Box sets 2016: Gifts for the music-obsessed

The industry’s shift to digital and streaming content hasn’t dulled the quality of box sets available. For the music obsessive on your holiday shopping list, there are plenty of new and recent releases to shout about. Here are 10 worth a closer look: 

The Band “The Last Waltz 40th Anniversary” (Rhino)

Four decades after the 1976 all-star swan song to touring hosted in San Francisco by perhaps the most critically acclaimed rock group of the 1970s, fans finally get the entire concert performance spread across four CDs, along with a DVD or Blu-ray of the Martin Scorsese-directed concert film. It’s long been one of the most celebrated musical summit meetings in pop music history for riveting performances by Muddy Waters, Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Eric Clapton, Neil Diamond, Paul Butterfield, Emmylou Harris, the Staple Singers, Ronnie Hawkins, Dr. John and Bobby Charles, as well as the final pairing of Bob Dylan with the Band. Available in multiple configurations from two-CD version to a six-LP vinyl set and a collector’s four-CD, two-Blu-ray set with a bonus interview disc. Prices from $19.98 for the two-CD setup to $259.98 for the four-CD and two Blu-ray collection. 

Big Star, “Complete Third” (Omnivore)

The 1970s Memphis rock band Big Star only put out three albums, but each is now considered a classic, revered by generations of jangle-poppers for their joyous guitar melodies and honored by the goth set for the grim ballads.

Their third was the most bipolar, and featured only two of the original four members, Alex Chilton, who was then best known as the singer for the Box Tops, and drummer Jody Stephens. The songs that came out of those sessions at Ardent Studios include darkened classics “Holocaust,” “Big Black Car” and “Kanga Roo,” and “Complete Third” traces those and the other songs’ evolutions from sketch to final masters.

For those of us who consider “Third” a desert-island album, what Los Angeles label Omnivore has done is jaw-dropping. Not only are Chilton’s demos included, but also alternate mixes from the estimable Memphis producer-keyboardist Jim Dickinson and engineer John Fry. Hear the song “Lovely Day” evolve into “Stroke It Noel.” Trace “Nighttime” from an early germ through to its blossoming. Some of the music within this three-volume set has been issued elsewhere, but having it all in one place is a revelation. $49.99

Gas, “Box” (Mille Plateau/Kompakt)

The German producer Wolfgang Voigt is one of the unsung heroes of electronic dance music. An artist whose work since the early 1990s has driven movements including acid house and at least a half-dozen different techno subgenres, Voigt has released albums under so many pseudonyms — Mike Ink, M:I:5 and Studio 1 among them — that it’s tough to keep track.

Most famously, his four hypnotic albums under the Gas moniker are considered some of the most important ambient albums of the 1990s. Taking cues from Brian Eno’s quiet work and imbuing it with clicks, pops, haze, thumps and the occasional wash of My Bloody Valentine-esque fuzz, the four albums were issued across five fruitful years in the late 1990s. This box gathers those four albums in a striking package. $165.98

Los Angeles Free Music Society, “LAFMS Box Box” (Box Editions)

Founded in Pasadena in the early 1970s, the Los Angeles Free Music Society has served as the region’s hub for free improvisation across nearly 50 years. This dense, imposing set of music features seven hours of recordings made at the Box gallery in Los Angeles during the 2012 exhibition “Beneath the Valley of the Lowest Form of Music: The Los Angeles Free Music Society 1972-2012.” It features contributions by notables including visual and audio artists such as Mike Kelley, Paul McCarthy, Jim Shaw, Rick Potts, Dennis Duck, Dani Tull and a dozen-plus others.

Who needs 13 albums worth of improvised music? With so many brilliant visual minds involved, you’d be surprised. As keepsake, “Box Box” is quite the stunner; it features a few posters, a download code and a wondrous 52-page book that documents the various sonic contraptions, Dr. Seuss-ian horns and amplified circuitry that propelled the mesmerizing – and occasionally dissonant – sounds within. The set is dedicated to Kelley, who died while the 2012 exhibition was happening, and the performances recorded in the wake of his passing are particularly resonant. $355 at Forced Exposure. 

Van Morrison “… It’s Too Late to Stop Now … Volumes II, III, IV & DVD” (Sony Legacy).

