Before 2018 completely disappears in our rear-view mirrors, here’s a recap of some box sets released last year that weren’t The Beatles’ White Album or Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks box.
An American Treasure (Reprise)
In 1995 Tom Petty released the 6-CD Playback box, and, especially because his career lasted two more decades, it seemed unlikely that the posthumous An American Treasure would offer any uncovered goods from his heyday. But Petty’s catalog is as deep as it is extensive, and even while skipping most of the hits from the earlier box, An American Treasure isn’t a poor relative. It’s an essential companion piece, chock-full of deep cuts, demos, alternate versions, and live tracks capturing the Heartbreakers at their scruffy-but-slick best.
Girly-Sound to Guyville:
The 25th Anniversary Box Set (Matador)
Exile in Guyville was as frank a
confessional as anything ever committed to tape, and it still
stuns 25 years after its release. Phair’s detached yet intimate voice was the perfect vehicle for
vignettes wry and devastating, and while Guyville seemed to come from nowhere, fans quickly discovered the backstory: the
“Girly Sound” tapes, demos Phair made for a college friend ensconced in the indie demimonde. This set compiles a remastered version of Guyville with those demos, the best of which (like the crystalline “Don’t Holdyrbreath”) instantly conveys
the same cocktail of confusion
and desire that Phair conjured on
50 Years : Don’t Stop (Warner Brothers)
Fleetwood Mac went through
more personnel changes and stylistic shifts than nearly any major rock band, so any box is welcome if it does justice in covering their career. 50 Years does that, but has annoying discrepancies between the Spotify version and the Amazon/iTunes /physical CD version. There are tracks from the band’s early period available either on all
formats but Spotify, or on none but Spotify. Spotify is also out of chronological order, making it harder to track the band’s continual revelations than it is on the non-
Spotify versions. Which is all to
say, Fleetwood Mac: They’re
The Girl From Chickasaw County: The Complete Capitol Masters (Capitol)
In four years, Bobbie Gentry dropped seven studio albums, including her Grammy-winning 1967 debut, Ode To Billie Joe. She wrote the lion’s share of her material, marrying country, pop, soul, and on occasion, bossa nova, delivering it in a sultry, soulful, sophisticated purr. In 1971, Gentry stopped recording, concentrating on her Las Vegas revue, which she produced, arranged, and choreographed. In 1978, she totally ghosted. The exhaustive Girl From Chickasaw Country—which collects all of Gentry’s studio albums plus demos, alternate takes, and live cuts—is a revelation. The exaltation of Bobbie Gentry is long overdue.
Stax ’68: A Memphis Story (Concord)
Glorious—and considering the circumstances, nearly miraculous. In 1968, Memphis was already in the midst of a contentious sanitation workers’ strike when Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination sent the city into psychic turmoil. And in 1968, Stax split with Atlantic and discovered Atlantic owned all of the Stax recordings. This came just after Otis Redding, the label’s most bankable star, died in a plane crash. Yet Stax managed to release dozens of singles, including classics from hitmakers like Sam & Dave as well as gems from forgotten talents, like Linda Lyndell’s original version of “What a Man.” There’s also psychedelic pop from Bobby Whitlock (who would go on to play keys for Derek and the Dominos), and blue-eyed soul from Delaney & Bonnie.