Who Needs Boxes 2004

That's not counting Ray Charles, of course, or the entire history of rock and roll's roots

ERIC DOLPHY
The Best of Eric Dolphy
(Prestige)

Dolphy shared John Coltrane's taste for the ecstatic without ever abandoning bebop-style, European-harmony-based cogitation. Not a drinker or a druggie, he died at 36 of insulin shock after a diabetes attack. His tenure at Prestige lasted from April 1960 to September 1961 and is all available in one huge box. Nine CDs' worth of quality music in 17 months, plus Ornette's Free Jazz, Coltrane's Live at the Village Vanguard, and other major guest shots. A year later, he left his mark on me at the Village Gate, Labor Day '62 I think it was, when he encored with Coltrane—on alto? bass clarinet? surely not flute—and blew my head off. In a sense I've been trying to return to that night ever since, but though I've gotten close a few times, it was never via Dolphy (in fact, never via jazz). I dug the box, hell yeah. But there's more use value in the way his superb bands, striking heads, and unfettered improvisations fill this single disc—even his flute. A

THE FALL
50,000 Fall Fans Can't Be Wrong:
39 Golden Greats
(Beggars Banquet)

To pin down those poet rumors once and for all, I availed myself of my freenet privileges and read his verse online whilst hearkening to its musical realizations off. Don't believe the hype. Mark E. Smith is a carper, a haranguer, a ranter, best comprehended in alienated snatches. But so what? Almost all of these well-culled "songs," which include half a dozen already singled out on 1990's Brixified 458489 A Sides, catch his Hyde Park cadences at their most barbed, annoying, and possibly prophetic, with the groove muscling up after the middle-period keybs go away. Unique, minor, forever eternal. A

NOVELTY SONGS: 1914-1946: CRAZY AND OBSCURE
(Trikont import)

Not all so obscure—starts with the Andrews Sisters' "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" and includes the Ink Spots, Spike Jones (twice), and the Memphis Jug Band. Not all so crazy, either—what distinguishes Kanui & Lula's "Tomi Tomi," sanity-wise, from dozens of other "Hawaiian" hits of the '20s and '30s? But most of it I'd never heard on record, including such remnants of other media as Groucho Marx's "I'm Against It," Danny Kaye's "Tschaikowsky (and Other Russians)," and Jimmy Durante's "Inka Dinka Doo." Touchingly, given its Deutschland provenance, the selection ends with an English music hall singer praising the kaiser in 1913, Spike Jones farting in "Der Führer's Face" in 1942, and peaced-out Germans Karl Valentin and Liesl Karlstadt laughing their asses off to the accompaniment of a confused brass instrument in the hiatus between World War I and the crash. A

THE ROOTS OF ROCK 'N' ROLL 1946-1954
(Hip-O)

One could question the utility of this triple-CD, and in fact it doesn't play as strong as Golden Era of Rock 'n' Roll 1954-1963, the starter kit for 12-year-olds released alongside it. But when I try to think of essential artists passed by, I get only one: Elmore James ("Dust My Broom," No. 9 r&b, 1952). There's never been anything like this: three hours of rock and roll from before rock and roll, long on boogie-beat jump blues with helpings of regular blues, honky-tonk from before honky-tonk, doowop from before doowop, and other stuff. Included are such foundational texts as "Rocket 88," "Cry," and "Crazy, Man, Crazy," early versions of "That's All Right, Mama," "Hound Dog," "Kansas City," and "Sh-Boom," and a few gems I don't recall hearing before: "Rock This Joint," "Cupid's Boogie," "Little Richard's Boogie." Arranged chronologically by year, it has a nice drape even if every track isn't a perfect fit. Afterward you can locate best-ofs, starting with Louis Jordan and Professor Longhair. A


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HONORABLE MENTION

THELONIOUS MONK
The Best of
Thelonious Monk
Riverside

Superb beginning to end, duh—but inexcusably lacking both "Little Rootie Tootie" and the Johnny Griffin "In Walked Bud" ("Jackie-ing, Off Minor").


THE BEACH BOYS
Sounds of Summer
Capitol

Summing up their entire career until Wild Honey, this is busted to noncom in honor of Endless Summer, only 13 of whose 20 tracks survive—"Wendy," "Catch a Wave," we salute you ("Fun, Fun, Fun," "Surfer Girl").


X
The Best: Make the Music Go Bang!
Elektra/Rhino

Like so many bands and the occasional couples, they didn't know when to quit ("Adult Books," "In This House That I Call Home").


BRYAN FERRY AND ROXY MUSIC
The Platinum Collection
Virgin

The third disc will half convince you he didn't follow one decade of visionary shtick with two of waiting to meet Bill Murray ("Will You Love Me Tomorrow," "Kiss and Tell").


SALIF KEITA
The Best of Salif Keita: The Golden Voice
Wrasse import

Two CDs' worth of his Island catalog reshuffled for credible grandeur—Soro improved, Ko-Yan almost untouched ("Nou Pas Bouger—Don't Move Us," "Tekere").


BOB WILLS
Stay a Little Longer
Rounder

Oddities and standards from a guy who recorded too many of the latter ("Who Walks In When I Walk Out," "That Brown Skin Girl").


BING CROSBY WITH BOB SCOBEY'S FRISCO JAZZ BAND
Bing With a Beat
Bluebird

Dixieland swing, which in 1957 still qualified as jazz ("Exactly Like You," "Dream a Little Dream of Me").

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