Cover Story: Boxed Goods

Thinking Inside the Box (Set)


· For your aspiring DJ nephew who needs some better source material, give WHAT IT IS!: FUNKY SOUL AND RARE GROOVES (Rhino). The "rare groove" phenomenon among crate-diggers and general old-school Soul and Funk aficionados has sparked a resurgence of interest in artists who gave up music decades ago. Part of the fun, no doubt, is scrounging through used record store bins for that coveted rarity, but Rhino has streamlined the process for the lazier collectors with What It Is!, a four-disc, 91-track compilation spanning 1967-77 that mixes little-heard Funk/Soul cuts from obscure acts (The T.S.U. Tornadoes, Black Heat) with lesser-known tracks from Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett and The Meters (Bootsy Collins fans can find the local Funk king's pre-Parliament group, The Houseguests, as well).

· For your Punk Rock little brother whose knowledge of "Punk" starts with Green Day, give THE CLASH: THE SINGLES (Legacy). Chances are little bro would look at a vinyl 7-inch single like a caveman gazing at a cell phone, so The Clash's new singles collection serves as a bit of a history lesson as well. The set collects all 19 of the Only Band That Matters' singles from 1977 through 1985, each packaged in its own sleeve and featuring the original artwork (plus covers from the various international versions). The individual CDs also contain every B-side from the different global editions (from 7- to 12- inchers), meaning the "White Riot" CD just has its flipside, "1977," while "The Magnificent Seven" disc has eight tracks in all, including a bevy of Dub and Dance mixes.

· For your Indie hipster-wannabe little sister, give THE RECORD SHOP: 30 YEARS OF ROUGH TRADE SHOPS (Rough Trade). That Li'l Suzy will be able to whip out obscure facts about the early "Indie" scene that revolved around England's Rough Trade record store and label is reason enough to pony up import prices for this two-disc set housed in a gorgeous book-like encasement, featuring photos and extensive liner notes about all of the participants. This isn't a "best of" celebrating the Rough Trade label, which helped introduce the world to everything from The Smiths to The Strokes.

Instead, producers asked various musicians, writers other culture mavericks to pick their favorite songs that epitomize the shop's independent spirit. Essentially, this is a celebration of the old "go to the record store" way of music consumerism, before downloading and online shopping took the real-world fun out of searching for music in person.

· For your crotchety grandfather who insists no good songs have been written since 1942, give THE HARRY SMITH PROJECT: THE ANTHOLOGY OF AMERICAN FOLK MUSIC REVISITED (Shout Factory). Justify his beliefs with this lovely two-CD/two-DVD set, which features contemporary artists paying tribute to relatively ancient songs. Celebrating the fruits of musicologist Harry Smith's labor (Smith chronicled traditional American Folk music forms that might have been otherwise completely lost), the discs are culled from several live tributes in 1999 and 2001 in L.A., New York and London. Dipping into the big Americana songbook contained in Smith's exhaustive Anthology collections are everyone from Lou Reed, Todd Rundgren, Nick Cave and David Johansen to Beck, Elvis Costello, Sonic Youth, Wilco and Beth Orton.

· For your death-obsessed Goth nephew who thinks Marilyn Manson is Goth, give THE GOTHIC BOX (Rhino). Before there was Emo, teenagers used to cozy up to the morose sounds of Goth to help them cope with the lameness of life. Some still do. So if you know any of them, Gothic Box is a sturdy (if not totally comprehensive and accurate) compilation that will bring a crooked smile to their pale faces on Christmas morning. The "Goth" tag is used loosely here — Joy Division and Love and Rockets were "Goth-ish" but hardly considered leaders (and barely members) of the movement. Don't get me started on the inclusion of Gene Loves Jezebel's and Flesh for Lulu's Pop hits. Still, the Goth "vibe" runs throughout, with tracks from Dead Can Dance, Death Cult, Xmal Deutshland, Throbbing Gristle and Christian Death. A DVD is included alongside the three discs of music and, while there are some good video clips, they again miss the "Goth" mark (videos are included from The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Cure, Echo & the Bunnymen and The Cult). ©