Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Holiday Gift Guide: a wide range of terrific releases

There is truly something for every music lover on your holiday list this season. From enticing hardcover fully-illustrated books focusing on AC/DC and David Bowie to essential new audio and/or visual collections featuring Jeff Lynne's ELO, Neil Young, Alvin Lee and more, there is a wealth of riches now available online or at your favorite brick and mortar store. And don't let the season's greatest new holiday music title (featuring the Minus 5) escape your attention too.

Title: CMA Awards Live: Greatest Moments 1968-2015 (Time Life)
Tell me more: Featuring nine DVDs filled with 127 live performances and a bonus DVD with historic interviews, the CMA Awards Live: Greatest Moments 1968-2015 is must-see viewing for fans of classic and contemporary country music. There are dozens of wonderful and historic performances, including Glen Campbell's poignant "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" (1968) and a duet featuring Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge singing "Me and Bobby McGee" (1974) to Buck Owens and Dwight Yoakam joining forces on "Act Naturally" and more recent nuggets like Miranda Lambert's beautiful "More Like Her" (in 2008) and the min-medley of "Tennessee Whiskey/Drink You Away" teaming Chris Stapleton and Justin Timberlake. Fans of Americana, roots and rock will also find treasures on the collection, including appearances by Sheryl Crow (joining forces with Miranda Lambert and Loretta Lynn for a 2010 performance of "Coal Miner's Daughter"), Dire Straits singer-guitarist Mark Knopfler (playing "Go Rest High On That Mountain" with Ricky Skaggs) and Grace Potter joining Kenny Chesney for a take on "You and Tequila." Information: TimeLife.com.

Artist: Jeff Lynne's ELO
Title: Wembley or Bust (Columbia)
Tell me more: The full-fledged resurgence of Jeff Lynne is on display courtesy of Wembley or Bust. Available as a Blu-ray+2CD or DVD+2CD package, the title features Jeff Lynne's ELO's full-length concert captured at Wembley Stadium in London on June 24, 2017. To say this concert film is visually-stunning and an audiophile's dream only begins to tell the story. Directed by Paul Dugdale, the film blends artful shots of Lynne and his 12-member group along with entertaining shots of the audience to provide an experience that really takes the viewer to the show. And the setlist is stellar, taking in all of ELO's best-known hits as well as deeper cuts. Whether the ensemble is turning Wembley into a gigantic dance floor with the infectious "All Over the World," "Livin' Thing," or "Xanadu," rocking the stadium with "10538 Overture" and "Ma-Ma-Ma Belle" or sweeping them away with "Mr. Blue Sky," "Wembley or Bust" provides a fantastic ride. Information: JeffLynnesELO.com.

Title: Woody Guthrie: The Tribute Concerts (Bear Family Records)
Tell me more: When American troubadour Woody Guthrie passed away in 1967 at the age of 55, he left a profound legacy and many of the most prominent artists influenced by the singer-songwriter (including Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Judy Collins and son Arlo Guthrie) soon joined forces for a pair of tribute concerts. "Woody Guthrie: The Tribute Concerts" is a lavish boxed set that not only features pristine recordings of both full-length concerts (a Jan. 20, 1968 Carnegie Hall date and a subsequent Sept. 12, 1970 Hollywood Bowl event), but two hardcover books featuring liner notes; a Guthrie biography, original concert reviews, photographs and other great extras are all here as well. In all, there are approximately three hours of concert recordings, including versions of many of Guthrie's best-known songs (including "So Long, It's Been Good To Know You," "This Land Is Your Land," "Oklahoma Hills" and "This Train Is Bound for Glory"). Bonus tracks include interviews with Collins, Jack Elliott, Arlo Guthrie, Country Joe McDonald, Phil Ochs, Tom Paxton and Pete Seeger. Information: bear-family.com.

