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Posted: December 09, 2009

More of the best box gift sets

Parton, Presley, Miles, Medeski, Martin and Wood

Mike Cote

DOLLY PARTON Dolly (RCA/Legacy)

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How is it that the woman who has one of the most manufactured faces in the entertainment industry has the world's purest voice? But what's most striking about this four-disc set is not just Dolly's gorgeous soprano - we already know what a powerfully emotive singer she can be - but the strength of her songwriting.

Parton's stabs at mainstream pop like "Nine to Five" overshadow that she's also written some heartbreaking country songs. "Down From Dover," sung from the perspective of a jilted woman whose love child is still born; and "Everything is Beautiful (In Its Own Way)," a previously unreleased recording, both from 1969, come from the darker streets of Dollywood.

This box extends only into the early '90s, when Parton's track record was spotty: A fine old timey take on REO Speedwagon's "Time for Me to Fly" bumps up against the schlock gospel of "He's Alive." But since then Parton has recorded a few fine bluegrass albums for the Sugar Hill label.

ELVIS PRESLEY Elvis 75 Good Rockin' Tonight (RCA/Legacy)

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If Elvis hadn't left the building all those years ago, he'd be turning 75 in January. Thus, the timing of yet another Elvis box set. This four-disc, 100-track compilation does do the King proud, chronicling highlights from throughout his career, including his best-known hits, live recordings and rarities.

And for purists, the set is sequenced in chronological order, from the 1953 demo acetate of "My Happiness" Elvis made for his mother to the surprise No. 1 2002 remix hit of "A Little Less Conversation." Along the way, there's a good sampling of Elvis' Sun Records years ("That's All Right," "Blue Moon of Kentucky," Good Rockin' Tonight"), plenty of his biggest hits ("Heartbreak Hotel," "Jailhouse Rock," "All Shook Up"), plus movie fare ("Guitar Man" from "Clambake") and gospel numbers ("How Great Thou Art").

An 80-page photo-packed booklet includes a 7,000-word biographical essay . There's even Elvis' original hit version of "Viva Las Vegas" - decades before the song was co-opted to sell Viagra.

MILES DAVIS The Complete Miles Davis on Columbia (Columbia)

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Here's enough Miles Davis to offer up a different album every week for a year. The jazz trumpeter's entire Columbia Records output includes 52 single-CD and double-CD albums for a total of 70 discs, each packed in replica LP sleeves.

The mammoth box includes a 250-page book and a DVD of a two European concert performances from 1967 featuring Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams. The collection, available only at Amazon.com, lists for $364.98. A stocking stuffer for the jazz fan on your list.

MEDESKI, MARTIN AND WOOD Radiolarians (Indirecto)

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This organ-bass-drums instrumental jazz trio has spent the past two years releasing a trio of albums they composed and recorded while on the road This box gathers up Radiolarians I, II, and III plus a disc of remixes, a 70-minute live album, a double vinyl LP set of highlights and a DVD feature film directed by drummer Billy Martin.

Just so you know: Radiolarians is named after a single-celled organism with a "dazzlingly intricate exoskeleton," according to press materials.

Fans of Medeski, Martin and Wood known "dazzling intricate" is an apt way to describe their adventurous music. Here's several hours worth to explore.

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Mike Cote is the former editor of ColoradoBiz. E-mail him at mcote@cobizmag.com.

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