Music » Music Etc.

ALL EARS: FAMILY ALBUMS

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Pick a stereotype, buy 'em a gift:

Your jazz-buff grandpa: Arguably the strangest box set package to date, Columbia's Herbie Hancock Box houses four CDs in a space-age, transparent plastic case; the discs and booklet seem to hover in mid-air, and it's unclear how you open the darn thing - it's a fitting package for a keyboardist who has spent most of his career dragging jazz kicking and screaming into the future. Such classics as "Watermelon Man" and "Rockit" are here, but the set also contains a generous helping of Hancock's late-'70s combo VSOP. The way this thing looks, you shouldn't even have to gift-wrap it.

Your sophisticated aunt: Jazz singer Sarah Vaughan was moving into the pop mainstream by the time of The Complete Roulette Sarah Vaughan Studio Sessions (Mosaic), and purist jazz critics gave her hell for it. But it's a good thing for fans today, who on this eight CD box get to hear her in every sort of setting: jazz trios, sappy string arrangements, bachelor-pad-friendly tracks, and sessions with leaders such as Count Basie and Quincy Jones. "Sassy" gets every sort of opportunity to show off her stretchy, velvety vocals, and while Down Beat may have faulted for it, the diversity here will keep contemporary listeners from losing interest by disc eight.

Your cousin who turned you on to "college rock" in the '80s: Once upon a time, "alternative radio" didn't all sound alike, and Camper Van Beethoven sounded perhaps less alike than anybody else. Fusing punk with weirdo folk instrumentation and ska, happy to cover bands as disparate as Pink Floyd and Sonic Youth, they were Santa Cruz troubadours who sang about surfing and skinheads. The amazingly inexpensive new box set Cigarettes and Carrot Juice (SpinArt) collects everything they did before signing to a major label in the late '80s, plus cool rarities and live recordings.

That cute Mod wannabe in your English class: Chances are, his copy of The Who's My Generation is on used but well-maintained vinyl. Thanks to Universal records, you can give him something he hasn't heard before: the entire album remixed into true stereo, plus a full CD of rarities and alternate versions. He'll like it more than another mirror for his Vespa.

Your recovering-folkie professor: Two new double-discers feature folk icons in an unusual light. Columbia is continuing their Bob Dylan "Bootleg Series" with Live 1975: The Rolling Thunder Revue, a reissue for hard-core fans. Yes, some of Joan Baez' backing vocals make the paint peel, but it's worth enduring them to get to versions of Dylan's classic songs that you've never heard sung this way before. You've also never heard Joni Mitchell quite as she appears on Travelogue (Nonesuch), which reworks her back catalogue for orchestral accompaniment. This is a much more thoughtful approach than your average "greatest hits with strings" set, and while we will be sad if Mitchell's retirement threats are true, this would be a fitting swan song.

Your boss, who could stand to lighten up: We're not big on Christmas records, but Frankie, Dean-O, and Sammy have a knack for getting us to indulge questionable habits. The Rat Pack get festive on Christmas with the Rat Pack (Capitol), which staggers from Sinatra's pious "The First Noel" to Mr. Davis winking through "The Christmas Song." And no, it doesn't make you a Scrooge if you prefer such non-yule-specific treats as Dean Martin's completely cornball version of "Baby, It's Cold Outside."

Your slightly red-necked Dad: Modern hicks don't come any cooler than Dwight Yoakam, who is finally getting his box-set due from Rhino with the four-CD Reprise Please Baby. And boy, is it packed: Looking over the titles, you're hit by the fact that Dwight has written some of the most memorable country songs of the last 20 years. A disc worth of bonus material (including two duets with Kelly Willis), mostly unreleased, makes the collection practically irresistible.


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