2005 Gift Guide: Music

CD box sets

The Band: A Musical History ($89.98)

Their name might be generic, but their music isn't. This five-disc set charts The Band's recording career from 1963-1976, including 37 previously unreleased tracks and rare live concert footage.

Johnny Cash: The Complete Sun Recordings, 1955-1958 ($39)

Hear 61 Johnny Cash songs the way they were originally recorded - stripped of all overdubs for the pure sound of the Man in Black. A 40-page hardcover booklet features rare or previously unpublished photos.

Bill Evans: The Complete Village Vanguard Recordings, 1961 ($29)

Three discs capture the jazz pianist and his trio on June 25, 1961. All five sets from that show are presented, for the first time, complete and in their original order. Hear snippets of on-stage banter.

Billy Joel: My Lives ($59.98)

Eighty-eight keys, five discs, four decades. The Piano Man sings us a song - 66 actually, 23 of which were previously unreleased.

The Motown Box ($59.98)

These 72 tracks are to your stereo what gas is to a Ford Fairlane. Features the Temptations, Marvin Gaye, the Four Tops, and Stevie Wonder, among many others.

Concert DVDs

Cream - Royal Albert Hall ($29.98)

Few people witnessed Cream's limited run of concerts in New York and London this year. Those who did either have deep pockets or deep credit-card debt. Thankfully this two-disc DVD allows the rest of us to sit alongside the likes of Queen guitarist Brian May inside The Royal Albert Hall for the blues-rock trio's first public performances since 1968. Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker, and Jack Bruce ought to do this sort of thing more often if the vital excursions of "Badge" and "We're Going Wrong" are anything to go by. The camerawork is rudimentary but there's no skimping on close-ups of Clapton's fingers.

Green Day - Bullet in a Bible ($24.98)

With a raised fist and a microphone employed as a bullhorn, Billie Joe Armstrong looks as if he's leading an outdoor political rally - and, in a sense, he is. The frontman, who seems to have taken hair and mascara tips from Tammy Faye Bakker, spits out red-state baiting anthems from the "American Idiot" album to a stadium of British disciples. In between catchy tunes that warrant the parental advisory sticker on the cover, the trio offer articulate interviews on tour stops such as Britain's Imperial War Museum (which includes an exhibit of battlefield Bibles with bullets embedded somewhere between Psalms and Ephesians).

Live 8 - Various artists ($44.98)

This compilation of July's Live 8 concerts for Africa comes with close-up shots of Paris Hilton and Ashlee Simpson in the audience. And Mariah Carey, voice in full glass-shattering warble, turns up in a dress that's one burst seam away from a wardrobe malfunction. But those are small quibbles. This four-disc compilation from stages around the world includes something for every musical taste. Older acts such as Madonna, Annie Lennox, and Paul McCartney tended to steal the show, but rising stars such as Razorlight and Joss Stone made their mark, too. Best of all, the reunited Pink Floyd's magnificent set is included in its entirety while the extras include rehearsal footage of the band.

Rush - R30 ($24.98; $39 for the deluxe edition)

A drum solo at a rock concert is usually something of an informal intermission. But concertgoers at Rush shows actually rush back from concession stands and restrooms so they won't miss a single stick twirl during the solo by virtuoso Neil Peart. On "R30," a DVD filmed during Rush's 30th-anniversary tour, fans can view Peart's blurry syncopation from every possible angle. (It's a marvel that Peart, fully encircled by percussive instruments, doesn't have to be airlifted off the drum stool.) The concert captures the full vigor of a trio who have seldom caught the spirit of the radio but have nonetheless amassed a huge fanbase. It's humorous, too. In addition to witty video-screen visuals, comedian Jerry Stiller opens the show with a specially filmed clip. A second disc includes archival interviews and live footage. The deluxe edition comes with audio CDs.

U2 - Vertigo 2005: Live from Chicago ($19.99)

Not a tour goes by without U2 releasing an obligatory concert film. But when the camerawork and editing is of a caliber to match the band's energy, few will complain. At times the cameras seem like they're in a tumble dryer - talk about vertigo! - while at others they gaze up at the underside of Edge's guitar as he throttles its neck. That said, the band isn't perfect. Lyrics are flubbed, notes are forgotten, and Bono admits he has a "frog in the throat." Still, the Irishmen soar during "Electric Co.," "Bullet the Blue Sky," and "One."

Clayton Collins, Gloria Goodale, David S. Hauck, Stephen Humphries, Teresa Méndez, and Yvonne Zipp contributed to this guide.

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