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Review: Box sets from the Beatles, the Dead, more

Tuesday - 11/19/2013, 8:30am  ET

This box set cover image released by Rounder Records shows "American Radical Patriot," by Woody Guthrie. (AP Photo/Rounder Records)

JIM SUHR
Associated Press

Select box set reviews from The Associated Press:

The Beatles, "On Air - Live At the BBC, Vol. 2" (Universal)

"The Beatles: The BBC Archives 1962-70," by Kevin Howlett (HarperCollins)

Beatles fans, rejoice: More live rarities from the Fab Four are on the way to stores.

Nearly 20 years after the first volume of long-lost BBC recordings sold millions of copies, a second volume is here, and with it, a coffee table book with rare photos and heretofore unseen historical documents chronicling the band's interaction with the BBC.

Like the first volume, "On Air - Live at the BBC, Vol. 2" is chock full of live covers of other acts' hit recordings, including Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry and Carl Perkins. The sound quality ranges from crystal clear to exceedingly rough. Not all of the 275 performances the Beatles did were preserved by the broadcaster. Some had to be tracked down from fans' home recordings, but the raw exuberance of Paul McCartney screaming a hyper rocked-out version of the ballad "Beautiful Dreamer" is a historical nugget in its own right.

There's tons of on-air banter between all four mop tops and their radio hosts, showing John Lennon's wry wit and irreverence at an early stage in the band's career. Outtakes of the band playing "I Feel Fine" are included, showing how the deliberate feedback introduction wreaked havoc with the BBC's finely-calibrated equipment, causing a technician to ask for multiple takes.

The "BBC Archives Book" by Kevin Howlett, one of the leading experts on the Beatles, traces their meteoric early rise with rare photos and even rarer documents from the BBC, including the group's original audition form, and an evaluator's report afterward: "John Lennon: Yes. Paul McCartney. No."

And on the off-chance you have any money at all remaining after these two, the first volume of BBC recordings has been re-mastered and re-released as well.

-- Wayne Parry, Associated Press writer

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The Velvet Underground, "White Light/White Heat" 45th Anniversary edition (Polydor/Universal)

Who knew that the release on Dec. 10 of the 45th anniversary super deluxe edition of The Velvet Underground's "White Light/White Heat" would come after the death of the band's figurehead Lou Reed.

This concoction of live tracks, studio cuts and rare outtakes is probably the best eulogy that could be written for the rock genius, and as record sales spike for Reed's solo material, fans and the curious should do themselves a favor and check out this box set.

Fans of The Velvet Underground will savor previously unreleased versions of their classic tracks such as "Beginning to See the Light" and live versions of "I'm Waiting for The Man" where you can almost feel the sweat dripping down your neck while at New York's The Gymnasium in 1967.

What is striking but not surprising about the collection is the vast variety of the tracks, which epitomizes The Velvet Underground. The title track is chugging rock 'n' roll with distorted guitars and Reed's nonchalant tones jumping between low and drawling and playfully high. "The Gift" surges in with spoken word, and "Stephanie Says" is so gentle and melodic it could be a lullaby, delicate drum beats laced with harmonizing vocals.

-- Sian Watson, Associated Press writer

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Grateful Dead, "Sunshine Daydream" (Rhino)

How many reviews of archival Grateful Dead releases begin with some variation of this sentence: If you only own one Grateful Dead concert, make sure it's this one?

OK, so let's get it out of the way early: If you only own one Grateful Dead concert, it wouldn't be a bad idea for it to be Aug. 27, 1972, a benefit show released as the box set "Sunshine Daydream."

Amid the roughly 100 archival Grateful Dead releases so far, what makes "Sunshine Daydream" stand out?

First, it's not just the concert, which plays out over three discs and features the Dead in their prime. There's also the movie, filmed on a shoestring budget to capture the hastily organized benefit show to help support the Springfield Creamery, owned by Ken Kesey's brother, in Eugene, Ore. Long available in previous edits as a grainy bootleg, the film is beautifully restored here on DVD.

The deluxe edition, available only through the Grateful Dead's website, comes with a well put-together 30-minute documentary featuring interviews with many of those who were a part of putting the show together, including Merry Prankster and concert emcee Ken Babbs and counter culture icon Wavy Gravy.

-- Scott Bauer, Associated Press writer

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The Beach Boys, "Made in California" (Capitol)

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