Selected box set reviews:
John Lennon, "Signature Box" (Capitol)
As a member of The Beatles, John Lennon was among the most important songwriters in pop history. He helped unleash the form from the mundane and showed that ceaseless experimentation could lead you to learn more about the world, not just teen love and the other tropes of rock 'n' roll.
As a solo artist, Lennon went in the opposite direction, yet the destination was no less important or profound.
"Signature Box," a loving repackaging of all of Lennon's post-Beatles music with heavy input from widow Yoko Ono and celebrates what would have been the singer's 70th birthday, reminds us of this.
Included are the seven albums released during his lifetime, as well as "Milk And Honey," which came four years after his 1980 murder, two bonus discs of non-album singles and previously unreleased studio outtakes and home recordings. It also contains a book that includes artwork, rare photos and an essay by Anthony DeCurtis, and access to online content.
Taken as a whole, the music here is startling for how different it was from The Beatles, yet every bit as important.
Lennon's solo work was an inward exploration. From the opening salvo, "John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band," in 1970, which included "Mother," ''Working Class Hero," ''Love" and "God," Lennon announced his intentions. And over the next decade he was gloriously free — with Ono's assistance — to take us on a very different trip.
"Signature Box" is Lennon laid out there for examination and celebration, and the simple pleasure of the box set is that it allows us to explore his music on our own, and to draw our own conclusions.
These are the highs and the lows, the moments of sheer genius and mere self-indulgence. You decide which is which.
— Chris Talbott, AP Entertainment Writer
Elvis Presley, "The Complete Elvis Presley Masters" (Sony Legacy)
"The Complete Elvis Presley Masters" is like a peanut butter and banana sandwich topped with an ice cream sundae and candy bars, then dipped in batter and deep-fried like something you'd find at the fair.
Surely it is the greatest thing ever, but for most people it's really just too much.
But nothing brings out the completist in us like Elvis Presley. EVERYTHING is here, from his first sessions at Sun Records in 1954 to the final recordings he made in 1977.
There are 711 original master recordings and 103 rarities spread over 30 discs and a 240-page book that is the real jewel here, with an annotated discography by Ernst Mikael Jorgensen and Peter Guralnick.
Though his list of faults may have grown over the course of his career, Elvis was a tireless explorer, moving from genre to genre and mood to mood with a kind of ceaseless curiosity that kept us interested longer than we probably should have been.
It's an absolute pleasure to listen to a song while reading a short essay that gives you a snapshot of its history.
Of Presley's breakthrough "That's All Right," the authors write: "Probably what made it most different was its youthful purity, its unchecked sense of joyous release and exuberant lack of restraint."
This isn't a fawning retelling of history, though. The authors don't hold back where the truth is concerned.
For instance, "Do The Clam," a cut from the movie "Girl Happy," ''represented one of the low points of Elvis' film-related singles releases, a halfhearted attempt at creating a new dance craze, which ... was more silly than satirical."
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