Music is the perfect gift when last-minute shopping. Not only can you appeal directly to the person's tastes with a quick purchase, but you can also buy something that maybe you've wanted to introduce to him or her. Now getting them to listen to it is a different story, but it's "Mission Accomplished" on your gift-giving part.
A number of new-ish CD and DVD releases might look appealing as you meander through the record store. Here are short reviews of just a few.
CakeB-Sides and Rarities
CD / Upbeat Records
Normally when a band puts together a compilation of B-sides and rarities, this is code for, "We have no new material, so here's some schlock that initially wasn't good enough to be on our album just to hold you over." While Cake's new set does meet the above description, what we can't stop listening to is the band's engaging cover of Black Sabbath's "War Pigs." In fact, this track alone is well worth having to sit through superfluous songs that justifiably were relegated to B-side and rarity status.
Nirvana MTV Unplugged in New York
DVD / Geffen
Kurt Cobain lovers will savor the two tracks "Something in the Way" and "Oh, Me" that didn't make the final airing of Nirvana's legendary MTV performance. A funny thing to watch for: how then-MTV powers-that-be go out of their way to dance around the fact they were quite unhappy that the Seattle trio shied away from its hits, opting instead for obscure covers and a Meat Puppets visit. Rehearsal footage exposes Cobain's genius, helping make up for the fact that honestly, there's not much new ground covered here.
Pearl Jam Immagine in Cornice: Picture in a Frame
DVD / MonkeyWrench Records
Looking to offer fans a different slant of its concert experience, Pearl Jam decided to capture last summer's Italian tour leg with director Danny Clinch in tow. The result not only provides fans a career-spanning set list including great performances of "State of Love and Trust" and "Porch" but also gives diehards an unparalleled insider's view of the band. From the group's encore song selection process to its band members' pre-show interactions, this DVD is a must-have for any true Pearl Jam fan.
U2 PopMart Live from Mexico City
DVD / Island
A decade has passed since U2's over-the-top PopMart stage show toured the world with a giant mirrorball lemon and 100-foot cocktail stick. Invariably, Bono-lovers will want the set, which includes now obscure Pop tracks such as "Staring at the Sun," "Gone" and "Mofo." Also of note is the blistering "Bullet the Blue Sky" and the rousing "Until the End of the World." While the sound quality is superb, the band's gigantic video-screen backdrop often results in eye-blistering glares that either obstruct the view of group members or blind the camera. Still, Edge's porn outfit, right down to his moustache, is worth the investment.
Matchbox Twenty Exile on Mainstream
CD / Atlantic
Something old and something new is what the members of Matchbox Twenty had in mind for their recently released double-disc best-of set. A decade has passed since Rob Thomas and company took adult contemporary radio hostage, with hit singles such as "Long Day," "Push," "3 AM" and more. While the second disc is filled with 11 songs from the band's three studio releases, the six-song first disc features new material that actually shows the band going in a new direction. Despite its schmaltzy title, the groove-oriented lead single "How Far We've Come" should be warmly embraced by Matchbox fans.
CD/DVD / Interscope
Heavy alt rock act Flyleaf, which found a rock radio audience for its 2005 self-titled debut, is currently finishing up its highly anticipated sophomore effort. In the meantime, the Texas band has repackaged its first album into a CD/DVD package. While the set includes videos for the band's three radio hits "I'm So Sick," "Fully Alive" and "All Around Me" the true gem is the bonus material, including acoustic versions of five tracks.
Guitar Hero III Legends of Rock
CD / Interscope
The upside to the Guitar Hero phenomenon bridging the gap between video games and music performance is the hope that air guitar will go by the wayside. Now comes along a mix-tape release billed as Legends of Rock, featuring popular songs. While the majority of tracks are already known (Smashing Pumpkins' "Cherub Rock," Living Colour's "Cult of Personality," et al.), the remix version of Marilyn Manson's "Putting Holes in Happiness" is different. The CD also offers exclusive access to more game play, with three unreleased songs to be played on the Xbox. Therein lies the true appeal.
David Gilmour Remember That Night:
Live at the Royal Albert Hall
DVD / Columbia
So the Pink Floyd reunion at the 2005 Live 8 concert didn't result in a much-anticipated reunion tour. What are Floyd fans to do? Well, one option is David Gilmour's latest DVD effort, which features plenty of popular songs from his illustrious past such as "Comfortably Numb," "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" and "High Hopes." While guest appearances by Graham Nash and David Crosby are noteworthy, and recent solo songs are interesting, the truth is the Pink Floyd material surprise, surprise stands out.
John Mellencamp 20th Century Masters:
The Best of John Mellencamp
CD / Island
For John Mellencamp fans who don't have either of the two previously released best-of sets from Indiana's "R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A." singer: This new best-of probably isn't what you want. Not only do these 10 tracks skip many of Mellencamp's better-known tunes, but they include lackluster material from the singer's recent albums. Considering the wealth of familiar tunes in Mellencamp's oeuvre, 2004's 35-plus track Words & Music: John Mellencamp's Greatest Hits is a better bet.