Artist: The Minus 5
Title: Dear December (Yep Roc Records)
Tell me more: Dear December is the best new holiday-minded album of 2017. Filled with original and instantly-memorable songs celebrating the holiday season (both Christmas and Hanukkah), the Minus 5 tap into the Yuletide spirit big time with '60s-minded British rock stylings ("New Christmas Hymn," the baroque pop of "When Christmas Hurts You This Way") and wistful introspective ballads (notably "The Fourth Noel" featuring guest Colin Meloy of the Decemberists). Mike Mills (R.E.M.) sings lead vocals on the pretty "Festival of Lights (Hanukkah Song)," while the equally glorious "I See Angels" features the lead vocals of Ben Gibbard (of Death Cab for Cutie fame). As if the wonderful songs and illustrious cast of greats that also features R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck and M. Ward (of She & Him) wasn't enough to purchase this new title, proceeds from the sale of Dear December help defray the medical costs for Minus 5 leader Scott McCaughey who is recovering from a recent stroke. Information: http://www.yeproc.com/.

Artist: Neil Young + Promise of the Real
Title: The Visitor (Reprise)
Tell me more: At 72, Neil Young remains one of rock's most defiant, relevant and interesting artists; that is especially true listening to the aptly-titled The Visitor. Long after the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer might have settled into the nostalgia route he continues to write and record challenging songs. On his latest collaboration with Promise of the Real (the band featuring Willie Nelson's sons Lukas and Micah Nelson), the Canadian native addresses his love of America even as he questions America's future a year into President Trump's presidency. On "Already Great" he notes "Already great/You're already great/You're the promise land/You're the helping hand." Taken as a whole, Young's dedication to saving the world's natural beauty ("Fly By Night Deal," "Stand Tall" "Forever") and social protest (the lovely "Children of Destiny") are themes he has been exploring for most of his life. And as long as the songs are as powerful and memorable as those displayed on his 39th album, keep 'em coming. Information: NeilYoung.com.

Artist: Alvin Lee & Co.
Title: Live at the Academy of Music, New York, 1975 (Rainman Records)
Tell me more: While singer-songwriter/guitar great Alvin Lee died at the age of 68 in 2013, it didn't mark the end of commercial releases expanding his legacy. A fantastic concert featuring Alvin Lee & Co. recorded more than 40 years ago has just been released. Live at the Academy of Music, New York, 1975 features Lee's fiery and groundbreaking lead guitar work, but also showcases an expanded direction following his departure from Ten Years After. Sure there are blues-rock tracks here ("Got to Keep Moving," "Let's Get Back"), but those British blues are frequently adorned with gospel vocals, soul, jazz and R&B. The beautiful baroque folk ballad "All Life's Trials," an authentic reading of the 1930s blues classic "Baby Please Don't Go" and rocking lead guitar-anchored "I'm Writing You a Letter" are among the lovely surprises here. Fans of Lee will want to get this two-disc treasure. Information: rainman-records.com.

Book Title: Bowie: The Illustrated Story
Author: Pat Gilbert
Edition: Hardcover, 224 pages
Tell me more: Although it has almost been two years since rock icon David Bowie passed away at the age of 69, the artist's legacy looms as large as ever. Now, the newly-published volume Bowie: The Illustrated Story chronicles Bowie's incredible life via insightful details and countless images of Bowie spanning from his 1950s childhood to the various periods of his professional career as recording artist and actor. There are promo shots of a very young Bowie, as well as photos of him on stage, painting, at press events, working in the recording studio and posing with friends. Information: QuartoKnows.com.

Book Title: AC/DC: Album By Album
Author: Martin Popoff
Edition: Hardcover, 256 pages
Tell me more: While the future of AC/DC is in doubt, there is little argument when it comes to the band's profound and lasting influence as one of rock's most important and successful hard rock proponents. In AC/DC: Album By Album, author Martin Popoff is joined by more than a dozen guest experts as they chronicle all 16 of AC/DC's albums in lively detail, providing plenty of insight into the band's discography. Of particular interest were details about how Malcolm and Angus Young came up with their guitar tones, and their respective role in the band. There are, of course, artwork of various releases; but the images of the band in the early Bon Scott era and subsequent Brian Johnson span add weight to the title. Information: QuartoKnows.com.

Review by Robert Kinsler

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