When it comes to cool musical box sets, 2006 might be remembered as a prolific and stylistically varied year. This season's shoppers will have plenty of choices if box sets are high on their gift-giving lists. Here's a look at some of the best:
Various Artists – Rockin' Bones: 1950s Punk & Rockabilly (Rhino)
This four-disc set includes a handful of famous songs from such legends as Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Eddie Cochran, and Elvis Presley. But the real strength is the dozens of long-forgotten nuggets included here. The worthy songs are too many to list here, but Rockin' Bones will make listeners a lot more familiar with names like Commonwealth Jones (actually, it's Ronnie Dawson with a snarling cut, "Who's Been Here"), Larry Dowd (whose version of "Pink Cadillac" is not the Bruce Springsteen song), or Vince Taylor (whose "Brand New Cadillac" is the song covered by the Clash.)
Various Artists – Legends Of Country: Classic Hits of the '50s, '60s & '70s (Shout Factory)
This three-disc set could have easily used an additional disc to bring a little more depth. As it is, Legends Of Country hits on a good number of the essential songs that shaped the genre. One could fuss about the presence of only one Hank Williams tune ("Jambalaya") or a single Loretta Lynn hit ("Coal Miner's Daughter"), but enough classics are included to make this a good representation of country music's pre-crossover era.
Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys – Legends Of Country Music (Columbia/Legacy)
Wills and his band created a unique sound in country music – even though Wills himself resisted the country label. And he had a point. As this four-disc set amply demonstrates, in addition to fashioning his famous Texas swing sound, Wills and his various Texas Playboys lineups incorporated significant elements of jazz, jump blues, and Tin Pan Alley pop into the musical mix. With 105 tracks, the full range of Wills' artistry is showcased here, and it makes for a highly entertaining, consistently satisfying musical journey.
Various Artists – Doctors, Professors, Kings & Queens: The Big Ol' Box of New Orleans (Shout Factory)
Perhaps one good thing that came from the devastating tragedy of Hurricane Katrina is renewed attention to the music of New Orleans. This four-disc box is a great introduction to the varied music that defines the Crescent City and Louisiana. The early rock of Fats Domino, the jazz of Louis Armstrong, the funky and soulful rock of the Neville Brothers, the zydeco of Clifton Chenier, the Cajun sound of BeauSoleil, the soul of Johnny Adams, the blues of Earl King – it's all here.
The Clash – The Singles (Sony/BMG)
The Clash vaults were well plundered with the box set Clash On Broadway, but The Singles is still a cool package, with each single and accompanying B-side housed individually with its original sleeve artwork. Beyond the format, a handful of unreleased B-sides that debut on this 66-song collection will appeal to Clash completists, while the prime singles still stand as some of the most stirring rock 'n' roll ever recorded.
Waylon Jennings – Nashville Rebel (RCA/Legacy)
One of country's true outlaws, Waylon Jennings' lengthy career filled with rough-hewn songs gets nicely covered with this four-disc set. From "Luckenbach, Texas" to "Good Hearted Woman" and back.
John Lee Hooker – Hooker (Shout Factory)
As one of the true giants of blues, it's surprising that Hooker has never gotten the full box set treatment until now. Hooker does justice to the career of this master of raw, primal blues. Its 83 tracks cover his entire career, from seminal songs like "Boogie Chillen" (the signature song that launched his career in 1949), and "Boom Boom" through material from his late-career revival that began with the Grammy-winning 1989 album, The Healer.
Various Artists – That's Entertainment: The Ultimate Anthology of MGM Musicals (Turner Classic Movies/Rhino)
The history of MGM as Hollywood's premier studio for filmed musicals was celebrated with a trilogy of three That's Entertainment movies. This whopping six-CD set – an updated version of a 1995 box set – includes the songs that served as the soundtrack to the films, plus a full disc of previously unreleased material. An essential collection for fans of the golden era of Hollywood musicals.
The Byrds – There Is A Season (Columbia/Legacy)
Replacing a 1990 four-disc Byrds box, this set offers enough different material to make it worth owning. In particular, There Is A Season trades out a number of studio tracks from the band's later, more country-centric lineups (1968-1973), and also adds a healthy chunk of unreleased live performances from that era and tops things off with a DVD of performances by the original Byrds lineup.
Buddy Guy – Can't Quit The Blues (Silvertone/Legacy)
Guy's turbo-charged vision for the blues was largely underappreciated when he was on Chess Records in the 1950s and '60s, so it's fitting that two of the three CDs here are devoted to his post-1990 output. While a little more early material would have been welcome, Can't Quit The Blues does a good job covering Guy's artistry, from fiery tracks like "Damn Right, I've Got The Blues" and "Someone Else Is Steppin' In (Slippin' Out, Steppin' In)" to fine acoustic performances from his 2001 album, Sweet Tea.
The Pretenders – Pirate Radio (Warner Bros./Sire/Rhino)
While one of modern rock's most enduring bands, The Pretenders had a few uneven albums over the years. But this four-CD/one-DVD demonstrates singer/guitarist Chrissie Hynde has written a lot of first-rate material. Pirate Radio has nearly all of the band's prime cuts, as it showcases Hynde's considerable talent for writing lean and tuneful rockers ("Precious," "Middle Of The Road," or "Legalize Me"), graceful ballads ("I Go To Sleep," "2000 Miles"), or snappy pop ("Brass In Pocket," "Don't Get Me Wrong").
Various Artists – A Life Less Lived: The Gothic Box (Rhino)
This three-disc/one-DVD set revisits the golden age of Goth (roughly 1983-1987), with a good cross-section of songs by such trailblazing acts such as Joy Division, Bauhaus, and Siouxsie & the Banshees, as well as cuts from a few acts (The Cure, The Cult, and Echo & the Bunnymen) whose music branched well beyond the Goth genre.