Friday, December 21, 2012

Last minute music gift guide, part 1

Box sets and reissues
By George A. Paul 

As we get closer to Christmas and shipping deadlines pass, some of these titles can still be purchased at local brick & mortal music retailers, but are more likely to be found at independent ones...
Artist: INXS
Title: Kick 25
This great 3 CD+1 DVD box set commemorates the 25th Anniversary of INXS’ most successful album, the 8-million seller “Kick.”

Disc 1 has the still-exciting original release. Disc 2 comprises demos, outtakes, live tracks, single B-sides and extended dance remixes. Among these, “Move On” (heard here in two versions) and “Do Wot You Do” (already familiar to many people as the B-side to “New Sensation and “Pretty in Pink” soundtrack inclusion) are strong also-rans. “The Trap” has music that morphed into “Tiny Daggers.” Disc 3 continues with more remixes and radio edits. “Never Tear Us Apart (Soul Version),” with additional sax work by Kirk Pengilly, is a revelation, while “Different World” makes for another strong non-album cut.
First up on the DVD is “Track Baby Track,” a 34-minute documentary where surviving INXS members provide background for each of the “Kick” songs in 2011 interviews. Guitarist Tim Farriss says of “Need You Tonight”: “It’s very sparse and little instrumentation. We didn’t overplay it.”

Then there’s 15 minutes of previously unseen behind the scenes band footage from the “Kick” tour (tour bus shenanigans, etc.) and three promotional music videos. Definitely a must buy for diehard INXS fans or those re-examining their career in light of the recent breakup. 

Artist: Michael Jackson
Title: Bad 25
Expanding on Sony Music’s last deluxe reissue in 2001, the 3 CD+1 DVD “Bad” silver anniversary box set included a broader picture of mega-successful follow up to “Thriller.” Disc 1 is the original album.

Among the 13 tracks on Disc 2 are several strong, almost “Thriller”-caliber outtakes: “Price of Fame”(shades of “Billie Jean”), flowery ballad “Free,” the slammin’ groove of “Abortion Papers,” a finger-snapping “Streetwalker” and an enticing mid-tempo “Fly Away.” The disc is rounded out by “Al Capone” (an embryonic “Smooth Criminal”), French and Spanish versions of “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You,” plus new remixes by Nero and Afrojack feat. Pitbull.

Disc 3 contains live audio from the concert held at London’s Wembley Stadium on July 16, 1988. The companion DVD from the show clocks in at just under two hours and finds Jackson delivering several hits at breakneck pace. The singer does synchronized moves with a bevvy of backing singers (it’s fun to see a pre-fame Sheryl Crow as one of them, giving a stylized duet vocal during “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You”). “Dirty Diana” is a showcase for bizarre-looking guitarist Jennifer Batten. Bonus content on the DVD: “The Way You Make Me Feel” and two songs from a Japanese tour stop.

Artist: Peter Gabriel   
Title: So  
Gabriel has a reputation as a perfectionist who spends many years making studio albums, so it’s no surprise that the 25th anniversary reissue of his landmark hit 1986 effort didn’t come out until 2012.

Coinciding with a brilliant tour that reached the Hollywood Bowl last October, the 3 CD version (there is also a super deluxe edition with added content) is made up of the remastered “So” – now sounding even more stellar than ever – and a compelling 1987 concert from Athens, Greece. Highlights include two 10-minute show closing numbers (the celebratory “In Your Eyes” with guest Youssou  N’Dour and the solemn “Biko”). 
Artist: The Beach Boys  
Title: Fifty Big Ones: Greatest Hits
Surviving original members of the legendary Hawthorne, Calif. band got back together this year for a 50th Anniversary U.S. tour. They marked the occasion with a slew of new releases.

First came “That’s Why God Made the Radio,” an impressive reunion effort that proved Brian Wilson’s creative spark (in collaboration with Joe Thomas, Mike Love and others) hasn’t diminished much lately. 

