By John Benson
Holiday gift shopping is like going to the dentist.
Just like getting your teeth cleaned, sometimes finding a gift is quick and easy. Or it can turn into a root-canal hell where buying for that someone who is hard to buy for becomes a laborious endeavor that invariably ends up being a gift card, scarf or socks.
For those shoppers looking to avoid the latter, here’s a holiday music gift guide selection that features lots of familiar names, a few obscure ideas and some holiday music to boot.
Take a look at some of the newer releases here in 2013:
AWOLNATION “Megalithic Symphony DELUXE” (Red Bull Records) CD
Shame on you if you still haven’t heard AWOLNATION’s debut effort, “Megalithic Symphony.” Buoyed by the success of anthemic track “Sail,” the album has been charting for more than two years. While fans wait patiently for the group’s sophomore album, the obligatory deluxe version of the album, perfectly timed around the holidays, includes b-sides, live tracks and remixes. However, the mixed bag of goodies doesn’t justify the investment of time and cost.
Nirvana “In Utero 20th Anniversary” (Universal) CD/DVD
It’s hard to believe two decades have passed since Nirvana’s last studio effort, “In Utero,” was released. This massive set includes plenty of rarities (“Forgotten Tune”), demos (“All Apologies”), concert recordings (the “Live and Loud” show) and re-mastered material. Considering Kurt Cobain’s suicide came roughly seven months after the release of “In Utero,” the inclusion of rare Nirvana track “I Hate Myself and Want to Die” casts a dark shadow over this box set, which is a must-have for all grunge fans.
John Hiatt “Here to Stay — Best of 2000 - 2012” (New West) CD
Throughout John Hiatt’s many decades in the public eye, the singer-songwriter has experimented with different sounds and styles. However, over the last decade or so the veteran Hiatt has found his groove with an all-encompassing Americana/roots-rock approach that is highlighted in this latest best of effort. While fans already have the majority of tunes, the one hook is the unreleased roadhouse rocker “Here To Stay,” which features guitarist Joe Bonamassa.
Dwight Yoakam “21st Century Hits — Best of 2000 - 2012” (New West) CD/DVD
Columbus native Dwight Yoakam reminds fans his best days weren’t in the ’80s and ’90s when he was releasing platinum albums. This best-of project includes material from five studio albums, as well as his Queen cover “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” from feature film “The Break-Up.” For those who still think Yoakam is country, this greatest-hits compilation paints him as one of the top Americana acts of the day.
Jimi Hendrix “Hear My Train A Comin’” DVD-Blu-ray/”Experience: Miami Pop Festival” (Experience Hendrix) CD
Sure, it seems like every few years a new Jimi Hendrix live compilation is released, but these projects are worth note. The DVD-Blu-ray “Hear My Train A Comin’” features the well researched and entertaining PBS documentary, as well as unreleased material, but the real gem is the CD “Experience: Miami Pop Festival.” The rare show features electric versions of “Fire,” “Hey Joe” and “Purple Haze.”
Jimi Hendrix “Purple Box” (Experience Hendrix) CD
Unlike previous box sets of the legendary guitarist, “Purple Box” features 60 unreleased studio and concert recordings taken from Jimi Hendrix’s seminal period of 1966 to 1970. Stellar tracks include alternate versions of classics such as “Purple Haze” and “Foxy Lady,” as well as obscure original songs “It’s Too Bad” and “Country Blues.” The truth is Hendrix’s catalog continues to be repackaged (see above). Still, for diehard fans, this four-CD set is something special.
Roy Orbison “The Last Concert”/“Black and White Night” (Roys Boys) DVD-Blu-ray
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the death of Roy Orbison, who gave his last concert in December 1988 at Cleveland Front Row Theatre. That performance makes up the bittersweet “The Last Concert.” Orbison died two days later. Also out is Orbison’s “Black and White Night,” a star-studded 1987 tribute show that included appearances by Bruce Springsteen, Tom Waits, Elvis Costello, Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Brown.
REO Speedwagon “Live at Moondance Jam” (REO Speedwagon) CD/DVD
For diehard REO Speedwagon fans (there must be a few, right?), the classic-rock act has a special gift this holiday season with a 13-track live recording taken from a 2010 festival gig. In addition to the hits (“Time For Me to Fly,” “Ridin’ The Storm Out,” et al.) there are obscure tracks such as “In Your Letter,” “Golden Country” and “Like You Do.” This is perfect for REO fans who keep on loving the band.
