'Tis the season: CD and box set reviews

A 20th anniversary mega-box set of U2's "Achtung Baby."
Island Records

'Tis The Season for the gift of music . . . and our Bill Flanagan of MTV has some recommendations:

It's December and the record companies are shoving CDs into box sets faster than Grandma can stuff a turkey.

There is a 20th anniversary box of Nirvana's "Nevermind"; a 20th anniversary mega-box of U2's "Achtung Baby"; and a not-quite-20th anniversary expanded box of Pearl Jam's "Vs." and "Vitalogy."

"Nevermind" by Nirvana
"Achtung Baby" by U2
"Vs." and "Vitalogy" by Pearl Jam

The '90s - those were the days!

And what modern rock fan would not want the two-disc anthology "Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage" - 40 songs from the recently concluded career of REM?

For those with longer memories, let's set the Wayback Machine for 60 years ago:

Howlin' Wolf was a primal blues singer - a crucial figure in the formation of rock & roll. "Smokestack Lightning - The Complete Chess Masters 1951-1960" contains 97 tracks that challenge the notion of the Fifties as an era of domestic complacency. Wolf sings like the house is on fire and he's holding a big can of gasoline.

If Howlin' Wolf suggests the hidden wildness of the fifties, "Ray Charles - Singular Genius" reminds us that there was a lot more to the Sixties than love beads. This five-disk box contains over a hundred tracks - all the singles that Brother Ray cut for ABC Records between 1960 and '72. It's the era of "Georgia on My Mind," "Hit the Road, Jack," and "Your Cheatin' Heart."

One of the leading jazz musicians of the 1970s fusion era was the great composer and saxophonist Wayne Shorter. "The Complete Columbia Albums Collection" (available exclusively on popmarket.com) combines four solo albums Shorter made in the '70s and '80s with two CDs of the songs he wrote for his band Weather Report.

Shorter mixed jazz with rock and funk rhythms and instrumentation, enraging purists then and now.

These box sets are wonderful gifts, but not everyone has a lot of money to throw around this holiday season. I want to plug two new albums - single CDs - that will light up any Christmas tree.

Lucy Hamblin/EMI

Laura Marling (left) is a 21-year-old British singer/songwriter who is not only wiser than her years - she's wiser than MY years. Her compelling new album is called "A Creature I Don't Know." If you are old enough, you will hear echoes of Joni Mitchell, Sandy Denny and Leonard Cohen.

If you are young, you will hear the voice of a new generation coming into its own.

This is the time of year when we get to throw out the old calendar and start fresh. Here's to better days ahead.