New box sets are always plentiful this time of year - appropriate and pleasing gifts for the music lover on your shopping list. This season, though, we sense extra urgency in the release patterns as the "packaged goods" music business continues its decline. Labels are bundling more crown jewels into "complete" collections of CDs. And dishing some true-blue rarities, music and music videos (on DVD and Bluray) so long gone, there'd been speculation the stuff might not even exist anymore.
_ "Cooler Than Ice: Arctic Records and the Rise of Philly Soul" (Arctic/Jamie-Guyden)
Major shout outs for this homegrown, six-disc megaset of long-lost music from the 1960s and '70s. Founded by former WDAS DJ and program director Jimmy Bishop, Arctic was a training site for many a local musician and producer who'd go on to really big things at Philadelphia International Records.
It's got tracks from the lead singer of a group called Kenny Gamble and the Romeos. And there's some songs featuring a certain tenor singing lead with the pale-skinned though R&B-stylized Temptones - Pottstown's very own Daryl Hall.
The distinctive Barbara Mason was Artic's star, often sonically dressed to the nines with lustrous string players (some plucked from the Philadelphia Orchestra) as she strove for a worthy follow-up to "I'm Ready."
You'll be equally taken with the stomping, Motown/Philly explosions of the Volcanos, sugar-pie cute Honey Bees and spiritual-meets-pop pioneering Lane Relations (produced by Bishop's wife, Louise Williams).
Oh, and we were staggered by how much the vocal stylings of Cindy Gibson resembled what "complete original" Laura Nyro would put forth a few years later. Kudos to Bill Dahl for the deep-digging liner notes. (The set will be released Jan. 1, but it's available for preorder now at iTunes, Amazon and jamguy.com.)
_ The Beatles, "Magical Mystery Tour" (Capitol)
The Fab Four's self-produced, made-for-TV romp was so ridiculed by British press. it earned only one BBC showing, December, 26 1967.
Digitally scrubbed and color corrected, the hour-long fantasy looks more professionally wrought on Blu-ray and DVD discs. The real treat is a new digital surround-sound mix, adding immensely to the psychedelic sweep of "I Am the Walrus," "The Fool on the Hill," "Blue Jay Way" and "Your Mother Should Know." The pop art-ful box also packs a handsome book, a double 7-inch vinyl EP soundtrack and booklet originally available only in the U.K.
FYI: PBS finally makes amends with the documentary "Magical Mystery Tour Revisited" at 9 p.m. Friday; the film itself screens at 10 p.m. Saturday.
_ The Rolling Stones, "Charlie Is My Darling" (Abkco Music)
The Stones were aiming for a "Hard Day's Night" style documentary here, with scenes of kids chasing the (circa 1965) boy band down a railway station platform and storming the stage during the group's first Dublin performances. Equally cool are backstage jams wherein the Stones tool up new material and toy with covers.
The Super Deluxe version (fanciest box of the year) includes DVD and Blu-ray discs with both the original and new director's cuts, plus a soundtrack CD, bonus CD and 10-inch vinyl LP of live recordings from the same tour, a 40-page book and replica tour poster.
_ Michael Jackson, "Bad"
Honoring the 25th anniversary of M.J.'s thriller of a follow-up album, this handsome little box becomes essential with its fascinating bonus CD of works-in- progress and foreign-language recordings from the same time frame. Plus a most impressive DVD and CD of the entertainer giving his energetic all during "Live at Wembley July 16, 1988" for commoners and crown (Charles and Diana).
_ Merl Saunders/Jerry Garcia, "Keystone Companions: The Complete 1973 Fantasy Recordings" (Fantasy)
Fronting their cover band at a favorite club hang, keyboardist Saunders and the world's greatest jam guitarist groove easy on Bob Dylan numbers ("Positively 4th Street"), Motown gems ("I Second That Emotion") and standards ("My Funny Valentine").
_ Reggae Golden Jubilee: Origins of Jamaican Music, 50th Anniversary" (VIP Music Group)
There's a treasure of accessible, balmy and boisterous Jamaican reggae music beyond the Bob Marley catalog everyone knows. Take, please, Prince Buster, Millie Small, Peter Tosh, Jimmy Cliff, Mighty Diamonds, Gregory Isaacs, Dennis Brown, Sean Paul and Shaggy, to name a few.
This four-disc overview was curated by Edward Seaga, the Jamaican minister of culture (and later prime minister) who spearheaded reggae's export to the world.
_ Led Zeppelin, "Celebration Day" (Atlantic)
The rarely reuniting, heavy-rock supergroup (plus heir to the drum riser Jason Bonham) did this one-off arena show in 2007 as a tribute to Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun, who had died the previous year.
Guitarist Jimmy Page and vocalist Robert Plant were reportedly less than thrilled with their performances. Only bassist/keyboardist John Paul Jones looks happy. But the well-directed (by Dick Carruthers) Blu-ray and DVD video renderings cover the flaws. More telling is the deluxe edition bonus DVD of the dress rehearsal that occasionally reveals a wince-worthy vocal.
_ Elvis Presley, "Prince From Another Planet" (RCA)
The King of Rock was in fit and funny form for the June 1972 shows at Madison Square Garden captured on this set's two newly remixed CDs. Really special for collectors is a snazzy, 50-page picture book and companion DVD featuring a short documentary, El's MSG news conference and, most weird and wild, audio of the afternoon show occasionally visualized with synchronized amateur movie snippets.
_ "The Thelonious Monk Quartet: The Complete Columbia Studio Albums Collection" (Sony Legacy)
With jazz superstars Miles Davis and Dave Brubeck in the bullpen, Columbia Records had no trouble luring other greats to its roster in the jazz heydays of the 1960s. Monk was the most important score, a truly innovative keyboardist/composer who made banging the "wrong" notes sound right, as he'd sonically warn ""Lulu's Back in Town." Or spin through a crazed original such as "Crepuscule With Nellie," the odd-boppin' "Straight No Chaser" or haunting "Round Midnight."
Also newly boxed and ready to "Git It In Your Soul" is the crown-jewel-caliber "Charles Mingus, The Complete Columbia and RCA Albums Collection."
_ "The Incredible Mel Brooks: An Irresistible Collection of Unhinged Comedy" (Shout! Factory)
Comedy is all about surprise, the reason why the unpredictable Mel Brooks has kept folks laughing for decades in his various roles as a TV skit writer, "2000 Year Old Man," talk-show guest and film writer/composer/performer ("The Producers," "Young Frankenstein," "Silent Movie," "High Anxiety").
Lucky for us, Brooks has kept evidence of every project, making for a jam-packed, six-disc CD and DVD collection. My favorite hour? The pseudo-documentary "I Thought I Was Taller: A Short History of Mel Brooks," foisted on the BBC.
_ "The Return of the Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of" (Yazoo)
For the music guy who's got almost everything, deliver this. It's a fascinating collection of 46 American traditional music classics recorded in the 1920s, most revealed in staggeringly pristine sonic fashion. That's because the guys behind Yazoo are crazed perfectionist collectors, the theme for the profusely illustrated and entertaining guide book..