Wednesday, December 18, 2013

(Really) Last Minute Gift Guide: Music CDs - Part 1

By George A. Paul
It’s crunch time now for Christmas shoppers. With that in mind, check out some ideas below for the music lover on your list.


Artist: The Waitresses
Title: Just Desserts: The Complete Waitresses (Omnivore Records)
For those who enjoy: The B-52’s, No Doubt, Romeo Void, Holly & The Italians
Tell me more: Best known for the holiday perennial “Christmas Wrapping,” sardonic college radio hit “I Know What Boys Like” and the theme song to TV sitcom “Square Pegs,” this NYC-via-Ohio new wave band was together for a short period in the early ‘80s.
But they stuck out due to Patty Donahue’s conversational singing style and Chris Butler’s slice-of-life lyrics. This great new double disc set assembles their entire output and some rarities.
What about the packaging: The liner notes feature archival photos, full credits and Scott Schinder’s detailed historical essay from a recent interview with Butler (who also oversaw this collection).   
Highlights: “Bread and Butter,” “Luxury,” the aforementioned tunes

Artist: The Clash
Title: Hits Back (Epic/Legacy Records)
For those who enjoy: The Jam, The Alarm, Social Distortion, The Damned  
Tell me more: Released in conjunction with the sprawling Sound System box set this past fall, Hits Back mirrors the sequence (with one exception) of the iconic band's Brixton Fairdeal concert on July 10, 1982 with 24 studio tracks, plus 8 others.
Although the casual fan will already have most of these songs, the new remastering, overseen by the band’s Mick Jones – with art design by bassist Paul Simonon, makes them worth hearing again. Sandinista! and Combat Rock selections are especially vibrant.
What about the packaging: An essay by Pat Gilbert, half a dozen archival photos and a picture of the original show setlist, handwritten by Joe Strummer (which he would tape to the back of his Telecaster) is contained inside.
Highlights: "White Riot," "Rock the Casbah," "Should I Stay of Should I Go?"

Artist: Dwight Yoakam
Title: 21st Century Hits: Best of 2000-2012 (New West Records)
For those who enjoy: Junior Brown, Elvis Presley, Hank Williams III
Tell me more: Although Yoakam amassed a multitude of top 10 country hits from the mid-1980s to early ‘90s, he continued to make equally affecting music over the last dozen years. That’s where this compilation comes in, drawing from Tomorrow’s Sounds Today, Population Me, Blame the Vain, Dwight Sings Buck and 3 Pears (one of 2012’s best albums) and rarities. Among the tracks are winsome duets with Willie Nelson and Michelle Branch, plus ones containing sweet backing harmonies by Eagle Timothy B. Schmit. 
What about the packaging: The liner notes have an essay, credits and a few photos.

Highlights: covers of Queen’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” Buck Owen’s “Act Naturally,” “Close Up the Honky Tonks”
Artist: John Hiatt
Title: Here to Stay: Best Of 2000-2012 (New West Records)
For those who enjoy: Delbert McClinton, Dave Alvin, Little Feat, Bonnie Raitt
Tell me more: Hiatt is an American songwriting treasure. That’s why everyone from Bonnie Raitt, Iggy Pop and Buddy Guy to Steve Earle, Emmylou Harris and Roseanne Cash have all covered his songs over the years. Concentrating on more recent material, Here to Stay boasts plenty of gems. The previously unreleased 2011 track “Here to Stay” is a fiery blues number featuring guitar work by Joe Bonamassa. 
What about the packaging: The liner notes have studio credits and some photos
Highlights: “”My Baby Blue,” ‘Everybody Went Low,” “What Love Can Do”

Artist: Boz Scaggs
Title: The Essential Boz Scaggs (Columbia/Legacy Records)
For those who enjoy: Steely Dan, Steve Miller, Al Green
Tell me more: There’s a reason one of Scaggs’ most popular albums was called Silk Degrees. His rock, soul and R&B music often goes down real easy. Essential - a 2CD, 32-track collection, is the first one spanning Scaggs’ career from 1969 to the present.
What about the packaging: Esteemed rock critic/author Anthony DeCurtis penned the liner notes essay, studio credits and some photos.
Highlights: “Lowdown,” Lido Shuffle,” “Breakdown Dead Ahead”
Artist: Roy Orbison
Title: In Dreams: Greatest Hits (Roy’s Boys/Legacy Records)
For those who enjoy: Chris Isaak, The Mavericks, Carl Perkins, Buddy Holly 
Tell me more: Finally back in print after an extended period, In Dreams has 19 sleek Orbison classics re-recorded in 1985 – three years before the rock ‘n’ roll legend’s untimely death. Even then, his vocals were basically undiminished. The crop of backing musicians included singer Rita Coolidge. For the faithful, it’s interesting to hear how many of the original sonic nuances were left intact. The track, famously heard in David Lynch’s “Blue Velvet” and co-produced by the director and T Bone Burnett, is also included here. The 2006 In Dreams DVD, a 90-minute historical documentary with commentary from Bruce Springsteen, Robert Plant, Bono, Jeff Lynne, and more, is now available again too. 
What about the packaging: The liner notes have studio credits, several small photos and a reproduction of Bruce Springsteen’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame speech inducting Orbison in January 1987.
Highlights: “Running Scared,” “(Oh) Pretty Woman,” “Only the Lonely”
Artist: Keane
Title: The Best Of (Cherrytree/Interscope Records)
For those who enjoy: Coldplay, Snow Patrol, Elbow 
Tell me more: Though they don’t get the same attention in America afforded back home in England, Keane makes glorious alt-pop tunes that make you glad to be alive. The generous 20 tracks here make up all the band’s singles.
The deluxe edition adds a bonus disc of B-sides and rarities.
What about the packaging: The band’s own brief reflection on their career is contained in the liner notes  
Highlights: “Somewhere Only We Know,” “This is the Last Time,” “Spiralling,” “Sovereign Light Café”
Artist: The Killers
Title: Direct Hits (Island/DefJam Records)
For those who enjoy: Human League, Duran Duran, Interpol
Tell me more: The most successful alt-rock act to emerge from Las Vegas during the 2000s, The Killers’ singles from its four studio albums are here, along with two new cuts, including Shot At
The Dark (recorded with M83's Anthony Gonzales) and Just Another Girl. The deluxe edition adds “Mr. Brightside” (demo) and “When You Were Young” (Calvin Harris remix).
Highlights: “Mr. Brightside,” “Somebody Told Me,” “When You Were Young,” “Runaways”

Artist: Midnight Oil
Title: Essential Oils (Columbia/Legacy Records)
For those who enjoy: The Clash, U2, Hunters & Collectors, Billy Bragg
Tell me more: These politically-minded Aussies have been sorely missed charged since calling it quits in ’02. Essential rounds up 36 digitally remastered tracks, dating back to their formation in 1978, with singles, album and EP cuts.
Highlights: “Read About It,” “Power and the Passion,” “Beds Are Burning,” “The Dead Heart,” “Blue Sky Mine”

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