“Fifty Big Ones” (Capitol) gathers hit singles and favorites from throughout The Beach Boys’ career spread over 2 CDs. Sequenced in non-chronological order, it contains all the favorites. Some are presented in mono or various remastered stereo mixes done in the 2000s; others, like “Do You Wanna Dance,” “When I Grow Up (To Be A Man),” “Barbara Ann,” “Wild Honey,” “Heroes and Villians” and “Darlin” are altogether fresh mixes.

Capitol Records also reissued a dozen of The Beach Boys classic albums, ranging from 1963’s “Surfin’ Safari” to 1971’s “Surf’s Up” in double pack cardboard sleeves. They contain both mono and stereo versions and all original artwork.

Artist: R.E.M.
Title: Document  
R.E.M. had become a mainstay on college radio before “Document” was released in 1987. But this politically-tinged album was the one that broke them into the rock and pop mainstream with hit singles “The One I Love” and “It’s The End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine) and ended up being their first platinum seller.

Starting a longstanding creative partnership with producer Scott Litt, R.E.M. took another sonic leap forward. After a quarter century, it still sounds excellent, thanks to the latest remastering effort. This 2 CD special edition included the original album and a previously unreleased ’87 Work Tour concert recording from Holland. The 80-minute set finds the foursome in muscular form (an acoustic, revamped “South Central Rain” is simply riveting). 

Artist: Rage Against the Machine   
Title: XX
One of the more incendiary bands to emerge from Los Angeles in the ‘90s, Rage Against the Machine popularized the rap/rock trend that would dominate alternative radio airwaves for several years. Zach de la Rocha’s politically-minded lyrics, paired with Tom Morello’s inventive guitar work made them a unique force.

“XX” is a 2 CD/2 DVD/1 LP deluxe box set to mark the 20th anniversary of the group’s landmark eponymous album, which packs even more of a wallop than before in newly remastered form on CD and 180 gram vinyl. The main release has three live bonus tracks.

CD 2 comprises the infamous 1991 demo tape (originally sold at shows) and mostly seeing its first official commercial release. Listening to it today, you hear many of the songs didn’t change too much once they arrived at major label. While diehards will have much of this material, hearing equally strong non-album material like “Clear the Lane” and “Auto Logic” is a revelation for the uninitiated.

DVD 1 provides a perfect example at how RATM excels at playing large outdoor festivals, in this case, England’s Finsbury Park during a 2010 reunion tour. Music videos, live clips from PBS “Soundstage” show and London’s Old Vic Theatre round out the disc. I particularly enjoyed seeing RATM’s first public performance on Oct. 23, 1991 at CSU Northridge, probably a “nooner” show, judging by the students seen casually walking by and chattering near the camera.

Wearing a stocking cap, de la Rocha jumps around the stage during “Freedom” and the guys put their own spin of The Clash’s “Clampdown,” with Morello on backing vocals. Elsewhere, more concert clips show the band getting their message across on a wide range of stages in America and abroad.
Artist: Shelby Lynne   
Title: Revelation Road
The deluxe box set edition of Lynne’s self-produced 2011 effort “Revelation Road” is a real treasure trove. Not only is the quiet Americana album bolstered with five bonus tracks (16 in total), but a second CD contains a full live set from a May ’12 show at McCabe’s Guitar Shop in Santa Monica, Calif.

One DVD has another absorbing solo acoustic guitar set from Feb. ’12 at London’s ornate Union Chapel. The Grammy-winning country singer relays anecdotes about growing up in Alabama during one of the shows. The second DVD is a dark, unconventional 11-minute film which shows Lynne composing lyrics and recording the album.
Artist: Blur   
Titles: Leisure, Modern Life is Rubbish, Parklife, The Great Escape, Blur, 13, Think Tank
This has been a banner year for Blur, which reunited in ’09 with all four original members. After playing major European festivals, they began 2012 by debuting two new songs. The influential Britpop band’s eclectic catalog was reissued by EMI Records in remastered 2CD editions. Blur’s music got a prominent segment in the London Summer Olympics’ closing ceremony and there was high profile gig in nearby Hyde Park in conjunction with the games. 
These fantastic catalog reissues each have a second disc with anywhere from 12-19 tracks, ranging from single B-sides and demos to remixes and live tracks (BBC, Xfm radio sessions; Tokyo’s Budokan). There are a few rarities on each edition that even Blur completists might not own.

