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Paul Simon
Paul Simon (complete solo studio recordings)
Warner Bros.

Box sets are a hell of a lot of fun to own -- like books, they really do help furnish a room -- but they're absolute hell to review in a 350-word format. Let's see here: nine records, 350 words. That comes out to...about 38 words a record. Time's a-wastin'!

Paul Simon, the earliest disc here, contains perhaps the bubbliest Simon track ever, the rollicking "Me and Julio Down By The Schoolyard." It also features the great "Paranoia Blues," as well as alternate takes of both songs. There Goes Rhymin' Simon has the hidden gem "Take Me to the Mardi Gras," as well as alternate versions of that song and "Loves Me Like a Rock," the album's biggest hit. Still Crazy After All These Years (this writer's favorite Simon release) is next, and is notable for a demo version of "Slip Slidin' Away" that easily bests the original thanks to Simon's sparse acoustic accompaniment. One Trick Pony contains a boffo unreleased Simon number, "Spiral Highway," as well as two more songs that bombed on radio but sound great some 25+ years after the fact: "That's Why God Made the Movies" and "How the Heart Approaches What it Earns." Next up is Hearts and Bones, perhaps most notable for inclusion of one of the coolest song names ever, "Rene and Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After the War." (Unfortunately, the song doesn't quite live up to its intriguing moniker).

Graceland, an artistic and popular success that revived the singer's career when released in 1986, contains three bonus tracks, including an alternate version of "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes." Re-listening, it dawns on you that the record is one of the more seamless meldings of American pop and world beat ever recorded. (Sting, are you listening?) Next is The Rhythm of the Saints, which builds on Graceland's theme with loads more musical experimentation. Capeman's (ugh) in here too, as is Simon's most recent recording, the kinda so-so You're The One.

So there, in a nutshell/small cardboard box, is Paul Simon (five words left?). Little guy packs lotsa heart.

Rating: (Overall) --Timothy C. Davis

Bryan Ferry & Roxy Music
The Platinum Collection
Virgin/EMI

You should get some idea about the content of this compilation from the order in which the artists are listed; that's Ferry, Brian, first, and Music, Roxy, second. Primarily a Bryan Ferry vehicle, in other words. Ferry led Roxy Music for 10 years (1972-82) and proved he was a significant songwriter fronting a brilliantly creative group, taking art rock's best instincts and pushing them towards the synth-pop that defined the 80s. Then, in his solo career, he stopped writing songs and leaned towards some of his worst instincts, i.e., schlock. At three discs, and only one hour of Roxy stuff, this 3-disc set is chiefly for Ferry fans. It's like attaching one disc of Beatles to two of Paul McCartney & Wings.

So, Roxy Music is great, England's least pretentious band to still deserve the art rock label. This Platinum Collection even includes their rare second single "Pyjamarama," which features Brian Eno's tape-and-synth trickery, as well as most of their other singles. Beyond that, you'll like this if you like Ferry's warbling, dramatic seduction of a voice. But, really, most of these songs are just about Ferry trying to get one or more women into his bed, which is where I assume he released most of his "creative energy" after Roxy Music.

Ratings: Roxy Music:

Brian Ferry: --Jesse Steichen

Elvis Costello/Elvis Costello & the Attractions
Kojak Variety/ Goodbye Cruel World
Rhino

In the liner notes Elvis Costello describes Goodbye Cruel World as "probably the worst record that I could have made of a decent bunch of songs." The record is better than that and with the added weight of 26 more cuts on the second disc of the reissue package, it's a treat for fans of Costello's early 80s period. The second disc digs up plenty of demos and b-sides including songs recorded with Nick Lowe, Madness and others. This was the period where Costello began to stretch his musical output from a punk-laden songwriter into wider fields. The covers record, Kojak Variety, is a peek into some of Costello's "favorite tunes" that are as wide-ranging as Tom Waits, The Beatles, Gershwin and Screamin' Jay Hawkins. This record was originally issued in the mid-90s. It's a daunting task to keep up with Costello's relentless output since his debut in 1977, but with his innovative musicianship and writing prowess, repetition has never been one of Costello's weaknesses. Over the years the recordings have run the gamut of jazz, country and vocal pop. With more than three dozen cuts on each release here, and the recent reissues of Costello's other works as deluxe editions, he remains an artist worthy of repeat visits.

Ratings: Goodbye Cruel World:

Kojak Variety: --Samir Shukla

Thelonious Monk
Monk 'Round the World
Thelonius Records/ Hyena Records

There are certain guys in the jazz world you just can't front on. Their status is such that to even question their brilliance serves only to set yourself up for a big "ol, rotisserie-style roasting. The Rocky Mount, NC-born Thelonious Monk is one of those people.

Considered one of the premier pianists in jazz history, he didn't play the torrents of notes like Art Tatum, nor swing quite like Bud Powell. What he did was play Monk-style, full of hunt-and-peck keyboard melodies (Monk's fingers were such that he had to zero in specifically on the keys he wished to hit) and mid-song strolls about the stage while the other musicians did their thing. ( Monk "Round the World also contains a bonus DVD showing Monk's music making in all its quirky glory, as well as liner notes by none other than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar).

Recorded in Monterey, Paris, Copenhagen and Stockholm, the album contains six songs of classic Monk, including the wonderful "Epistrophy," "Blue Monk," and "Ruby My Dear," as well as a knockout 11-minute version of "Hackensack," a conversational jam between Monk and tenor sax player Charlie Rouse. For Monk fans, it's a no-brainer. For those yet to join the monastery, it's a perfect introduction.

Rating: 1/2--Timothy C. Davis

Velvet Underground
Live at Max's Kansas City
(Atlantic/Rhino)

In the hot summer of 1970, The Velvet Underground were the house band of lower Manhattan hipster hotspot Max's Kansas City. This recording is one night at Max's captured on tape by a friend and a member of their then entourage. Apparently Lou Reed was already itching to call it quits and go off onto a solo career. This recording is one of the last capturing the Velvets in concert before the band's demise. A legitimate bootleg, Live is decidedly lo-fi and obviously a mono recording. But the fact that the Velvets launched a thousand bands is equally apparent in Reed's fluid guitar lines and his dry, no-nonsense vocal style. The bootleg-style recording quality is surpassed by a classic performance. Live at Max's Kansas City was originally released in 1972 and the expanded reissue is a double-disc with 30 minutes of previously unreleased material.

Rating: --Samir Shukla

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