The third CD includes another humbling experience for Kerouac. Most of the recording is a re-release of Readings by Jack Kerouac on the Beat Generation, an out-of-print LP originally released on Verve Records in 1960. But a couple of "bonus" tracks are included, and one of the extra cuts is a speech Kerouac gave before a forum at Brandeis University in 1958. According to the booklet, Kerouac initially turned down the invitation but later agreed after getting the impression that he was to be the featured speaker. But when the reluctant spokesman showed up at the school, he found the forum was a debate and Kerouac was expected to defend the proposed "thuggery" of the increasingly volatile Beat Movement.
Kerouac, primed with pot and booze, wound up making a fool of himself, stumbling around and acting silly before and after taking the stage. But the speech itself holds its own as both sloppy and riveting, a subconscious manifesto for a generation of restless minds rushing toward the Sixties.
The Jack Kerouac Collection is a winner, from the mostly clean recordings (static from old master tapes claims only two casualties), to the generally boffo booklet.
Most of all, The Jack Kerouac Collection is an honest effort, an unflinching audio portrait of an anxious man forever positioned in the Pantheon of pop culture.--
CROSBY, STILLS & NASH CSN
Every now and then recording artists and their handlers really do release a boxed set that is "a must for the collection." It merits purchase not simply to satisfy the collector's endless acquisitiveness but also because the material is rare and arresting.
Such is the case with CSN, a compelling collection of music by Crosby, Stills & Nash, the original supergroup whose name always sounded more like a law firm than a reigning force in rock.
When the group first appeared in 1969, Rolling Stone offered its faint praise by likening it to such "classic" bands as Moby Grape. And though 1969 was the Year of the Guitar in rock 'n' roll, by summer's end the acoustic chords and peerless harmonies of this unlikely trio permanently changed the shape of American music. For many, Crosby, Stills & Nash became synonymous with Woodstock (the band's second gig), and they shall remain so forever.
This four-CD boxed set is a seamless resurrection of previously unreleased and studio originals that--even for the most cynical of Seventies survivors--will send goose bumps down your spine. From the album's first notes--an unreleased alternate mix of "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes"--to its concluding cut of "Find the Cost of Freedom," this collection is the definitive summary of the group's efforts over the past 21 years.
While the music is arranged for the most part chronologically, out-of-time surprises dot the landscape, like an unreleased, seven-minute version of Steve Winwood's "Dear Mr. Fantasy" that appears midway through the fourth disc. Along the way, producer Graham Nash deposits gems like a live, unedited original of "Almost Cut My Hair" (priceless for both its lyrical irrelevance and musical integrity) and an unreleased Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young version of "Taken At All" (as Nash says, "Four guitars, four microphones, one take").
Apart from all the previously unreleased material (even a hasty 1969 recording of Paul McCartney's "Blackbird"), Nash and re-mixer Stephen Barncard have included some of the best work ever done by Crosby, Stills & Nash as solo or duet recording artists. Crosby's "Laughing", Stills' "Black Queen" and Nash's "Military Madness" typify the sort of solo work that completes the band's many missing chapters and finds its way into this outstanding collection.
There is one downside to relying on so many alternate takes for a discography. In many instances, the listener hungers for the original album version of the tune. Here, for example, we get an "unreleased early demo" of Crosby's "Guinnevere", which is interesting as an archival find but less satisfying than the recording that wound up on the band's first album. On balance, though, especially given the hundreds of times we've heard the album originals, Nash's final selections for this set make an interesting aural tapestry.
Honestly, the accompanying book alone is worth the price of admission. For every cut, the author or some significant other pens a history of the song's creation. Like any great biography, CSN also leaves you returning to original source material, albums like Deja Vu and Crosby's If Only I Could Remember My Name. What better tribute can be paid to a boxed set?--
MODERN JAZZ QUARTET Modern Jazz Quartet 40
Whereas most jazz boxed sets re-release everything the artist recorded for a label, Atlantic Records chose instead to cull from the Modern Jazz Quartet's fertile history on seven different labels. How long a history? Double the life of Aerosmith, or add another ten years to the Stones' career, and you'll have a feel for how long this foursome has been together. Jazz boxed sets may be oddly sparse this season, but if one band is due a lengthy retrospective, it's the 40-year-old MJQ.