BITCHES BREW (DELUXE EDITION) — Miles Davis
For those who fear jazz, the experimental nature of this landmark record will either inspire further horror or provide a mysterious but welcome insight into the nature of improvisatory music. It was a polarizing record when released in 1970, with many purists seeing the distance covered by Miles’ fusion-rock form as too far from jazz.
The album’s reputation, however, has improved with time, and it gets a super-deluxe re-release for its 40th birthday. The new box set release not only houses a four-CD setting for the original music, extra tracks and live songs, but also a wonderful two-vinyl pressing of the original recording. There is also mega-swag included — which there should be, considering the $90 price tag. (David Rey)
THE SHAPE OF PUNK TO COME (DELUXE EDITION) — Refused
Refused played hard and faded fast, but it’s a band whose influence you can still hear in hardcore today. When The Shape of Punk to Come, the band’s third and final album, was originally released in 1998, it completely punked punk — giving the overplayed genre a swift kick to the balls. The Swedish band showed that punk, to them, was far more than just three-chord ditties. In honor of the band’s influential album, the good folks over at Epitaph have re-released the album in a variety of forms. You can get it remastered on vinyl with a DVD for $25, or a CD bundle with the Refused Are F---ing Dead DVD for $22. (Leah Sottile)
INTRODUCTION TO ELLIOTT SMITH — Elliott Smith
The late Elliott Smith was such a remarkably gifted and incredibly consistent songwriter that choosing tracks for a compilation could be as easy as writing the name of each of his songs on a ping-pong ball, throwing them in a hopper and drawing about a dozen of them randomly. No matter what, you’d end up with something pretty incredible. For its part, this retrospective does an excellent job of pulling heavily from Smith’s early records and assembling a collection of some of his most haunting and striking melodies, such as “Miss Misery,” “Between the Bars” and “Alameda.” Introduce somebody. (Mark White)
FORMERLY THE WARLOCKS — The Grateful Dead
It wasn’t easy being a Deadhead. The gypsy lifestyle was dirty and strapped for cash, but once Jerry got on stage nothing really mattered anymore. OK, so maybe you weren’t a Deadhead. You had a job and family, and to this day you hide your tie-dye dancing bear tattoo. But you can still relive the glory of The Grateful Dead’s traveling circus with Formerly The Warlocks boxed set ($70).
The live collection spans over six CDs and captures two 1989 performances. The recordings were recently remastered, and feature every single note and jam the crew played. Extra goodies include a cigar box, photo essay and random pieces of cool memorabilia. Even if you weren’t there, this collection will make you feel like you were part of the experience. (JB)
MATADOR AT 21 BOX SET — Various artists
Indie hearts were overjoyed when Matador Records announced a three-day mega concert in Vegas to commemorate the label’s 21st anniversary, then crushed when the show sold out in roughly four seconds. Fortunately, Matador was kind enough to placate us with the Matador at 21 Box Set, featuring six chronologically correct CDs of the label’s most divergent highlights. Also included are 36 custom poker chips and an 85-page book detailing the history of the label. Featuring Pavement, New Pornographers, Girls, Cat Power, Ted Leo and more, this is a foil-stamped linen-bound fetish object for the obsessive indie fan. Just $35 — and it’s for charity. (MW)
THE PROMISE: THE DARKNESS ON THE EDGE OF TOWN STORY — Bruce Springsteen
The Boss’ best guitar album, Darkness on the Edge of Town, is lovingly scrutinized in this CD and DVD box set. The follow-up album to Springsteen’s star-making Born to Run is at its powerful best in this generously tricked-out set, which features not only the muscular music on Darkness, but also the story behind its making.
