Pull-out Section: Holiday Gift Guide
LEARY RECENTLY JOKED THAT by now every household in America
owns a copy of Jonathan Franzens gargantuan Freedom
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $28), but nobodys actually
read it. Ironically, this came amid a plea for every household
in America to purchase Learys new book Suck on This
Year (Viking Adult, $18), a collection of 140-character
Tweets skewering just about everyone and everything. Its
not so much a feud as it is proof that the act of reading
has come to mean very different things for each and every
reader. In the age of tablet computers and microblogging,
picking up a hardcover book is a fairly quaint manipulation
of ones personal time. And this is precisely why literature
is still one of the most powerful gifts you can give.
is a case in point. At 576 pages, the novel is a commitment
to almost four decades in the life of a liberal middle-class
Minnesota family. Franzens periodic allusions to War
and Peace are not coincidental, as Freedom reads like a
Russian epic set in the deeply convoluted contemporary America.
And his depiction is startlingly vivid. Through his many
characters, we see the rise and fall of progressive idealism,
gentrification, young love, midlife anguish and compromise,
lost dreams, and reactionary neoconservatism, and are constantly
forced to consider what freedom means in a society and family
that has started to tailspin. All this, and the prose is
light and breezy. For certain readers, this may be the only
gift you need buy them.
On the truthier side of the bookrack, youll
find another analysis of our contemporary moment, written
with the urgency of the coming apocalypse in an effort to
document humanity before it vanishes. Earth (Grand Central
Publishing, $27.99) by Jon Stewart is an expansion of the
faux-textbook formula first used in America: The Book but
with a plea not toward good citizenship but rather genetic
reconstitution at the hands of our future extraterrestrial
brings us to William Gibson and his new sci-fi novel Zero
History (Putnam, $26.95). The third book in the Bigend trilogy,
Gibsons dystopian novel cuts ever deeper with a mind-bending
Inception-style trip into the dealings of a multinational
military fashionista tycoon in a post-crash economy. Matt
Taibbis new book Griftopia (Spiegel and Grau, $26)
might provide the perfect historical background for Gibsons
speculation. The Rolling Stone editor uses the 2008 financial
crisis as the springboard for an analysis of the grifter
class of high-power financial looters that have grown
up on a diet of Ayn Rand and increasingly funneled capital
upward through times of crisis.
Christmas, right? Well one local author may have the antidote
to all this doom and gloom. Radical Homemakers by Shannon
Hayes is a rallying cry and how-to guide for average people
to reclaim domesticity and basic sustainable homemaking
skills as a viable, healthful alternative to the grind and
greed of paid labor. This isnt some back-to-the-land
utopia; its instruction on ways to simplify ones
life in the name of closer communities and greater personal
character in Joshua Ferris new novel The Unnamed (Reagan
Arthur, $13.99) also walks away from a conventional domestic
life, but its something he cant entirely control.
He has a condition that compels him to literally walk away,
and keep on walking to the point of exhaustion. The novel
beautifully chronicles his attempt to hold it all together
despite this peculiar affliction. Aimee Bender deals with
a similarly surreal affliction in The Particular Sadness
of Lemon Cake (Doubleday, $25.95). Her protagonist has the
ability to literally taste the emotions of whoever prepared
the food she eats. The novel is a coming-of-age fable, with
all the complications of adolescence filtered through these
uncommonly emotional experiences with food.
the great coming-of-age book this year has come from rocker
Patti Smith, of all people. Just Kids (Ecco, $16) is a memoir
chronicling Smiths friendship with the photographer
Robert Mapplethorpe. It starts in the late 60s when
the two were just trying to survive in New York City, through
their mutual rise to artistic prominence and fame, eventually
culminating in Mapplethorpes death from AIDS in 1989.
Finally, here are two novels, like Freedom, that might confound
the ADD generation, but will provide the anachronistic pleasure
of prolonged absorption. David Mitchells The Thousand
Autumns of Jacob De Zoet (Random House, $26) takes the authors
command of pastiche and intertextual storytelling into the
realm of historical fiction to tell the story of a young
Dutch official charged with cleaning up the trading culture
of the imperial enclave on a 19th-century Japanese island.
Stories open into stories into stories. As do the interlocking
narratives in Nicole Krauss Great House (Norton, $24.95).
At the heart of each is a writing desk that first belonged
to a Hungarian Jew forced to abandon his home as the Nazis
closed in. In the following decades, the desk and its attendant
stories occupy an attic in England and the possession of
a Chilean poet, eventually ending up with a young writer
in New York.
YEARS ROUNDUP OF MUSIC books starts with a pair that
fills a void. Richard Hendersons Song Cycle (Continuum,
$10.95) examines and celebrates Van Dyke Parks debut
album, along with his endeavors before and after. Texas
Tornado, by Jan Reid with Shawn Sahm (University of Texas
Press, $24.95), is a chronicle of the life and music of
Mainstays continue to add weight to their shelves. Life
by Keith Richards (Little, Brown, $29.99) has been positioned
to get attention (the publisher having paid a multimillion
dollar advance) and lives up to the fanfare. Fab: An Intimate
Life of Paul McCartney, by Howard Sounes (DaCapo, $29.95),
moves smoothly from the familiar coming together and dissolution
of the Beatles on to the subsequent bulk of his life as
a solo artist, father, husband (including the disastrous
second go-round), and knighted man of wealth.
Chapmans A Very Irregular Head: The Life of Syd Barrett
(DaCapo, $28) is grippingly thorough, while Echoes: Pink
Floyd by Glenn Povey (Chicago Review Press, $39.95) is loaded
with ephemera, posters and a chronology of their tours,
rehearsals and recordings. Stephen Davis, author of Hammer
of the Gods, has brought forth another Led Zeppelin book,
LZ-75 (Gotham, $22.50), an account of their infamous
1975 American tour. Becoming Jimi Hendrix, by Steven Roby
and Brad Schreiber (DaCapo, $17.95), is subtitled From
Southern Crossroads to Psychedelic London and takes
a look at his formative years on the chitlin circuit
with the likes of Little Richard, Ike & Tina Turner,
and the Isley Brothers.
Jim Marshall completed Pocket Cash (Chronicle, $19.95) shortly
before his death. The photos range from the intimate to
the iconic, and the book is rounded out with essays by Kris
Kristoferson, Billy Bob Thornton and John Carter Cash. Timothy
Knights Sinatra: Hollywood His Way (Running Press,
$35) looks into all of his 59 films. The Ultimate Metallica
(Chronicle, $35) is a rich photo collection by Ross Haflin,
whos been documenting the band for 25 years.
From the Storm: Bob Dylans Rolling Thunder Years by
Sid Griffin (Jawbone, $19.95) looks at the tour, the songs
that rolled through it, and the album and baffling film
that resulted. Still on the Road: The Songs of Bob Dylan,
1974-2006 (Chicago Review Press, $29.95) is Clinton Heylins
second volume devoted to documenting and analyzing the more
than 600 songs the erstwhile Mr. Zimmerman has written.
Bob Dylan by Greil Marcus (Public Affairs, $29.95) collects
his writings on Dylans music and the culture it moved
through, from 1968 right up to this year. Marcus writing
on Van Morrison have also been assembled in When That Rough
God Goes Riding (Pubic Affairs, $22.95), with Morrisons
body of work being further explored by Peter Mills in Hymns
to the Silence (Continuum, 448 pages, $24.95).
Bands from the past couple of decades also continue to be
feted in various book presentations. Death Cab for Cutie,
by photographer Autumn De Wilde (Chronicle, $29.95), offers
lavish and artful photos, interspersed with intriguing and
mysterious documents (including a transcript of a phone
conversation on the merits of bus vs. van travel). Wowee
Zowee by Bryan Charles and Kid A by Marvin Lin (both Continuum,
$12.95 each) add the Pavement and Radiohead albums to the
formidable 33 1/3 series.
are memoirs and biographies, anticipated and unexpected.
Lightnin Hopkins, by Alan Govenar (Chicago Review
Press, $28.95), explores the prolifically recorded bluesmans
life and the music industry and culture he interacted with.
Forever Changes: Arthur Lee and the Book of Love by John
Einarson (Jawbone, $19.95) shows Lee to be a man of contradictions.
Famously moody and often difficult on associates, he also
once answered a friend who wanted to hang out by saying,
Id love to, but my mom and I are watching the
Carol Burnett Show right now, its kind of a tradition.
Memoirs of a Geezer (Serpents Tail, $14.95) is the
autobiography of Jah Wobble, down the road with PiL, lost
into the void, and back as a sober man. A Wizard, A True
Star (Jawbone, $19.95) is Todd Myerss musical bio
of Todd Rundgren. A favorite surprise quote about the studio
wunderkind from Kenny Rogers: That guys the
best background vocalist I ever heard in my life.
Pat Benatars Between a Heart and a Rock Place (Morrow,
$25.99) reveals her to have both endured daunting embezzlement
by her management, and been married for more than 30 years.
