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Five for Friday: Box Sets

The holiday season is all about giving. And now it's time to reward yourself. Even if there's still shopping for others to be done, the end is near, and that means soon it will be necessary to cleanse the holiday palate. We're biased, but we recommend doing so by carving out time alone with music. And since you're still reading, we recommend a boxed set. It's an opportunity to dig deep and to get lost in an artist's catalog – or, in some cases, a singular album – and rediscover something old. Herewith five of our favorite recent boxed seats. So treat yourself. You deserve it.

The Band The Last Waltz 40th Anniversary
A detailed snapshot of one of the most celebrated concerts in history, this set documents how joyful a finale can be. Hosted in San Francisco by the Band – and designed, essentially, by the act as a swan song to touring – The Last Waltz has been immortalized on record and on film (by director Martin Scorsese). But here, for perhaps the first time, we grasp the event's true ambitiousness and expansiveness. Of the multiple configurations available, the four-CD/Blu-ray and 180 6LP sets seem the best bets, offering glimpses at rehearsal and other behind-the-scene gems that never made it on the screen. A who's who of blues, country, rock and Americana luminaries make appearances, including Eric Clapton, Neil Diamond, Bob Dylan, Ronnie Hawkins, Dr. John, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, Muddy Waters, and Neil Young.

Social Distortion The Independent Years 1983 – 2004
One of Southern California's most consistent punk rock acts, Social Distortion took a love for Johnny Cash and an obsession with the Clash and came out with something that sounds tough, raw, and even twangy. This four-disc colored vinyl collection captures some of the band's most striking early work – the rush of "Mommy's Little Monster" from the debut of the same name, for instance – through Sex, Love and Rock 'n' Roll, a relatively recent album that shows off its earnestness. But the highlight may be the cranked-to-11 rootsiness of the group's sophomore Prison Bound, replete with outlaw gusto and heart-on-the-sleeve honesty.

Otis Redding Live at the Whisky A Go Go: The Complete Recordings
Commemorating seven concerts in three nights at Whisky A Go Go on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles during April 1966, this six-CD set documents a rollicking, early rhythm & blues revue led by Otis Redding. From the opening song, Redding's voice sounds scorched. He spends the entire set at full throttle. His instrument is a lived rasp full of excitement and anticipation. While plenty of same-song duplication occurs over the course of the discs, Redding's boisterousness proves infectious, even on the second or third go-around. Check out his swinging, out-of-breath take on the Rolling Stones' "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" or the sterling horns on the spunky "Respect" and fall in love.

Big Star Complete Third
A mystery of a pop record, Big Star's Third already exists in multiple formats and several sequences. It remains a work of confounding, rootsy beauty – at times grim, at times jangly, and at times celebratory. The album, primarily from Alex Chilton and Jody Stephens, even occasionally feels eerie, a statement less about coming of age than reconciling with it. There's the heartache of "Thank You Friends," the psychedelic silliness of "Kizza Me," the slow-dance weirdness of "Stroke It Noel," and plenty in-between. With 69 tracks spread over three discs (three separate two-LP sets are planned for 2017), Complete Third shows all the stress and ambiguity that goes into making a brilliant pop record – and does so without giving away any secrets.

Gas Box
Consider this 10LP/4CD collection a crash course in the experimental electronic work of Wolfgang Voigt. Box collects vinyl and CD versions of his Zauberberg, Königsforst, Pop, and Oktember albums. Voigt, an underground cult hero of 90s dance music, has long specialized in ambient techno that mesmerizes via its repetitiveness and grips your senses by way of subtle variations. His music works as equally well in an art gallery as it does at a late-night club. Depending on the need, it can slow down time or speed it up. Shape-shifting static and quiet symphonic waves often obscure the beats. The tone – and perspective – dramatically changes as to whether you focus on the groove or the atmospheres. Grab Box and experience the wondrous effect.

December 16, 2016

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