Sunday, December 18, 2011

Music-minded gift guide: CDs, DVDs, Blu-ray, books and more!

Gift ideas abound this holiday season thanks to a wealth of new books, music DVDs and CDs.

With Christmas and Hanukkah rapidly approaching, you've come to the right place if you are looking for interesting gift ideas for that favorite music fan.

Those purchasing either a three-DVD set or two-CD set from Reprise Records celebrating Neil Young's Annual Bridge School Benefit Concerts are not only getting a great compilation, but are helping benefit The Bridge School, a non-profit organization "educating children with severe speech and physical impairments through the use of augmentative and alternative communication systems and assistive technology." The track listings on each of the releases is a bit different, although some performances are found on both. Highlights on the CD collection include an acoustic version of Nils Lofgren performing The Beau Brummels' "Cry Just a Little" and Radiohead's Thom Yorke's version of Young's "After the Gold Rush." The DVD features a wealth of great spots, including performances from David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Jam, Bob Dylan and of course Mr. Young himself in a performance with R.E.M.

If you are looking for a way to introduce groundbreaking modern music to those whose tastes routinely lack a sense of adventure, try stuffing their stocking with the soundtrack from the new Cameron Crowe film We Bought a Zoo. Featuring instrumental compositions and songs by jónsi (of Sigur Rós fame), the soundtrack is one of the best albums of the year with its winning blend of experimental sounds and tender symphonic textures.

In my mind, 2011 will forever stand out for two premature goodbyes in the music world. One is the tragic memory of Glen Campbell announcing his battle with Alzheimer's in June and the release of what will likely be his final studio album, the wonderful Ghost On The Canvas (Surfdog Records) in August. The other is the September breakup of R.E.M., despite that the Athens, Georgia band released the wonderful Collapse into Now in March of this year. But while the band didn't set out on a final goodbye tour, singer Michael Stipe, guitarist Peter Buck, bassist Mike Mills and drummer Bill Berry (who had left the band in the late 1990s) did release the epic 40-track retrospective Part Lies, Part Heart, Part Truth, Part Garbage: 1982 - 2011 (Warner Bros.) in November. This epic release really showcases why R.E.M. was so great, and the collection also includes three previously-unreleased songs.

The Rolling Stones' Some Girls ranks as one of my favorite albums from the band, ranking up there with Exile on Main Street. Now the 1978 masterwork has been issued as a deluxe two-disc set, with the original album remastered and featured on one disc while 12 rare and previously-unheard tracks appear on the second disc of bonus material. There are amazing songs here, notably an authentic country tune "We Had It All" (originally recorded by Waylon Jennings) sung by Keith Richards and the rollicking "Claudine."

Although American Laundromat Records' Please Please Please: a tribute to The Smiths isn't the first tribute to Morrissey and Johnny Marr & company, it is definitely one of the more ambitious. Among the far-flung artists who appear on the two-disc collection are Kitten, The Wedding Present, Sixpence None the Richer and Trespassers William.

Long before Coachella set up shop at the Empire Polo Grounds in Indio, another desert setting hosted a series of groundbreaking concerts in Southern California. The US Festival was held over two magical weekends in 1982 and 1983 at Glen Helen Regional Park in San Bernadino. Shout! Factory has issued a couple of full-length DVDs from the country music-themed day (June 4, 1983) that celebrate two of the genre's biggest names. Waylon Jennings: Live at the US Festival and Willie Nelson: Live at the US Festival will be treasured titles in the collections of fans of authentic country music.

Speaking of exciting releases from Shout! Factory, look no further than The Grateful Dead Movie released on Blu-ray for the first time in November. The deluxe 2-disc version includes the feature film on Blu-ray and a DVD loaded with an extensive slate of bonus featuring five hours of extras. Co-directed by Jerry Garcia, The Grateful Dead Movie was originally released in 1977, and captures performances from five October 1974 shows at San Francisco's Winterland Ballroom.

More than two decades after the world lost Stevie Ray Vaughan, the guitarist's enduring legacy is celebrated courtesy of author Craig Hopkins' newly-published Stevie Ray Vaughan: Day by Day, Night After Night - His Final Years, 1983-1990. This heavy, 368-page hardcover gem provides the kind of in-depth coverage, stunning images and editorial overview that one of rock's greatest-ever guitarists deserves. A worthy follow-up of the author's Stevie Ray Vaughan: Day by Day, Night After Night His Early Years, 1954-1982 released in 2010.

Earlier this month, I was invited by Sony and Taylor Guitars to a special photography-music event where I was introduced to the latest Sony Cyber-shot and was also treated to a tour of the Taylor Guitars factory in San Diego County. One of the day's highlights was getting to meet and hear a presentation from Bob Taylor, the co-founder of the guitar manufacturer. I really recommend that fans of the acoustic and electric guitar, of popular music and those interested in running any type of business get his new hardcover book Guitar Lessons: A Life's Journey Turning Passion into Business. On a related note, I couldn't be happier with the DSC-WX9 Sony Cyber-shot I received at the event. Boasting 16.2 mega pixel images, a 5x optical zoom and the ability to shoot high-def movies with great sound, this is a great camera with the ability to get great footage at live concert events. These amazing cameras retail for under $150 on

I hope everybody has a wonderful holiday season.

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