Cherie Curies Neon Angel (Harper Collins, $24.99)
is her story of being in The Runaways, the basis of last
years movie of the same name. Little Girl Blue: The
Life of Karen Carpenter (Chicago Review Press, $26.95) is
Randy L. Schmidts examination of a tragic pop star.
Music & Life (Q Book, $49.95), by George Frayne, aka
Commander Cody, is a deliciously colorful art book. As Saratoga
Springs-based Frayne himself says about it, I have
been painting for a long time. I have been rocking for almost
as long. The tales of adventures in both run together and
in some cases intersect. Here are the stories and the art
of those moments. Besides the attendant discographical
and exhibition lists, he gets an extra tip of the hat for
supplying a list of every car hes owned. Me, the Mob,
and the Music, by Tommy James (Scribner, $25) is another
cautionary tale about bad deals, in his case, veritable
indentured servitude to mob-connected Morris Levy. During
his hitmaking years, James did have a home and acreage not
far from Albany, in Stephentown, and he sets the scene of
getting high and listening to King Crimson.
of King Crimson, theres the new Mountains Come Out
of the Sky by Will Romano (Backbeat, $24.99). The Illustrated
History of Prog Rock, it traces the genres rise
and relative disappearance. From lysergic literacy of the
Canterbury Scene, to the Tolkien-rich realms of Yes and
ELP, to the high-octane adrenaline of Rush and Colosseum,
its all here in full color.
are also a few memoirs by nonperforming members of the rock
& roll world. You Cant Always Get What You Want
(ECW Press), by Sam Cutler, is subtitled My life with
the Rolling Stoners, the Grateful Dead and other wonderful
reprobates. He did the actual horn honking on the
formers Country Honk, and plenty more.
Englishman Nick Kent had a front-row seat for the tumult
of music that spilled out of the 60s into the 70s,
writing for New Music Express. From living with Chrissie
Hynde to out-of-control drug addiction, he depicts it all
with the same honest flair that put him on the map as a
journalist in the first place in Apathy For the Devil (DaCapo,
to Girls About Duran Duran (Dutton, $25.95) is Rob Sheffields
follow-up to Love Is a Mix Tape. Its an exuberant,
and at times very funny, look back at his adolescence and
the music that accompanied it in the 80s.
Complete History of Guitar World, edited by Jeff Kitts (Backbeat,
$29.99), draws from the magazines 30-year history.
Michael Heatleys Stars & Guitars (Chicago Review
Press, $22.95) offers photos, anecdotes and technical data
on everything from Pete Townshends Rickenbacker to
Jack Whites National Airline guitar. Maxs Kansas
City, edited by Steven Kasher (Abrams, $24.95), subtitled
Art Glamour Rock and Roll is rich with photos
and artifacts (including desk calendar entries) of Mickey
Ruskins NYC club that had an eight-year run commencing
in 1965. Austin City Limits: 35 Years in Photographs (University
of Texas Press, $40) is a glorious feast of Scott Newtons
photos, from Willie Nelson to The Flaming Lips.
are numerous worthy jazz titles. Randy Westons autobiography,
African Rhythms (Duke University Press, $32.95), is a rich
journey leading from his childhood in Brooklyn to Africa,
around the world, and back again. Three Chords for Beautys
Sake, by Tom Nolan (Norton, $29.95), is the life story of
Artie Shaw. And two books are devoted to a pair of innovating
iconoclasts: Coltrane on Coltrane, edited by Chris DeVito
(Lawrence Hill, $26.95) anthologizes every known interview
with the saxophonist, while the directly titled Sun Ra (Headpress,
$19.95), edited by John Sinclair, collects a bracing range
of the originally named Sonny Blounts interviews and
theres Becoming Elektra by Mick Houghton (Jawbone,
$29.95). Subtitled The True Story of Jac Holzmans
Visionary Record Label, this is a tale of good taste
and honorable intentions making for good business and plenty
of lasting music.
A WONDERFUL TIME OF THE year, when all your favorite critics
and news sources are picking their choices for years
best in arts, giving you the opportunity to look very knowing
when your loved ones receive, say, the new Kanye West (Spins
No. 1 CD) or a copy of Winters Bone (tapped as best
movie by many). But what about books, especially considering
that there are so many genres, not to mention so much competition
for your time and amusement. A good friend swears by his
recently purchased Kindle, and indeed, it came in really
handy on a trip halfway around the world, but I still like
the tangible feel of paper product in hand, either nestled
away from the rest of the gang and transported to another
time and place, or comfortably ensconced on a couch with
any number of little boys perched and alert nearby.
year there are a number of amazing choices available for
the young reader in your life. For the tykes, I particularly
like Old Bear and His Cub by Olivier Dunrea (Philomel Books,
$16.99), which is cute and compelling without being too
pat. The little cub adores Old Bear and does everything
hes told, even though sometimes he puts up a fight.
And when Old Bear comes down with a bad cold, hes
forced to listen to the voice of the younger generation,
which, thankfully, has been schooled wisely. Art & Max
by David Wiesner (Clarion Books, $17.99) also mines the
treasure-trove theme of sharing what you know with somebody
who might not seem ready to hear it. Another excellent choice:
Dog Loves Books by Louise Yates (Alfred A. Knopf, $16.99),
which is an engaging celebration of how the love of books
can translate to a never-ending supply of friends and adventure.
The more precocious set should appreciate Mirror Mirror
by Marilyn Singer with illustrations by Josee Masse (Dutton
Childrens Books, $16.99). Singer takes the idea that
there are two sides to every story and runs with it, retelling
classic tales like Little Red Riding Hood and Rapunzel in
reversible verse couplets. Take the opening lines of The
Sleeping Beauty and the Wide Awake Prince: Typical/Hacking
through briars/looking for love-/the prince at work./But
I have to be sleeping/never/partying/never/out in the world./Its
not fun being/in a fairy tale. Now, for the princes
take, read it in reverse order.
With Sandra Boyntons Amazing Cows (Workman Publishing,
$10.95), dubbed Udder Absurdity for Children
and aimed at All Ages Up to a Hundred a Moo,
you know right what youre getting. Boynton uses no
end of ingenuity in crafting stories, games, puzzles, comics
and even advertisements (for the livestock design book Cowleidescopes)
and a take on mythology. It seems corny at first, but its
really quite engaging. Cows figure prominently, but not
solely, in Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewins A Barnyard
Collection: Click, Clack, Moo and More (Atheneum, $19.99).
These are funny farm stories in which the animals always
have the upper hand on poor Farmer Brown, like when, via
use of a typewriter, they communicate a series of demands
or else no milk. Also delightful is Anna Dewdneys
Llama Llama Holiday Drama (Viking, $16.99), which colorfully
evokes a childsany child, even a llama!seemingly
endless wait for Dec. 25 to come, and celebrates the importance
of that anticipation and the joy of the preparations. For
the backyard explorer on your list, you cant do better
than Ubiquitous: Celebrating Natures Survivors, by
Joyce Sidman and with illustrations by Beckie Prange. Together,
these two created the Caldecott Honor book Song of the Water
Boatman & Other Pond Poems, another worthy gift. Ubiquitous
offers poems, alongside factual prose, about things like
lichen, geckos, ants, even bacteria. Sidman has a graceful
way with language that soothes even as it informs. Grass,
for instance, drinks the rain and eats
the sun, and diatoms are described as thus: Curl
of seagreen wave alive with invisible jewels/almost
too beautiful to eat. In each crash, roar, millions more.
the kid whod rather be doing than reading, why not
LEGO Star Wars Brickmaster set (Lucas Books, $29.99), which
includes clear instructions to help re-create the Battle
on Christophsis or a forest fight, to name just two. Not
into building, but really dig fantasy and creating secret
worlds? Fantasy: An Artists Realm by Ben Boos (Candlewick,
$19.99) is a surreal creation of Perigord, a kingdom teeming
with elves, dwarves, minotaurs, hobgoblins and undead horrors.
Boos must have been some kid, and clearly, he retains a
youthful flair for creativity and imagination, providing
not just exquisitely drawn creatures but their weaponry,
their training, blueprints of their labyrinthine lairs,
cultures and training. Equally enchanting, but quite another
story, is Robert Sabudas pop-up version of Beauty
and the Beast (Little Simon, $29.99), which is spectacular
and beautiful and a tad scary, like a distant neighbor of
the older child who may prefer to read to himself, there
are a number of really good choices, including one I coincidentally
just bought my 13-year-old, Benjamin Frankenstein Lives!
by Matthew McElligott and Larry Tuxbury (G.P. Putnams
Sons, $12.99). This clever mystery pairs Victor Godwin,
a kid whose only A-minus in a school career of As
has met with his steely determination never to let it happen
again, and Benjamin Franklin, described as over 200
years old, renting a downstairs apartment and smelling like
a cave. Seems Ben, like Walt Disney and Ted Williams,
had a yen for cryogenics, with very unexpected consequences!
Another coming-of-age story that resonates is Rocky Road,
by Niskayuna resident Rose Kent (Alfred A. Knopf, $16.99).
In this, a financially strapped family relocates to Schenectady
[!] to make their mark with ice cream [!]. Kent has a real
knack for how young people in crisis think, talk and try
to get by, and her blend of the serious with the sweet is
slightly older kids, especially those with vivid imaginations
and who are so over the Twilight saga (OK, even for those
still interested), theres a trio of worthy choices,
including Jennifer Donnellys Revolution (Delacorte
Press, $18.99), which is a richly evolved story involving
time travelreal or imagined?between modern-day
Brooklyn and Paris during the French Revolution. Protagonist
Andi Alpers is a classic teenage rebel, distraught over
the death of her brother and making myriad bad choices;
in other words, somebody with whom lots of kids can identify.
Her discovery of a journal written by an endangered woman
blends two worlds and makes for a real page-turner. I want
a movie version, starring the girl from Winters Bone,
but not till Ive enjoyed this one again on the page.
Fans of Rick Riordans Percy Jackson series will swoon
over the debut of his new series, The Heroes of Olympus.
The first installment is The Lost Hero (Disney Hyperion,
$18.99). Readers of the Percy books will recognize not just
some of the old characters from Camp Half-Blood, but also
Riordans captivating blend of action, mystery, suspense
and humor. Finally, Incarceron by Catherine Fisher (Dial
Books, $17.99) throws its readers into a macabre world in
which inmates live not only in cells, but also in metal
forests, dilapidated cities and unbounded wilderness. Seventeen-year-old
Finn, convinced hes from Outside Incarceron, enlists
the aid of Claudia, the wardens daughter, in his daring
escape plan, which, of course, is fraught with issues like
nothing, and nobody, is really what it seems. . . . Incidentally,
Incarceron, which was first published in Great Britain,
was selected by The Times as its childrens Book of
the Year. Not a shabby extra in a holiday season filled
with the wonders of the written word.
LITTLE COOKING CAN HAPPEN IF you dont wield a knife
well, and thats one reason why The Zwilling J. A.
Henckels Complete Book of Knife Skills by Jeffrey Elliot
& James P. DeWan (Robert Rose) leads this list. Another
reason is that its a terrific book, laying out the
construction and design of kitchen knives before teaching
different cutting techniques and then going on to show how
they apply to a variety of meats and fruits and vegetables.
Nicely illustrated and spiral bound for ease of tabletop
use, its an essential.
going to get awfully healthy as this list goes on, and where
better to start than the Mediterranean? With the success
a few years back with The Silver Spoon, Phaidon Press followed
up with a similar book about pasta, and this years
offering is titled Recipes From an Italian Summer. It comes
from the Silver Spoon team and further explores what can
be done with fresh ingredients from a benevolent climate.
Lots of salads. Plenty of grilled items. Unusual fare like
ham and kiwi mousse. Even in the dead of winter, its
filled with inspiration.
plenty of inspiration in the pages of the large, handsome
volume Italys Great Chefs and Their Secrets by Academia
Barilla (White Star Publishers). We know Barilla as a pasta
source, but their Parma-based school was created to be a
center of the countrys gastronomic culture. The book
highlights notable chefs from every region, with signature
recipes, most of them a little offbeat. Thus, Milans
Luca Brasi offers shrimp sausages with white polenta discs
and black-eyed peas and Herbert Hinter of San Michele Appiano
gives us oxtail tartare with potatoes and thyme vinaigretterecipes
you may savor more as literature than something to whip
is by definition a simpler style, and the bright yellow
Book of Tapas by Simone Ortega and Inés Ortega (Phaidon
Press) keeps it simple, starting with an overview of tapas
history and Spanish ingredients, and going on to categorize
recipes as vegetable, egg and cheese, fish and meat, each
section further divided into hot and cold. Particularly
recommended if you do much at-home entertaining and need
Youre going to whip out baguettes like nobodys
business after spending time with Tartine Bread by Chad
Robertson and Eric Wolfinger (Chronicle Books). Even the
most accomplished breadmaker will find ideas in the repertory
of this famed San Francisco bakery. Techniques are detailed
but easy to follow, and next thing you know, an olive oil
brioche is on the table. Lots of good and strange ancillary
stuff, too, like a nettle fritatine, and comfort food like
baked french toast and leavened waffles.
a book for the beginning cook who already has The Joy of
Cooking on the shelf? Im still devouring Tom Hudgens
The Commonsense Kitchen (Chronicle Books), which grew out
of his years as chef at Deep Springs College in eastern
California. Its a two-year mens school in which
the students participate in all aspects of ranch life in
addition to their studies, and Hudgens developed an approach
captured in this book that lays out all of your basics before
going on to recipes both essential and imaginative. Its
long on good prose, interrupted rarely by illustrations.
How to Cook Everything is another of those must-have books,
and its author, Mark Bittman, now offers The Food Matters
Cookbook (Simon & Shuster). Its a tribute to coming
to your senses (typically on doctors orders) and realizing
you need to eat less crap. The emphasis is on vegetables
and fruit, but enjoyably so, as a recipe for ziti with silky
cabbage, oranges, and chickpeas demonstrates. Bake rather
than fry, but if you must fry, stir-fry. I may even try
the spinach and tofu burgers detailed herein.
Bourdains recent Medium Raw proved that hes
turned into one of the media-hungry figures he used to mock.
He still takes time to trash Alice Waters, but shes
a too-easy target. And however you may tire of her seeming
sanctimoniousness, she offers an excellent starter book
in In the Green Kitchen: Techniques to Learn by Heart (Clarkson
Potter). Its a slim, rather precious volume, but every
word of it is worth reading as you learn (or relearn) the
techniques behind poaching, steaming, roasting and braisingeven
washing lettuce and shucking corn.
Waters supplied forewords to two more recommended books,
both with a locavore theme: Eating Local: The Cookbook Inspired
by Americas Farmers by Sur La Table and Janet Fletcher
(Andrews McMeel Publishing) and Harvest to Heat: Cooking
With Americas Best Chefs, Farmers, and Artisans by
Darryl Estrine and Kelly Kochendorfer (Taunton Press). Eating
Local looks at the community-supported agriculture (CSA)
movement, with recipes, while Harvest to Heat profiles a
number of people active in raising and preparing responsible
food. With recipes.
not going to find a foreword by Waters in a book about meat.
Sen. Bernie Sanders will have to do, and he leads off the
text of Good Meat by Deborah Krasner (Stewart, Tabori &
Chang). Its a book mainly of good recipes (nicely
illustrated with photos by Marcus Nilsson, who is no relation),
but Krasner gives butchering lessons along the way and introduces
sources for responsibly husbanded meat. Youll pay
more, but these recipes help you prepare what will be more
satisfying meals in many respects.
its on to dessert. The big book this year is Bon Appétit
Desserts by Barbara Fairchild (Andrews McMeel Publishing),
a companion to the magazines previous hefty tomes.
You cant begin to appreciate the wonder of the 600
or so recipes gathered here without risking a wrist sprain
while thumbing through. Most come from the magazine, and
replace your clippings; many are new. Good discussions on
techniques kick things off, but, if youre like me,
youll get stuck in the cheesecake section for way
too long. A slice of baklava cheesecake, anyone?
FOR SOME INDIE CRED FROM your kids? Need a new dose of alt-rock
to get you through the holidays? Here are some of the best
bets for your little shoegazers.
for a blast of alt-surf-rock ala Weezer but with you know
. . . credibility? Look no further than Surfer Bloods
Astro Coast (Kanine)a CD full of ironic lyrics and
huge fuzzy riffs that feels like a lost summer you spend
as an undergrad. If blues riffs are more your bag, you cant
beat the Black Keys latest slow burn called Brothers
(Nonesuch). The band bring the blues thump and throw in
some bop and soul to produce perhaps the best album of their
career. If you want your blues with less love and a whole
lot more death, then plug into Dax Riggs Say Goodnight
to the World, a bayou blues album that is haunting as it
is glam. Riggs voice will give you chills.
beats are more your thing, you are in luck, because this
was a stellar year for indie alternative electronic. The
premier in that sort-of genre is This Is Happening by LCD
Soundsystem (Virgin). The band mine David Bowies Berlin
Trilogy for inspiration and combine it with sharp modern
synths and undeniable dance beats. This is the sound of
warm, heartfelt, yet ironic techno that defines a generation.
For dance beats with more strum, drang and sexy, pick up
Sleigh Bells Treats (N.E.E.T.). Thrashing punk guitar
meets DMX beats and the raspy coo of lead singer Alexis
Krauss. For something more political and intelligent, but
not nearly as catchy, theres /\/\/\Y/\, the the latest
from M.I.A. (Interscope). It may not be her best work, but
it works great on the dance floor. Crystal Castles, by,
well, Crystal Castles, takes the female-fronted techno act
and turns it into a noisy, psychedelic art project not unlike
work by old-school industrial artists like Skinny Puppy.
