Box Sets - Neil Diamond, The Kinks and more

What's in that nicely-wrapped package under the tree? It might be a box set from Neil Diamond, the Kinks or a box featuring the best of Cuban music from 50-years ago. Here's a preview of those releases that'll make you hope that package has your name on it.

Neil Diamond - 50th Anniversary Collector's Edition - (6-CDs)

Diamond is one of those artists who has had so many hit records that it kind of boggles your mind to have them all in front of you at once. And the voluminous number of hits are part of what you get with this anniversary collection. From early mono takes on "Cherry Cherry," "Kentucky Woman," "Red, Red Wine" and "I'm a Believer" through "Sweet Caroline," "Shiloh," "Song Sung Blue" and "I Am � I Said" to "Heartlight," "America," "The Story of My Life" and "Pretty Amazing Grace," the hits and favorites are stacked among the set's 115 songs. A bunch of Neil's duets are here, including "You Don't Bring Me Flowers" with Barbra Streisand, "One Good Love" with Waylon Jennings, "Everybody" with Mark O'Connor and "Another Day (That Time Forgot) with Dixie Chick Natalie Maines. Longtime fans will really appreciate the 15 songs here that have never been released before, like "Sunflower," which Glen Campbell had a hit with, the delicate "C'est La Vie," the cornpone country pop of "Girls Go Fishin'," the Jimmy Buffett-like "Caribbean Cruise" and the semi-autobiographical "Before I Had a Dime." The retrospective comes packaged in a hard cover book with notes on the songs and lots of photos. Diamond has had 11 multi-Platinum albums, 21 Platinum albums and 40 Gold albums totaling more than 130 million albums sold. Order here

The Kinks - The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society 50th Anniversary Super Deluxe Box Set - (2-LP, 5-CD, 3-7"45 RPM singles, book, memorabilia)

The Kinks have always been thought of as one of the quintessentially English bands, mostly thanks to the keen observations found in the lyrics of songwriter and group front man Ray Davies. The band's earlier albums spotlight this quality the most, and there is probably no better example of this than The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society, a sleeper that earned serious gravitas as it aged. Davies voice, both in his lyrics and the way he sings them, is here full of wonderment, hope and regret as he assesses the world he sees changing around him in songs like the Beatles-esque "Do You Remember Walter?," the bluesy "Last of the Steam-Powered Trains," the relaxed respite of "Sitting by the Riverside" and "All of My Friends Were There." Now considered essential listening, fans can own a newly-remastered version of just the album or go for the box set, a monster of a collection on vinyl and CD that includes tons of extras and rarities. Order here.

The Complete Cuban Jam Sessions - (Various artists) - (5-LP or 5-CD)

The reissue specialists at Craft Recordings have mined the archives of Panart Records, Cuba's first independent label. Panart had their own recording studio and they worked with the best Cuban talent until Fidel Castro nationalized the venue in 1959. But what a run they had before the takeover; here you'll hear late '50s Havana mainstay Julio Gutierrez with jazz pianist Pedro Justiz (commonly known as Penuchin), scat singer Francisco Fellove, bebop Cuban guitar player Nino Rivera, mambo innovator Israel "Cachao" Lopez and bandleader and flautist Jose Fajardo. Since these sides were jam sessions, most of the cuts don't have an actual title and are identified by the type of music they are, for example "Rumba Theme," "La Flauta de Jose," "Theme on Mambo," "Bata Rhythm" and so on. This music has never been available as a set before and both the LP and CD boxes come with informative (but differing) booklets. Order here

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