Sounds: Boxed sets: Sumptuous musical gifts for the holidays


You’d think by now the vaults would be empty.

But in fact, 2013 has produced a bumper crop of quality musical boxed sets, as the capsule reviews of pop, roots, classical and jazz collections below reveal. True, much of the reissued music has been reissued before, but the devaluation of music has also challenged labels to be creative.

1) THE ANIMALS “The Mickie Most Years and More” (ABKCO/​Real Gone Music, 3 1/​2 stars; 5 CDs, $84.98)

Of the first wave of British Invasion bands, none was more rabidly intense about American blues and R&B than the Animals. This set presents the band’s first four U.S. albums, as well as their debut EP, on CD for the first time, with a bit of bonus material. (Mickie Most was the producer.) Fronted by commanding singer Eric Burdon, the Animals brought a blistering new vitality to the American music the members worshiped. Most of the selections come from that source, including their breakout No. 1 hit, a devastating reinterpretation of the traditional “House of the Rising Sun.” Also here are later new-music singles such as “We Gotta Get Out of This Place” and “It’s My Life,” whose class-conscious defiance and desperation were big influences on Bruce Springsteen, for one.

2) THE BAND “Live at the Academy of Music, 1971” (Capitol, 2 1/​2 stars; 4 CDs, 1 DVD, $61.35)

That’s the Academy of Music in New York, not Philadelphia. The Band’s concerts there on the last four nights of 1971 were originally documented on the 1972 live album “Rock of Ages,” already reissued with bonus tracks in 2001. The music on this set is great, but the set suffers from redundancies and misleading labeling. The first two discs build a set list compiled from multiple shows, the third and fourth contain the New Year’s Eve show (which included a four-song Bob Dylan encore) in its entirety, and the DVD contains an audio-surround mix of that same show, with video of only two songs. And really, do we need liner notes from Jim James and Mumford & Sons telling us they think the Band is awesome?

3) THE BEACH BOYS “Made in California” (Capitol, 3 1/​2 stars; 6 CDs, $105.73)

The Beach Boys are the archetypal American dysfunctional-family band, and this sprawling set does justice to the Boys’ uneven oeuvre, filled with harmony, happy highs and irreconcilable lows. It’s for serious fans only, telling the Wilson family story in unconventional fashion. It gets spotty after the first two near-perfect discs, but contains late-breaking gems, like the late Dennis Wilson’s rare “(Wouldn’t It Be Nice) to Live Again.”

4) THE CLASH “Sound System” (Legacy, 4 stars; 11 CDs, 1 DVD, $162.46)

Clash guitarist Mick Jones was deeply involved in this be-all / end-all boombox-shape set, and the attention to detail shows. It includes all five great albums — and yes, 1982’s “Combat Rock” belongs on that list — and tracks the British quartet’s astonishingly speedy growth curve as the musicians move from rawboned punk through American rockabilly and R&B to Jamaican dub and hip-hop. Includes loads of audio and video extras, and bonus items like badges and decals. A band that burned hot in its time, and was well ahead of it.

5) BOB DYLAN “The Complete Albums Collection, Vol. 1” (Legacy, 4 stars; 47 CDs, $179.98); “Another Self-Portrait (1969-71), The Bootleg Series, Vol. 10” (Legacy, 3 1/​2 stars; 2 CDs, $17.90)

Dylan has two stocking-stuffers on offer. The first collects all his official live and studio albums, from his fresh-faced folkie, Woody Guthrie-mimicking, self-titled debut in 1962 to last year’s deathly “Tempest.” It’s not all brilliant, but it’s a bargain at less than $4 a disc. Less of a cash outlay is needed for “Another Self-Portrait,” which rectifies one of Dylan’s weakest albums by stripping away perverse production touches, dropping some of the original’s head-scratching howlers (like Paul Simon’s “The Boxer”) and adding choice outtakes.

6) DONNY HATHAWAY “Never My Love: The Anthology” (Rhino, 3 stars; 4 CDs, $38.33)

This collection is late to the Donny Hathaway revival party, with the likes of Alicia Keys and John Legend & the Roots covering songs by the classically trained soul man, who committed suicide in 1979. “Never My Love” gathers hits like “The Ghetto” and Leon Russell’s “A Song For You,” unreleased tracks from the mid-1970s fallow period, when Hathaway was struggling with mental illness, and includes a live disc and duets with Roberta Flack. It’s not definitive — gems like his cover of John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy” are missing. Still, there’s enough to convey the range of Hathaway’s talents and offer hard-core fans a fair share of previously unavailable nuggets.

7) RICHARD PRYOR “No Pryor Restraint” (Shout Factory, 4 stars; 7 CDs, 2 DVDs, $60.91)

Best standup comic ever? The case is made in this voluminous box, which starts off with Pryor, during a 1966 San Francisco gig, riffing on growing up in Peoria, Ill., and shows his improvisational powers at their scintillating peak in 1979’s “Richard Pryor: Live in Concert," one of three full-length shows included in the package’s DVD discs. Mel Brooks, Bob Newhart, and Dick Gregory testify to his greatness, and Pryor backs up their words on stage.

8) HERBIE HANCOCK “Herbie Hancock: The Complete Columbia Album Collection 1972-1988” (Legacy/​Sony, 3 1/​2 stars; 34 CDs, $213)

In this 16-year capsule of his legendary career, pianist and composer Herbie Hancock shows how deftly he traversed the artistic and the commercial. This epic set begins as the onetime Chicago child prodigy is emerging from the second Miles Davis Quintet (1963-68) and creating the “Mwandishi” Sextet, which used African influences. It includes the famed Headhunters and V.S.O.P. recordings, the Oscar-winning soundtrack for the movie Round Midnight, the pop efforts of the Rockit band, and eight CDs released in Japan but never here. About half made Billboard’s top 200 albums charts, attesting to Hancock’s commercial juju. He was also an astute composer: The collection features multiple renditions of classic tunes, such as "Watermelon Man," "Maiden Voyage," and "Dolphin Dance."