Make sure to wear black when you listen.
fringe of the electronic indie world, youll find glitch
heavyweight Flying Lotus Cosmogramma (Warp), as well
as Caribous Swim (Merge).
the sort who likes more of a mash-up between electro and
traditional indie sounds, Broken Bells Broken Bells
(Columbia) provides a low key mix of folk and bubbly beats
that is as trance-inducing as it is emotionally sparse.
You may have seen their video with Mad Mens Christina
Hendricks as some kind of space robot. Xiu Xius Dear
God I Hate Myself, on Kill Rock Stars, is a compelling mix
of Morrissey balladry with experimental electronics that
are emotionally terrifying, soul-searing, destructive and
yet absolutely gorgeous all at once.
For a real throwback, strap on the headphones and revisit
your love for the Temptations on Fitz and the Tantrums
Pickin Up the Pieces (Dangerbird).The album has all
the funk and soul you will need to get into the holiday
spirit. Blast forward with Sufjan Stevens new opus
The Age of Adz (Asthmatic Kitty). Its got all the
lush vocal arrangements Stevens is known for but also glitchy
electronic beats and what sounds like an orchestra made
of robots. Janelle Monae pursues a similarly sci-fi vision
in her break-out R&B concept album The ArchAndroid (Bad
Boy). The young singer has been compared to Michael Jackson,
James Brown and Prince for all the right reasons.
Cox breathed new life into Deerhunter this year with Halcyon
Digest (4AD), conjuring all that childlike wonder you expect
out of good indie rock. And the Arcade Fire made another
strong entry in a body of work thats becoming so influential
its got the NFL buying up song rights, with The Suburbs
(Merge). Speaking of indie mainstays, Broken Social Scene
pulled it all together to release another crowd-pleaser
in the form of Forgiveness Rock Record (Arts & Crafts).
wed be remiss if we didnt mention two of the
biggest hip-hop releases of the year, which dont really
need us to yammer on about them, or you to stuff more money
in these artists pockets. But theres a lot of merriment
packed into Big Bois Sir Luscious Left Foot: The Son
of Chico Dusty (Def Jam) and, yes, Kanye Wests My
Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Def Jam).
KING AND JOSH POTTER
SHOULD GENERALLY PROCEED with caution when the words Christmas
and jazz show up in the same sentence. Ten minutes
in the waiting room of a dental clinic in December should
be all the proof you need. So, if youre shopping for
a jazz fan, its probably best to avoid those season-specific
displays at the entrance to Best Buy and go for some of
this years best new recordingsthe stuff that
doesnt include a vibraphone rendition of Grandma
Got Run Over by a Reindeer.
Grammy nomination has a lot of folks in and outside the
jazz world talking about Esperanza Spalding, the 26-year-old
upright bassist and vocalist, who just released her third
album Chamber Music Society (Heads Up, $18.98). Go figure,
her nomination is for Best New Artist alongside Justin Beiber.
For this record, shes supplemented her R&B-infused
trio with a string section to conjure a sound that has as
much to do with contemporary classical music as it does
Pat Metheny went a somewhat similar route this year, exploring
what his brand of jazz would sound like in a large ensemble,
except the ensemble he chose to explore consists of robots.
Seriously. Orchestrion (Nonesuch, $18.98) takes its name
from a 19th-century invention that squeezed a small orchestra
worth of instruments into a player-piano-like box. Metheny
updated the idea by equipping a wide range of acoustic instruments
with robotic triggers to accompany his solo guitar playing.
Iyer also went the solo route this year, but in the manner
that every great pianist eventually must: no sidemen or
robots, just him and his instrument. Solo (Act Music and
Vision, $15.99) situates Iyer in the lineage of Monk and
Ellington, paying homage to both at turns, but also further
establishes him as one of the great contemporary players,
as his rendition of Michael Jacksons Human Nature
will attest. Another great contemporary pianist, Brad Mehldau,
has a new offering titled Highway Rider (Nonesuch, $19.98),
featuring Joshua Redman, Larry Grenadier and Jeff Ballard
playing over lush orchestration and some of Mehldaus
most mature compositions.
aside, 2010 seemed to find jazz musicians exploring maximalist
tendencies. Fight the Big Bulls new record All Is
Gladness in the Kingdom (Clean Feed, $8.99) is another example.
The postmodern big band invited downtown slide trumpet legend
Steven Bernstein to join the group for a record that draws
on influences as diverse as southern gospel, dub reggae,
New Orleans R&B and traditional spirituals. The same
rule applied to one of the years biggest reissues.
Its been 40 years since Miles Davis assembled some
of the days best improvisers to vamp and squeal over
rock grooves, and the result, Bitches Brew, has become one
of the most influential fusion records ever. Bitches Brew:
Legacy Edition (Sony Legacy, $22.98) includes the original
remixed album on two CDs, plus one disc of bonus cuts and
outtakes, as well as a DVD of the ensemble performing in
Copenhagen in 1969. Bitches Brew: 40th Anniversary Collectors
Edition ($124.98) goes one step further by adding the vinyl
double LP, a 48-page booklet, and a recording of the ensemble
performing at Tanglewood in 1970.
best antidote for smarmy, smooth-jazz Christmas music might
be the new record by the ever-irreverent Dead Kenny Gs.
Bewildered Herd (Ropeadope, $13) is the long-awaited punk-funk
jazz return to form for Skerik, Mike Dillon and Brad Houser.
The disc grooves loud and heavy and manages to get in plenty
of political punches with tracks like Birther Blues
and Death Panel. The normally irreverent Bad
Plus also have a new disc out, but its probably the
most earnest thing theyve recorded since making their
name on tongue-in-cheek pop covers. Never Stop (E1 Entertainment,
$15.98) is the trios first record of all-original
material. And its probably one of their best. Stripping
back the kitschy hooks has given them the opportunity to
flesh out some of their most frenetic and grandiose ideas.
some local picks for the season include the long-awaited
solo disc from Albany guitarist George Muscatello, called
Angel Dust (Collar City Records, $5). The whole album is
composed of Muscatellos shredding jazz-metal variations
on themes by Cuban composer Leo Brouwer. And Alex Torres
y su Orquestra celebrates 30 years of Latin jazz this year
with Añejo (WEPA Records, $8.99).
ESSENTIAL BOX SET OF 2010 HAS very little to do with music,
but that shouldnt hold you back from buying a copy
for everyone on your list. Bill HicksThe Essential
Collection is a brilliantly compiled two-CD/two-DVD set
that celebrates the late, great comics provocative,
intelligent, and frequently hilarious work. The CDs string
together tracks from his several Rykodisc releases, interspersed
with never-before-heard material and variations on classic
bits, for what plays like a surprisingly seamless two-hour-plus
concert. The DVDs offer a wealth of unseen performance and
interview footage, as well as the short film Ninja Bachelor
Party. To justify putting this under the music heading,
theres a bonus download card for Lo-Fi Troubadour,
a collection of Hicks original tunes. Id go
on, but I dont want to sound like Im in marketing
or advertising because, well, you know.
years fastest-selling box set is The Promise: The
Darkness on the Edge of Town Story, which chronicles the
making of Bruce Springsteens landmark 1978 album over
two CDs or four 180-gram vinyl LPs. To call it a wealth
of previously unreleased material is almost a short-sell:
No less than 21 never-before-heard songs from the Darkness
sessions are included. Pony up for the deluxe three-CD/three-DVD
(or Blu-ray) version and youll also get the digitally
remastered Darkness plus more than six hours of video footage,
and an awesome spiral-bound reproduction of the Boss
original notes from the album sessions.
Iggy Pop and the Stooges finally got into the Rock &
Roll Hall of Fame in 2010; fittingly, they were boxed twice
this year. 1970: The Complete Fun House Sessions is a reissue
of the highly coveted 1999 set from Rhino Handmade, documenting
every single take from the bands belligerent second
album in chronological order over six discs; a seventh disc
is packaged as a replica of the original Elektra Down
on the Street/1970 single. The packaging
is identical to the 99 set, which means the discs
come in individual jewel cases with booklet inserts. Legacys
four-disc Raw Power: Deluxe Edition gives that classic Bowie-mixed
album the once-over, with a remastered Power accompanied
by a full-length 1973 concert, unreleased and rare tracks,
and a making-of DVD, plus a 48-page book, five photo prints,
and a reproduction of the Raw Power 45 sleeve.
Its got shake appeal to spare.
sets are all the rage this year, a fitting full-circle turn
for the format that birthed the box set. Rhino has issued
its second Joy Division vinyl box: +- (thats the title,
not a typo) is a set of 10 7-inch singlessome previously
released, others specific to this collection. Thrash-metal
stalwarts Slayer are offering The Vinyl Conflict, an 11-disc
set that compiles their nine studio albums and the 1991
double-LP Live Decade of Aggression, all remastered from
original analog tapes and pressed on 180-gram wax. Not to
be outdone, punk-rockers Bad Religion celebrated their 30th
birthday this year with a set that compiled every one of
their 15 studio albums on red vinyl, including titles that
never before appeared in the format. And good old Bob Dylan
is getting his umpteenth box treatment with The Original
Mono Recordings. Its the first eight Dylan records,
from his self-titled debut through John Wesley Harding,
remastered and pressed in glorious mono, just like the old
days. (The set is also available on CD.)
there, we move logically to the Beatles. The media were
all about John Lennons would-be 70th birthday this
October; so, naturally, was Yoko Ono. Thankfully, she has
a particular grace with reissuing her late husbands
catalog, and thus the Lennon Signature Box comes off as
more than just a cash-in. This deluxe collection, packaged
in a spare, ink-on-white housing, sports 11 discs: remastered
versions of Lennons five official solo albums plus
the three Lennon-Ono collaborative releases (but not the
early, experimental records, nor Live Peace in Toronto),
as well as a short compilation of single releases (like
Give Peace a Chance) and two discs of early
home demos. The discs are faithful to the original running
orders and mixes, which means youll have to pony up
extra if you want the recently issued Double FantasyStripped
Down (its worth it).
the quiet Beatle is part-subject of Collaborations, a 3-CD/1-DVD
set celebrating the George Harrison-produced work of Indian
music legend Ravi Shankar. Included are 1997s Chants
of India, the 1976 Ravi Shankars Music Festival from
India, and 1974s Shankar Family and Friends, plus
footage and audio from a 1974 concert at the Royal Albert
Hall in London. Youll want to turn off your mind,
relax, and float downstream when listening to this one.
now: The Australian Beatlesbetter known as the Bee
Geesare given the family-album treatment on Mythology,
which devotes one disc apiece to each of the four Gibb brothers
(including non-Gee Andy). West Coast Seattle BoyThe
Jimi Hendrix Anthology documents the legends transition
from sideman to mountain-leveling guitar god over four discs,
almost entirely composed of unreleased takes; the set also
includes a 90-minute documentary film. Indie label Matador
Records celebrated their 21st anniversary this year with
a kickass weekend of concerts in Las Vegas and a limited-edition
box called Matador at 21; the 6-CD collection includes five
discs of tracks from the labels peerless history plus
a set of live recordings from their 10th-anniversary shows
in 1999. Legacy took the term comprehensive
above and beyond this year with The Genius of Miles Davis,
a massive 43-disc box set of other box sets (packaged inside
a trumpet case!), and The Complete Elvis Presley Masters,
which chronologically documents every single song the King
ever recorded711 tracksover 30 CDs.
theres The Danny Elfman and Tim Burton 25th Anniversary
Music Box, a limited-edition set that celebrates the quarter-century
collaboration between Elfman, the composer, and Burton,
the film director. Expanded versions of the 13 Elfman-Burton
film scores, from Pee-Wees Big Adventure (issued for
the first time) through Alice in Wonderland, are included,
along with loads of unreleased music, a DVD, and a USB flash
drive containing all 19 hours(!) of music; all of this is
packaged in an ornate, treasure-chest-like box. This set
should make a fans millennium.
EVERYBODYS BUSY AND, AS WE GET older, and as the marketplace
deals with us in ever more specific ways, we can easily
miss things that may suit us perfectly. Here, then, are
some music releases that you can easily surprise a friend
or loved one with.
Ofs & Forgotten Abouts (Tompkins Square) continues the
laudable efforts this company makes in finding and restoring
a wide range of music. This 16-song set is all culled from
Frank Fairfields collection of 78-rpm records. Thrill
to the exuberant Ama Ama, performed by the Tahitian
group led by Tautu Archer. Delight to Hermosa Huesca, virtually
forgotten in his Mexican homeland. It is his recording of
La Bamba that Richie Valens heard, covered,
and shook the world with.
Complete Columbia Singles by Paul Revere & the Raiders
(Collectors Choice) is a 66-song tour through the
career of a band born in the era of 45s. From their Northwest
bar-band beginnings to the latter day Mark Lindsay-driven
pop outfit, their 33 Columbia singles are here presented
in order, A-side and B-side. There are the well-known hits,
but its also the flipsides that tell the tale. The
band would use the opportunity to show they could really
play, eschewing the often brilliant arrangement and production
flourishes of the chart-bound tracks for a chance to stretch
out themselves. One of their greatest B-sides could well
have been a hit on its own: In My Community,
penned by bass player Phil Fang Volk (and with
Van Dyke Parks playing on it).
Blackshaws All Is Falling (Young God) is his eighth
album. This time out, the London-based acoustic guitarist
and multi-instrumentalist has concocted a mesmerizingly
interwoven eight-part piece that organically moves in and
out of its themes, as keyboards, strings, and woodwinds
join in to the hypnotic swirl. Leland Sundries is an ensemble
led by Nick Loss-Eaton, who quietly appeared in Saratoga
Springs solo a couple months ago, all but unnoticed. The
Apothecary EP (LEchiquier) is a five-song disc whose
22 minutes carry the temporal bearing and emotional weight
of an afternoon double feature of Morricone films. Loss-Eatons
casual baritone floats easily over folkish balladry as well
as Exile-era Stones-ish riffing (the unstoppable High
on the Plains).
Microscopic Septet play Thelonious Monk on their new Friday
the Thirteenth (Cuneiform). Together for 30 years, the band
trace their origins back to 1974 when saxophonist Phillip
Johnston was playing a record of Monks Well,
You Neednt in his NYC apartment. Pianist Joel
Forrester, knowing neither the music or the apartment dweller,
walked right in to find out what it was. The ensembles
deliriously rubbery rhythmic swing and angular harmonic
sensibilities make them a band Monk would have indeed loved.
Ran Blake has created a body of work that suspends time
or bends it with gentle insistency. Now in his mid-70s,
he seems ageless, as if his slivering of time has cut him
loose from all calendars on earth. He has a new pair of
duet albums, each with a female vocalist: Camera Obscura
(Inner Circle Music) with Sara Serpa, and Out of the Shadows
(Red Piano) with Christine Correa. The former opens with
When Sunny Gets Blue and closes with April
in Paris, framing a set that shows their common ground
to be a love of songcraft, though they like to pull at the
component parts, seeing what its made of. The disc
with Correa is their second paring and they share delight
in a certain edginess, seeing how little can be articulated
and still describe sonic movement across time. The sound
of walking a tightrope with no net.
The Morlocks, from Los Angeles, have stayed true to their
garage-band roots for 25 years. On Play Chess (Popantipop),
they dive right into the well, covering Chess Records nuggets
from such roster kingpins as Bo Diddley, John Lee Hooker
and Chuck Berry. The latters You Never Can Tell
is a highpoint, draped in a mix of late-night menace and
cocky drunken swagger.
Revivals They Came From Somewhere (Paleo) is the third
album of Conrad Praetzels studio-based musical creations.
The 13 instrumentals are deeply steeped in American traditions,
but are fearlessly modernist in their deployment of arrangement
combinations and the possibilities of recording processes.
Guest Charlie Musselwhite adds the dazzle of human breath
through a tiny harmonicasuch a powerful sound when
wielded by the likes of him.
THE OVEREAGER CROSSOVER NONsense simmers down,
we suffer through fewer attempts at audience-pandering.
Aside from Sting singing Dowland a few years
back, which was terrific, I have heard much that seemed
getting my hands on Bruce Wolosoffs Songs without
Words (Naxos). Its a set of 18 miniatures for string
quartet, played by the commissioning ensemble, the Carpe
Diem Quartet. They asked the composer for rock and
jazz based music, and he hit on the idea of improvising
along with the 30-second samples you find online to familiarize
himself with the sounds they sought. The resulting pieces
arent rewrites, and theyre rarely even pay recognizable
homage to their sources. Wolosoff produced an engaging and,
dare I say, literate piece that does what classical music
is supposed to do: give a more formal voice to the music
of its day. And its a very fun disc to listen to.
Its at the top of my own gift-giving list.
had no trouble working in the tunes he heard around him,
and quotes and little jokes abound in his Ten Violin Sonatas,
well served in a new recording by violinist Renaud Capuçon
and pianist Frank Braley (Virgin Classics). Only a couple
of these are ever heard in concert with any regularity,
so its a treat to go through them all. What distinguishes
this recording is what the artists dont do: They dont
try to stamp the works with distracting overinterpretation.
They serve the music well. And they share an easy-to-perceive
the past several summers, pianist Martha Argerich has brought
talented young players together in Lugano and EMI has put
out a three-disc set of the highlights. I worry that it
could become dull and predictable, but Argerich & Friends
Live at Lugano 2009 features her in a gorgeous recording
(with orchestra) of Fallas Nights in the Gardens
of Spain thats worth the price right there.
