It’s gift-buying season again! But what do you get someone who you know nothing about? If you can figure out what kind of music they dig, our guide to music gifts can help.
This year’s selections cover many spectrums. While light on holiday albums, there are some gems to be found. Take a look at some of the newer releases here in 2011.
Grand Ole Opry Classic Collection “Outlaws,” “Duets” and “Classic Hits” (Opry Music) CD
Considering the decades’ worth of magical concert material it has in its vaults, the Grand Ole Opry has a special holiday present for classic country fans. Culled from concert performances throughout the years, “Outlaws,” “Duets” and “Classic Hits” features the Music City’s biggest names on the genre’s biggest stage. Highlights include Johnny Cash’s fiery “Folsom Prison Blues,” Dolly Parton’s forgotten “Love is Like a Butterfly” and the George Jones-Tammy Wynette duet “We’re Gonna Hold On.” Each album is available exclusively at Cracker Barrel.
“Willie Nelson Live at the US Festival”/ “Waylon Jennings Live at the US Festival” (Shout! Factory) DVD
The 1982 and 1983 US Festivals are mainly remembered as rock bills, featuring everyone from Van Halen to U2. However, most people forget about the country lineup with Waylon Jennings and headliner Willie Nelson. That is until now with the individual DVD releases capturing the two legends’ powerful sets. Included is perhaps the definitive version of the Nelson-Jennings hit “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys.” For any classic country fan that detests the Taylor Swift state of Music City, these DVDs will act like a long lost photograph.
Taylor Swift “Journey to Fearless” (Shout! Factory) DVD
The Taylor Swift money machine is working overtime with the latest addition being her debut solo concert DVD “Journey to Fearless,” which documents the madness associated with her 2009-2010 tour. If the material looks familiar that’s because it aired exactly a year ago on cable network The Hub. Still, tweeners won’t care as they watch the newly appointed country-pop music queen belt out “You Belong With Me,” “Fearless” and “Should’ve Said No.” There are also obligatory backstage glimpses into her hectic life that seem less revealing and more calculated. Invariably, parents of Swift fans will grow tired of this DVD, which is to say the youngsters will love it.
Dave Koz “Ultimate Christmas” (Capitol) CD
Exactly a decade after releasing “Smooth Jazz Christmas,” Dave Koz rehashes his holiday past with his “Ultimate Christmas” compilation featuring material from his previous seasonal albums. The only new additions are the opening “Welcoming the Season (Prelude)” and “Welcoming the New Year (Coda),” which on their own do little to warrant attention. Still, for better or worse, the 18-track effort does act as the jazz saxophonist’s greatest holiday hits.
“The Sing-Off: Songs of the Season” (Epic) CD
A follow-up to last year’s popular “Harmonies For the Holiday,” the all-vocal group reality show is back with “The Sing-Off: Songs of the Season,” which includes season two winner Committed performing an R&B-sounding “Jingle Bells,” as well as University of Rochester YellowJackets creating a powerful orchestral vibe for “Carol of the Bells.” Epitomizing the modern a capella sound found throughout the 13 song-effort is North Shore’s bouncing doo-wop version of “Winter Wonderland.” Beware, overzealous barbershop quartet fans may use this album as a gift to sway haters. So if you don’t already watch “The Sing-Off,” stay strong.
Medeski Scofield Martin & Wood “In Case The World Changes Its Mind” (Indirecto Records) CD
Grooves galore is what modern jazz heads will find on this unique double-live album that details what happened when improvisational-friendly trio Medeski Martin & Wood teamed up with guitar guru Jon Scofield for the 1998 Scofield effort “A Go Go” and 2006 collaboration “Out Louder.” Best experienced with quality headphones (not buds, thank you), this unfettered affair from a 2006 tour doesn’t disappoint with a drop-dead soulful “Amazing Grace” and the esoteric trip “Hanuman.” Odds are if someone is already a Medeski Martin & Wood fan or Scofield lover, “In Case The World Changes Its Mind” won’t offend and will be a welcome addition.
New York Dolls “Lookin’ Fine On Television” (MVD Visual) DVD
New York Doll fans looking to clean the stink off their favorite punk act, which spent the summer touring with, ahem, Mötley Crüe, will definitely want the “Lookin’ Fine On Television” DVD. Think of the rare live clips – “Personality Crisis,” “Who Are The Mystery Girls” and “Babylon” – from the band’s heyday as reaffirmation for your love for David Johansen and company. Also, don’t miss the glam-era defining bonus footage of a 1976 interview with Johansen and Johnny Thunders.
