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Holiday Gift Guide: Music

Stuff to Buy / Bullz-Eye Home

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The music industry would like us to pass on the following message to you, which may or may not be a direct quote: “For the love of God, please buy a CD or two this holiday season, or we’re going to lose even more shelf space at the big three retail giants in the new year.” Fortunately for the labels, they have unleashed a ton of fantastic box sets covering all sorts of musical ground, so whether you’re friends with a literate Anglophile or a longhair whose license plate says “LEMYRLZ,” we have just the thing for them.

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arrow Various Artists: Brit Box
Somewhere, in a darkened room, a man in his 30s is weeping at the track listing for this compilation and asking, “Why, why, why did I spend money on all of those CD singles?” With a track listing that begins with The Smiths’ “How Soon Is Now?” and closes with Gay Dad’s “Oh Jim,” Rhino’s Brit Box goes on a journey through some of the best artists to grace the cover of New Musical Express during the 1980s and 1990s, even if they never meant much to the average American. If names like the Trash Can Sinatras, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, Mega City Four and Mansun make you quiver, and you’re shocked to hear that anyone else covets the work of Dodgy, Menswe@r, Echobelly and Chapterhouse the way you do, all we ask is that you try not to go completely mad when you bring Brit Box up to the register. Yes, we know that -- after checking out the track listing -- you may quote the Mighty Lemon Drops and call the set “My Biggest Thrill,” but if your beloved Brits can show emotional restraint, then so can you.
arrow Frank Sinatra: A Voice in Time: 1939-1952
The Chairman of the Board didn’t become the chairman overnight. He had to get through teen idol school first. It may be hard to believe nowadays, but yes, there was a time when Frank Sinatra was playing second fiddle to big band leaders Harry James and Tommy Dorsey. That phase didn’t last long, though it yielded a load of records. A Voice in Time: 1939-1952 neatly chronicles not only the nascent Chairman’s big band era, but also his early solo recordings for Columbia. You can actually hear Frankie’s voice transform across the set’s four themed discs, from a stand-out soloist in a big band to a green, tender crooner aided by Axel Stordahl’s arrangements. What would become Sinatra’s trademark swagger finally emerges on the set’s fourth disc, bringing this four-hour history lesson to a powerful close. Loads of photos and four sets of liner notes are also included in this classy set’s booklet.
arrow The Ike & Tina Turner Story
For all the Ike and Tina water under the bridge, and for all the well-deserved, late-night infomercial rep Time-Life has earned over the years, this box does a lot of things right, including set the record straight. Chances are, the soul fan in your life doesn't have any Ike and Tina in their library, and even if they do, the best-ofs done up to this box have been either shallow singles compilations or not even close to the career-spanning retrospective this box covers, from the early "soul girl group" days to their spectacular 1970s rock & roll flameout. Doesn't matter which track you choose, Tina  sounds beautiful and powerful against the backdrop of Ike's spot-on arrangements and     performances in the band. Definitely worth it.
arrow Robyn Hitchcock: I Wanna Go Backwards
Once upon a lifetime ago, Rhino Records launched an elaborate, bonus track-laden reissue campaign for Robyn Hitchcock’s entire back catalog. Time marches on, however, and contracts expire, and poor Robyn’s work passed out of print once more, but, thankfully, Yep Roc has opted to pick up the torch and make Hitchcock’s classic material available again. To get the ball rolling, they’ve created a treasure trove for fans by releasing I Wanna Go Backwards, which includes not only the first three albums in the series (Black Snake Diamond Role, I Often Dream of Trains and Eye) but also an otherwise-unavailable two-disc collection of rarities, demos and previously unreleased material, entitled While Thatcher Mauled Britain. There’s no truth to the rumor that this set’s original title was Whole Lotta Hitchcock, but it would’ve served just as well. Better yet, though, there’s even more where this came from. Stay tuned for what 2008 brings.
arrow Donald Fagen: The Nightfly Trilogy
