Memo to pack rats: Sometimes it does pay to save everything. Especially if you plan to become famous some day.
A case in point, "Neil Young's Archives: Volume 1 (1963-1972)" (Reprise, A-), an amazing, multi-media time capsule that rewrites the rules of what a box set can accomplish in this high-tech age.
Best seen as well as heard on the 10-disc Blu-ray version (but also available today as 10-DVD and 8-CD sets), the Blu-ray form combines state-of-the-art sound reproduction of material familiar and obscure, plus super-crisp and stylish visuals (enjoyed on a connected TV) that enhance our appreciation of the artist as a young man.
Truth is, Young's early work with cheesy teen rock groups in Canada proves pretty lame. But after his move to southern California, the guy is off and running with the progressive country rock innovations of Buffalo Springfield, as a whiny folky soloist, then fronting the snorting Crazy Horse and as the fourth leg of the electrified supergroup Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.
Blasted on a good system, even weary warhorses like "Down by the River" and the orchestrated "Expecting to Fly" dance like young colts, sounding brighter, bolder and more articulate than I've ever heard 'em.
As the music plays, watch a vintage tape recorder spinning the original master tape. Or, read Young's hand-printed or typed song lyrics.
On other occasions, photo montages zoom in and out, Ken Burns style, to lend the feeling you're in the first row for Young's 1969 return to the Riverboat in Toronto (a wonderfully intimate set never available before), or Young and Crazy Horse's scorcher of a set opening for Miles Davis at the Fillmore East in 1970.
Capping the package is Young's surreal experiment in filmmaking, 1973's "Journey Through the Past," which hasn't been let out to play since its original theatrical release in 1973. While much of the visual symbolism is tedious, performance footage of Young with the Springfield, CS&N and recording "Harvest" almost saves the day.
ANOTHER A/V EVENT: Jeff Buckley, "Grace Around the World" (Columbia/Legacy, B+), revisits the one and only full album put out by the now sainted singer/songwriter with a DVD compilation of live TV performances of "Grace" tracks. Most were captured in Europe and Japan, where Buckley's fevered, "chanteuse"-style vocals and neo-Zeppelin band sound proved more popular than here in the States. The deluxe box version adds a CD of the same live material and a terrific DVD documentary.
MORE TO SCORE: Aptly timed to that Young box-set release is Crosby, Stills & Nash "Demos" (Atlantic/Rhino, B), a study of famous tunes ("Marrakesh Express," "Love the One You're With") in unfinished form.
Paolo Nutini, last signing by the late Atlantic Records chief Ahmet Ertegun, continues his distinctive, warbly-voiced, smile-inducing ways with sophomore set "Sunny Side Up" (Atlantic, B).
Elvis Costello reopens his country heart with wondrous results on "Secret, Profane and Sugarcane" (Hear Music, A-). Familiar themes get a rethink from the artist and producer T Bone Burnett. *