BEACH BOYS: Made In California (Capitol/UME Records) – This new six-CD box has its share of new goodies, including many unreleased tracks (usually alternate takes of songs that have surfaced before on other albums) and a set of live cuts that smartly focuses on cover songs and lesser-known originals. It’s not the first Beach Boys box, but it provides a good overview of the many ups and downs of the group’s 50-year history. – 4 stars
STEPHEN STILLS: Carry On (Atlantic/Rhino Records) – This four-disc set nicely sums up a career in which Stills wrote several absolute classics – including For What It’s Worth with Buffalo Springfield, Suite: Judy Blue Eyes for Crosby, Stills & Nash and the solo hit Love the One You’re With – and many more enduring songs. Dive in and chances are you’ll gain a new appreciation for Stills’ talents. – 4 stars
MILES DAVIS QUINTET: Live in Europe 1969: The Bootleg Series Vol. 2 (Columbia/Legacy Records) – Together only in 1969 and 1970, this unit (keyboardist Chick Corea, saxophonist Wayne Shorter, bassist Dave Holland and drummer Jack DeJohnette) was the least documented of Miles Davis’ groups. Live in Europe 1969 changes that with three concerts on CD and one on DVD that hint at how rapidly Davis was evolving musically heading into his landmark 1970 rock-influenced album, Bitches Brew. – 4 stars
SLY & THE FAMILY STONE: Higher (Epic/Legacy Records) – This four-disc set features this trailblazing rock/pop/R&B/funk group’s enduring hits, many great album cuts and 17 unreleased tracks. Add in a photo-filled book with insightful track-by-track commentary and you have a first-rate survey of the group’s career. – 4½ stars
CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL: Boxed Set (Fantasy Records) – This repackaged version of the Creedence Clearwater Revival box set from 2001 is great. Just make sure your intended gift recipient doesn’t already own the 2001 set. – 4 stars
THE WHO: Tommy (UME Records) – This new four-CD box set version of the band’s landmark 1969 rock opera, Tommy, includes a nearly complete set of Pete Townshend’s Tommy demos that put many of the songs in a new light, plus an inspired 1969 concert performance that brings Tommy to vivid life on stage. – 4½ stars
THE BAND: Live at the Acad-emy of Music 1971 (Capitol/UME Records) – The Last Waltz might be more famous, but the best Band live album was 1972’s Rock of Ages. This four-CD set expands the original, adding the complete Dec. 31, 1971, performance that featured a four-song encore with Bob Dylan. The songs are great, the playing inspired and the show captures The Band at its absolute peak. – 5 stars
THE BEATLES: On Air – Live at the BBC Volume 2 (Capitol/UME Records) – Diehard Beatles fans have long known the 1994 two-CD Live at the BBC was just the tip of the iceberg when it came to performances by the group in the BBC vaults. Here are two more discs of radio performances of Beatles originals and covers that are just as good as the first set. – 4 stars
THE CLASH: Sound System (Epic/Legacy Records) – This 12-disc set starts with the influential band’s five classic albums. But fans will be drawn to the good number of unreleased demos, outtakes and live performances that debut here. It’s more than a casual fan might want, but the Clash warranted a thorough collection like this. – 4½ stars
SOME OTHER POSSIBILITIES: Legacy Records continued its Complete Album Collection series this year. The big entry is the Bob Dylan set, which features all 41 of his albums.
There are also sets compiling Paul Simon’s 12 solo albums, Harry Nilsson’s RCA albums, Herbie Hancock’s 28-album Columbia Records catalog, Taj Mahal’s Columbia Records catalog and mono versions of the nine albums Miles Davis released between 1957 and 1964.
Universal Records got into the act with the Moody Blues Timeless Flight set that has 11 CDs of studio and live tracks, three discs in DVD-Audio and three DVDs of videos and concert performances.
If someone on your shopping list is a fan of any of these artists – and is missing some of the albums in these sets – any of these could be just the ticket for this year’s gift.
Other sets that make good gifts include: the deluxe edition of Eric Clapton’s Unplugged album, which adds a half dozen unissued performances and a DVD that includes the original show plus the full 14-song rehearsal; the deluxe edition of Nirvana’s final album, In Utero, with outtakes and demos; the three-disc Elvis at Stax set, which assembles 57 tracks from The King’s final recording sessions in 1973; the deluxe edition of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s debut album, Texas Flood, which adds a 1983 concert to the package; a two-CD/one DVD Julio Iglesias hits set, 1 Greatest Hits, with a DVD of his Starry Night concert; and a reissue of super group Mad Season’s lone album, Above, which features the original album and a DVD with performances from two concerts.