The Bootleg Series, Vol. 9 — The Witmark Demos: 1962-1964
These rough sketches, made by Dylan for his song publishers to register copyright and solicit covers, are actually the sound of seismic change: the ascent of the singer-songwriter, at the expense of Tin Pan Alley, and his dazzling maturation as a composer. Talking-blues and protest grenades give way to a robust grace and emotional acuity that peaks, despite a tossed-off reading, in "I'll Keep It With Mine," maybe the best song he ever gave away.
West Coast Seattle Boy
The guitarist's four years in the maelstrom are retold from gripping, all-new angles: studio detours, live whiplash and newly unearthed songs. But the real news here is the prelude: the first full account of Hendrix's sideman years. Don Covay and Little Richard didn't know they had it so good.
Syl Johnson deserved the world. His bright, gritty tenor sounded like Sam Cooke and James Brown exulting at once. But Johnson owned Chicago with these small-label sides issued from 1959 to 1972. This massive box has four CDs, six LPs, a deep-detail book and a party that still won't quit.
Africa: 50 Years of Music 1960-2010
This box is Africa in a day: 18 CDs, grouped by region, tracing roots and fusions from Zimbabwe's Bhundu Boys and Algeria's Cherifa to the Congolese kalimba band Konono N˚1 and Benin's world-pop star Angélique Kidjo. The result is price-friendly and cohesively programmed, with a vital aftereffect: You want to go deeper.
The Rolling Stones
Exile on Main Street
The Stones add 10 outtakes (some with new overdubs) to Exile's ragged perfection. But the extras have their own jolt, like the creeping gris-gris of "I'm Not Signifying" and Keith Richards' vividly wounded alternate vocal for "Soul Survivor."
Next Stop Is Vietnam: The War on Record 1961-2008
Vietnam was a war fought with guitars as well as napalm. This 13-disc set, with a parade-dress-quality book, juxtaposes dispatches from Bob Dylan, the Doors and the Fugs with records by country and pop hawks and songs from the aftermath, as veterans came home to cold shoulders and worse (John Prine's "Sam Stone"). This is essential American history in sound — and a lesson in the art of morale.
Delaney and Bonnie and Friends
On Tour With Eric Clapton
In 1969, the Bramletts briefly led a roaring-R&B big band with Clapton, George Harrison and Dave Mason on guitars. The set lists at these four U.K. shows were consistent. So were the fireworks.
Marcus Garvey & Garvey's Ghost
This 1975 spiritual-reggae classic, with Kingston-Impressions harmonies flanking the Rasta-chant soul of Winston Rodney, is paired with its '76 dub companion.
Arthur Lee's wilderness years begin with these aborted 1971 sessions. He leads a heavy Love, far from the delicacy of 1967's Forever Changes but compelling in its blunt-riff turbulence and frank despair.
Come and Get It: The Best of Apple
Hits and weirdness by Beatles protégés, from Badfinger and Mary Hopkin to a Hare Krishna choir and a guy named Brute Force, capture a brief, utopian moment in what once was the record biz.