2015 Holiday Gift Guide Part One

2015 Holiday Gift Guide Part One

Thursday, 10 December 2015

The holidays are a fantastic time of year aren’t they? They’re the time when all the nonsense which may have congested personal relationships is put aside, and everyone seeks to be with those closest to them. They exchange gifts and it’s wonderful. If you’re like me though reader, you have a habit of over-thinking those gifts. Eventually, you find yourself wandering through the mall in a daze; you know you care for the people on your list, but have no idea how best to articulate that through a physical artifact. It’s frustrating.

Eventually, if you’re like me, you find yourself staring blankly at a record store shelf full of new releases but, because you’ve already got mild shell shock from being at the mall at Christmas time, it’s not easy to make any decisions. Well, in the spirit of brotherly love, let Sony Music’s Legacy department and I help; below you will find reviews of a few great albums which may appeal to the recipients on your list. You might not have even known they came out, right reader? Well, now you do – hopefully this short list will help shorten your list.

Roger Waters
Amused To Death (CD/Blu-Ray Audio)
(Columbia/Legacy/Sony Music)
There’s little doubt that some fans will disagre but, more than any other member of Pink Floyd, Roger Waters has always been at his best when he’s breathing life into a grand, dramatic story. Gilmour? He’s a guitarist who obscures his inability to write good songs behind layers of guitar overdubs. Syd Barrett? Before he became an acid casualty, his strength was in writing catchy but disposable pop songs laced with grating but disposable sonic textures. Yes, both of thoe players had an important place among the Floyd, but none of it would have been particularly valuable if Roger Waters hadn’t been there to make it accessible to a mass audience with some social criticism correllated with timeless personal themes.That also proved to be true (and undeniable) on the singer/bassist’s solo analysis of a distracted society, Amused To Death – which has now been reissued as a deluxe, audiophile-focused, CD/Blu-Ray audio 2-dsc set.

Some critics may say that the reissue and inclusion of a Blu-Ray audio disc is a convenient sales tool to get the album back on new release racks and inspire longtime fans to re-buy it, but the truth is that the added fidelity offered by the disc opens the experience up dramatically. Suddenly, there is more texture and color about Jeff Beck’s guitar performances here, and the desperation in Waters’ own breathless rasp is palpable. The combination of those elements elevates songs like “What God Wants, God Gets,” “Perfect Sense (Part 2)” (where the highly compressed tone of Waters’ vocal performance feels stifling and claustrophobic), “Too Much Rope” and the title track to a whole other level too; suddenly the mock news broadcasts spliced into the songs actually sound like they might be genuine and the way the mix is arranged brings new focus to Waters’ obvious frustration with pop culture (as best exemplified by lyrics like “What is the heart-life of a color TV/What is the shelf life of a teenage queen?”). In this context, listeners may be shocked to discover that this album actually plays better and more appropriately in the 21st century than it did when the album was first released in 1992.

That Amused To Death does play so well now is the greatest selling point about this reissue. Most often, where reissues are concerned, the idea is always to hopefully take listeners back to the point in history when the album was most important, but that isn’t true this time. Rather, because pop culture and the analysis of it have become such popular pastimes now, Amused To Death plays more pertinently in 2015 than it ever did before. Readers are invited to hear for themselves or, even better, advised to give Amused To Death to the cultural analyst in their circle (they know the one – he or she who is chained to their computer absorbing every story on Oh No They Didn’t that they can). Watch them put it on, reader, and then watch the epiphanies bubble forth from them.

Roger Waters
The Wall (2CD)
(Columbia/Legacy/Sony Music)
Even now, years after it was first released, Pink Floyd’s The Wall continues to find new fans. It’s no surprise, really; as long as people come to feel outcast or isolated from society or are frustrated because they feel like the outsider looking in, The Wall will find receptive ears. Because the music industry has become interested in parading proven money-generating shows across the stage these days too, it would seem like now would be the best imaginable time to erect The Wall again; there’s only one problem: the members of Pink Floyd aren’t on speaking terms at the moment. How to rectify this problem? As this new, two-disc live album proves, all it takes is a man with the chutzpah to take a shot at it. Roger Waters is the member of Pink Floyd with that courage (and, presumably, the legal performance rights) and he assembled a crack team of players, dusted off all the puppets and took The Wall out on the road again with a camera crew in tow.