He’s best known for the work he and his longtime collaborator Walter Becker have done as Steely Dan, but there have been those very rare occasions when Donald Fagen has stepped out and done the solo-album thing. Fagen has thrice released records under his own name – once in 1982 (The Nightfly), again in 1993 (Kamakiriad), and most recently in 2006 (Morph the Cat) – and, just in time for the holidays, Rhino’s boxed the trio together. Before you start crying foul about having to buy them all over again, however, check this: in addition to mixing them for DTS 5.1, Dolby 5.1 and PCM Stereo, they’ve added bonus tracks, as well as utilizing MVI (Music Video Interactive) technology to add track by track commentary from Fagen; videos; a custom ringtone application; and more. Awesome! Your turn, Mr. Becker: when should we expect that deluxe edition of 11 Tracks of Whack?
arrow Megadeth: Warchest
Dave Mustaine once said, “After getting fired from Metallica, all I remember is that I wanted blood. Theirs. I wanted to be faster, and heavier than them.” It’s arguable that Mustaine and his band, Megadeth, succeeded on a certain level, but, unfortunately, their comparative lack of commercial appeal tended to leave the opposite impression. With Warchest, however, you can finally get the whole Megadeth story. It’s a mother of a set that features digitally remastered career-defining album cuts, soundtrack and compilation sides, unreleased live and studio performances and interview clips, a full 75-minute live set from a night on the 1990 "Clash of the Titans" tour and a DVD of highlights from 1992’s Countdown tour. So far, so good, but topping it off is the perfect packaging, featuring a 3-D ammo belt on the cover. Too heavy for you? So what?
arrow Various Artists: Heavy Metal
While the contents contained within this four-disc box set will inspire hours upon hours of debate over what truly constitutes a band as metal – “Dude, what the hell is Poison doing on the same disc as Slayer?” – you cannot argue with the packaging, which resembles a vintage Marshall amp. Nor can you argue with Rhino’s exhaustive efforts to make this set as all-encompassing as possible, digging up tracks from Hawkwind, Montrose and even a Ronnie James Dio-fronted Black Sabbath. They also wisely steered clear of much of the hair metal from the late ‘80s – no Bullet Boys or Warrant, though Lita Ford and Skid Row make appearances – in favor of tracks from King Diamond and Prong. Are you ready to rock? We knew you were.
arrow Various Artists: Love Is the Song We Sing: San Francisco Nuggets, 1965-1970
After two box sets focusing on ‘60s garage rock both popular and obscure, plus a third that spotlighted all the artists from the subsequent decades who’d been inspired by all the music on the first two boxes, Rhino offers a fourth Nuggets set, and it’s more streamlined than any of its predecessors. This time, they’ve attempted to encapsulate a single movement, namely the goings-on in the Bay Area of San Francisco. Yes, it’s arguable that it’s the least successful of the Nuggets franchise, but, well, to tie into one of the other write-ups, that’s like calling out Ringo for being the least successful Beatle when he was still pretty damned successful. Besides, with a track list that includes contributions from Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, Steve Miller Band, Blue Cheer, Santana, Janis Joplin, the Grass Roots and Sly and the Family Stone, it’s easily the one with the greatest commercial appeal. But don’t worry, fans of the obscure: you’ll still be able to get your rocks off to tunes from folks like Teddy and his Patches, Frumious Bandersnatch and the Harbinger Complex.
arrow Bob Dylan: Dylan
There are a handful of views you can take of this new Dylan set. One is that it’s yet another greed-driven (albeit up-to-date) repackaging of Dylan material released in conjunction with other Dylan projects (the Todd Haynes “biopic” and soundtrack, the new ’63-’65 Newport DVD, et. al.) with timing perfectly matched to capitalize on this most recent spate of Dylan-mania. Another is that Dylan is a great career retrospective and introduction for Dylan newbies. Yet another view is that it’s aimed directly at the hearts and minds of completists only. But we prefer a fourth view: that it’s a fairly comprehensive, astounding look at Dylan’s career, made all the more impressive by the simple-yet-genius idea of presenting it chronologically, whereby you get a very full and complete sense of an artist’s development over four-plus decades. Could be that it’s all of the above. The three-disc set is available in “plain vanilla” version (three discs and decent liner notes), and deluxe collector’s edition w/ cool packaging and artwork. Columbia also released a single-CD digest version, for those too cheap to spring for the whole thing.