Neil Young “Live at the Cellar Door” (Reprise) CD
The godfather of grunge dug deep into his closet and unearthed this unique and sparse gem from a 1970 six-night solo stand in Washington D.C. supporting the then recently released album “After the Gold Rush.” The unplugged intimate affair includes plenty of gems. Invariably, the highlights are a rare version of “Cinnamon Girl” on piano, as well as a sparse “Old Man,” which wouldn’t be officially released until 1972’s “Harvest.”
Mandy Barnett “I Can’t Stop Loving You: The Songs of Don Gibson” (Rounder) CD
“Always … Patsy Cline” actress Mandy Barnett continues to tickle country and western fans with a new walk-down-memory-lane release featuring covers of Don Gibson. In a way, her tribute is a thank you to the legend who befriended Barnett early in her career. What makes the 12-track effort work is Barnett doesn’t just sing the tunes, but she reinvents them with the jazzy “Sweet Dreams” and ballad “Blue Blue Day.”
Bill Joe Shaver “Shaver’s Jewels” (New West) CD
Outlaw country singer Bill Joe Shaver is a ’70s legend but it’s his ’90s work with his son Eddy that is highlighted on “Shaver’s Jewels.” Together the father-son act made five albums before Eddy died in 2000. Highlights of “Shaver’s Jewels” are the sizzling “Georgia on a Fast Train,” as well as the stripped down “Highway of Life” and a cappella “Son of Calvary.”
Jerry Garcia “GarciaLive: Vol. 3” (ATO) CD
During his time away from the Grateful Dead, Jerry Garcia famously had his own solo career as well as various side bands, including Legion of Mary with Merl Saunders (organ), John Kahn (bass), Martin Fierro (sax) and Ron Tutt (drums). “GarciaLive: Vol. 3” covers the jazzy act’s first live tour, which naturally was a jam-filled affair on tracks such as Marvin Gaye’s “How Sweet It Is [To Be Loved by You]” and the serpentine blues standard “Mystery Train.”
“Louder Than Hell” (It Books) 736-page book
“Louder Than Hell: The Definitive Oral History of Metal” is for the analytical fan who wants to dissect the chronological history of the genre told by the rockers who helped create it. Included interviews range from Ozzy Osbourne and Ronnie James Dio to Slash, Phil Anselmo, Dave Grohl and Rob Zombie. This fan-friendly read is a must for all metal heads.
Mastodon “Live at Brixton” (Warner Bros.) DVD
There’s an argument to be made that today’s top modern metal band is Mastodon. The Atlanta-based band proves such a point on its new DVD concert “Live in Brixton,” which finds the outfit blasting through fan favorites “Curl of the Burl,” “Black Tongue” and “Dry Bone Valley,” as well as obscure tracks “”Colony of Birchmen” and “Iron Tusk.” Fans will find bone-rattling fun in the 97-minute show.
“The Merciless Book of Metal Lists” (Abrahams Image) 208-page book
Every family has a headbanger. You know, the one cousin who can spout endlessly about why Skid Row is better off without Sebastian Bach or why thrash music begins and ends with Anthrax. Here’s the perfect gift (“Greatest Bass Player List,” “10 Observations From Lemmy’s Warts,” et al.) that at the very least will keep them occupied so you can eat, drink and be merry in peace.
Metallica “Through the Never (Music from the Motion Picture)” (Blackened) CD
Diehard fans who loved the definitive metal band’s 3-D film “Metallica Through The Never” will view this soundtrack as a must have. While the sound quality is insanely good, the reality is there’s nothing new. More so, Metallica followers already have these tracks live in various incarnations. That said, the onslaught of “One” and “For Whom The Bell Tolls” is tasty.
Ministry “Enjoy the Quiet – Live at Wacken 2012” (UDR) CD/DVD/Blu-ray
Do we really need a concert DVD from industrial metal act Ministry? Apparently the answer is yes, with the Al Jourgensen-led group giving fans a 2012 show from the Wacken Open Air festival. While the setlist is predictable, the sound quality is excellent making this a must-have for not only fans of Ministry but also industrial metal.