Add to it Blochs Piano Quintet No. 1, little-heard
sextets by Mendelssohn and Glinka, Renaud Capuçon
in Bartóks Violin Sonata No. 2 and Argerich
and the Capuçon brothers (Gautier plays cello) in
Schumanns Fantasiestücke, Op. 88, and you have
a great array. And theres even more.
in the piano realm, Leif Ove Andsnes in Rachmaninoffs
Piano Concertos Nos. 3 and 4 (EMI) completes the concerto
cycle brilliantly, with excellent support from Antonio Pappano
and the London Symphony.
One of the most fascinating piano cycles of the 20th century
is the set of 24 Preludes and Fugues by Shostakovich. Alexander
Melnikovs new recording, The Preludes & Fugues
(Harmonia Mundi), spreads 23 of them over two CDs; the mighty
24th shares a disc with a DVD side of performance and interview
footage. These are brisker interpretations than those of
Tatiana Nikolaeva, the works dedicatee, and far less
eccentric than Keith Jarretts. Like Glenn Gould, Melnikov
has a way of giving each contrapuntal voice its own identity
so you stop thinking in terms of fingers at work and instead
enjoy the glorious intertwining.
Harmonia Mundi also issued the unusual and gratifying Gershwin
by Grofé, saluting the composers association
with Paul Whitemans chief arranger. Lincoln Mayorga
plays the Rhapsody in Blue and I Got Rhythm
Variations, and is also in the arrangement of Summertime.
Hes a specialist in this kind of thing and is thus
terrific. The late Al Gallodoro, who worked with both Whiteman
and Toscanini, was in his 90s when he sat in on these sessions,
and youd never know it. If you think you have enough
Gershwinwell, without this, you dont.
add to it Gershwin: Porgy & Bess, which Nikolaus Harnoncourt
recorded in performance in Austria last year (RCA Red Seal).
Harnoncourt? You heard me. He brings a stylistic understanding
to the score you might not expectbut versatility is
one of his hallmarks. And theres intensity to this,
underscoring the bigger-than-life theatricality of the piece.
Jonathan Lemalu as Porgy and Isabelle Kabatu as Bess have
big voices that dont always seem suited to the material,
but the overall effect is utterly convincing. As soon as
you hear Bibiana Nwobilo peal out with Summertime,
youll be hooked.
a fairly wacky jazz version of Bachs Christmas Oratorio
out there now with the Kings Singers as soloists,
but for a splendid reminder of what this sextet does when
at their best, look for their Pachelbel Vespers (Signum).
Instrumental accompaniment is by Charivari Agréable,
directed by Kah-Ming Ng. Seven works by Johann Pachelbel
are featured, with two instrumentals by contemporaries Johann
Krieger and Johann Kerllnicely programmed.
of the past is brilliantly served by the astonishing flow
of recordings from gamba virtuoso, arranger and conductor
Jordi Savall, who always makes this list. His three-disc
survey of music in an around The Borgia Dynasty (Alia Vox)
in Renaissance Europe makes for evocative listening, although
I wished for more detailed texts about the music. Still,
its a beautiful book-and-CD package that will delight
the eclecticist on your list. Other Savall highlights this
year, all on his Alia Vox label, were a set of Bachs
Brandenburg Concertos, The Celtic Viol, Vol. 2, and a fresh
survey of music from the Spanish Caribbean titled El Nuevo
survey of recent Mexican music is conductor Alondra de la
Parras Mi Alma Mexicana (Sony), conducting her Philharmonic
Orchestra of the Americas in works by Moncayo (the ever-popular
Huapango), Revueltas, Chávez and others, including
Manuel Ponces Guitar Concerto (with soloist Pablo
Sáinz Villegas). Contemporary composers are also
represented, with works by Federico Ibarra, Eugenio Toussaint,
Mario Lavista and Enrico Chapela.
Gould (1913-1996) seems to have a legacy more as a light-music
composer and arranger than the hard-core (but still fun)
classical guy he was at heart. Once again, David Alan Miller
and the Albany Symphony seek redress with a CD, Morton Gould:
Interplay (Albany Records), that features Findlay Cockrell
as pianist in the American Concertette No. 1, renamed Interplay
when Jerome Robbins choreographed it. Also here: American
Symphonette No. 2, with its well-known Pavane, a 1944 Concerto
for Orchestra and much more.
year I suggested that, if your generosity is fueled by deep
pockets, youd get Sonys 70-disc Original Jacket
Collection of Vladimir Horowitz putting all of his Columbia
recordings in little reproductions of their original LP
issue. This year its Jascha Heifetz, with a 103-disc
Original Jacket Collection (Sony). And one more big-box
recommendation: the 60-CD Leonard Bernstein Symphony Edition
(Sony), which collects his New York Philharmonic symphonic
repertoire, giving you complete symphonies by Beethoven,
Brahms, Mahler, Sibelius, Schumann, Tchaikovsky and Bernstein,
with generous helpings of Mozart, Haydn, Dvoøák,
Nielsen, Prokofiev and much, much more.
BLUES, BLUEGRASS AND CELTIC
SANTAS ELVES FURLOUGHED DUE to recent budget cuts
at the North Pole, its up to you to find great folk,
blues, bluegrass, and Celtic music CDs for your near and
dear ones. But hey, no sweatI saw the bad news coming
and scoped out some of the many noteworthy 2010 discs in
these genres for you. In addition to fine new releases,
there are some killer reissues to tell you about as well.
and Garfunkel swiped the arrangement of their 1966 hit,
Scarborough Fair, from Martin Carthy, a leading
light of the 60s British folk revival who also helped
launch the bands Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span.
Man (Hux) is the first official release of a live Carthy
solo concert, this one dating from 1978. His magisterial
performance abounds with the old English ballads that not
only rank as fine music but also treasures of the English
side of the Atlantic, the trio the Carolina Chocolate Drops
has in the last three years revived black string band music
to critical acclaim.
Genuine Negro Jig (Nonesuch) is not as traditional as its
predecessor, Donnas Got a Ramblin Mind; in addition
to foot-stomping banjo, fiddle and guitar breakdowns, the
album ventures into Eastern European folksong, and maybe
even some R&B-folkies will find it a delight all the
bluegrass zone, the recently formed outfit Dailey and Vincent
have been earning top awards hand over fist. Their latest
release, Dailey and Vincent Sing the Statler Brothers (Rounder)
got best album this year from the International Bluegrass
Music Association in addition to other honors. Here Dailey
and Vincent reprise 12 of the favorite country bands
hits with smooth bluegrass instrumentation and their incredible
the high and lonesome fan with less conventional tastes,
the electric foursome Crooked Still have a new release,
Some Strange Country (Signature Sounds), which was recorded
during a long blizzard in Virginia last winter. Even though
they dont play traditional bluegrass, they are nonetheless
performers at the annual Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival in
nearby Greene County. Crooked Still here weaves elements
of string band music, bluegrass, and chamber music (they
have a classically trained cellist) into a unique acoustic
hounds will love Johnny Winters new disc, Live at
the Fillmore East (10/03/1970) (Collectors Choice
Live), which has been hailed as the Texas guitar slingers
best live recording ever. In this recording, the albino
bluesman, backed by second lead guitarist Rick Derringer,
just goes postal and unleashes a landslide of hot riffs
on a selection of covers and originals. Winter seems to
know every blues guitar lick in the book, and his dueling
counterpoint with Derringer also makes this one a must-have.
Musselwhite is for my cash the top blues harmonica player
around. Although hes been putting out albums since
1967, Musselwhite, who learned blues harp directly from
the Chicago harmonica greats like Little Walter, had never
made a record entirely of original songs. That changed with
his latest, The Well (Alligator), though. The disc is named
after the experience of Jessica McClure, a child in Texas
who fell into a well and sang nursery rhymes to herself
until rescuers pulled her to safety. Six of the albums
13 songs deal with his turbulent life story, including his
recovery from alcoholism, and the twin tragedies of the
murder of his 93-year mother in 2005 in his hometown of
Memphis and the death of his father very soon thereafter.
This CD is as authentic and personal as the blues gets.
Irish supergroup Altan began when two musician-schoolteachers
in County Donnegal, founding members Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh
and Frankie Kennedy, fell in love. This year the band mark
their silver jubilee with 25th Anniversary Celebration (Compass),
a collaboration with Dublins R.T.E. Orchestra on 9
songs and 6 tunes which Altanhas recorded over the years.
Longhair music requires acute rhythmic precision, which
can be challenging for traddies, but Altan are up to the
job here. The tracks, two-thirds of which are traditional,
tend to begin with the band in cameo and the orchestra joining
in thereafter with arrangements crafted by Irish composer
the Celtic purist, however, there is Boston-based button
accordionist Joe Darranes new album, Grove Lane (Compass).