... still misses Bill Hicks

Patton Oswalt: Werewolves and Lollipops

He may have voiced a rat chef in a $200 million-grossing animated movie, but Oswalt’s finest hour this year is Werewolves and Lollipops, his hilarious second album. Oswalt’s material, much like that of his idol (the late, great Bill Hicks), is corrosively foul – he even dedicates a routine to the inherent creepiness of cleaned-up filth. But it is wonderfully poetic at the same time, such as when he describes KFC’s Famous Bowls as “a failure pile in a sadness bowl,” and wonders aloud if the bowl can play This Mortal Coil’s It’ll End in Tears while he eats the bowl in his basement at 2:30 in the morning. The ridiculous has rarely been so sublime.

... likes to combine Mentos and Diet Coke

DJ Axel: Breakin' the Law

LL Cool J gets down with Judas Priest. Eminem is thrown over “Billie Jean.” 50 Cent is teamed up with Lena Horne (yes, that Lena Horne). Everything about Breakin’ the Law is recycled, yet it stands as one of the most entertaining albums released this year. In an ideal world, Lupe Fiasco would team up with Bob Marley, and how have Snoop Dogg and Stevie Wonder not done a duet by now? Pop this on at your next mixer, and watch your party officially go off the heezy, as they say.

... fondly recalls the heyday of AM radio

Silver Seas: High Society

If you’re a fan of classic pop akin to Van Morrison, Jackson Browne, the Eagles or the Beach Boys, you’re going to have a new favorite band. Nashville’s Silver Seas released their latest album, High Society, last month and in this humble writer’s opinion it’s the best album of 2007. The combination of quality songs that are delivered with passion and solid musicianship make it an easy listen, as well as one that you won’t want to pull out of your CD player. And since it’s the holiday season, why not go ahead and give someone you love something they won’t want to pull out of their CD player. Give them the gift of the Silver Seas.

... still refuses to acknowledge David Gilmour’s existence

Pink Floyd: The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (40th Anniversary Edition)

Just because you own Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall doesn’t mean you know Pink Floyd. It’s been 40 years since a young lad in Cambridge got the idea to blend the names of two semi-obscure bluesmen – Pink Anderson and Floyd Council – and founded the band that would rule album rock throughout most of the ‘70s. But to get the full story, you need to check out The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. Long considered one of the definitive Summer of Love releases, the 40th anniversary of the album has led Capitol to put out this new reissue, featuring the mono version on Disc 1 and the stereo version on Disc 2. It’s psychedelic pop that sprang forth from the acid-addled brain of the late Syd Barrett, with moments at least as weird as anything in “I am the Walrus.” Take up thy stethoscope and walk to your local record store to purchase this immediately.

... likes to root for the underdog

Ringo Starr: Photograph: The Very Best of Ringo Starr

Being called the Beatle with the least successful solo career is one of those dubious distinctions; sure, it’s supposed to be insulting, but somehow I’m guessing that the seven Top 10 singles and two Top 10 albums are plenty to keep Ringo Starr’s ego assuaged. There have been a couple of different Ringo best-of collections over the years, with the two most notable being Blast from Your Past (1975) and Starr Struck: Best of Ringo Starr, Vol. 2 (1989), but this new one, Photograph: The Very Best of Ringo Starr, does a fab job of taking the best of the earlier pair and adding tracks from the post-1989 material. It’s the more recent stuff that’s the most surprising, anyway, since you’ve probably never heard it. Of the later-day highlights, “Weight of the World” is a bouncy pop number with backing vocals from Jellyfish, while “King of Broken Hearts” features a guest solo from George Harrison that shows he could still make his guitar weep even as recently as 1998.
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