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GIFT GUIDE | Boxed Sets

All Wrapped Up and Ready to Go


One reason Bob Dylan's "Love and Theft" and Angie Stone's "Mahogany Soul" are two of the most rewarding albums of the year is that they refocus attention on the soulful roots of pop music.

Dylan's album revives the country, blues, folk and gospel influences on rock with such commitment and confidence that it is a striking demonstration of the vitality of the rock 'n' roll art form Dylan helped create four decades ago.

Stone's approach is narrower but still valuable--a look at the rich, purposeful legacy of the '60s and '70s soul music of Curtis Mayfield, Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin.

For those who want to follow up on this roots/soul study course, several new boxed sets are ideal starting places. They range from a companion piece to the excellent "American Roots Music" series on PBS to Rhino Records' marvelously broad, six-disc salute to black music in America. Here is a look at those albums and other boxed sets available this holiday season.



**** SIMON & GARFUNKEL, "Simon & Garfunkel: The Columbia Studio Recordings 1964-1970" (Columbia Legacy). If you want a safe gift choice, this five-disc collection includes all the duo's albums, along with bonus tracks on each.

**** VARIOUS ARTISTS, "American Roots Music" (Palm). Here's an album that only scratches the surface of the "roots" music (from blues and folk to gospel and country) that blossomed during the first half of the 20th century and that now serves as the philosophical foundation of contemporary pop.

But many of the essential names are represented in the four-disc set: from country (Jimmie Rodgers, the Carter Family), the blues (Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters), gospel (Thomas A. Dorsey, Mahalia Jackson), folk (Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly)--as well as an introduction to Cajun, tejano and Native American artists.

**** VARIOUS ARTISTS, "The Musical Biography of Quincy Jones" (Rhino). The subject here isn't a style but a man, though his distinguished career as a musician, composer, arranger, conductor and producer has brought him in touch with so many historic figures that it's tempting to think of the album as yet another overview of American pop since World War II.

In the four discs, we follow Jones, who has won 26 Grammys, from his trumpet solo on "Kingfish" with the Lionel Hampton orchestra in 1951 to his work as arranger-producer on Sarah Vaughan's "Misty" in 1958, then on to studio connections with Count Basie, Ray Charles, Duke Ellington, Frank Sinatra, Paul Simon, Patti Austin and Michael Jackson. The set also includes Jones' film/TV music and highlights from his various albums. Classy.

**** VARIOUS ARTISTS, "Nuggets II: Original Artifacts From the British Empire and Beyond" (Rhino). The original "Nuggets" set, which toasted underground American garage bands from the '60s, is one of the great documents of American pop--a collection of non-hits that demonstrated the energy and desire that caused millions to pick up guitars or sit down behind the drum kits. This worthy four-disc sequel introduces us to a flood of hopeful bands, mostly from Britain, that toiled away in near obscurity, hoping to be the next ones to follow the Beatles and the Stones in the British rock invasion of America. Some eventual stars--including David Bowie and the Move--are represented.

**** VARIOUS ARTISTS, "Say It Loud!/A Celebration of Black Music in America" (Rhino). It's hard for even a six-disc package to serve as a definitive look at a subject as broad as black music in America, but one way to measure how closely a set matches your sensibilities is to think of some essential figures and see if they are represented in it.

In my case, I chose Robert Johnson, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Miles Davis, Bo Diddley, Ray Charles, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Wonder and Public Enemy, and the set fared well. It includes everyone except Public Enemy, an omission lessened by the presence of such other essential rap forces as Kurtis Blow, Grandmaster Flash and N.W.A.

Among the flood of other artists featured on the 108 tracks: Scott Joplin, Louis Armstrong, Leadbelly, Muddy Waters, Dinah Washington, Chuck Berry, John Coltrane, Al Green, Parliament and De La Soul.



***those BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD, "Box Set" (Rhino). The Springfield wove country, blues and folk strains into a distinctive brand of rock that captured the optimism and individuality of youth in the late '60s. This four-disc collection is more than the curious fan is going to want to know about the group that consisted initially of Neil Young, Stephen Stills, Richie Furay, Bruce Palmer and Dewey Martin, but the scores of demos or unreleased recordings add valuable insight into the workings of the band that was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997.

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