The son of Irish immigrants, Darrane was musically active
during the 1940s and 50s, but dropped out of sight
for decades before resurfacing in the mid-1990s. The boxmeister
composes many original tunes, and this CD features an Darrane
tango and waltz. Beantown superpicker John McGann handles
the backup chores, insuring the quality of this fine disc.
HO HO HO! LETS PEEK INTO SANTAS bag and see
which artists will goose your Christmas spirit into action
with new holiday music!
loves those kids from Glee. So, how is their new seasonal
offering, the oddly titled Columbia release Glee: The Music,
The Christmas Album? Not so lovable, as it turns out. While
Merry Christmas Darling is lovely, and k.d.
lang sounds charmingly amused singing lead on Youre
a Mean One, Mr. Grinch, most of the other tracks (God
Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, Angels We Have Heard
On High) are overwrought and unlistenable.
no one seemed to be pining for their return, Wilson Phillips
released their second holiday albumremember 1993s
Hey Santa?titled Christmas in Harmony (Sony Masterworks).
Its as pleasantly chirpy as anything theyve
pick up with Annie Lennoxs predictably arty and beguiling
A Christmas Cornucopia (Decca). The pop chanteuse does right
by a variety of songs, including God Rest Ye Merry
Gentlemen (listen up, you punks from Glee) and In
the Bleak Midwinter. And while were visiting
new-wave stars of the 80s in the wayback machine,
ex-B-52 Fred Schneiders band, the Superions, bring
the party to your rumpus room with Destination . . . Christmas!
(Fanatic). Charmingly rinky-dink synths are at the heart
of this good-time disc, with such cheesy delights as Santas
Disco and Fruitcake.
folks at Bing Crosby Enterprises have been going through
Der Bingles archives for lost treasures, and the finds
have ranged from a kinescope of the final game of the 1960
World Series to this collection of mostly unreleased Christmas
recordings. The Crosby Christmas Sessions (Collectors
Choice) spans the 1950s to the 70s, and includes duets
with Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and a certain famous
collaboration with David Bowie.
arent really sisters, but they sure sing like a sister
act. Retro close-harmony trio the Puppini Sisters
delightful Christmas With the Puppini Sisters (Verve) is
one bright and shiny musical object dart. They give
a selection of tried-and-true standards (Santa Baby,
Let It Snow, Mele Kalikimaka) the
Puppini treatment, which consists of splashy, swinging harmonies
as cool and refreshingand hard, in a good wayas
favorites Lady Antebellum offer up the Target-only EP A
Merry Little Christmas. The arrangements seem, well, oddfor
lack of a better termand not particularly country-sounding,
but the performances are solid. The best track is a cover
of the Mariah Carey classic, All I Want for Christmas
brings us to the diva herself: Mariah Careys Merry
Christmas II You (Island) is pretty wonderful. Her 1994
album Merry Christmas is the gold standard for contemporary,
radio-friendly holiday music and this follow up does not
disappoint. Highlights include a couple of the usual standards,
perky pop tunes (Oh Santa!) and a nifty medley
of music from A Charlie Brown Christmas. You cant
go wrong with this one.
Great Recession has not been kind to home video. In the
past, a new format like Blu-ray would have saved
the business in much the same way DVD took over from Laserdiscs
and VHS. While Blu-ray has extended its commercial reach,
2010 was also the year when the cheaper burn-on-demand DVD
format came into its own.
disorder there is great opportunity. This was proved
again in the licensing agreement the Criterion Collection
forged with nearly bankrupt MGM for some choice titles.
First in the deal is Stanley Kubricks World War I
drama Paths of Glory. Kubrick captures the futility of trench
warfare and venality of the general staff with the cool
distance we came to know, if not always love; you cant
the image quality is superb, there arent many extras
on the Paths of Glory disc. The second title under the MGM
deal gets the deluxe treatment. Charles Laughton studied
the bucolic dramas of D.W. Griffith to prepare to direct
The Night of the Hunter. With an atmospheric screenplay
by James Agee, the result was one of the great American
films of the 1950s, a rural horror drama that gave Robert
Mitchum and Lillian Gish indelible roles as, respectively,
a demonic preacher and a practical saint. Again, the image
quality is gorgeous, but its the main extra makes
this offering special: two and a half hours of documentary
footage of Laughton directing his cast.
notable Criterion titles this year include eye-popping upgrades
of two Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger-directed Technicolor
dazzlers, the musical noir The Red Shoes, and the nuns-in-the-Himalayas
drama Black Narcissus. For adventurous cinephiles, Chantal
Akerman in the Seventies is an essential set (on the budget
Eclipse line) of the Belgian directors work in the
me decade. This includes two avant garde place
films (Hotel Monterey and News From Home) which hauntingly
capture a long-lost New York City in hypnotic, unbroken
takes, and two early narratives (Je, Tu, Il , Elle and Les
Criterion set of the year is Three Silent Classics by Josef
von Sternberg. Sternberg created the modern gangster film
in Underworld; Hollywood satire doesnt get any sharper
than The Last Command; and there are few films more beautiful
than Sternbergs waterfront melodrama The Docks of
of these Criterion titles are available on both DVD and
Blu-raywith the criminal exceptions of the Sternberg
and Akerman sets, which are DVD only.
recently released DVD and Blu-ray diamond editions
of two favorites, Beauty and the Beast and Fantasia. (The
latter is paired with the less enchanting sequel, Fantasia
2000.) The Mouse House caused something of a stir by making
some of the extras in the Fantasia package Blu-ray only.
If you want something more modern from Disney, theres
The Princess and the Frog, or the Tim Burton-directed Alice
in Wonderland (not in 3D, not yet anyway). The latters
success prompted any number of versions of Alice
to hit the marketplace, the weirdest being 1933s Alice
in Wonderland, from Universal, with the likes of Cary Grant,
Gary Cooper and W.C. Fields hidden under elaborate, creepy
Kino on Video just released the complete version
of Fritz Langs epic bit of sci-fi insanity, Metropolis,
which is perfect for fanboys of all ages. Also from Kino
are newly remastered versions of two Buster Keaton comedies
on one handy disc: the surreal and sublime Sherlock Jr.,
paired with the knockabout parody The Three Ages. (In the
latter, Wallace Beery does much of the knocking while Keaton
does most of the getting knocked about.) Both are available
on Blu-ray and DVD.
then theres TV on DVD. Shout! Factory continue to
license interesting stuff from the major studios, including
this weeks release of all 26 episodes of Jack Webbs
laconicZenlike?police drama Dragnet 1969: Season
Three. The season three business refers to the
fact that it follows Dragnet 1967 and Dragnet 1968, previously
available, and precedes Dragnet 1970, which is not yet available.
(All are DVD-only.) You got that, mister?
about those burn-on-demand DVDs sold direct to consumer.
Sony took a look at the money Warner Bros. was making with
Warner Archive, and started Screen Classics By Request.
(Go on, Google it.) Theyve opened the Columbia Pictures
vaults to offer everything from 1930s westerns starring
Buck Jones to 1980s made-for-TV movies starring Jean Stapleton.
I havent seen very many of these, but the reports
on disc quality have generally been positive. Notable releases
include the British serial-killer drama 10 Rillington Place,
starring a young John Hurt and a deliciously nasty Richard
Attenborough; the experimental comedian-on-the-run drama
Mickey One, starring Warren Beatty and directed by Arthur
Penn; and the gloriously schmaltzy Chopin biopic A Song
to Remember, with Cornel Wilde as the great musician and
scenery-chewer Paul Muni as his crusty musical mentor.
Archivethe Warner Bros. DVD-on-demand serviceupped
their quality control in 2010 with a series of remastered
editions. These have included the 1960s Japanese monster
movie The Green Slime; Robert Altmans nutty Brewster
McCloud, starring Bud Cort as a bird-obsessed freak who
lives in the Houston Astrodome; the Al Jolson musical Mammy,
with spectacular restored color sequences; the 70s
sexploitation flick Pretty Maids All in a Row, with Rock
Hudson as a high school football coach who beds and kills
teenage girls; and, finally, two nifty newspaper dramas,
Jack Webbs resolutely by-the-book -30- and Mervyn
LeRoys deliciously sleazy Best Picture nominee (!)
Five Star Final, which has a career performance by Edward
G. Robinson as an amoral editor whos a little too
expert at his job. These last two films will make
you feel a bit like the rest of us ink-stained wretches.
KID (AND ADULT) WITH AN XBOX 360 is going crazy this year
for the Kinect. The peripheral allows players to control
games with their bodies rather than being restrained by
any handheld controller. The initial experience is thrilling.
Drive a car by holding your hands in the steering-wheel
position, jump through obstacle courses, box, dance, etc.,
while the Johnny 5-looking camera that is the Kinect watches
your every move and takes your picture. Unfortunately, the
software Microsoft has released for use with the device
does not utilize its full potential. Microsoft has hinted
that eventually staple games from the rich 360 library will
be compatible with the device, a prospect that is truly
exciting: playing Call of Duty by pretending to shoot an
imaginary gun, running, jumping and climbing in Castlevania
and so on. But so far none of these complex games work with
the Kinect. The current slate of releases is similar to
the Wiis simplistic, child-oriented games. This does
Microsoft no favors, as the system has earned a reputation
as the choice for hardcore gamers. Even though the device
may appear on a number of gift lists you get this year,
I would recommend holding off on a purchase until there
is a worthy slate of games.
