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Music

Four glorious music box sets rock the holidays

Fans of The Beatles, Steve Wilson, R.E.M. and Dylan have something new for their wish lists. The Audiophiliac gives them a listen.

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From left to right Bob Dylan, More Blood, More Tracks; Steven Wilson, Home Invasion: The Concert at the Royal Albert Hall; R.E.M., Live at the BBC; and The Beatles' White Album.

Steve Guttenberg/CNET

It's that time of year when record companies roll out box sets by their brightest stars. We took a look and listen to The Beatles' White Album 2018 Remix; Steven Wilson, Home Invasion: The Concert at the Royal Albert Hall; Bob Dylan, More Blood, More Tracks; and R.E.M, Live at the BBC. Most of these sets are available in various formats -- LP, Blu-ray, CD, download -- as well as streaming.

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The Beatles White Album.

Apple Music

The Beatles' White Album 2018 Remix

There were four Beatles -- John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr -- and here on the White Album, more than any other of the band's albums you hear them as four individuals. To celebrate the album's 50th anniversary we have a newly remixed (not merely remastered) version, along with a vast assortment of outtakes and demos.

One of the six CDs in the box set is called the Esher Demos, a collection of 27 acoustic demo songs recorded in George Harrison's home prior to the studio sessions. It makes for fascinating listening as the vocals and performances are more playful and looser than the studio versions of the same songs.

Then there are outtakes of many songs recorded during the White Album sessions, but not included in the original album. Hey Jude was a big surprise, along with Across the Universe, Lady Madonna, St. Louis Blues, Let It Be and many more. There are also instrumental versions of some White Album songs like Birthday and Piggies.

The box set features a 164 page hardcover book loaded with essays, session photos, track by track notes and a lot more. The quality of the packaging and presentation is quite good.

I always loved the White Album, but I felt it showed early signs of the Beatles breakup. Listening now to the band's chatter in demos and outtakes, they sound like they're really having a great time. I could feel their spirit, always pushing and experimenting with their music, so it still feels fresh. I'm not a huge fan of Abbey Road, for me the White Album was the Beatles last creative peak.

The newly remixed White Album on Blu-ray (with mono, high resolution stereo and 5.1 channel surround versions) and CDs really do sound better than any previous versions, it's highly recommended for Beatles fans.

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Steven Wilson, Home Invasion: The Concert at the Royal Albert Hall.

Steven Wilson

Steven Wilson, Home Invasion: The Concert at the Royal Albert Hall

I long admired Steven Wilson not just for his music, but also for his ability to create a fantastic surround sound experience. Wilson, more than any other artist or engineer makes surround sound right for me. Most other surround mixes seem rather crude, placing instruments or vocals around the room, but Wilson knows how to make all the speakers sound like a coherent whole, more like we hear "surround" in real life.

Wilson's latest, a live video concert recording finds him stretching his music beyond his prog rock roots to a more soulful sound. As for sound quality, the Blu-ray's DTS Master Audio 5.1 channel mix fully energized the CNET listening room, making me unaware of the individual speakers' locations. Dynamic range was huge, and if you play this Blu-ray over a first rate home theater system it's going to be a treat.

R.E.M. Live at the BBC

This set of live shows includes one DVD video, plus eight CDs, and it's a real ear opener. While many songs are repeated on nearly every show, Losing My Religion and Man on the Moon to cite just two, the performances feel unique. Same for the sound, they all sound different, but all communicate the band's spirit better than their studio albums ever did for me. The live sets cover quite a career arc, from 1984 to 2004.

Bob Dylan, More Blood, More Tracks

This one's from Dylan's Bootleg Series, and Blood on the Tracks is one of my all time favorite Dylan albums. He was known for recording quickly, but 'Blood had a much longer gestation than most. Sessions started in New York on Sept. 16, 1974, and after many stops and starts concluded on Dec. 30, 1974 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The More Blood Deluxe Edition six CD set shows how it all came together. Dylan's vocals on the early versions of these tunes find him alone on acoustic guitar, as he's finding his way, and being there on the journey with him will be a thrill for any Dylan fan. Sound quality is clearly better than most of his albums. The Deluxe set comes with not one, but two hard cover books loaded with rare photos, hand written lyrics, and track by track notation.

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