Friday, December 17, 2010

Last Minute Music Gift Guide Part 1

If you’ve procrastinated and just started your Christmas shopping, can’t decide what to get a big music lover on your list or just want to take advantage of some of the heavy discounting this time of year, here’s part 1 of my guide to several worthy 2010 album releases.

Various Artists
The 25th Anniversary Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Concerts
(Time Life)
The companion to a DVD set, this all-star concert was recorded over two nights in October 2009 at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Originally broadcast on HBO, it features 54 performances from artists who came to prominence in the 1950s through the ‘90s, including Crosby Still & Nash with Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne and James Taylor; Paul Simon with Dion DiMucci (of the Belmonts); Little Anthony and the Imperials; Simon & Garfunkel; Stevie Wonder with Smokey Robinson, John Legend, B.B. King and Sting; Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band with Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine, John Fogerty, Darlene Love, Billy Joel and Sam Moore; Jerry Lee Lewis; Jeff Beck with Buddy Guy and Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top; Metallica with Lou Reed, Ozzy Osbourne and Ray Davies; U2 with Patti Smith, Black Eyed Peas and Mick Jagger.

Standouts include Crosby & Nash’s tender “Here Comes the Sun,” Simon & Garfunkel’s entire set (especially “The Sounds of Silence”) where you can hear the excitement among the crowd, Springsteen and Fogerty harmonizing on “Oh, Pretty Woman,” The Boss and Joel trading verses on each other’s tunes and Sting’s soulful “People Get Ready.” Although U2 was a bit road weary, having just completed a tour leg on its 360 Tour and the largest audience to that point at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, it still put on an energized set. The high points were Springsteen guesting on “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, both alongside Smith on “Because the Night” and Jagger making a surprise appearance for “Gimme Shelter” and duetting with Bono on “Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of.” Selected photos from the events and a mini-fold out poster replica signed by all the artists comprise the liner notes. There really is something for everyone here.

Bee Gees
While there have been multiple career-spanning Bee Gees collections over the past several years, this 4-CD, remastered 81-track box set is quite different. Each disc spotlights a single brother - including Andy - and includes favorite tracks personally chosen by Barry, Robin, Yvonne (the widow of Maurice) and Peta (Andy’s daughter) Gibb. The result is a good assortment of hits, particularly on Barry’s disc, but also plenty of deep album cuts, plus some B-sides and rarities (two previously unreleased Maurice songs and one from Andy, recorded shortly before his 1988 death). Robin’s disc is sequenced in chronological order; the others are random.

The accompanying booklet includes seldom seen family photos as well as testimonials by Elton John, Graham Nash, Tom Jones, Olivia Newton-John, Brian Wilson, Kenny Rogers, Glen Campbell, Celine Dion. Taylor Swift, Justin Timberlake, Diana Krall, The Cure’s Robert Smith, Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins and more. Definitely for the diehard Bee Gees fan.


Nine Inch Nails
Pretty Hate Machine
Although Trent Reznor put Nine Inch Nails on indefinite hiatus last year, he’s had a high profile lately as composer of the soundtrack to popular Golden Globe-nominated film/score “The Social Network.” NIN’s 1989 debut was a seminal album in ‘80s industrial and alt-rock music. Built around hard charging guitars, drum machines, synths and bleak lyrics, it includes three tunes that went onto become staples at modern rock radio stations (“Head Like a Hole,” “Down In It,” “Terrible Lie”). Former viewers of MTV’s “120 Minutes” might recall the equally intense videos in regular rotation. Newly remastered with a bonus track cover of Queen’s “Get Down, Make Love” and housed in a tri-fold cardboard with transparent slipcase, the Machine songs still jump out and grab you more than two decades later.

Word Gets Around; Performance and Cocktails
Emerging amid the mid-‘90s BritPop movement, Welsh trio Stereophonics actually had more in common with the Faces and Kinks than Blur, Pulp, Suede, et al. Raspy-throated singer/guitarist Kelly Jones’ knack for picturesque lyrics was evident from the start, as Around clearly shows. The band upped their game several notches on Cocktails, the excellent follow up. Having racked up five UK platinum albums in a row and twenty top 20 singles there to date, it has outlasted most contemporaries and still sells out arenas back home. These deluxe versions feature Jones’ handwritten lyrics from old journals, archival photos and  a second disc containing B-sides, live tracks, demos and BBC Radio 1 sessions. Of special note are the Dylan, Stones, Nirvana and Neil Young covers on Cocktails’ Disc 2. 

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