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Medeski Martin & Wood

Radiolarians: The Evolutionary Set


Buy if you like: The Bad Plus, Charlie Hunter

Keyboardist John Medeski, drummer Billy Martin and bassist Chris Wood are brilliant together. They're also prolific — perhaps a little too prolific. As dynamic as parts of this box set are, there's killer and there's filler. Fortunately, this is not a rehashed career retrospective. (Radiolarians I, II and III were released individually over the last 16 months; each now includes a bonus track.) Also fortunately, the box includes a live disc, Explorarians, and a double vinyl disc of highlights (plus another disc of DJ remixes and a full-length feature DVD directed by Billy Martin). If you have a turntable, the highlights collection would be the way to go. While I'd still rather hear more groove, like the funky "Free Go Lily," and less meandering improv, there are soulful moments (including their take on Rev. Gary Davis' "Baby Let Me Follow You Down," which is the only cover here) that provide real delight. — Lynne Margolis


REO Speedwagon

Not So Silent Night

Commercial Music Group

Buy if you like: Journey, Boston

It would be all too easy to envision REO Speedwagon shifting into full-blown power ballad mode here, resulting in an irredeemably shmaltzy album of Christmas standards. Instead, the veteran Midwest band for the most part avoids sliding into "Keep On Lovin' You" terrain and manages to rock out often enough to make Not So Silent Night — courtesy of the blatantly and optimistically named Commercial Music Group label — a relatively refreshing take on the Christmas album. The band is in particularly punchy form on "Deck the Halls" and "Children Go Where I Send Thee," while the stately treatment of "Little Drummer Boy" actually works fairly well. The overblown power ballad approach does rear its head on "Silent Night," but for the most part, the band treats ballads like "Angels We Have Heard on High (Gloria)" and "The White Snows of Winter" with appropriate restraint. — Alan Sculley


Elvis Presley

Elvis 75: Good Rockin' Tonight


Buy if you like: Carl Perkins, Chuck Berry

The now out-of-print '50s, '60s and '70s boxes are more comprehensive than this new set, but for an overview of Elvis Presley's career, nothing matches this four-disc compilation commemorating what would have been his 75th birthday on Jan. 8. Taken from digitally restored masters, the 100 songs sound great and include deep album cuts and relatively rare tracks, including his 1953 $4 demo of "My Happiness" and a haunting version of "Unchained Melody," recorded live a few months before he died in 1977. It's followed by the remix of "A Little Less Conversation" that sent Presley back up the charts in the 21st century. There's nothing "new" or "previously unreleased" here, so if you're an Elvis completist, you can save your cash. But for the rest of us, this set stands up to repeated listening and further demonstrates why Elvis was and remains the King. — L. Kent Wolgamott

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