When it comes to music CDs and DVDs, the one hurdle to this quick and easy gift-buying solution is having no idea what music the recipient likes. No worries! What better opportunity to expose your amazing taste and knowledge in music to the world than one carefully thought-out (20 seconds, tops) gift after another? Here's a list of some new releases that may help your holiday gift-giving search go a bit more smoothly this year.
Belle and Sebastian
The BBC Sessions
As Belle and Sebastian fans wait for another studio CD, rumored to be out next year, the indie pop group has released the double-disc The BBC Sessions. The compilation of material, which was recorded between 1996 and 2001, showcases the Scottish band's playful sound. While the first CD boasts non-album gems "The Magic of a Kind Word," "Nothing in the Silence" and "Shoot the Sexual Athlete," the second CD is a live recording from a 2001 Belfast concert that includes unique covers such as the Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun," the Velvet Underground's "I'm Waiting for the Man" and Thin Lizzy's "The Boys are Back in Town."
Coming on the heels of being named the greatest singer of the rock era, Aretha Franklin has released her debut holiday album. Fans of the Queen of Soul will enjoy her trademark R&B, gospel and pop vocals on such classics as "Angels We Have Heard on High," "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" and "Ave Maria." She also works her magic on Engelbert Humperdinck's "Angels" and modern track "My Grown-Up Christmas List." Only sold at Borders and Waldenbooks stores, This Christmas is more highbrow, less sing-along, which could find some casual fans not as receptive.
Christmas on the Pecos (DVD)
With two seasonal albums to his credit, country music star Randy Travis has released his debut holiday DVD, Christmas on the Pecos. Thankfully, Travis didn't just film the music from his 2007 holiday album Songs of the Season. Instead, the 79-minute feature includes live performances ("Silent Night," "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire" and "Rock of Ages"), as well as Travis telling some of his Christmas memories. Kind of odd: The entire concert is filmed in the historic Carlsbad Caverns, 850 feet underground in New Mexico. Regardless, diehard fans will love the crooner's solemn versions of his hit singles "Three Wooden Crosses" and "Forever and Ever, Amen."
The Mothership Connection Live 1976 (DVD)
If there was ever a must-have concert DVD from George Clinton's esteemed career, this 85-minute concert taped in Houston over 30 years ago at the height of the Parliament Funkadelic reign, with Bernie Worrell and Bootsy Collins to boot is it. Not only will you hear "Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof Off the Sucker)" and gems such as "Dr. Funkenstein" and "Mothership Connection (Star Child)," but this tour marked the debut of the beloved flying saucer prop landing on stage.
Erran Baron Cohen
Songs in the Key of Hanukkah
What in the Torah is going on? When composer and multi-instrumentalist Erran Baron Cohen, brother of Ali G and Borat creator Sacha Baron Cohen, decided to make Hanukkah music for the new millennium, he wasn't kidding. With impunity, the producer combined klezmer, reggae, electronica, hip-hop, tango, pop and other genres for five reinterpretations of Hanukkah classic favorites. He also wrote five original tunes sung in English, Hebrew or Ladino (Judaeo-Spanish) making this unlike any other Festival of Lights album ever.
The Miles Davis All-Stars Featuring John Coltrane: Broadcast Sessions 1958-59
For fans of Miles Davis, unearthed rarity releases are few and far between; however, this year we have 70 minutes of live material recorded during the great trumpet player's Milestones album era. Joining Davis is legendary tenor saxophonist John Coltrane and his all-star band for original material ("Four" and "Sids Ahead"), as well as choice covers (Cole Porter's "What is This Thing Called Love" and Thelonius Monk's "Straight, No Chaser"). With his career-defining Kind of Blue and Sketches of Spain albums just a few years away, you can hear the magic brewing on this compilation culled from four different live gigs around the New York City area.
Let Sleeping Corpses Lie (CD/DVD)
What sounds like a perfect title to the next Rob Zombie film is actually a career retrospective of the musician-turned-screenwriter/director's erstwhile industrial act, White Zombie. The good news is the five-disc effort features every White Zombie album of its 11-year career (which ended in 1996), as well as a few unreleased tunes and the band's music videos and live performances. The bad news is that if you're a big White Zombie fan, odds are you already own the lion's share of the material. Clearly evident (aside from the fact that the band never strayed too far from its instantly identifiable chugging/driving sound) is that if your interest in the band stems solely from its one big hit, "Thunder Kiss '65," this is not the box set for you.
Daryl Hall & John Oates
Live at the Troubadour (CD/DVD)
While Live at the Troubadour came together as nothing more than a way for Hall & Oates to repackage their hits by playing the same club they played 35 years ago, this 19-track CD/DVD affair does demonstrate why they've lasted in the ever-fickle pop world. For fans looking for a slightly different take on the '70s and '80s material, the band's hits ("She's Gone," "Sara Smile," "Maneater," "Kiss On My List" and more) are intimate sing-along affairs, and the twosome delves into its catalog for older album cuts ("When the Morning Comes") and Hall solo tunes ("Cab Driver").
Months after Neil Young left popular rock band Buffalo Springfield, the singer-songwriter decided to test the solo waters with two special 1968 acoustic shows in Ann Arbor, Mich. The result was stunning and insightful. The majority of this double-disc set features material from Young's self-titled debut; however, these prescient shows expose the folk-natured songwriting that would define his most prolific period, spanning 1969's Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, 1970's After the Gold Rush and 1972's Harvest. Also included in the 23-track affair are Buffalo Springfield tracks "Mr. Soul" and "Expecting To Fly." Young's loquacious and playful here (he's obviously nervous) marking a rare departure from this introspective '70s singer-songwriter image.