A Retro Reliable Gift Guide
Wondering what to get for that music obsessive on your holiday list — or, for that matter, what to get for yourself? (Hey, when it comes to music, we all have the right to be selfish sometimes!) Don’t sweat it – I’ve got a list for you!
Elvis may not have exited the building after all…
Those that claim that Elvis (Presley that is, not Costello) is living a secret life somewhere in the hills of Dakota may not be too far from the truth. In fact, he’s likely running through his old archives and reissuing them when he comes across previous buried treasures. Given the wealth of reissues and material from the vault that’s recently come to light — among them the essential five disc box set Young Man with the Big Beat, a recent recap of Presley recordings from the crucial year 1956 — it would seem Elvis is setting himself up with a nice stream of income in his old age. The latest offering to see the light of day is a spectacular two CD/one DVD box set entitled Prince from Another Planet, a historic look back at the two concerts the King performed at Madison Square Garden on the weekend of June 9-11, 1972. While both the afternoon and evening performances were previously issued individually, this is the first time to obtain not only the music (both sets were nearly identical) but also a video originally shot by a fan during the afternoon performance. A press conference held the Friday before and presided over by an unusually humble and humorous Elvis is also included in the visual documentary. And while there’s been no shortage of Elvis recaps in the 35 years or so since his death (or supposed death that is), this particular offering is, like the man himself, impressive enough to satisfy the Elvis enthusiast in us all.
New credence for Creedence
If any band has had their share of reissues and repackaging, it would certainly have to be Creedence Clearwater Revival. John Fogerty’s early refusal to acknowledge his former catalogue did nothing to quell the interest in CCR, who are now justly recognized as one of the forerunners of today’s Americana movement. Hell, they’ve even earned the honor of being represented on a Walgreen’s commercial, courtesy of an instrumental version of “Down on the Corner.” Yet even with the vast quantity of previous releases bearing the essence of CCR’s catalogue, the extravagantly titled Ultimate Creedence Clearwater Revival: Greatest Hits & All-Time Classics doesn’t wilt under the burden of retreading familiar ground. The hits are all here, as are various album tracks, but the clincher for collectors is the inclusion of previously unreleased live material on disc three. It’s both an ideal place to start as far as newcomers are concerned and an essential offering for completists.
Getting more zip from Zep
Ironically, the most talked about concert of the year is one that took place five years ago, when the surviving members of Led Zeppelin reunited and recruited Jason Bonham on drums to play a one-time gig at London’s O2 Arena as part of a tribute concert for Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun. Millions applied for tickets and millions failed to make the cut, but now, following a short run in movie theaters, the entire performance – and, in the case of the blue-ray edition, the rehearsals as well – is now made for viewing by those of us who missed out. In an era that finds bands like the Stones and the Who enlisting several sidemen to bring their catalogs to life, Celebration Day finds Zeppelin relying solely on their core combo to replicate their classic tracks with perfection and panache. Amazingly enough, more than 30 years since they called it quits, Page, Plant and Jones still sound like they’re at the top of their game.
Everything Old 97s is new again
It’s a testament to the Old 97’s long overdue recognition as roots rock purveyors that this past year has seen not one, but two re-releases of earlier albums, from not one, but two different record labels. Too Far To Care was an important early work, a seminal effort that helped the Dallas band establish their initial cred. Augmented by an entire album of early demos, the reissue not only enhances the original release, but offers insight into the process which led it to become an early major milestone. Likewise, Blame It On Gravity demonstrates how far they’ve evolved in the past 15 years, thanks in part to a bonus DVD which features interviews with the various band members and five live in-studio performances to boot.
A part and parcel of Pogues
The Pogues established the template for Britain’s rowdy, rambunctious folk punk scene throughout the ‘80s and early ‘90s, but mostly escaped notice on this side of the Atlantic. Part of the reason for that oversight could be attributed to the fact that the band’s stage show was really their selling point, especially to American ears unaccustomed to the blue collar sensibilities and working man culture so prevalent in the backstreets of London, Dublin, Edinburgh and the other inner cities of the U.K. Nevertheless, a new compilation, aptly titled The Very Best of the Pogues, brings their music into a modern perspective with 18 songs plucked from the Pogues catalogue. Some of the tracks may be vaguely familiar – their rumpled version of the modern trad standard “Dirty Old Town,” the tipsy narrative “A Pair of Brown Eyes,” the rugged ramble “If I Should Fall from Grace with God” — but even on first hearing, these tunes sound as riveting and resilient as their fans found them when they originally appeared. Grab a pint and put it on the player; this is drinking music personified.