Santana Ultimate Santana
CD / Arista
Even though classic rocker Carlos Santana returned to prominence in 1999 with his multi-platinum Supernatural album and its ubiquitous hit single "Smooth," he's unlikely to drum up much interest from music fans with this career-spanning set. In today's downloading world, the notion of having "Oye Como Va" and "Black Magic Woman" alongside "Smooth" isn't too exciting. Perhaps diehards will want to hear an unreleased version of "Into the Night" with Nickelback's Chad Kroeger, but casual listeners are better off focusing their efforts elsewhere.
Daryl Hall & John Oates Home for Christmas
CD / DKE Records
Philly pop soul act Hall & Oates has officially thrown its hat into the seasonal music ring with its new album. Among the more interesting tracks is the group's bluesy gospel take of "Mary Had a Baby," which finds the duo's unique ability to capture its soulful side with a rock 'n roll heart. Contemporary sounds ("Jingle Bell Rock") with solemn moments ("It Came Upon a Midnight Clear") could make this a classic seasonal album for generations to come.
Jars of Clay Christmas Songs
CD / Gray Matters
Contemporary Christian rock act Jars of Clay is preaching to the choir with its first ever full-length holiday album. The 14-track effort is the first release on the Nashville act's new label Gray Matters. Among the songs are faithfully recorded traditional seasonal tracks ("O, Little Town of Bethlehem" and "God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen") along with original holiday tunes (the quiet "The Gift of St. Cecilia" and the gentle "Winter Skin") that belie the band's Christian alt-rock image.
Relient K Let It Snow Baby ... Let It Reindeer
CD / Capitol
While it's not surprising that pop-punk Christian act Relient K is releasing a holiday album, what does come as a shock is that it didn't happen earlier. Consider this album the perfect buy for the festive Vans Warped fan, who invariably will dig the band's interpretation of "Handel's Messiah" and "We Wish You a Merry Christmas," along with original tracks "I Hate Christmas Parties" and "I Celebrate the Day." Be sure to check out the goofy but charming version of "I'm Gettin' Nuttin' For Christmas."
Various Artists Monster Ballads Xmas
CD / Razor & Tie
Here's the perfect gift for that one friend or family member whose musical tastes are horrifically limited to '80s rock. Really, how did we get through the holiday season before, without Skid Row's "Jingle Bells," Queensryche's "White Christmas" and Dokken's "Twelve Days of Christmas"? No, really, this is serious. In fact, there's Winger delving into John Lennon and Yoko Ono's "Happy Christmas (War is Over)" and Firehouse's "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree." A monstrosity to most of us, this holiday set will invariably be the best gift your Tesla-T-shirt-wearing friend receives for years.
Johnny Cash The Johnny Cash Christmas Special 1976 &
The Johnny Cash Christmas Special 1977
DVDs / Shout Factory
For younger music fans who only discovered Johnny Cash late in his life, when he was busy recording unexpected rock cover songs, there are two new DVDs that truly show what a star and legend the Man in Black was during his heyday. While '76 has more of a traditional and reverent country feel, with guest appearances by Roy Clark and Billy Graham, '77 stands out for its all-star tribute to Elvis Presley, who had died two months prior to its taping. The performance of "This Train is Bound for Glory" featuring Cash, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Roy Orbison should be on permanent display at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.
Crystal Gayle Greatest Hits
CD / Capitol
For the old-school country music fan who seemingly has everything and always complains about today's Nashville sound, here's a perfect gift. Crystal Gayle has released a best-of set that includes her first No. 1 single, "I'll Get Over You," along with other notable tracks such as "Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue" and "You and I." The latter song is a duet with popular '70s/'80s country singer Eddie Rabbitt. While the songs may sound dated, that's actually the point with a greatest hits record.
George Strait 22 More Hits
CD / MCA Nashville
This we know is true: When you have 55 No. 1 hit singles to your credit, you can pretty much do as you damn well please. This leads us to George Strait's latest best-of set, which comes on the heels of 2006's Strait Hits. The new 22-song album (duh) consists of tracks spanning a quarter-century, that had the audacity not to hit No. 1 for Strait. This includes his 1981 debut single, "Unwound," and newer material, such as "How 'Bout Them Cowgirls." Actually, for those who didn't buy last year's greatest hits set, the new album, along with the 2006 compilation, fit together like a pair of Wrangler jeans and a horse saddle.
Randy Travis Songs of the Season
CD / Word
Country baritone Randy Travis is back with his first Christmas album in nearly 20 years. Even though it's been a while, the material falls right in line with Travis' image and catalog. Invariably, Songs of the Season is a traditional sounding Christmas album for the traditional country singer. Standout tracks include the stoic "Away in a Manger," the laid-back "Nothing's Gonna Bring Me Down at Christmas Time" and the playful "Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow."