The holiday season is ripe for reminiscing, be it with old friends, distant relatives or beloved songs. While the music industry has shifted its focus to streaming services, reissues and box sets are one pop tradition that isn’t going away. Here, we look at 10 of our favorite archival releases this year.
Garth Brooks, “The Anthology - Part 1” (Pearl). Brooks not only has assembled a curated walk through the early part of his career with five CDs organized chronologically (including alternate takes as well as songs he never put in his original albums), but he’s also written a 240-page book, “The First Five Years,” reminiscing about his journey, and detailing stories behind each of these 52 songs. For those who can never get enough Garth. $39.95. —Randy Lewis
Johnny Cash, “Unearthed” (American). It’s great to have this 2003 collection of outtakes from the Man in Black’s series of late-career albums with producer Rick Rubin on vinyl at long last — seven LPs with the alternate takes and unused songs, plus two more with highlights from the original albums. His distinctive renditions of vintage country, folk, blues, rock and gospel songs, as well as his interpretations of cannily chosen songs by the likes of Neil Young, Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, Kris Kristofferson, Steve Earle and others, remains a monumental listening experience. $246.99. —R.L.
Eagles, “Hotel California” (Asylum). This 40th anniversary deluxe three-disc edition lands nearly a year late, for those of you keeping score. Nevertheless, it’s a generous examination of one of the iconic albums of 1970s mainstream rock, led by the ubiquitous title track that, thanks to nonstop radio play over the last four decades, has embedded itself into the consciousness of music fans whether they liked it or not.
That its omnipresence generates so many haters is a shame because it really is a masterful work — the song and the album. A remastered version of the album occupies disc one, while the second brings in live performances during a homecoming stand at the Forum in Inglewood in October 1976, just before “Hotel California’s” release, with perfectly executed versions of “New Kid in Town” as well as their earlier hits. The third is a Blu-ray audio disc with high-resolution audio mixes and a 5.1 surround mix that delivers the added presence and full sonic richness of the original master tapes. A cloth-bound 46-page companion book features period photos, reproduced concert tickets and programs and other memorabilia. $99.98 (deluxe edition -- two CDs, one Blu-ray and book), $19.98 for two-CD expanded edition, $9.98 for single CD. —R.L.
The Fall, “Singles 1978-2016” (Cherry Red). The Mancunian singer-lyricist Mark E. Smith has burned through enough former bandmates to occupy a public housing project, but for 40-odd years his band the Fall has nonetheless consistently delivered angular, guitar-driven post-punk over which he’s spewed poetic diatribes about life in post-industrial England. For this new seven-disc box, its current label, Cherry Red, has licensed all 117 singles and B-sides since 1978. The end product features primitive early standouts such as “Lie Dream of a Casino Soul” and “The Man Whose Head Expanded,” gussied-up mid-period dance-rock tracks “C.R.E.E.P.” and “Why Are People Grudgeful” and later period rants and rockers “Sir William Mary” and “Wise Old Man.” Pick a period and messed-up surprises abound. $63.99. — Randall Roberts
Ella Fitzgerald, “Ella at Zardi’s” (Verve/UMe). The final installment in a year-long series of Verve releases timed to the 100th anniversary of the jazz great’s birth, this previously unreleased live album was recorded in February 1956 at the old Hollywood night spot just down Vine Street from the Capitol Records Tower, where Fitzgerald would go just days later to begin work on her landmark “Sings the Cole Porter Song Book” album. In the two sets captured here, though, she sounds as carefree as could be, bantering with her trio, taking requests from the crowd, even admitting at one point that she doesn’t know all the lyrics to “Tenderly.” You’re unlikely to notice. $13.98. —Mikael Wood
John Lee Hooker, “King of the Boogie” (Craft Recordings). The Mississippi-born blues singer, guitarist and songwriter made a striking presence out of the gate with his career-launching hit “Boogie Chillen,’” which came out of his first recording session in 1948. From there he proved to be an exceptionally prolific writer and recording artist, laying down some of the most haunting, intense blues ever recorded over the span of the more than 100 albums he released before his death in 2001 at age 83.
This five-CD, 100-track compilation touches all aspects of his legacy, from those early solo recordings through his generous series of high-profile collaborations with such peers and disciples as B.B. King, Van Morrison, Bonnie Raitt, Eric Clapton, Robert Cray, Joe Cocker and Los Lobos. The music is complemented by new essays from Hooker scholar Jas Obrecht and Hooker’s friend and manager Mike Kappus. Among the many testimonials included in the 56-page book is this one from Tom Petty, which nails Hooker’s lasting appeal: “John Lee Hooker just drives me crazy. When I hear him I get fever and chills.” $69.99 –R.L.
Johnny Mathis, “The Voice of Romance” (Legacy Recordings). Given that he’s still making new records at age 82 — including a fine collection of modern pop interpretations issued just weeks ago — this handsomely designed box of Mathis’ complete Columbia Records catalog may not stay complete for long. But fans already know the vintage stuff, of course; the real draw here is a pair of intriguing collaborations finally seeing proper release: “I Love My Lady,” a thrumming disco-era collection overseen by Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards of Chic, and “The Island,” with creamy, Latin-tinged production by Brazil’s Sergio Mendes. Both demonstrate how nimble a singer Mathis has always been — and how curious a mind. $427.49. —M.W.
Minnie Riperton, “Perfect Angel: Deluxe Edition” (Ume). Best known for her slow-burning hit single, “Loving You,” and for being comedic actress Maya Rudolph’s late mother, Riperton’s essential 1974 soul album has been given the deluxe treatment, in the form of a double-disc package featuring outtakes and extended cuts. The album was co-produced by Riperton’s widower, Richard Rudolph, but due to contractual issues their other collaborator, Stevie Wonder, wasn’t credited. His presence is hard to miss, especially on the heavenly extended mix of “Our Lives,” which features Wonder’s archetypal harmonica lines intermingling with Riperton’s distinctive, high-register voice. $19.98. — R.R.
Various artists, “At the Louisiana Hayride Tonight” (Bear Family). Those magnificent obsessives at Germany’s Bear Family label have gathered more than 24 hours of live recordings from the long-running “Louisiana Hayride” radio show out of Shreveport, a generally looser and livelier counterpart to the more widely known Grand Ole Opry.
In addition to valuable documentation of performances by such vital country and early rock figures as Hank Williams, George Jones, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, Ernest Tubb and the Louvin Brothers, this 20-CD set gives contemporary audiences a glimpse at lesser known but often influential performers such as Johnnie & Jack, Cousin Emmy, the Bailes Brothers and Shot Jackson. Announcers’ introductions for the artists, and their on-air plugs for sponsors’ products, add to the sense of experiencing these uplifting shows as they happened.
In Presley’s Oct. 15, 1954, performance of his breakthrough single “That’s All Right,” one can feel the electric anticipation as he can barely wait for the show’s announcer to stop talking so he, guitarist Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black can get down to business. The accompanying 226-page book not only identifies dates of all the performances, but also provides plenty of historical context. $230. — R.L.
"Weird Al" Yankovic, "Squeeze Box" (Legacy Recordings). All 14 of Yankovic's studio albums are quite literally folded in here for one of the most strikingly creative box set packages ever — the vinyl LPs are housed in the bellows of a replica of one of his favorite accordions, non-functioning, unfortunately.
Because several of the albums were never originally available on vinyl, this is a bonus for vinyl-loving Yankovites, and the 15th LP encompasses 15 rarities and alternate takes such as a Japanese-language translation of his "MacArthur Park" parody, "Jurashiku Park," the demo recording of "Yoda" and his original James Bond-theme parody, "Spy Hard." Consistently brilliant, and hilarious. $399.98 (vinyl); $299.98 (CD). —R.L.