the festival had to offer.
Hearing them against some of the weaker previously unreleased songs only helps to make that point even more clearly.