Saxon “Unplugged and Strung Up” (UDR) CD
Among all of the albums that one never thought they’d hear, Saxon going unplugged ranks up there with Hank Williams Jr. dropping a hip-hop record. Nevertheless, the British heavy metal veteran act has succumbed to the unplugged trend — albeit two decades later — with “Unplugged and Strung Up,” which includes orchestral elements added to “The Eagle Has Landed” and “Crusader,” as well as acoustic versions of “Requiem” and “Frozen Rainbow.”
Tupac“Aftermath”/ “Conspiracy” (MVD) DVD
Rumors out of Hollywood suggest a feature film about the life of Tupac Shakur may be in the works. For those fans who can’t wait or missed his hologram performance at this past year’s Coachella festival, this double DVD set examines not only the various theories surrounding his violent death in 1996 but also how the hip-hop legend continues to influence MCs today. That said, both DVDs have more of an exploitive feel than actually covering new ground.
Def Leppard “Viva! Hysteria” (Frontier Records) DVD
The question is: do we really need a concert DVD of Def Leppard playing its multiplatinum 1987 album “Hysteria” in its entirety? If you know someone who would answer, “Rock! Rock! [Till You Drop],” then here’s their perfect gift. The reality is, hits such as “Animal” and “Love Bites” rock but other obscure material such as “Run Riot” finds the band going through the paces. Similar to the botox-ed Las Vegas audience members taking in this show, the majority of these live songs are all dressed up with no place to go.
Graham Parker & The Rumour “This is Live” (Shout! Factory) Blu-ray
Remember the band Paul Rudd championed in feature film “This is 40?” It turns out that wasn’t fiction. Graham Parker & The Rumour reunited in 2011 to record a new album and to perform live. The latter is captured on “This is Live,” which includes the group’s definitive new wave-sounding songs “Local Girls” and “Protection.” If any of this comes as a surprise, this is probably not for you.
Various Artists “US Festival 1983” (MVD) DVD
Long before Lollapalooza and Bonnaroo were common occurrences, the 1983 US Festival featured three days of top-notch rock in scorching southern California. Aside from the bad outfits and spirited crowd, the concerts offer memorable performances by legends such as The Clash (“Should I Stay or Should I Go”) and U2 (“Sunday Bloody Sunday),” as well as one-hit wonders of the era such as Men At Work (“Who Can It Be Now”), Quarterflash (“Find Another Fool”) and Missing Persons (“Words”).
A Robertson Family Christmas “Duck The Halls” (EMI) CD
A must-buy for any “Duck Dynasty” viewer, the Robertson Family Christmas “Duck The Halls” holiday album is a hoot. Sure there are guest appearances by Luke Bryan, George Strait, Josh Turner and Alison Krauss, but the memorable tracks include the Willie Robertson hilarious “Ragin’ Cajun Redneck Christmas” and Uncle Si Robertson’s surreal spoken word “Why I Love Christmas.”
Various Artists “A Very Special Christmas: Icon” (A&M) CD
The latest in the holiday series is “A Very Special Christmas: Icon,” which includes John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s iconic “Happy Xmas [War is Over],” as well as Elvis Presley’s “Blue Christmas.” As for standout first-time “A Very Special Christmas” contributions, that includes Rod Stewart’s playful “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” and Josh Groban’s traditional “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear.”
Annie Sellick “Let’s Make a Christmas Memory” (Chalice) CD
Esteemed jazz artist Annie Sellick shows off her vocal talents on her debut holiday album, “Let’s Make a Christmas Memory.” In addition to the breezy title track, which could end up being a radio favorite for years to come, Sellick’s swinging “Winter Wonderland” and gentle “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” are keepers. The best moment of the CD involves Sellick scatting her way through “A Marshmallow World.”
Edie Adams “Here’s Edie” (MVD) DVD
Time may have forgotten Tony Award-winning Edie Adams, but during the ’50s and ’60s, this blond bombshell was quite the Broadway, feature film and television actress. For Grandma and Grandpa who enjoy reliving the past, here’s a DVD that includes all 21 episodes of her “Here’s Edie” variety television show with memorable appearances by Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Sammy Davis Jr., Bob Hope and more.