Review: Box sets from Cash, Kiss, Jackson, others

Associated Press Published: November 20, 2012
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Select box set reviews from The Associated Press:

Johnny Cash, "The Complete Columbia Album Collection" (Columbia/Legacy)

If you're under 40, you likely see Johnny Cash two ways — as the nearly mythological Sun Records proto-rocker and as the wizened old man staring down God in his American Recordings period in the years before his 2003 death.

Between those two important periods lay decades of songs, personalities and re-inventions many folks aren't familiar with. The massive new box set, "The Complete Columbia Album Collection," will help fill in those gaps for anyone interested in Cash beyond the name-checking cachet he brings to your iPod.

A staggering amount of music is gathered here in 63 discs representing a quarter century of output from an American popular culture icon whose career was far more Technicolor than his Man in Black nickname suggests. And the average music fan yet to turn grey has no idea what that color scheme looks like since 35 of those albums were never released on CD.

The set includes everything Cash released through Columbia from 1958 to 1983. Cash enjoyed creative control over his career and it showed in his restless inquisitiveness and unusually open-minded approach to music. There's something here for everyone — gospel, rock, folk and pop fans along with your country diehards. And the range is astounding, including concept albums, soundtracks, political statements, live concerts and a collection of singles and rarities.

— Chris Talbott, AP Music Writer

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Michael Jackson, "Bad 25" (Epic)

Three years after Michael Jackson's death, it's becoming pretty clear that his archives don't contain another "Billie Jean," ''Man in the Mirror" or even "Butterflies."

2010's "Michael" was a nice though hardly scintillating collection of previously unreleased Jackson songs, and the three-CD, 1-DVD box set "Bad 25," celebrating the anniversary of Jackson's other blockbuster album, has an even less impressive set of songs from Jackson's vault.

Following the set's first disc, which contains the underrated "Bad" album in full, is another disc of bonus material with several unreleased songs. The problem with those tunes is that they sound like something Jackson wasn't ready to let the world hear. While Jackson's voice is enchanting, the songs are mired by weak lyrics and melodies and themes that sound too similar to some of his key hits. As scintillating a vocalist as Jackson was, even he can't elevate so-so material.

Perhaps the makers of this anniversary collection knew that as well. So to make the box set worthwhile, they've included a real treasure here — Jackson's 1988 concert at Wembley Stadium. Watching Jackson in what was arguably his peak as performer is chill-inducing — his frenetic gyrations, moonwalks, spins and jumps delivered while he's singing at full-strength. For the concert alone, "Bad 25" is worth getting (it also comes with a live CD of the concert). There are also other goodies for fans to enjoy, like a double-sided poster, remixes from Afrojack and cool photos in the CD and DVD booklets.

— Nekesa Mumbi Moody, AP Entertainment Writer

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Led Zeppelin, "Celebration Day" (Atlantic)

If "Celebration Day" is it for Led Zeppelin, the final chapter in the long, glorious career of rock 'n' roll's most exciting band, we can live with it.

The box set that captures what will likely be the quartet's final concert is a fitting capstone for a band that remains as popular today as it was more than 40 years ago.

The band's living members — Robert Plant, Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones — joined Jason Bonham, son of late founding drummer John Bonham, at London's O2 Arena in 2007 to pay tribute to late Atlantic Records honcho Ahmet Ertegun.

The concert was a triumph, captured lovingly here with a two-disc live album, a DVD of the concert and a bonus disc of extras. Led Zeppelin played everything you'd want, did it in fresh ways and with such class it's a primer for the endless stream of legacy acts who have gotten it so wrong over the years.

Page is the star here. The camera lingers on him and his flashing hands as he leads the band through thoughtfully reimagined takes of every classic. He starts the concert in suitcoat and sunglasses, disdainfully chewing gum as he belts out riffs that are both familiar and in his hands new. A few songs later he shucks the coat and rolls up his sleeves for "In My Time Of Dying" (at more than 11 minutes long!). By the time he pulls out the violin bow in the middle of "Dazed and Confused" (12 minutes!), he's disheveled, dripping sweat on a series of beautiful guitars and beaming a crooked smile after each fiery run.

It is a powerhouse performance — and, sadly, not enough for most fans. But "Celebration Day" will have to do.

— Chris Talbott, AP Music Writer

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Kiss "The Casablanca Singles 1974-1982" (Universal)

No act has been better at getting you to buy songs you already own in numerous formats than Kiss. With at least 18 greatest hits, compilation or box set albums on the market, here comes yet another one. Something in the neighborhood of $145 will get you this latest box set, a re-release of 29 U.S. Kiss singles, each on 45 rpm vinyl records (remember those?)

Box sets have two main selling points: previously unavailable music, and way-cool packaging. Because these singles have all been out there for decades, this box set's appeal lies in its presentation. Weighing in at a hefty eight pounds, the set starts with the band's very first single, "Nothin' To Lose," with the flip side "Love Theme From Kiss" from way back in 1974. All but three of the singles come with decorative foreign sleeves with elaborate artwork, and, in the case of the Japanese sleeves, hilarious mistranslations of lyrics. A line from "C'mon And Love Me" morphs from, "The lights are out" to "Your lives are out." Even the misprints are faithfully preserved: Peter Criss' solo single "You Matter To Me" appears as "You Still Matter To Me" on the label.

Far and away the coolest are the singles from each of the band's solo albums, pressed in colored vinyl: red for Gene Simmons, purple for Paul Stanley, green for Criss and blue for Ace Frehley. Each of these four also comes with a cut-out Halloween-type mask of each member's face in Kiss makeup, a throwback to the days when Kiss albums came loaded with swag.

Die-hard Kiss fans will probably want to pick this up — provided they still have turntables.

— Wayne Parry, Associated Press

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Elvis Presley, "Prince From Another Planet" (RCA/Legacy)

When it comes to rock's greatest star, it's tempting to dismiss the 1970s as merely the Fat Elvis period. This two-CD, one-DVD collection disproves that notion.

The set pulls together previously released concerts in one package for the first time, capturing Presley during a three-day run at Madison Square Garden in 1972. Because it had been 15 years since he had performed in New York City, these concerts were important to him, and it shows. He's in fine voice, fully committed to the material and supported by an excellent cast of musicians that includes guitarist James Burton, drummer Ronnie Tutt, bassist Jerry Scheff, horns, strings and backup singers.

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