George A. Paul’s Last Minute Music CD Gift Guide

by George A. Paul

If you’ve been procrastinating and still need some help on what to get the music enthusiast on your Christmas shopping list, read below for some suggestions. They can probably be found at many major retailers.

For fans of The Beatles and their solo work:

paul-McCartneyTug-of-WarArtist: Paul McCartney
Titles: “Tug of War,” “Pipes of Peace” – Deluxe Editions (Concord)

The lowdown: The latest releases in an ongoing Archive Collection series feature spruced up sound, unreleased demos, music videos and more. On the newly remixed “Tug of War,” McCartney reunited with former Fab Four producer George Martin. It was an adventurous success thanks to hits like “Ebony and Ivory” (a Stevie Wonder duet that topped the charts for 7 weeks in 1982) and “Take it Away.” Then there are the standouts “Here Today” – an introspective letter to John Lennon – the joyous rave up “Ballroom Dancing” and tender ballad “Wanderlust.” Guests include Ringo Starr, Carl Perkins, Denny Laine, Andy Mackay and Stanley Clarke. Notable bonus tracks: a solo version of “Ebony” and three impressive non-album cuts.

Martin and most of the musicians returned for the mellower (now remastered) follow up 1983 album. There’s another pair of hits; this time, “Say Say Say” (the Michael Jackson duet spent 6 weeks at No. 1) and “So Bad.” Among the bonus audio is a new expanded remix of “Say Say Say,” where the singers reverse roles and the solid unreleased Fifties throwback “Ode to a Koala Bear.” Information: www.concordmusicgroup.com

For fans of power pop:

The-Knack_ZoomArtist: The Knack
Titles: “Zoom,” “Normal as the Next Guy,” “Live from the Rock ‘n’ Roll Fun House” (Omnivore)

The lowdown: Most people know The Knack from major 1979 singles “My Sharona” and “Good Girls Don’t,” while diehards might be familiar with moderately received comeback album “Serious Fun” over a decade later. But the LA band also reformed again to put out the stellar “Zoom” in ’98. With drummer Terry Bozzio of fellow new wave act Missing Persons in tow, the album is strong top to bottom. Standouts include racing opener “Pop is Dead,” infectious “Harder on You” (submitted but not used in the film That Thing You Do!), the tribal rhythms of “Good Enough.” The bonus tracks include demos and a then-updated rendition of “My Sharona.” The liner notes feature an essay and recollections by bassist Prescott Niles and guitarist Berton Averre.

2001’s “Normal” was culled from different projects and boasts more stylistic variation (including country!) as a result. All out rocker “It’s Not Me,” the simmering ballad “One Day at a Time” and Beach Boys homage “The Man on the Beach” fare best. There are three unreleased demos and background from former band members. Recorded in a Long Beach, Calif. television studio in 2001 for a select audience, “Fun House” comprises 16 tracks from across The Knack’s career and is simply a blast. The band’s extended medley cover of “Tequila” and The Doors’ “Break on Through” fits well. Two previously unreleased songs from the live set have been reinstated, along with informative liner notes. Information: www.omnivorerecordings.com

Tommy-Keene-LaughArtist: Tommy Keene
Title: “Laugh in the Dark” (Second Motion)

The lowdown: Emerging from the Washington D.C. college rock scene in the early ’80s, this critically acclaimed singer/guitarist has toured or recorded with everyone from Paul Westerberg and Guided by Voices’ Robert Pollard to Matthew Sweet and Gin Blossoms. His follow up to 2013 covers album “Excitement at Your Feet” is another winsome dose of guitar driven alt-pop plus hints of psychedelia, especially “Out of My Mind,” “All the Lights Are Alive” and the title track.
Information: www.secondmotionrecords.com

For fans of Nineties adult alternative pop and rock:

Natalie-Merchant-Paradise-is-ThereArtist: Natalie Merchant
Title: “Paradise is There – The New Tigerlily Sessions” (Nonesuch)

The lowdown: Merchant’s first solo effort in 1995 after exiting 10,000 Maniacs was a total smash, going five times platinum and spawning three top 25 multi-format hits. To mark the 20th Anniversary, Merchant has re-imagined the earthy songs and made them more relaxed, often with lush orchestral arrangements. “Wonder” is delicately driven by piano and acoustic guitar; “Carnival” is also stripped down.

“Jealousy” now has a jazzy flair colored by flowery sax and added female backing vocals. The deluxe edition is housed in a hardbound book with lyrics in several languages, plus a DVD containing an 80-minute “film memoir.” Merchant explains her approach and career, and then performs the tunes. Information: www.nonesuch.com

Goo-Goo-Dolls_Boy-coverArtist: Goo Goo Dolls
Title: “A Boy Named Goo – 20th Anniversary Deluxe Edition (Warner Bros.)

The lowdown: Having carved out a mildly successful career since the late ’80s, the scrappy alt-rock band from Buffalo, NY finally achieved their commercial breakthrough with album number five. It was certified double platinum and boasted two across-the-board hits in “Name” and “Naked.” This reissue adds 7 live tracks recorded in ’95 at The Academy in NYC, including a solid cover of “Don’t Change” by INXS. Information: www.warnerbrosrecords.com

For fans of classic rock:

Aerosmith_DoningtonArtist: Aerosmith
Title: Rocks Donington 2014 (Eagle Vision)

The lowdown: Kicking off with a pile-driving “Train Kept A-Rollin”, the Boston rock vets perform at the huge Download Festival at Donington Park and prove they’ve lost little firepower after 40 years together. Featuring several classic rock radio staples, the crowd avidly sings along at every turn, Steven Tyler’s trademark yelp remains in fine form and Joe Perry’s guitar solos smoke.

The two CDs and DVD both contain 20 tunes spanning from the 1970s-present. “Janie’s Got a Gun,” “Livin’ on the Edge,” “Toys in the Attic,” “Dude (Looks Like a Lady),” “Walk This Way” and “Sweet Emotion” are among the most potent. Information: www.eagle-rock.com

Queen-OdeonArtist: Queen
Title: A Night at the Odeon (Hollywood)

The lowdown: Last year, fans were treated to excellent archival release “Live at the Rainbow ’74.” With “A Night at the Odeon,” recorded on Christmas Eve 1975, the British rock band ups its game even higher thanks to the set addition of “Bohemian Rhapsody” (played in two halves with “Killer Queen” in between), off a just released “Night at the Opera.” Surprisingly, the holiday is only briefly mentioned when singer Freddie Mercury offers up a drink toast.

Standouts include a fiery “Now I’m Here,” “Keep Yourself Alive,” breathless Fifties encore medley of “Jailhouse Rock”/“Be Bop-A-Lula” and magnificent “Seven Seas of Rhye.” Also available on a companion DVD or Blu-ray. Information: www.queenonline.com

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