If your family and friends know you love music, some of them probably gave you CDs and LPs for Christmas. Chances are, some of them gave you some music that you’re really excited about. Chances are, some of them gave you music that couldn’t be further from your taste, and you had to smile and feign excitement.
So you’ve probably got some stuff you’re going to return. Or maybe you got a gift card for a local music retailer. (If you buy your music online, you might be surprised by how crowded those old-fashioned record stores still get these days, how much fun they still are and how dominant vinyl records have again become.)
Anyway, record companies have released a lot of box sets in recent weeks, and reissued some classic albums with lots of extras. They’re still on the store shelves so you can trade in that Captain and Tenille Christmas album that Grandma gave you and buy some cool stuff,
Here are some worth considering:
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Cream, “Fresh Cream”: This one is actually not out for a couple of more weeks, but it’s worth the wait. The debut album by the first of the 1960s supergroups — Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce — came out 50 years ago this month. If you like your blues-rock skewed more toward blues, this is the best Cream album. The re-issue includes both stereo and mono versions of the album (the difference is remarkable), plus outtakes and live tracks, on three CDs and a Blu-Ray audio disc. It still sounds amazing.
Record companies have released a lot of box sets in recent weeks, and reissued some classic albums with lots of extras. They’re still on the store shelves so you can trade in that Captain and Tenille Christmas album that grandma gave you and buy some cool stuff,
John Cale, “Fragments of a Rainy Season”: Cale’s beautiful live solo album from 1992 stands as his most subdued, haunting recordings, including “Fear Is a Man’s Best Friend,” the first and still-best cover version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” and several Dylan Thomas poems that Cale set to music. It’s a true solo album, with no one but Cale singing and playing. The re-issue features some inconsequential outtake tracks.
Hank Williams Jr., “A Country Boy Can Survive”: The middle of the three musical Hank Williamses has been a star longer than just about anyone else in the history of country music. This four-disc box set features all but one of his 30 Top 40 hits from 1979 to 1990, plus his first chart-topping single, 1970’s “All for the Love of Sunshine,” a lot of his most popular album cuts and a disc of live performances.
Crowded House: If you fancied yourself a music connoisseur in the late ’80s, you were probably a devotee of Crowded House, the virtuosic New Zealand band that evolved from the more pop-oriented Split Enz. The entire catalog of Crowded House albums has just been re-issued. There are seven in all, but the ones worth getting excited about are the first four, “Crowded House,” “Temple of Low Men,” “Woodface” and “Together Alone.” If all you know of Crowded House is their biggest U.S. hit, “Don’t Dream It’s Over,” start with the first album (preferably on vinyl) and you’ll want to get all the others.
John Coltrane, “The Atlantic Years — In Mono”: Perhaps the greatest jazz saxophonist ever, Coltrane’s music was so beautiful and so complex that it appealed to jazz purists and to people who didn’t give a hoot about any other jazz artists. This set includes five albums and dozens of tracks, many featuring some of the greatest players of the era. For some reason there’s a really comfortable feel to the mono recording.
“Ramones”: This one’s been out for a while, but if you don’t have it yet you need to get it. This year is the 40th anniversary of the first Ramones album, which mixed power-pop with a punk attitude and changed popular music forever. The re-issue includes a mono remix (which is kind of pointless), some live tracks and demos. But chances are you’ll just want to listen to the original album. If the Ramones had never recorded anything but the first three tracks on their first album — “Blitzkrieg Bop,” “Beat on the Brat” and “Judy Is a Punk” — they’d still be one of the best rock bands of all time.