There's More to Boxed Sets Than the Beatles Presidential Speeches, Global Divas, and European Blues Come Alive on Some of the Most Imaginative CD Collections

By Frank Scheck, | The Christian Science Monitor, December 18, 1995 | Go to article overview

There's More to Boxed Sets Than the Beatles Presidential Speeches, Global Divas, and European Blues Come Alive on Some of the Most Imaginative CD Collections


Frank Scheck,, The Christian Science Monitor


THE popularity of anthologies and the cachet of "previously unreleased material" come into full play at holiday gift-giving time.

In stores, boxed sets of compact discs proliferate, partly because they fulfill the listener's yearning for more stuff from familiar artists, and partly because such sets are relatively simple for record companies to produce. This year, there are a number of imaginative collections, some of which are noted here.

History buffs will rejoice at The Library of Congress Presents: Historic Presidential Speeches (1908-1993), a six-CD set recorded by Rhino Records and containing 23 important speeches from every chief executive of the 20th century, from William Howard Taft to Bill Clinton. The first collection of its kind to be assembled, it comes with a 60-page booklet with photos and liner notes written by presidential scholars.

Also by Rhino, But Seriously ... The American Comedy Box (1915-1994) is one of the most comprehensive comedy collections ever assembled. Its 48 tracks feature classic routines by the likes of Lenny Bruce, Abbott & Costello (you guessed it, "Who's on First"), Bob & Ray, Bob Hope, W.C. Fields, Bill Cosby, Second City, Carl Reiner & Mel Brooks, and Richard Pryor.

Rhino recently signed a deal with Ted Turner, who owns the rights to the MGM vaults; the result is a series of reissues of wonderful music from the golden age of Hollywood. Two of the best releases are Mickey & Judy, which collects the soundtracks to such films as "Babes in Arms," "Strike Up the Band," "Babes on Broadway," and "Girl Crazy," and includes previously unheard extended versions, outtakes, and demos.

That's Entertainment! is a huge anthology of great performances from classic MGM musicals (128 tracks in all), featuring stars like Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, and Bing Crosby. Newly remastered, many of these performances have never been released in any audio format, and some selections, cut from original films, have never been heard. A 100-page booklet details the history of the studio.

International music is well represented. Brasil: A Century of Song (Blue Jacket) details the history of the country's music in four CDs. Separated by period and genre, it presents examples of folk and traditional music, carnaval, bossa nova, and modern pop. Most of these tracks have been unavailable in the United States.

A more unusual set is Planet Squeezebox (Ellipsis Arts), a collection of accordion music from around the world. Although this musical instrument has been much maligned, this three-disc set makes the case for its importance, with examples of its use in classical, zydeco, blues, jazz, avant garde, polka, Tex-Mex, South American, Caribbean, African, Arab, and Russian music.

Global Divas: Voices From Women of the World (Rounder) collects 41 selections from female singers representing more than 30 nations, from the legendary (Edith Piaf, Marlene Dietrich, Patsy Cline) to current international stars like Celia Cruz and Miriam Makeba.

One of the most important jazz releases of the year is the long awaited Miles Davis - Complete Live at the Plugged Nickel (Columbia), an eight-CD set documenting the legendary live recordings of Davis's 1965 performances at a Chicago club. These shows came at a critical phase in his artistic development, and document his shift from classic to more free-form jazz.

Other important reissues include The Complete Capitol Recordings of Duke Ellington (Mosaic, mail-order only, (203) 327-7111), although the years covered (1953-55) were among his least inspired, and Clifford Brown: The Complete Blue Note and Pacific Jazz Recordings (Blue Note), documenting the too-short career of a superb trumpeter. …

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