This is the time of year when you sort through a mountain of gifts and decide what to exchange. Many of you may have received gift cards from Barnes & Noble, Best Buy, Media Play, etc..., or you may just be staring blankly at a lovely new Clay Aiken Christmas disc from Aunt Gussie. If so, consider this handful of recommendations for terrific 2004 releases which may have slipped under your radar:
For those of us whove suffered for years through worn VHS tapes of this long out-of-print Frank Zappa concert film, the fact the late composers estate has finally issued it on DVD is something of a holiday miracle. Better still is the deluxe remastering given this epic (almost 3-hour) film. The live material (from Halloween, 1977) finds original Mothers of Invention vocalist Roy Estrada and ringers like King Crimson guitarist Adrian Belew and a pre-Missing Persons Terry Bozzio. Its as thrilling and absurd as ever. The ancillary footage of burnout stop-motion animation genius Bruce Bickford is the closest one can come to an acid trip without breaking the law or so Im told. An unsurpassable gift for the FZ fan, and damned near great for the uninitiated as well. (Eagle Rock)
Pixies - Live Reunion Shows
So you missed your chance to see the most talked-about reunion tour in the past decade? Maybe you caught a night by this supremely influential alt.rock quartet (Here Comes Your Man, This Monkeys Gone To Heaven), and want a memento?
Well, the Pixies are selling soundboard recordings of most of their tour. Its like a bootleg, only better: theyre professionally mixed, and the group get a cut of the dough.
The CDs sold out ages ago, but you can still get hi-fi downloads of 17 different shows (including both Atlanta dates) for only $12 each.
You cant burn them onto CD-R, but folks with a modicum of computer savvy can probably get around this fairly easily. The rest can listen to our hearts content on a home or office computer as Ive been doing for weeks. (www.musictoday.com)
Camper Van Beethoven -
New Roman Times
Speaking of reunions, the first legit studio album in 15 years by these quirky, art-rock icons is not the best thing theyve ever done but its heads and tails above most of whats passed off as intelligent alternative music these days.
At times it sounds like a cross between CVB and its two offshoots, Cracker and The Monks of Doom. So, that means tongue-in-cheek lyrics that drift toward sentimentality, buttressed by world music flourishes, roots-rock twang and plenty of Pink Floyd allusions.
Sure the right wing-meets aliens concept behind the album is a crock, but who cares? CVB is back in a big way, and all is right with that particular corner of the world. (Vanguard)
Freaks and Geeks - Deluxe Limited Edition 8-Disc Set
True, you can easily pick up a 6-Disc set of this note-perfect cult TV ode to early 80s otherness (that NBC unceremoniously shitcanned, despite universal acclaim). But why bother, when you can order this expanded version with all that plus hours more bonus features? Its all here: audition tapes; outtakes; multiple commentaries from cast and crew; production notes, etc... all housed in a replica of a leather-bound high school yearbook.
This treasure trove of arcana is a virtual love letter from F & G creators Judd Apatow (The Larry Sanders Show) and Paul Feig (I Am David) to the diehard fans who lobbied for its release. Entertainment Weekly called this the finest DVD treatment of the year, and theres still a few left online, but once theyre gone, theyre gone. (www.shoutfactory.com)
Howard Tate - Rediscovered
There arent many legendary soul singers left on this earth, so when the long-lost king of them all (and funeral home magnate) Solomon Burke resurfaced in 2002 with the wonderful Dont Give Up On Me, it started people pining for the return of other MIA 60s frontmen.
Now, at last, producer and songwriter Jerry Ragavoy has tracked down his old partner Tate, one of the most beloved - if remarkably unknown vocalists from that time.
This Macon native was a huge influence on Jerry Wexlers Aretha Franklin sides on Atlantic, and his comeback LP is mind-blowingly great. After vanishing in an early 70s drug haze and eventually joining the ministry, Tate is back to show the world how Northeastern soul was meant to be sung. Buy this CD and turn it up loud. (Private Music)