Holiday gifts: Bob, the Boss and Ol' Blue Eyes

  • Article by: Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 29, 2010 - 11:50 AM

The industry seems more focused on baby boomers in this year's offerings for music fans.

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Singer, songwriter, musician Bob Dylan. CBS handout photo from the early 1960s.

If the items in this gift roundup appear skewed to baby boomers, that's not our fault. Record labels, publishers and the music biz on the whole seem to have figured out that younger fans will be asking for iTunes gift cards and nothing out of a physical store. Here's the stuff for music fans who want to get physical.

CDs

Bruce Springsteen, "The Promise: The Darkness on the Edge of Town Story" (three CDs and three DVDs, $120). Easily the year's most stunning and ambitious boxed set, this bonanza features one of the best albums of outtakes ever (the 21-song "The Promise"); 1978's "Darkness" in studio, plus a 2009 live version; a DVD on the making of the album (see Steve Van Zandt without a bandana or hat) and another featuring 1978 concert performances. It's all packaged in a spiral notebook filled with handwritten lyrics, set lists, photos and Springsteen ephemera. (John Bream)

R.E.M., "Fables of the Reconstruction" (two CDs, $30). Sort of a between-eras album not among the band's best remembered, it makes for an interesting 25th-anniversary set. You can hear (and read about) Michael Stipe & Co. feeling their way to a bigger, often better sound, especially in the extra disc of hard-working demos and outtakes. (Chris Riemenschneider)

Weezer, "Pinkerton" (two CDs, $30). As one of the few critics who sang this sophomore album's praises from the get-go, I might put a little extra value on this deluxe edition. But all the hype and legend add to the enjoyment, and musically it stands up -- much more than, say, "Buddy Holly." The live tracks, demos and outtakes vary in quality, but the fact there's a lot of 'em adds to the fun. (C.R.)

Nine Inch Nails, "Pretty Hate Machine" (CD $11; vinyl $30): There's only one bonus track on this reissue -- an Al Jourgensen-produced cover of Queen's "Get Down Make Love" -- but the hi-fi quality is immaculate enough to make you feel like you're down in it with Trent Reznor during the making of his classic 1991 debut. (C.R.)

Bob Dylan, "The Witmark Demos 1962-1964" (two CDs $19; vinyl $135). Hear the great Minnesotan talk (he even tells jokes), sing with a clear voice (by Dylan standards) and try to find his musical compass. This ninth installment in his bootleg series showcases 47 works in progress, including piano versions of "Mr. Tambourine Man" and a slower "The Times They Are A-Changin'" and 15 obscurities, including "Guess I'm Doing Fine." (J.B.)

Syl Johnson, "The Complete Mythology" (six LPs plus four CDs, $80): How did such a little-known legend merit such a bulky boxed set? More surprising, a lot of this isn't even the Chicago R&B singer/guitarist/label-operator's best-known recordings. This one's for the really nutty collectors, as it gathers up a lot of his hardest-to-find LPs, singles and unreleased recordings and sorts through it with a 52-page booklet. The label, Numero, only sent out a sampler, but it had us wanting to hear a lot more. (C.R.)

BOOKS

"Life," Keith Richards (Little, Brown, $30). In his wildly entertaining memoir, the Rolling Stones guitarist regales us with tales of sex (Mick Jagger has a "tiny todger"), drugs ("I was very meticulous about how much I took") and rock 'n' roll ("if you're working the right chord, you can hear this other chord going on behind it, which actually you're not playing"). It's all delivered with Keith's usual I-survived-somehow-didn't-I smirk. He's thoughtful, funny and hopelessly rock 'n' roll, even if he doesn't expound enough on Brian Jones, Altamont and sharing a bed with Gram Parsons (really). (J.B.)

"The Anthology of Rap," edited by Adam Bradley and Andrew DuBois (Yale, $35). Two English professors undertook the daunting task of collecting the lyrics of nearly 700 rap songs to assert the genre's literary bona fides. With brief introductory bios preceding the lyrics, they cover everyone from Afrika Bambaataa to Young Jeezy. Minnesota is represented by Atmosphere, Brother Ali and Eyedea & Abilities. The 868-page anthology offers the good, the bad and the offensive -- and plenty of food for intelligent discussion. (J.B.)

"Frank: The Voice," James Kaplan (Doubleday, $35). Co-author of memoirs by Jerry Lewis and John McEnroe, Kaplan writes this stellar Frank Sinatra bio with a novelist's flair. His well-researched 786-page tome suggests that the boy's violent birth caused his rage; that his tough, politically involved mother became the model for his complicated, domineering personality, and that his wife Ava Gardner became his dark muse after their breakup. This oft-told but powerfully painted story ends with Sinatra winning an Oscar in 1954. Can't wait for Volume 2. (J.B.)

DVDs

"The Best of Soul Train" (three DVDs, $40). Don Cornelius' hippest trip gives us a glimpse into the 1970s' golden age of soul: an era of big Afros, extra-wide collars and Afro Sheen along with the music of Barry White, the Commodores and the Jackson 5. There's a little too much lip-synching but James Brown, Sly & the Family Stone, Stevie Wonder and the Isley Brothers are excitingly live. The highlight is a rare duet at the piano by Aretha Franklin and Smokey Robinson on "Ooh Baby Baby." (J.B.)

"Crossroads: Eric Clapton Guitar Festival 2010" (two DVDs, $30). You miss the scorching sun of June 26 in Chicago, but you get hotter-than-July guitar licks in various styles. This smartly edited 4 1/2-hour set captures most of the high points of the 12-hour marathon. Disc 2 is a thriller, with inspired collaborations between Buddy Guy, Ron Wood and Jonny Lang; Derek Trucks, Susan Tedeschi and others, and of course, host/organizer Eric Clapton, first with Jeff Beck and then with Steve Winwood (love their "Voodoo Chile"). (J.B.)

"The British Invasion" (five DVDs, $80). These black-and-white flashbacks to the 1960s make a compelling case for the greatness of Dusty Springfield, the pop-soul singer with a blond beehive and kohl eyes. Using television clips and more recent interviews, these discs explore Dusty, the underappreciated Small Faces, Herman's Hermits and Gerry & the Pacemakers. A treat for oldies lovers. (J.B.)

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