Ten Great Musical Gifts for the Holidays

This year saw the release of many truly stellar box sets and re-issues from the Holy Grail of Western pop music (the earliest Louis Armstrong recordings and the Beatles remasters on vinyl) to indie heroes like Sugar and folk pioneer Woody Guthrie. Here’s ten of our faves.


The Okeh Columbia & RCA Victor Recordings 1925-1933 ($64.99)

This set is arguably the most vital in the entire history of popular music. These 10 earliest recordings by the legendary Louis Armstrong pretty much set the template for jazz and hugely influenced the myriad forms of popular music that would develop in their wake. If you love music, any kind of music, you need this set, period. Even classical music lovers will admire the complete virtuosity present right at the get-go in the first 1925 sessions. Available for only $64.99 at Amazon, the set is a must-have and it’s a limited edition, so don’t wait. Alongside this release, Legacy has also put out other superb limited editions this year in the “Complete Album Collection” series, including collections from Bessie Smith, Duke Ellington and Charlie Christian. — Sarah Zupko [Amazon]


Original Studio Album Remasters on 180-Gram Vinyl ($319.00)

Here’s the second half of the one-two punch with arguably the second most important recordings in the history of Western pop music… and on the format (LP) that they were originally recorded on. EMI has lovingly packaged the 14 albums, which include Post Masters, Volumes One and Two, into a gorgeous box set complete with full replicated artwork and a beautiful 252-page hardback book. Did I mention these records possess true audiophile sound? They’re a marvel as you drift away, listening to some of the most classic tunes in pop music on the proper format for which the compositions were intended, but improved with 21st century remastering. This is another limited set and it will set you back $319.00 online, but it’s well worth the price for the Beatles fanatic. — Sarah Zupko [Amazon]


Copper Blue / File Under: Easy Listening (Deluxe Editions) ($26.98 for both)

Well-positioned after the ascension of the Alternative Nation, Bob Mould’s post-Hüsker Dü band managed two great albums (and an EP) in its short lifespan. Now here’s the perfect chance to dig into its catalog. The new edition of Copper Blue encompasses three discs, which in addition to the original album contains single b-sides, the 1993 Beaster EP, and a full concert performed at Chicago’s Cabaret Metro in July 1992. The slightly larger helping of b-sides available with Merge’s File Under: Easy Listening pressing (six to Copper Blue’s four) goes a small way toward making up for the lack of an equivalent to Beaster to help pad out the package. The stronger nature of these help rectify some of the imbalance that exists between FU:EL and its companion reissue. What a way to show the kids both in 1992 and in 2012 how it’s done, Bob Mould. — AJ Ramirez [Amazon: Copper Blue / File Under: Easy Listening]


Woody at 100: The Woody Guthrie Centennial Collection ($59.99)

Amazingly, given how many Guthrie sets there are to date, the folks at Smithsonian Folkways have found some new songs that make their first appearance here. The most memorable of these is “Them Big City Ways”, about a small town boy who moves to the metropolis and gets repossessed almost out of existence. If none of the new songs are “essential,” they’ll still be a boon to completists, while those who only know Guthrie’s most famous songs will get a much more rounded overview from Woody at 100. This set also comes with a 150-page book that offers a nice pictorial overview of Guthrie’s career. — Jeff Schwager [Amazon]


The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (40th Anniversary Edition) ($11.89)

If you analyzed the evolution of rock music over the last 50 years, you’d find that few artists, if any, were as thoroughly innovative, outrageous, diverse, dedicated, and influential as David Bowie. It’s easy to appreciate how Ziggy Stardust was a revolutionary record in 1972, and it’s still as vibrant, significant, and enjoyably today. As for the 40th anniversary edition, both the CD and heavyweight vinyl come in identical gatefold sleeves (which contain the original artwork). Inside the central sleeve of the vinyl is the DVD-A, which includes several mixes of the album, as well as about 15 minutes worth of bonus tracks. Of course, the whole affair sounds better than ever, and the packaging is superb. — Jordan Blum [Amazon]


Graceland (25th Anniversary Edition CD/DVD) ($12.99) / Collector’s Edition Box Set ($115.20)

Containing a disc of bonus tracks, a brand new documentary, and a 1987 concert, this commemorative set proves to be the definitive word on Paul Simon’s greatest work. The set includes Under African Skies, a recent documentary that spent the spring and summer on the movie festival circuit. Not only is it the only real bit of new footage or material this reissue offers, but it’s also a pretty comprehensive look at exactly how popular Graceland proved to be and how polarizing its political consequences remained for years after the album’s initial release. This 25th anniversary package is proof that those subversive words with which Simon has become so brilliant at writing can actually still mean something to generations filled with both cool kids and nerds alike. — Colin McGuire [Amazon]


The Wall (Immersion Edition) ($105.00)

Put simply, this is the definitive edition of an essential album. As I looked through the extensive box set that EMI crafted, I realized that there really was only one thing I could say about the album. Once I had looked through the photography that gives a beautiful snapshot of the extravagant live shows for the album, listened to the demo tracks that thoroughly show the nascent stages of what would become the album. In short, The Wall is a masterpiece. The additional CDs that come with this box set include the two-disc live album “Is There Anybody Out There?” (initially released in 2000), two discs of demos, and a bonus DVD featuring a documentary about the live shows and some music videos. — Brice Ezell [Amazon]


The 50th Anniversary Collection ($45.03)

In this new box set, The 50th Anniversary Collection, Ben Jaffe gets to show off his family’s history with New Orleans music, as well as a few new wrinkles of his own. Authenticity is all over this four-CD collection. If you love New Orleans music, or jazz, or rhythm and blues, or funk, or rock, or music history, or fun, then your heart will thrill hearing this track and the other songs from the 1960s and 1970s scattered all over this collection. But this set isn’t just old-school nostalgia. The classic tracks from the 1960s and 1970s nestle alongside newer material from the last couple of decades, and glitzy guest artists like Tom Waits and Andrew Bird. High marks all around — as well as a renewed interest in what comes next for this hot “new” American jazz group. — Matt Cibula [Amazon]


So (25th Anniversary Deluxe Edition) ($21.24)

Peter Gabriel’s smash So album is, in a sense, the story of how an idiosyncratic artist who always seemed to keep pop stardom at arm’s length became a proper pop star. Both the three-disc edition and the four-disc Immersion Box are packaged with a previously unreleased recording of a 1987 concert in Athens, Greece (the box set also includes the concert footage on a DVD). Spread over two discs, the live set finds Gabriel’s voice in top form, firmly in the center of proceedings while still allowing space for the backing instrumentalists to dazzle. It’s amazing how immense the performance can feel at one point, and how hushed and intimate it can be in another — sometimes it’s the interjection of gracious applause that’s the only reminder that Gabriel is playing to an audience. — AJ Ramirez [Amazon]


Mermaid Avenue: The Complete Sessions ($29.99)

When Billy Bragg and Wilco undertook the Mermaid Avenue project, they simply wanted to lead people back to the music of Woody Guthrie. What they actually achieved was so much more. Now, almost 14 years after the initial release of Mermaid Avenue, Nonesuch re-released Volumes I and II as part of a set that includes a third volume of previously-unreleased songs and “Man in the Sand”. The release corresponds with the centennial anniversary of Guthrie’s birth and an ever-growing interest in a man whose legacy continues to spread far beyond music. — Michael Franco [Amazon]

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