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COLLECTIONS/BOXED SETS

Beat Happening
Crashing Through
(K)
Before neo-garage, lo-fi or even grunge, Beat Happening ruled the Northwest underground rock scene by being the most humble band in the world. Sounding something like the Cramps covering the Shaggs, the coed trio confronted punk-rock audiences throughout the '80s with a baffling mix of doe-eyed innocence and dark sexuality. Were the players amateurs? Poseurs? Pretentious? Fey? Maybe a little bit of each, but their songs -- raw garage-pop anthems with depth and soul -- speak for themselves. All five of Beat Happening's studio albums, included on Crashing Through along with a huge booklet and two bonus discs full of videos, live material, singles and compilation tracks, testify to the power of modesty -- not to mention a hundred or so brilliant pop songs. -- Heller

David Bowie
All Saints: Collected Instrumentals 1977-1999
(Virgin)
All Saints illustrates why David Bowie inspired so many bands. The three decades' worth of instrumental output assembled here ranges from ambient dirges to tone poems to dance-club hits that never were. The '70s-era work shows off the creative success of Bowie's collaboration with Brian Eno, while much of the material from the '90s anticipates mainstream electronica by a number of years. Even Moby should kiss the Duke's ring. -- Kelly Lemieux

Charlie Christian
The Genius of the Electric Guitar
(Columbia/Legacy)
Seminal jazz guitarist Charlie Christian finally gets his due on Genius of the Electric Guitar, a beautifully produced four-disc set cleverly packaged to look like an old Gibson amplifier. Born in Oklahoma City, Christian was just 23 when he joined Bennie Goodman's sextet, which also featured vibraphonist Lionel Hampton and pianist Fletcher Henderson. Three years later, he was dead from tuberculosis. During his short life, he revolutionized the electric guitar by playing hornlike, single-note leads on an instrument used primarily for rhythm. His inventive artistry on such numbers as "Flying Home," "Rose Room" and "Good Enough to Keep (Air Mail Special)" still sound fresh and original sixty years after they were recorded. ­ Hill

Bob Dylan
Bootleg Series, Volume 5: Bob Dylan Live 1975
(Sony)
Bob Dylan never seems to leave the road these days -- and his live shows famously range from cogent and inspired to lackadaisical and discombobulated. But at the time his Rolling Thunder Revue rattled through America in 1975, a Dylan live experience was more like catharsis, or maybe exorcism -- something captured here for the first time, at least officially. (Snapshots of the Revue were previously available only in the poorly rendered Hard Rain, as well as in scenes from Dylan's bootleg-only film Renaldo and Clara.) With white paint on his face and a dervish in his psyche, Bob tears through his own material, deconstructing and reimagining everything from familar tunes ("Mr. Tambourine Man," "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue") to then-unreleased numbers ("Hurricane," from Desire). The cast of characters is rounded out by the ambidextrous David Mansfield, guitarist Mick Ronson and Joan Baez, who interjects some perhaps necessary moments of relative calm into the tempest. -- Bond

They Might Be Giants
Dial-A-Song
(Rhino/Elektra)
John Flansburgh and John Linnell were born to soothe and affirm the hearts and minds of unabashed geeks, nerds, indie intellectuals and musical misanthropes the world over. Named for the band's infamous (and still in operation) song-a-day telephone service, Dial-A-Song is the perfect encapsulation of the duo's wry, witty and wonderful trip through the indie underground -- and the cerebral cortex. Hopping somewhat arbitrarily through two decades' worth of recorded output, this anthology is a fine introduction for those looking to further explore the little birdhouse in their soul. It's also a well-rounded display of the two Johns' happily off-kilter worldview. -- Bond

XTC
Coat of Many Cupboards
(Virgin)
XTC's Andy Partridge was and is an odd duck, so the idiosyncrasies of Coat of Many Cupboards, a four-CD boxed set, seem wholly appropriate. Rather than gathering studio renditions of familiar tunes, compilers have plunged into archives that are deep, rich and satisfying. This tack may leave novices behind, but devotees will be elated to leaf through the assembled oddities -- not just a slew of live cuts from a group whose frontman, Partridge, suffered from debilitating stage fright, but also a fascinating array of demos and outtakes. Most unexpected of all is an extract from the first rehearsal of "Life Begins at the Hop," which allows the listener to be present at the moment something awfully enjoyable was created. -- Roberts

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