Sammy Davis Jr., "Yes I Can." This four-CD collection from Warner Archives/Rhino--with 91 songs and an excellent 100-page booklet--honors Davis's achievement as a singer and dancer whose six-decade career traversed nightclubs, Broadway, films and television. Davis, who began as a 3-year-old vaudevillian in the family act, always called himself an "entertainer" rather than a "singer." Hearing so much of the latter in one place tends to focus on the narrowness of his range and the conservatism of his repertoire, which favored standards and show tunes. His early recordings for Capitol and Decca are pretty straightforward pop smothered in big-band arrangements. Highlights include a mannered "Birth of the Blues," a subdued "My Funny Valentine" and duets with Carmen McRae ("There's a Small Hotel") and guitarist Mundell Lowe (a bewitching "Bewitched").
Davis was a flamboyant singer whose best work was done onstage rather than in the studio, though he eventually learned about nuance and subtle storytelling from pal Frank Sinatra (they do a charming Rat Pack duet on "Me and My Shadow"). Davis came into his own in the early '60s when he signed with Sinatra's Reprise and began recording material that seemed tailor-made for his dramatic delivery: "What Kind of Fool Am I," "Once in a Lifetime," "As Long as She Needs Me" and "I've Gotta Be Me," a survival anthem rivaling Sinatra's "My Way." Still, his only No. 1 hit, "Candy Man," was genial kiddie-corn. The fourth disc features live recordings and provides a better perspective on Davis's winning stage persona, with "Rock-a-Bye Your Baby With a Dixie Melody" a dizzying showcase for Davis's dead-on impersonations of two dozen famous actors and singers.
"Linda Ronstadt Box Set" (Elektra). Unimaginatively titled and somewhat overpriced, this four-CD collection runs counter-chronologically, with Ronstadt's most recent material coming first. The set seems to downplay what some consider her strongest rock period in the '70s (six tracks from 1993's so-so "Winter Light," only three from her chart-topping 1977 album "Simple Dreams"). The first two discs focus on pop hits and album tracks (though fans are likely to nitpick about omitting such staples as "It's So Easy" and "How Do I Make You"), and also include tracks from Ronstadt's three albums of pop standards with conductor-arranger Nelson Riddle and her two Spanish-language albums. Ronstadt has always been a great harmony singer, and disc 3 features her many collaborations, notably with Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris as well as Aaron Neville and Frank Sinatra. The final disc features a few previously unreleased tracks and rarities, the latter including "Everybody Has Their Own Ideas," the B-side of the Stone Poneys' first single, and Ronstadt's rough-hewn live version of "Tumbling Dice" (from the "FM" soundtrack).
Stevie Wonder, "At the Close of a Century" (Motown). The only disappointment about this four-CD, career-spanning box is that it contains only one rarity, Wonder's original 1967 recording of "Until You Come Back to Me (That's What I'm Gonna Do)," a No. 1 hit for Aretha Franklin in 1974. On the other hand, among its 70 digitally remastered selections are all 27 of Wonder's Top 10 hits, including eight No. 1's from 1963's "Fingertips Pt. 2" and 1985's "Part-Time Lover." Ranging from such testaments to love as "Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours" and "Overjoyed" to songs of social change like "Living for the City," the set captures the passion, the range and the sheer artistry of an artist who has yet to turn 50.
"The Ultimate Grammy Box" (Sony Legacy). A four-CD, 73-track retrospective that features not only Grammy-winning recordings from 1958 to 1998, but historical recordings that have been voted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Obviously, there are plenty of classics, chartbusters and landmarks included, but also odd choices reflecting the Grammys' failures to reward some artists in their prime: For instance, Bob Dylan, never honored in the '60s or '70s, is represented by 1998's "Cold Irons Bound." The set is a bit '90s-heavy and confusingly arranged with no sense of chronology or genre distinctions. Aiming for kaleidoscopic overview, this set misses its target and creates a sonic mishmash.
CAPTION: Davis's swagger belied his way with a lyric.
CAPTION: Sammy Davis Jr. is perhaps best known as part of the singing, swinging Rat Pack he created with pals Frank Sinatra, right, and Dean Martin when they performed together in Las Vegas.
CAPTION: More rock in a box: CD sets chronicling the long and multifaceted careers of Stevie Wonder and Linda Ronstadt.