Thisa wasn’t a plentiful year for CD and DVD box sets — the kind of releases that make special holiday gifts for music fans. But there weren’t many misses in this year’s crop of releases, either. Here are the best of the bunch, to this reviewer’s ears and eyes.
Box Sets Bruce Springsteen: The Promise: The Darkness on the Edge of Town Story (Columbia) — Even if you aren’t already a Springsteen fan, you’ll find a lot to love about this three CD/three DVD set. For starters, there’s the remastered version of the 1978 CD, Darkness on the Edge of Town, perhaps Springsteen’s most important album — a gritty and personal portrait of determination and struggle in a challenging world. Two more discs include nearly two dozen outtakes from the Darkness sessions that show the breadth and variety of music he wrote from 1975 through 1978. The real highlight, though, is the DVD of a complete three-hour 1978 concert from Houston. For all of the virtues of the Darkness CD, it didn’t come close to capturing how explosive anthems like “Badlands,” “Streets Of Fire” and the extended version of “Prove It All Night” became in concert. To fully understand Springsteen, seeing him live was essential, and this was the tour that established Springsteen and the E Street Band as rock’s best live act. Rounded out by a great documentary about the struggles to create the Darkness album and another DVD of rehearsals and live performances, there’s never been a better deluxe reissue of a single album than this. — Rating: ****
John Mellencamp: On the Rural Route 7609 (Mercury/Island/UME) — John Mellencamp has always been one of rock’s true rebels. So it makes sense that he didn’t make the typical career retrospective box set with On the Rural Route 7609. Instead, he chose songs he felt best told his musical life story, mixing in a good number of alternate versions of familiar songs and lesser-known, but illuminating, album tracks. What emerges is a portrait of an artist who grew from being a brash and generic young rocker into one of rock’s most compelling songwriters, and an artist with plenty of insights into the human condition and life in America over the past 30 years. — Rating: ****
Wilson Pickett: Funky Midnight Mover: The Atlantic Studio Recordings (1962-1978) (Rhino Handmade/Atlantic) — It’s about time Picket got a box set, and this one does it right. In addition to essential hits like “In The Midnight Hour,” “Mustang Sally” and “Land Of 1,000 Dances,” the set has lots of overlooked album tracks and a full disc of alternate takes and unreleased songs,