Also noteworthy: Parklive, the band’s 2CD concert album from the August 2012 Hyde Park event, just came out a few weeks ago on Capitol/EMI. It still finds the musicians in winning form, especially on “Song 2,” the frantic “Popscene,” “Country House” and “Parklife,” with Phil Daniels guesting. Live and lyric videos of their 2012 songs are the extras here. 

Artist: Paul Kelly   
Title: The A-Z Recordings
A national treasure in his native Australia since the release of 1981’s “Talk,” the award-winning singer/songwriter is best known in America for the rock radio hits “Dumb Things” and “Darling It Hurts.” More recently, Kelly has acted and scored films Down Under.

This 8 CD, 105-track box set is culled from a long-running series of live shows (from 2004-2010) where Kelly played various songs from throughout his career in alphabetical order. Divided into two acts, the sets were often done solo on acoustic/electric guitar or piano. Others, like the brilliant 2011 gig I caught at LA’s Hotel Café had accompaniment from Kelly’s nephew Dan.

Also noteworthy: “Spring and Fall,” Kelly’s first new studio album in five years is a romantic (yet realistic) song cycle using sparse instrumentation. Dan Kelly is his principle collaborator.

Artist: World Party   
Title: Arkeology 
During the mid-‘80s, Karl Wallinger left The Waterboys to strike out on his own. Ecologically-minded Beatlesque pop/rock and psychedelic songs like “Ship of Fools,” “Message in the Box” and “Way Down Now” all found favor at modern and album rock radio here.   

This 5 CD collection of 70 unreleased songs spans the band’s 25-year history (some were even done in 2011). Not just mere castoffs, “Arkeology” encompasses rare studio tunes, live sessions, concert recordings, radio interviews, covers, demos and B-sides.

Artist: Elvis Presley    
Title: Prince from Another Planet  
Just a couple years removed from his acclaimed run of shows in Las Vegas, The King did his first-ever shows in New York City on June 10, 1972.

Long regarded by many as one of the best live recordings of the Seventies (if not the rock ‘n’ roll era), “Elvis…As Recorded at Madison Square Garden” has been spruced up and expanded for this 40th anniversary edition. I grew up listening to the original LP version, so just hearing the opening fanfare “Also Sprach Zarathustra (Theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey)” triggers instant memories.
The deluxe edition of “Prince from Another Planet” couples that day’s afternoon (CD 1) and evening (CD 2) hour-long performances together for the first time with remixed audio. Despite a few dozen people onstage, including the great James Burton on guitar, the sound isn’t too overbearing and Elvis is in supple voice. About 20 songs are packed into both hour-long shows.

The DVD includes a 25-minute documentary on the event, with recent interviews from Elvis associates like Burton, Glen D. Hardin (TCB Band), Joe Guercio and Jerry Schilling. Noted music historian/Patti Smith Group guitarist Lenny Kaye says it was “a reminder of the power of rock ‘n’ roll: to transport you…to function as a god, very seldom do you get to do a show at Mt. Olympus.”

There is also a hilarious 12-minute edited version of the media press conference (such inane questions from the reporters) and rare unseen fan footage from the afternoon show. The latter 20-minute segment is kind of bizarre as you watch Elvis flicker in and out of the frame with newly mixed audio to match. 

Artist: Paul Simon   
Title: Graceland
Released in 1986 (like Peter Gabriel’s “So,” this is a delayed 25th anniversary commemoration), Simon’s classic worldbeat-infused “Graceland” won the Grammy for Album of the Year, was certified quintuple platinum and spawned hit singles in “You Can Call Me Al,” “The Boy in the Bubble” and title track.

It brought African music into the spotlight and featured guest appearances by Los Lobos, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Linda Ronstadt and Adrian Belew.
This special new edition features a DVD with the acclaimed “Under African Skies,” documentary, where the intriguing story of the album and resulting controversy is laid out in past and present interviews.

Bonus material includes thought-provoking extended chats with Whoopi Goldberg, Harry Belafonte. The CD contains a half dozen demos and alternate tracks (three are previously unissued). “Crazy Love” is the best.

No comments: