Hunter S. Thompson was patient zero for what would become known as ‘Gonzo journalism’. And 50 years later the infection spreads unchecked, and we have adapted. Writers everywhere emulate his style (and get published); readers still revere his words and methods. This 5-CD set of previously unreleased tapes of Thompson’s adventures captured on his tape recorder will feel as good and immediate as a shot directly to the bloodstream; from his audible renditions of his life with the Hell’s Angels to his time in Vietnam just before the fall of Saigon. This set is the perfect hook-up for those with the most severe Gonzo symptoms.
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To celebrate the 250th anniversary of George Frideric Handel’s death, Harmonia Mundi has released five deluxe box sets covering the full range of the German composer’s repertoire. There are collections devoted to the maestro’s operas, arias and concertos, as well as one containing the Saul and Messiah oratorios. The Messiah is always a splendid gift at this time of the year and a particularly relevant one given the anniversary. Copious and informative liner notes fill in the historical context and sit alongside very fine new recordings.
So amazing and expansive was Nina Simone’s work that it is constantly being remixed, reimagined, repackaged and reconsidered. Since her return to the welcoming embrace of the ancestors, the marketplace has been flooded with no fewer than a dozen reissues and anthologies of Simone’s art. If comprehensiveness and the right balance of bonafide hits, b-side classics, and unreleased live performances are the criteria for a first-rate boxset, then the compilers and producers of To Be Free performed their job masterfully. Spanning the years between 1957 and 1993, the four-disc compilation covers Simone’s years with Bethlehem, Colpix, Philips, RCA, and Columbia Records. Included are nearly all the classics you’d play for some who has never heard of Simone, as well as unreleased material not even in bootleg circulation. By far the most exciting thing about the anthology is the DVD, an Emmy-nominated 1970 documentary enlivened by rare performances and interviews. Engrossing from start to finish, the video gives you a sense of Nina Simone as both an artist and a fearless bandleader. To those of us not fortunate enough to have caught her when she was among the living, the concert footage is a special treat.
U.S. Singles Collection: The Capitol Years 1962-1965 is an aesthetically ambitious new box set that reissues the Beach Boys’ first singles as 16 CD replicas of the original 45s. It collects both the mono and stereo versions of most of the songs, along with a handful of previously unreleased mixes and outtakes and one live track (“409”, from 1965). The box set is a beautiful thing, no doubt—the discs come in cardboard sleeves with original artwork and are accompanied by a hardcover book of great photos, all housed in a “surfboard-inspired” carton with wood veneer inlay—but it is, admittedly, a fetish object for the collector. (It’s worth noting that all of the music spread out over these 16 discs could, in fact, fit onto two discs—but then, the music is not the sole reason for one to own this set.) So it’s a fetish object, yes, but one that has a lot to say about just how innovative the band was prepared to be as it came out of the gate protected in its surf and hot-rod metaphors. [$132.98]
It has been called “the single most important day in the career” of Johnny Cash. The date was January 13, 1968, a year that will forever go down in infamy in American history on account of the shocking assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, not to mention the infamous Tet Offensive, which plunged the United States neck-deep into one of the most unpopular wars the world had ever seen. The Tet Offensive went down mere days after this benchmark date in the life of the Man in Black. January 13, 1968 was the day Cash stepped through the gates of the notorious Northern California maximum security prison at Folsom—flanked by his ever-present entourage of June Carter, Carl Perkins, the Statler Brothers, and his longtime backing band the Tennessee Three—to perform before a mess hall of inmates. There were two performances that day, one at 9:40 am and the other around lunchtime. Both shows were recorded by producer Bob Johnston, although the first show was exclusively used for the official record, after Johnston felt that Cash didn’t quite deliver with the same fire the second time around. But now, for the first time, both sets have been made available as part of this beautiful Legacy Edition, along with an informative DVD with a documentary on Cash’s trip to Folsom, featuring interviews with Roseanne Cash, Merle Haggard, Marty Stuart, and several former inmates who attended the iconic concert. [$39.98]