We surely need more Shelby
Shelby Lynne’s Revelation Road was widely hailed on its release a few months back and deservedly so. An extraordinary, expressive effort, it demonstrated why Lynne is on the upper pantheon of modern country singers. It’s not surprising then that she should opt to take advantage of this big breakthrough and offer an expanded version of the album just in time for the holidays. While most reissues feature only a handful of bonus tracks in an effort to lure repeat buyers, Lynne’s gone far beyond the standard MO, not only adding five extra songs to the original disc but adding three more discs as well — a CD boasting 18 tracks recorded during a sold-out two day stint at McCabe’s and two DVDs — one that captures her in concert at Union Chapel in London and another that documents the making of Revelation Road. The result is an extraordinary box set that’s nothing less than a mandatory acquisition for any Lynne enthusiast. In fact, it’s such a superb set, it’s worthy of acquisition by those who have yet to fall for her charms even up until now. After all, it’s only a matter of time before they’ll be Lynne lovers as well.
Tossing more Stones
Let’s face it, while the Rolling Stones made some terrific albums in the early ‘70s, it was their earlier efforts that gave them their rowdy, unrepentant reputation. Charlie Is My Darling offers a rare look at the band in their prime, right in the beginning, when they were still young, unspoiled and filled with hopes and dreams. Essentially a travelogue that follows them on a week-long 1965 tour of Ireland, the box set offers a lavish look back, what with a CD, DVD, LP and two CDs of commentary and rare live performances, not to mention a replica of an early concert poster and a book of photos that’s almost worth the price of admission all on their own. Shot in black and white, the video provides its share of nostalgia as well as intrigue in this up-close look at the band in unguarded mode. Legendary, but look considered lost, the film includes the Stones’ first professionally filmed concert performances while shining the spotlight on the frenzy and mayhem that accompanied the band wherever they went. It also peers behind the scenes, documenting the group en route to their gigs, in their dressing rooms and hotel rooms and creating songs that would later become classics. Given the classy packaging and the array of extras included within, the box is well-recommended. It may be a bit of an investment, but it’s a terrific memento and sure to be a collectors’ item in the not-too-distant future.
Technically speaking, the Loudon Wainwright III box set, 40 Odd Years, made its appearance in 2011, but it’s never to late to seize upon an extraordinary collection by an extraordinary artist. With four CDs spanning Wainwright’s entire career, from 1969 until the present, and boasting an entire disc of rare and unreleased songs to boot, this is is the ultimate acquisition for both the Loudon loyalist and the complete devotee. Naturally, the usual suspects are included — early standards like “Dead Skunk” and “The Swimming Song” which sounds as lively today as they did back in the day, as well as the songs that found him maturing and accepting his role as a father, husband, and head of household, “Being a Dad,” “Daughter” and “Christmas Morning,” among them. Wainwright’s ability to churn parenthood into pathos is always affecting, one reason why he’s advanced to the forward vanguard of America’s greatest singer/songwriters. A bonus DVD of rare television appearances and a stunning booklet complete this must-have compilation.
Revved up for REM
After last year’s redo of REM’s landmark Life’s Rich Pageant, EMI has chosen to tackle another milestone in the band’s catalogue, Document, the album that brought us such classics as “The One That I Love,” “Driver 8” and “Finest Worksong,” all of which would go on to become staples in the band’s repertoire. The added incentive comes in the form of a heretofore-unreleased concert recorded in Holland in 1987. Likewise, the added goodies in the form of a booklet, foldout poster and postcard further add to the attraction.
The Hull truth
While the Who’s Live at Leeds has been ranked as one of the greatest live albums of all time, there was another performance that rivaled that superb show, one which transpired the night after. While the set list is identical to the prior evening’s rundown, these two discs should be considered essential for any die-hard Who fan, given the band’s classic repertoire and the unabashed frenzy of all involved. Consider this a classic from a group that ranks as one of the best live bands of their era.