3 owners have the similar Playstation Move to satisfy their
motion-controlled gaming urge, but the technology is awkward
and not nearly as hands-free as the Kinect. Again, the software
released for the Move is fairly bland. Both the Kinect and
the Move could easily end up as expensive paperweights in
your house unless both companies design a better slate of
of compelling releases for hardcore gamers came out this
fall. On the top of my list is Bethesdas Fallout New
Vegas, available for PS3, X360 and PC. The game takes place
in the post-apocalyptic world of 2008s Fallout 3,
but changes locales from the wastelands of Washington, D.C.,
to Las Vegas. The games cultural satire and brilliantly
designed Vegas strip, complete with surrounding locales
such as the Hoover Dam, and the radio stations rife with
tunes like Marty Irons Big Iron and Jay
Kysers Jingle Jangle Jingle, are worth
the price of admission. But buyer beware: The game was rushed
to market and has a number of critical glitches that can
make playing the games main story impossible. There
are still more than 50 hours of game play with plenty to
explore and complete, even with the glitch, and a patch
is supposedly on the way. But the game has been on the market
over a month and devotees such as myself are still waiting.
fans can get their frag fix with the brilliant and epic
Halo Reach and Call of Duty Black Ops. Both games are basically
for fans of online play only; their single-player campaigns
are short and dont have much replay value.
the most overlooked but most fun release of the year is
Dead Rising 2. Imagine Las Vegas overrun with zombies, and
you must take advantage of all of the resources in the casinos,
shops and restaurants to take on the zombie horde while
providing your daughter with medicine to stave off her zombie
infection and saving as many survivors as possible. Now
combine all of that with awkward, off-the-wall Japanese
humor, and you get one of the most creative games released
this year. Put a drill together with a bucket to create
a drill-hat that destroys zombie brains, add a car battery
to a rake to zap zombies into submission. The replay value
here is great because there is a plethora of game-changing
decisions to make and weapon combinations to explore.
gamers will be glad to hear that Castlevania made its triumphant
return to the X360 and PS3 this year in the form of Castlevania:
Lord of Shadows. The game is derivative of God of War, Uncharted
and Ninja Gaiden, but in a sense, Castlevania defined hack-and-slash
gameplay in the 80s, and its fitting that it
has returned to reclaim its throne. Sure, the story is wackyhaving
Patrick Stewart give you advice throughout the game is a
little unsettlingand there are a few missteps in level
design, but there is so much to explore in the game that
it takes two DVDs to contain the entire vampire-slaying
escapade. This one should keep you and the kids entertained
RAISING A CHILD IN A MODEST (read: small) home on a modest
(read: penny-pinching) budget, potential toy purchases are
subject to an elaborate rubric developed through, well,
necessity and basic common sense. Our little one is still
too small to put in requests of her own, which will surely
sway the system. But for now, toys are judged on four criteria:
size, price, endurance and awesome. The breakdown follows.
area of our rapidly shrinking floor space or one precious
closet this item would require be sacrificed in its name.
many spaghetti dinners this is going to set us back.
EnduranceHow long this will last and how well it will
evolve in play and learning value as the little one grows.
AwesomeThe irrational, emotional, kid-in-a-candy-store
excitement level it incites.
the purpose of these recommendations, we will assume 1)
this is real 2) this is helpful and 3) the scoring works
as follows: Size is to be measured vaguely in, um, cubic
cubits; price will be indicated by dollar signs with one
$ representing 10 dollars; endurance will be rated fairly
arbitrarily, in seconds, with 60 seconds being infinity;
awesome will be measured in gasps.
The following toys are winners according to the system,
with awesome being weighted slightly higher than usual considering
the holidays offer a free pass for a bit of shameless indulgence.
Twig blocks: $$$$$, 3 cubits, 55 seconds, 8 gasps
colorful set of 72 sustainable rubberwood blocks ($49.99)
is stained with a spectrum of vivid, nontoxic water-based
dyes, precision cut and carved to create a new classic in
building-block realms, safe for little ones and enthralling
even to adults. The piecescubes, cuboids and columnsslide
and stack together for unbounded, abstract architectural
play that refines small motor, problem-solving, and visual-spacial
skills, encourages imaginative, complex and open-ended designs
that look so darn cheerful you might end up using them for
a centerpiece at your next dinner party.
Citiblocs: $$$$, 3 cubits, 60 seconds, 9 gasps
blocks are the overall victors in the endurance categoryinfants
love them, kids will buckle down for hours of building,
and I challenge any adult to sit for three minutes in a
pile of blocks without starting to stack. Another winner
in the precision-cut blocks division comes from citiblocs.
Available in sets of 50 to 1,000 pieces ($13 to $340) and
in natural pine or hot or cool colors, the magic of these
blocks is in their exact simplicity. Every block is exactly
the same size and shape, designed at the ideal ratio to
stack, balance and cantilever them into spectacular creations.
Skyscrapers, serpents, trees, trains, trestles, DNA, silos
taller than the builderyou can create them all (and
anything else you can imagine) with citiblocs.
Puzzle pairs: $, 2 cubits, 25 seconds, 7 gasps
super-simple puzzles for the preschool set from eeBoo ($14.95)
are wonderfully manageable for independent tykes, and their
contemporary classic designs are sure to please kids and
parents alike. An array of puzzles are available for different
learning levels, but all combine good old-fashioned matching
games and puzzles into a single, fun tool for learning language
and math. In the simplest set, a letter A and
an airplane connect into corresponding puzzle pairs; the
flipside teaches numbers and counting. More complex concepts
pair opposites, rhyming words and illustrated short sentences.
Knot so Fast: $$, 2 cubits, 35 seconds, 6 gasps
your family together for traditional board games is a challenge,
maybe youll have luck with this tricky, twisting,
knot tying race from ThinkFun ($19.99). Maybe being a sailors
daughter warmed me to this game a little more than most,
but the smart and simple concept seems like a classic in
the making: Players race to tie the complex knots on each
of 40 challenge cards. They wont even notice it teaches
spacial development and dexterityor that next year
they may be able to tie the Christmas tree to the roof while
you sip hot chocolate.
Thumball: $, 1 cubit, 30 seconds, 6 gasps
yet again that simple is often best when it comes to toy
concepts, Thumball is quickly becoming a hit from cribs
to corporate retreats. Available in 18 designs, the 4- to
6-inch, paneled balls ($10.99-$13.99) resemble a traditional
soccer ball, except for one key detail. Each panel of a
Thumball is emblazoned with a symbol, a letter, a story
starter, action, question, etc. Players toss the ball and
the catcher responds depending on what panel their thumb
hits. You can play by yourself, with a friend, or with 20,
invent your own creative rules, change them as you go, play
for competition, study, to break the ice, learn your alphabet,
shatter writers block or just have fun.
Music Box Kit: $, 1 cubit, 60 seconds, 9 gasps
the aspiring musician in your life comes this DIY music
box kit from Kikkerland Design ($12.95). The old-fashioned
wonder works like a nickelodeon, spinning music from punched
paper strips. A number of songs are available prepunched,
but what makes this tiny treasure particularly delightful
is that it comes with three blank scores (printed with a
treble clef and barlines) and a tiny punch to create your
own tunes. Write your own, punch willy-nilly, or map out
a few measures from the Flaming Lips or Yo Gabba Gabba.
More blank strips are available for purchase separately
($5 for a five-pack). Note: While this may be cast aside
after the last sheet is punched by some, it easily has 60-second,
heirloom potential for the right kiddo (also, I want one).
Magical Amazing Robot: $$, 2 cubits, 50 seconds, 10 gasps
This is officially one of the coolest toys ever. Ever. We
unearthed a real old-fashioned 1950s one a while ago, but
thanks to Perishpere & Trylona Los Angeles-based
toy company named for iconic symbols of the 1939 Worlds
Faira retro version is now available for ($19.95).
Did I mention this is awesome? The old-time novelty combines
trivia, fortune telling, a touch of science, vintage graphicsand
a magic robotinto an amazing game that fascinates
and educates. (It really does!) Just place the robot
on the question circle and turn him until his pointer is
on the question you want to ask, then move him to the answer
circle and ZIP! Like magic he will spin around and point
to the correct answer. The board comes with 128 questions
and corresponding answers on 5 double-sided trivia sheets.
With some savvy whiteout usage and a scanner or photocopier
you can create unlimited blank sheets and puzzle out your
own questions and answers. Seriously. Its a magic
robot that teaches obscure trivia. A magic robot. 10 gasps
guaranteed, plus a smile every time you see it on the shelf.