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The runaway success of last year’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” biopic generated a legion of new and newly invigorated fans of Queen front man Freddie Mercury, whose brief solo career before his death in 1991 is the focal point of this ambitious five-disc box set, Freddie Mercury “Never Boring” (Hollywood Records).
Three CDs serve up a new mix of his 1985 solo album “Mr. Bad Guy,” a “special edition” of his 1988 collaboration with Spanish operatic soprano Montserrat Caballe, “Barcelona,” for which the original synth and drum machine backing tracks have been replaced with live orchestra, and “Never Boring” a compilation of solo tracks he recorded for various projects. DVD and Blu-ray discs offer 11 music videos and live performances as testament to his charisma on stage and power as a vocalist, and a 120-page hardbound book is jammed with photos coupled with quotes expressing his thoughts about his life and music. The set’s title is drawn from Mercury’s long-ago request to those around him: “You can do anything with my work, but never make me boring.”
$125.99. Purchase here→
For the Beatles enthusiast
The Beatles “Abbey Road 50th Anniversary” edition (four discs) is a must for Beatles enthusiasts. Among several configurations available, the super deluxe is the one to get, with the album’s new mix on the first disc, two more CDs with alternate versions of the album’s 17 songs and others the group was working on at the time, plus a fourth Blu-ray disc with high-resolution versions of the stereo mix, and surround sound renderings, including a Dolby Atmos three-dimensional audio mix that’s a first for a Beatles album.
$89.80. Purchase here→
If that Fab Four super fan has already sprung for this, a couple of new companion books exploring the making and meaning of the group’s final studio album have just been released by respected Beatles experts: Bruce Spizer’s “The Beatles Get Back to Abbey Road” (498 Productions, $30 hardcover, $20 digital, $100 collector’s edition) and Kenneth Womack’s “Solid State: The Story of Abbey Road and the End of the Beatles” (Cornell University Press).
$26.95. Purchase here→
A sound subscription
If you’re like me and shudder when someone punches up a song to share on their phone, or cheapo computer laptop speakers, consider a trial subscription—for yourself or a music-loving friend--to one of the audiophile music streaming services that have come to the fore recently. Amazon Music HD and the French high-resolution service Qobuz both provide sonic options far superior to Spotify or even Tidal’s premium streaming option, which is basically CD quality sound at best.
Prices vary. Purchase here→
Think about ponying up for a decent set of earbuds like Audio-Technica’s ATH-CLR100IS model for under $30. Better yet, an audiophile-quality set over over-the-ear, aka circumaural, headphones like Sennheiser’s Bluetooth-enabled HD 4.50 model, $109.99, or one of the other makers of premium phones that demonstrate not just what great music sounds like, but what it can feel like.
$109.99. Purchase here→
As she has on her last several albums, Taylor Swift has designed and executed expanded versions of “Lover” as exclusives for Target. They boast bonus material that should perk up the eyes and ears of any Swifties in your life. This time around there are four versions, each in a book-like package that includes facsimiles of entries from her diaries, artwork, text and photos that deliver a deeper dive into her latest music and thinking. A full set of all four editions is rapidly generating big bucks on eBay.
$19.99. Purchase here→
‘The Bakersfield Sound’
“The Bakersfield Sound: The Country Music Capital of the West, 1940-1974” is another monster package from the take-no-prisoners folks at Germany’s Bear Family records. This one comprehensively tells the story of how Bakersfield became a West Coast competitor and alternative to Nashville in mid-20th century. A hardbound 224-page book filled with a history compiled by project co-producer (with Richard Weize) Scott B. Bomar fleshes out what you’ll hear in 299 tracks that document just how wide and deep the Bakersfield country music scene reached during these golden 3 1/2 decades. 10 CDs.
$205. Purchase here→
Queen of Soul
Director Sydney Pollack and his crew captured a miraculous performance by the Queen of Soul at the height of her power in 1972, when Aretha Franklin decided to honor her roots in gospel music by recording a live album in Los Angeles with the Rev. James Cleveland and the Southern California Gospel Choir. Technical glitches during the shooting kept the footage on the shelf for more than four decades, but thankfully, it finally made it to theaters this year, and “Amazing Grace” is available for home consumption.
$22.98. Purchase here→
The perfect gift for anyone who experiences music through the 2019 equivalent of a transistor radio: Sonos, the leading purveyor of wireless speakers, has developed a full line of eminently portable and exceptionally user friendly, WiFi speakers for everything from casual listening to surround sound audio and video applications. Best of all, the sonics are truly impressive, superior to Bluetooth technology. The entry level speaker, Sonos One, is a smart speaker a la Amazon’s Alexa, but the sound quality has been judged considerably better by audio enthusiasts. Don’t be surprised if you’re as impressed by a single speaker as I was and wind up adding them to multiple spaces in your home. Sonos One, $199.
$199. Purchase here→
Bob Dylan: Live
Director Martin Scorsese’s recent film about Bob Dylan’s celebrated 1975 Rolling Thunder Revue was part priceless musical document, part biographical goof on audiences, which is why it was billed not as a documentary but as “A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese.” Disregarding for the moment many fictionalized on-camera interviews, Dylan’s performances on that tour are uniformly magnificent, brimming with passion and commitment. This 14-CD collection is the source material: “Bob Dylan: The Rolling Thunder Revue —The 1975 Live Recordings.”
For the Eilish fan
Breakout pop auteur Billie Eilish doesn’t turn 18 until December, but even though she’s too young to vote, the L.A. native has captured the imagination of veteran music aficionados and her high school-age peers alike. The Eilish fan in your world likely would lap up the deluxe “When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?” clamshell box set. The import edition of the album comes with the three lithographs, a poster, transferable tattoos and stickers that accompany the 14-track CD.
$54.99. Purchase here→
Forget the naysayers who have expressed Scrooge-like complaints over “Yesterday,” the thoroughly delightful romantic comedy about a world in which the Beatles music has been mysteriously erased. Director Danny Boyle and screenwriter Richard Curtis innately understand the magic that music adds to life in general and the special charm that Beatles music has given the world over the last half century. Co-stars Himesh Patel as Jack and Lily James as Ellie, his unflagging manager and unrequited love interest, deliver utterly heartwarming performances.
$22.96. Purchase here→
Get inside their heads
The Kinks’ “Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall Of The British Empire)” 50th anniversary box set is an expansive edition of an album Rolling Stone hailed on its release as “... a masterpiece on every level. …The Kinks’ supreme achievement and the best British album of 1969.” “Arthur” is a concept album focusing on the legacy of British imperialism and embodying what Kinks singer and chief songwriter Ray Davies did best: get inside the heads and lives of ordinary folks, in particularly ordinary British folks. The new box set features remixes of the original tracks overseen by Davies, previously unreleased songs, an accompanying book of photos and album notes plus an entire lost solo album from the period made by his brother, Kinks’ guitarist Dave Davies.
$70.99. Purchase here→
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