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Musical anthologies for gift-giving

For all the things that went horribly wrong in 2020, it was a good year for deluxe box sets and album reissues — all good options for Christmas gifts. Of the dozens of such sets that arrived this year, here are some recommendations.

ANTHOLOGY SETS

' Elton John: "Elton: Jewel Box" — The meat to this eight-CD set is three CDs of demos, the vast majority being unreleased songs recorded between 1965 and 1971. They illustrate the early growth of Elton and Bernie Taupin as a songwriting team. Quite a few solo demos sound like they would have blossomed in the studio, while some full-band demos, including the trippy and catchy "Regimental Sgt. Zippo," the horn-filled "When the First Tear Shows" and the rollicking "Thank You for All Your Loving" are well worth hearing. Three other discs contain lesser-known album tracks, while two discs of B-sides are another big selling point.

' Shoes: "Elektrafied: The Elektra Years 1978-1982" — This four-CD set chronicles the period after the acclaimed 1978 album, "Black Vinyl Shoes," when the Shoes got a major-label deal with Elektra Records. This box set includes the Shoes' three Elektra albums, band demos for each album and a fourth disc of non-album rarities. It makes for a comprehensive dive into the Shoes' major label years — and some of the best music this power-pop band has made during a long, impressive and still ongoing career.

' Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels: "Sockin' It To You: The Complete Dynavoice and New Voice Recordings" — This three-CD set collects the songs Ryder recorded while fronting the Detroit Wheels (1965-1968). The famous songs are here ("Jenny Take a Ride" and the combo of "Devil With a Blue Dress On/Good Golly Miss Molly"), plus a good share of prime cuts that didn't become major hits ("Shakin' With Linda," "Breakout" and "I Can't Hide It," to name a view). Worth noting: The Michigan native now lives in North Georgia.

These anthologies also deserve your attention.

' The Allman Brothers Band: "Trouble No More" — A five-CD retrospective covering the entire 50-year career of the group. This set hits the highlights of each era of the group while not duplicating that much of the 1989 box set, "Dreams."

' The Boys: "On Safari" — A five-CD set with the three albums this band made for Safari Records from 1979 to 1981, plus 22 demos and outtakes and a 10-song BBC live set. This set is great way to discover this solid power-pop band that deserved far more success than it had.

' Various Artists: "Eric Clapton's Crossroads Guitar Festival 2019" — This three-CD set cherry-picks performances from the latest edition of this massive all-star guitar-centric festival. Numerous one-of-a-kind collaborations are included here, like Sheryl Crow and Bonnie Raitt storming through the Bob Dylan track "Everything's Broken." And don't forget the all-star jams on Prince's "Purple Rain" and Joe Cocker's "High Time We Went."

' Elvis Presley: "From Elvis in Nashville" — This four-CD set collects songs Presley recorded in Nashville in 1970 with the ace musicians known as the Nashville Cats. Even if you didn't care for Presley's late-career move into middle-of-the-road music, this set shows he had grown into a superb and versatile singer and stylist.

' Joni Mitchell: "Archives Volume 1: The Early Years (1963 to 1967)" — This massive five-disc set is loaded with unreleased songs and several concerts, including a full three-set show from 1967. You hear Mitchell evolve from singing folk standards into a songwriter (29 unreleased originals in all) who was already showing major talent and a unique style that would take her well beyond her folk beginnings.

 

ALBUM REISSUES

It's been a busy year for deluxe reissues of notable albums. Here are several that stood out this year.

' Prince: "Sign O the Times" — This eight-disc box-set reissue comes with the landmark original album, 45 (!!) previously unreleased studio tracks and two 1987 concerts. The wealth of unreleased material makes this set special. Highlights include "Witness 4 the Prosecution" (version 2), a hard-hitting rocker with electronic and funk overtones; the funky jam "Can I Play With U" which features a guest appearance by legendary trumpeter Miles Davis; and the hooky pop rockers "Promise To Be True," "Cosmic Day" and "Big Tall Wall." Two concerts, one on CD, the other on DVD, put a lively exclamation point on this stellar reissue.

' The Replacements: "Pleased To Meet Me" — The Replacements' best album gets supplemented by dozens of B-sides, outtakes, demos and rough mixes. Quite a few of the songs left off of "Pleased To Meet Me" would have been keepers for other bands — especially "Awake Tonight," "Birthday Gal" and "Trouble on the Way" — and alternate versions of several "Pleased To Meet Me" songs are fun, too.

' Wilco: "Summerteeth" — This 1999 album marked the third and last studio effort from the original edition of Wilco before frontman Jeff Tweedy began to remake the band into its current, more musically adventurous and versatile lineup. This four-CD deluxe reissue starts with the original "Summerteeth" album and then adds a disc of demos, outtakes and some of interesting alternate versions of "Summerteeth" songs. Two more discs house a complete 1999 concert, a fine live document of Wilco at its early peak.

 

Here are some other noteworthy reissues:

' Tom Petty: "Wildflowers and All the Rest" — A four-CD reissue of Petty's 1994 solo album, "Wildflowers." Nine fine songs left off "Wildflowers" plus home recordings and live performances make for a complete look at one of Petty's most fruitful periods.

* Elvis Costello: "Armed Forces" — Essentially this is an expanded version of the excellent 2002 two-CD deluxe reissue of this classic third Costello album. An unreleased 13-song set from the Pinkpop Festival in 1979 and a six-song selection from a rather combative 1978 show capture the kinetic energy of Costello and the Attractions and the creative keyboard playing of Steve Nieve.

* Rolling Stones: "Goat's Head Soup" — A two-CD reissue of the 1973 album that was a letdown following the classic "Exile on Main Street" album, this adds three versions of the unreleased funky rocker "Scarlet," including one with Jimmy Page guesting, and the fantastic 1973 concert from Brussels, Belgium, which illustrated how lead guitarist Mick Taylor took the Stones to a whole new level as a live band.

* Paul McCartney: "Flaming Pie Archive Collection" — One of McCartney's best solo albums gets expanded to a five-CD/two-DVD set with rough mixes, home recordings, demos, studio outtakes and more. Die-hard fans can splurge for this set, but let's note that the two-CD version of this reissue has most of the best unreleased material.

 

WAIT, THERE'S MORE

I don't have space to review any of these releases in detail, but here are a few more reissues that are well worth owning.

* U2: "All That You Can't Leave Behind" — This 51-track reissue has nine B-sides and outtakes that are mostly keepers, plus an excellent 2001 concert.

* Tears For Fears: "Seeds of Love" — The deluxe reissue of this ambitious album features some good B-sides and early versions of several songs that differ from the finished versions.

* The Cranberries: "No Need To Argue" — This two-CD reissue includes several worthy B-sides and demos, plus some live tracks.

* Rush: "Permanent Waves" — This two-CD reissue supplements one of Rush's best albums with 11 live tracks.

* Lou Reed: "New York" — Crisp live performances of "New York" tracks are added to Reed's best album of the '80s.

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