Three CDs and a DVD flesh out what was already one of the great rock live albums ever, “It’s Too Late to Stop Now,” which captured the Belfast Cowboy at a creative peak in 1973. These additional volumes let listeners immerse themselves in the joys of Morrison’s masterfully expressive, ever soulful voice and the sterling accompaniment from his Caledonia Soul Orchestra from performances at the Troubadour in West Hollywood, the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium and London’s Rainbow Theatre. $49.99

Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris “The Complete Trio Collection” (Rhino)

These three roots-music veterans didn’t stand a chance of winning when their collaborative “Trio” scored a left-field nomination for album of the year against U2’s “The Joshua Tree” and Michael Jackson’s “Bad” at the 1988 Grammy Awards. But the harmony-drenched record fared well enough — and was sufficiently gratifying to its busy creators — that the women reteamed more than a decade later to release “Trio II,” which like the original looked beyond strictly traditional material; their rendition of Randy Newman’s “Feels Like Home,” with Ronstadt singing lead, is a creamy soft-pop confection. This package collects both albums as well as alternate takes and previously unreleased cuts, including an a cappella “Calling My Children Home” that showcases their stirring vocal blend. $29.98

Elvis Presley “The RCA Albums Collection” (Sony Legacy)

All 57 of the King of Rock ’n’ Roll’s original albums are brought together in this 60-CD box set, which includes three additional discs of alternate takes, live tracks and other Presley recorded ephemera. Elvis obsessives probably already have the definitive 2010 “The Complete Elvis Presley Masters” box that gathered all 711 extant tracks in chronological order, but this set offers an important alternate way of processing his career in the manner in which it was originally presented to the public. $349.99.

Frank Sinatra “World on a String” (UMe)

“Come fly with me,” Frank Sinatra urged in one of his signature songs, and that’s more or less the experience promised by this four-CD set, which collects recordings of far-flung gigs the singer played in Monte Carlo; Sydney, Australia; the Dominican Republic; and Egypt. “Isn’t it wonderful to be in a city that has legalized gambling?” he asks at one point during that last show, staged in 1979 at the base of the pyramids. “Which is what they call trying to cross the street in Cairo.” A DVD features performance footage from other overseas concerts, including one at a crumbling amphitheater in Greece, along with a vintage (and very flattering) documentary about the world tour Sinatra did in 1962 to raise money for children with disabilities. $72

Social Distortion “The Independent Years: 1983 — 2004” (Bicycle Music Co.).

Orange County’s long-battling punk rock band Social Distortion — parts Johnny Cash, parts Clash — gets the vinyl reissue treatment with four of its non-major label albums. Collected here is the Mike Ness-led group’s first album, “Mommy’s Little Monster,” boasting the on-the-attack title track, as well as the turned-up rootsiness of sophomore album “Prison Bound.” Absent may be some of the band’s biggest hits, but this is Social D at its raw best, and one of the set’s more recent works, “Sex, Love and Rock ’n’ Roll,” proved to be one of its more heartfelt. $99.99

Soundgarden “Badmotorfinger” (A&M/UMe)

Temple of the Dog “Temple of the Dog” (A&M/UMe)

Who wants Chris Cornell for Christmas? In 1991, Cornell’s band, Soundgarden, hit the mainstream with “Badmotorfinger,” which found a sweet spot between the sludgy proto-grunge of the group’s early work and the polished hard rock to come. (Country fans may know the album’s opener, “Rusty Cage,” from the rootsy cover version Johnny Cash later recorded.) This “super deluxe” reissue adds studio outtakes and a recording of a hometown Seattle concert in which Cornell introduces “Outshined” as “the only song we’ve ever done that you can see on TV.” Cornell returned to screens the next year in “Hunger Strike,” a music video from the short-lived Seattle supergroup Temple of the Dog, which paired the singer with members of Pearl Jam. Its only album — plenty crunchy but hippie-dippier than Soundgarden — has now been reissued in a new mix with various demos, outtakes and video clips. “Badmotorfinger,” $169.99; “Temple of the Dog,” $99.99

Times staff writers Randy Lewis, Todd Martens, Randall Roberts and Mikael Wood contributed to this report. 

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