• “The Best of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum” (Time/Life) CD
For decades the best part of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum Induction Ceremony was the all-star jam session that followed. Here’s a perfect three-CD greatest hits of sorts that captures the high points over the last quarter of a century. Among the must-have tunes are a star-studded “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” with Prince’s amazing guitar solo overshadowing Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne and Steve Winwood, as well as Green Day’s performance of The Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop” and “Train Kept A-Rollin” with Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Ron Wood, Joe Perry, Flea and Metallica (the latter took place at the Rock Hall induction held in Cleveland nearly three years ago).
• Elvis Costello “Spectacle Season 2” (MVD Visual) DVD
The second season of Elvis Costello’s cheeky musician-based talk show “Spectacle” doesn’t lack star power with special guests including U2 (“Pump It Up”/”Get On Your Boots”/”Subterranean Homesick Blues”) and Bruce Springsteen (“Radio Silence”/”Radio Nowhere”/“Radio, Radio”). Where Costello is most at home isn’t with the high-profile acts but rather the singer-songwriter guests such as Levon Helm and Nick Lowe (“The Weight”) and Neko Case (“Prison Girls”). Unreleased footage of U2’s “Dirty Day” performed by Elvis and the Imposters and a cover of Costello’s “Alison” by Bono and the Edge are keepers to boot.
• Foo Fighters “Back and Forth” (RCA) DVD
In a year where grunge acts are celebrating 20-year anniversaries (Pearl Jam and Nirvana come to mind), it makes sense for the Foo Fighters to also walk down their hit-laden, albeit struggle-filled, memory lane. The full-length documentary “Back and Forth” offers fans rare insight into not only the group’s formation but band visionary Dave Grohl’s coming to terms with Kurt Cobain’s suicide. The real marrow of the material is watching the act create its latest studio effort “Wasted Light.”
• Pearl Jam “Pearl Jam Twenty Original Motion Picture Soundtrack” (Monkeywrench) CD
By now most Pearl Jam followers have seen the band’s recently released Cameron Crowe documentary “Pearl Jam Twenty.” The accompanying double-disc soundtrack doesn’t disappoint with not only powerful concert performances (“Release” and “Rearviewmirror”) but cherished demo recordings (Temple of the Dog’s “Times of Trouble,” which also became Pearl Jam’s “Footsteps”). There’s also an early “Alive” when the band was still going under the Mookie Blaylock moniker. While true Pearl Jam fans more than likely have the lion’s share of material, it’s the new rarities that make this a must-have.
• Elvis Presley “The Great Performances” (Sofa) DVD
While Elvis Presley’s career has been incessantly repackaged for the past few decades, it’s difficult to point to a definitive concert DVD release. Still, the recently released two-DVD set “The Great Performances” comes close. Fans will get all of the early — “That’s All Right (Mama),” “Hound Dog,” “Blue Suede Shoes” and “Love Me Tender” — and later — “Suspicious Minds” and “Unchained Melody” — hits but it’s the bonus material featuring interviews with D.J. Fontana, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Sam Phillips that make “The Great Performances” something special.
• Queen “The Works,” “A Kind Of Magic,” “The Miracle,” “Innuendo and “Made In Heaven” reissue deluxe editions (Hollywood Records) CD
The recently released box set featuring Queen’s remastered latter five studio efforts — “The Works,” “A Kind Of Magic,” “The Miracle,” “Innuendo and “Made In Heaven” — contains the obligatory bonus disc of gems. Therein lies the appeal for diehard fans with standout tracks including the non-album single “Thank God It’s Christmas” from “The Works,” a live version of “It’s a Hard Life” from “The Works” and the demo for “A Kind of Vision” from “A Kind of Magic.” What this collection lacks in classic rock Queen hits it gains in allowing fans behind the curtain to see the musical genius of Freddie Mercury and company in action.
• Rush “Time Machine 2011: Live in Cleveland” DVD (Anthem)
Easily the most anticipated Rush release in the Buckeye State since “Moving Pictures,” the concert recording from this past spring’s Quicken Loans show is a must-buy for anyone who attended the concert, which found singer-bassist Geddy Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson and drummer Neil Peart performing the aforementioned 1981 classic album in its entirety. For those non-Rush fans, this double-DVD set won’t change your mind. Still, special moments (the intricate “Camera Eye,” for instance) are evident on what seems like a big thank you to Northeast Ohio for helping break the Canadian band stateside over three decades ago.