In addition to the 31-track three-CD set of music, which includes 21 unreleased songs from the “Darkness” sessions, there are six hours of video on three DVDs (or Blu-rays). The first DVD contains a documentary of the making of the album, and the other two feature live performances of the songs on the record in various forms and venues. It’s a bargain at $90. (DR)
RATED R (re-issue) — Queens of the Stone Age
“Nicotine, Valium, Vicodin, marijuana, Ecstasy and alcohol … c-c-c-c-c-cocaine.” Now that’s a chorus! On Rated R, their second album, the Queens of the Stone Age demanded attention (especially with that song, “Feel Good Hit of the Summer”) — going gold and earning four Grammy nominations. The band released a re-issue of Rated R this year ($15 on iTunes), adding a second disc that includes six B-sides and the band’s live performance at the Reading Festival in 2000. A great gift for a fan of the band, or just some kid who loves drugs. It’ll really speak to them. (LS)
COMPLETE FUNHOUSE SESSIONS — The Stooges
The Stooges’ Funhouse, considered by many fans to be the band’s best recording, was released in 1970 to widespread critical and commercial indifference. The album’s failure, combined with the increasingly unpredictable behavior of drug-addled frontman Iggy Pop, led to the Stooges being dropped by their label, Elektra Records. Funhouse is noted for capturing the Stooges’ wild and raw live sound: It was recorded with only three overdubs. The result of such a straightforward approach was that there were many takes of all the songs and Complete Funhouse Sessions ($120), now available as a digital download from rhino.com, captures every one of them. This is a set of recordings for the most die-hard Stooges fans — it features up to 30 takes of the same songs, played with only very slight variations, with lots of stops and starts and a little banter between band members. It’s certainly a fascinating piece of rock and roll history ... but it’s probably not for everyone. (Jon Brown)
LA LEYENDA — Selena
Tragedy is something that stays with you, and the collective conscious was — and still seems to be — heartbroken over the murder of American Tejano music’s reigning queen, Selena. By age 23, the child of Mexican-American parents stole the hearts of thousands with her Spanish/English pop tracks and anthems. Her memory and music is commemorated with this boxed set, La Leyenda (four-disc edition, $76; two-disc edition, $16). The collection includes all the hits like “Bidi Bidi Bom Bom” and “Dreaming of You,” and includes a bound book with personal messages from Selena’s family, friends and fans, as well as rare photos and art from her family’s collection. It’s an intimate tribute to a life taken too soon. (Jordy Byrd)
BONUS TRACKS: 2008-2009 — Spoon
Paying money for demo versions of previously released songs may seem weird, but in Spoon’s case, it’s actually worthwhile. This is a band that tinkers with instrumentation and tweaks effects in the studio to no end, so the alternative versions presented here deviate from the finished products in some interesting ways. Favorites include the country-fried version of “You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb,” a stripped-down and simplified take on “My Mathematical Mind” and a raw, early stab at “Rhythm and Soul.” Perfect for the Spoon superfan who’d like a peek at the band’s songwriting process and doesn’t mind a little tape hiss. (MW)
THE QUINE TAPES BOXED SET — The Velvet Underground
The only archival remains of the Velvet Underground exist in the form of bootleg fan recordings, usually of very poor sound quality, (the Velvets never “officially” recorded a live performance). What many hold as the exception are the Quine Tapes, three live performances recorded in 1969 in St. Louis and San Francisco by fan and eventual Lou Reed-collaborator Richard Quine. The Quine Tapes, while still somewhat challenging from a sound-quality perspective, manage to capture the emotion and barely controlled chaos of the band’s legendarily uneven live shows, as well as featuring songs like “Black Angel’s Death Song,” “Heroin” and “Femme Fatale” that weren’t often played at this stage in the band’s career. The Quine Tapes have been available on CD for a while but now Sundazed Records has reissued them in a deluxe, re-mastered six-LP boxed set with new cover art, liner notes, rare photos, poster inserts and other extras, all on high-quality, 180-gram virgin vinyl. (Jon Brown)
THE ESSENTIAL NEW YORK TIMES COOKBOOK by Amanda Hesser
Since before the Civil War, the New York Times has published recipes culled from America’s kitchens. Wouldn’t it be cool to go back through the vast archives for a taste? Former NYT food critic Amanda Hesser did just that — and, over five years, tested all 1,400 recipes she put in this book.
Every recipe has a story, and Hesser’s notes for each one are hard to put down — from Eisenhower’s Steak in the Fire to Boeuf Bourguignon (both versions) to Turducken. It’s “a kind of 150-year flip book of American cooking,” Hesser writes.
This is one cookbook that’s almost more fun to read than to cook from. (Ted S. McGregor, Jr.)
THE BEATLES VS. THE ROLLING STONES: SOUND OPINIONS ON THE GREAT ROCK ‘N’ ROLL RIVALRY by Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot
Baby boomers and music snoots will take pride in owning The Beatles vs. The Rolling Stones, a glossy coffee-table book that asks readers which band they side with. Are you a preppy, happy, doo-woppy Beatlemaniac or a lusty, boozy, rockin’ Stones fan? Written by two longtime rock critics, the book is chock-full of rare photos and side-by-side intellectual comparisons of the bands’ every aspect: producers, managers, influences, even individual albums. (LS)
THE IMPERFECTIONISTS by Tom Rachman
A novel about the decline of the newspaper business — you may have heard. But this is different. It’s about the staff of an English-language paper in Rome, written by a man who used to work for the International Herald Tribune. And it’s made up of interlocking short stories — one about the obituary writer who’s faced with a real-life death, one about the CFO who’s confronted by someone she fired, and one about the little old lady who reads the paper cover to cover, every single day. Just one small problem: She has yet to get past April 1994. (Goes into paperback Jan. 4.) (Michael Bowen)