“So does it really matter that the guitar and keyboard parts of songs including “Comfortably Numb,” “Another Brick In The Wall.” “Hey You” and “Goodbye Blue Sky” weren’t played by David Gilmour and Richard Wright? Nope, not really – and the proof is perfectly apparent in the listening here. Eve calling the performances put in by G.E. Smith, Snowy White, Dave Kilminister and Jon Carin an “able replication” criminally trivializes their efforts; these pros play the music note-for-note perfectly – as it was originally written. They know that deviating from that would be the height of unprofessional (and fans of the music might lynch them) – so they don’t do it. Listeners will discover that it’s easy to adore this set for the fact that it doesn’t deviate from the original composition too; what Floyd fans would hope for in a performance of The Wall is precisely what they get here. Waters is in fine voice, the band has the parts nailed down tightly and no one could realistically ask for more. Any fan of The Wall will love Roger Waters’ live presentation of it here.

Sly and The Family Stone
Live At the Fillmore East – October 4th & 5th, 1968
(Epic/Legacy/Sony Music)
Over the last couple of years, Legacy’s renewed interest in Sly and The Family Stone’s catalogue has yeilded some sweet results (the 24k gold CD release of There’s A Riot Goin’ On was totally worth the price tag), but the beauty of exploring the background of a far less-exposed artist (read: not Jimi Hendrix) is that it’s possible to find some really great and valuable gems. Case in point: The Family Stone’s two-night, four-show stand at the Fillmore East. Here, listeners get a sparkling, crystal-clear and high-energy presentation and really get a sense of how solid Sly and The Family Stone really was onstage. At every turn here, the band is tight as a drum and has a swing about them to get a dance floor moving, but one of the coolest things for confessed audiophiles is just how spotless the sound on this set is. There are variations in the performances of some of the songs, but they are very clearly intentional because each performance is slick and seamless and there are no sparks of chaos radiating off them at all. That’s incredibly gratifying to hear – particularly given the number of dubious “live bootleg” releases which have been sanctioned by different bands and record labels recently. That said, it might be because of the novelty of this set or the caliber of the performance but, either way, Live At The Fillmore East is a damn good listen which could not only appease Sly Stone fans, but make a few new ones too.

Bob Dylan
The Bootleg Series Volume 12: 1965 – 1966, The Best Of The Cutting Edge (2CD)
(Columbia/Legacy/Sony Music)
As everyone knows, 1965 was a breakthrough year for Bob Dylan. Well, he had already broken through; by then, Dylan had ushered folk music into the mainstream and helped it find a home on the hip streets of New York, but 1965 was when the singer realized his dream of becoming a rock star (and, yes, he did have that dream), pissed all the folkies off at once and became immortal – all at the same time.

More than most of Bob Dylan’s other Bootleg Series installments, Volume 12 is enlightening because it illustrates how much work, thought and desire the singer put into “going electric.” Here, the singer gets comfortable and confident with going against the grain as the tape rolls, and the humanity of flubbing lines (see take 5 of “Like A Rolling Stone” included here, where listeners are treated to a performance of the words “Threw the dums a bime in your prime”) or growing pains which come along with Dylan forcing his own evolution is both affecting and hypnotic. It’s really cool to hear embryonic incarnations of songs like “Just Like A Woman,” “Highway 61 Revisited” and “Mr. Tambourine Man” and impossible not to envision scenes of Bambi trying to walk across a frozen pond in one’s mindseye. The movements are absolutely uncertain, and they’re great; Dylan fans and aspiring songwriters alike need to hear this.

All of the aforementioned discs are available here on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/

Comments are closed.