“The Bridge School Concerts 25th Anniversary Edition” (Reprise) CD/DVD
This triple-disc DVD and double-disc CD set compilation detailing the highlights from Neil Young’s annual mostly acoustic-based show offers something for everybody: hipsters get a mellow Fleet Foxes (“Blue Ridge Mountains”) and a heartfelt Band of Horses (“Marry Song”); classic rockers get a red hot The Who (“Won’t Get Fooled Again”) and jamming Crosby, Still, Nash & Young (“Déjà Vu”); and rockers get an unplugged Metallica (“Disposable Heroes”) and tender Pearl Jam (“Better Man”). Aside from a few clunkers (Dave Matthews Band’s “Too Much” proves to be, well, too much), the extensive set is perfect for those playlist-friendly music fans who listen to everything under the sun.
Emerson Lake and Palmer “40th Anniversary Reunion Concert” (MVD Visual) DVD
The bad news for stateside fans of Emerson Lake and Palmer is the group’s 40th anniversary reunion concert was held last year in the U.K. The good news is the progressive rock act’s predictable set was captured for the ages. The track listing includes the rocking “Karn Evil 9,” the fan-favorite “Pictures at an Exhibition” and the mellow “Lucky Man.” Sadly the 12-track affair, which includes backstage interviews, will leave fans questioning why Carl Palmer refuses to tour again, let alone stateside, with Keith Emerson and Greg Lake.
The Gaslight Anthem “iTunes Covers” (iTunes) digital
In between album cycles, New Jersey rockers Gaslight Anthem is tying over its fans with one of the better cover albums in recent times. Included in the seven-song set is a raucous version of Pearl Jam’s “State of Love and Trust,” which the band has been playing on stage for years, as well as a tantalizing “Baba O’Riley” by The Who and hard-hitting “Refugee” by Tom Petty. However, the Garden State band proves its worth by reinterpreting its own punk-based track “Boxer” into a heartfelt and mellow affair.
Steve Howe “Remedy Live” (MVD Visual) DVD
Considering the current wacky world for progressive rock act Yes, which is now touring with a cover-band singer, original guitarist Steve Howe is offering diehard fans a nugget of sanity with DVD release “Remedy Live.” Recorded in 2004, the two dozen or so tracks vary from acoustic gems “Excerpt from the Ancient” and “Clap” to obscure electric songs like “Small Acts of Human Kindness.” Yes fans do get the “Excerpt from Close To the Edge” and a trippy “Würm,” but overall “Remedy Live” feels more like the self-indulgent exercise of a guitarist who for decades longed for center stage, which is perfect for those followers who worship at the Howe altar.
Mott The Hoople “The Ballad of Mott the Hoople” (Start) DVD
Lost in obscurity, baby boomers may remember ‘70s rock act as one or two-hit wonders, with radio tunes “All the Young Dudes” (which was written by David Bowie) and “All The Way to Memphis.” Now the band has released its own documentary “The Ballad of Mott the Hoople” making the case not only did the group led by Ian Hunter lay fertile groundwork for the U.K. punk scene but also should be considered one of the all-time great guitar rock acts. Ultimately the 101-minute feature, which includes footage of the band’s 2009 reunion, is perfect for the classic rock-loving grandpa or great uncle that won’t shut up about the golden ‘70s.
Bob Seger “Live Bullet”/“Nine Tonight” (EMI) CD
After being somewhat of a recluse the past few decades, Bob Seger has been quite active of late. Not only is the classic rocker touring his vast catalog, but now the Detroit-based artist is repackaging his past with digitally remastered concert recordings “Live Bullet” and “Nine Tonight.” Recorded in a span of five years in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, the live albums find Seger and his Silver Bullet Band atop their game. While bonus material such as “I Feel Like Breaking Up Somebody’s Home” and “Brave Strangers” may have their appeal, both albums’ classic tracks “Katmandu” and “Old Time Rock and Roll” and “Night Moves” just sound cleaner. Then again, the lack of the warm vinyl sound may turn some audiophiles off.
U2 “Achtung Baby” 20th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition (Island) CD/DVD
Among all of the gems found in the 20th anniversary “Achtung Baby” release, diehard fans will salivate over the “Baby” CD, which contains early versions of the album’s final track listing. Not only are there real gems (“Love is Blindness” is a haunting seven-minute dirge) combined with a few clunkers (thankfully “Mysterious Ways” was tightened up), but the 12-track effort offers priceless insight into the before-and-after creative process. Also included is the band’s brand-new documentary “From the Sky Down.”