Feature

Box sets: From the archives, for the holidays

The Joshua Tree, City of Dreams: A Collection of New Orleans Music

U2 The Joshua Tree(Island)

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U2 has produced better albums, but none “more universally beloved” than The Joshua Tree, said Rob Sheffield in Rolling Stone. Originally released in 1987, this was the monumental record that elevated the Irish post-punk band “from superstardom to megastardom,” gave Bono a God complex, and created a rock mythology that took the group a decade to shake. To celebrate its 20th anniversary, The Joshua Tree has been reissued as a deluxe box set that includes the remastered album, a DVD, and a disc of B-sides, rarities, and unreleased tracks. The first disc, brilliantly produced by Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, remains the “only essential” one to own. The rest of the package tends to be “hit-and-miss,” said Pete Paphides in the London Times. For every miss, however, U2 strikes back with impeccable craft and plenty of impact—just what you’d expect from musicians who would eventually become “The World’s Biggest Band.” For all its popular success, The Joshua Tree marks a time of “conscious refinement,” said Joshua Klein in Pitchforkmedia.com. From the understated “Running to Stand Still” to the grating “Spanish Eyes,” the collection reveals the breadth of the band’s curiosity and its willingness to experiment. After all this time, not even “constant radio rotation” can rob The Joshua Tree of its “potency or effectiveness.”

Various ArtistsCity of Dreams: A Collection of New Orleans Music(Rounder)

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City of Dreams doesn’t cover the complete musical history of New Orleans, but it does capture the spirit of the city, said Jon Pareles in The New York Times. Rounder Records, which started recording in New Orleans in the early 1980s, has compiled a box set that surveys the last 25 years of the city’s vital music scene. The collection brings Big Easy standbys such as Irma Thomas and Professor Longhair together with working musicians “steeped in the city’s rolling, chattering second-line rhythms and its casual, intuitive notion of ensemble unity.” Because it only spans recent decades, City of Dreams is strongest on pianists and R&B singers, but falls short on funk and insufficiently covers brass bands. Nevertheless, the set proves why New Orleans “reigns proudly” as one of the country’s true music cities, said Jim Musser in the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Its distinctive sound is explored on four discs loosely classified as “Big Easy Blues,” “Street Beat,” “Funky New Orleans,” and “Ebony Emperors.” “Big Easy Blues” is a “ripe gumbo” of old soul and R&B, while “Ebony Emperors” offers a “brilliant distillation of the area’s splendid piano gods.” This collection covers “every corner of the New Orleans landscape,” said Jennifer Chancellor in the Tulsa World. City of Dreams is nothing less than an “aural history lesson in a box.”

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