The first part of a roundup of the gift-giving season’s best box sets.
Young Man With the Big Beat
The year after he recorded his final historic Sun sessions was a crucial one for Elvis. He was a long way from home, making records in New York and Hollywood instead of Memphis. He was a major investment for a company ready to sink large amounts of money into their new commodity. And he was on his way to becoming one of the planet’s biggest stars. This five-CD box documents the King throughout 1956, the year “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Hound Dog” changed popular music forever. All of Presley’s studio recordings from the year are here. So are live cuts, outtakes, and interviews, which together chronicle those game-changing 12 months so thoroughly, you’ll start to feel like you were stalking Elvis’ every hip-shaking move.
Your Past Comes Back to Haunt You (The Fonotone Years 1958-1965)
John Fahey was a folk revivalist, a blues purist, and an occasional musical weirdo. But more than anything he was a spectacular guitarist, a profound and proficient instrumentalist whose style spanned continents and genres. This terrific five-disc box includes 115 songs from his earliest years, most of them on CD for the first time. Fahey’s fans range from Pete Townshend to members of Sonic Youth, and you can hear his influence. Whether he’s picking an old blues standard, rewiring 50 years of American music in his own compositions, or making his single guitar sound like an entire symphony of instruments, Fahey (who died a decade ago at the age of 61) is a marvel, tossing off riffs, leads, and strums like they were part of his lifeblood.
The Best Imitation of Myself: A Retrospective
Before he became an online hit thanks to his funny and clever Chatroulette videos, and before he became a Sing Off judge, piano-pounding Folds was one of modern rock’s most tuneful smartasses, releasing four increasingly ambitious albums with his Ben Folds Five trio. This three-CD survey of his career includes all the highs (the indie-skewering breakthrough single from 1995 “Underground,” the abortion melodrama “Brick”) and lows (last year’s misfired collaboration with writer Nick Hornby). There’s a whole disc of live songs, which are loads of fun, and a whole disc of rarities like demos and alternate mixes, which aren’t. Still, Folds has a quick mind and quick fingers, both of which are on ample display on this overdue overview.