So I guess this won't work for Hannukah, but it should still be good for:
A) Returning stuff and getting what you might really have wanted, and:
B) Some other gift-giving holiday upon whom I, and so many others, have declared war, but against which we continue to struggle. I dare not say its name lest enemy forces take encouragement.
C) People who already have "The River" box since it's not reviewed here nor in Part I.
In terms of big-ticket items, every year I look to my friends at Mosaic for the most meticulously presented packages in Jazz curation and this year their entry is indeed impresive, both in terms of the richness of its music and, for yours truly, its educational value. (Mosaic is to Jazz what the Criterion Collection is to film.) I refer today to the 12 cd, The Complete Bee Hive Sessions, and I was entirely unaware of the label's history. What Bee Hive did, between 1977 to 1984, was to give free reign to veteran jazz musicians who had not recorded in a while and let them do what they had always wanted. The roster included Clifford Jordan, Ronnie Matthews, Dick Katz, Nick Brignola, Sal Nistico, Ted Curson, Pepper Adams, Curtis Fuller, Dizzy Reece, Johnny Hartman, Jimmy Knepper, and that's just for starters. Mosaic has collected all 110 tracks which includes six tracks released only on a rare sampler and three tracks previously unissued. As always it comes with a thorough discography including an historical essay and track-by-track analysis by Aaron Cohen, plus rare photographs from the sessions in question. It will set you back about $180 and can only be ordered from http://www.mosaicrecords.com/. (Also keep your eyes out for the 6 cd complete James P. Johnson sessions, "one of the most important, if not THE most important, stride pianists," due out soon.)
Similar to Mosaic in it commitment to comprehensiveness and excellence is the German label Bear Family, and they have put together a wonderfully unexpected combination of fun and education in the 5 cd Tennessee Ernie Ford: Portrait of an American Singer (1949-1960). If you're like me, you only knew the artist from the iconic "Sixteen Tons." But then you also knew what a grea voice he had. This generous package will school you further, beyond the hits like "Mule Train" (1949), "The Shotgun Boogie" (1950), and the 1950 duet (with Kay Starr) "I'll Never Be Free." There's also as "Rock City Boogie" (with the Dinning Sisters, 1951) and "Blackberry Boogie" (1952) "Tennessee Local" (1952), and Ford's 1953 interpretation of Willie Mabon's R&B hit "I Don't Know," along with a never-before-released song ("Slow Down"), numerous singles and album tracks not previously reissued on CD, and several rarities, though these days, almost all these tracks are rarities.
As with Mosaic, the information and packaging is incredible. The 12x12 box set comes witha 124-page hardcover book with newly written essays, track-by-track album notes, a discography, label scans, and rare photographs and illustrations. It was written by the music historian Ted Olson of the department of Appalachian Studies/Bluegrass, Old-Time and Country Music Studies Program at East Tennessee State University, who also produced this incredible reissue. It will set you back about $150 though so it's really got to be a matter of love.
If you've never heard Bobby Rush, you can find out whether you are a good person or not by how much you like Omnivore's 4 cd collection of his career called Chicken Heads: A 50-Year History Of Bobby Rush. Bobby, still around in his 80s, was a musical contemporary of Elmore James, Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters and Jimmy Reed, and played with all of them. This set collects material from an amalgam of small labels and forgotten records from 1964 through last year. It's got a 32 page book with evidence of some of the worst haircuts known to man, (and not much, I'm sad to say on the musicians on any given track) but the sound is clear and tough, albeit scratchy when necessary. I wouldn't say it's essential in the way that Muddy or the Wolf are, but he is an important footnote. Also, it's less than $40
So too the new 3 cd collection of King Curtis on Atco from my friends at Real Gone Music. You may know Curtis from his work with Duane Allman or Aretha. But many people consider the sax man to be among the most inspired R&B instrumentalist of its golden era. He played on a zillion albums from Yakety Yak to Imagine. But on Atco, he recorded a bunch of albums that featured hits of the day, done instrumentally, and filled with funk. He cut 33 singles and you can find them all on King Curtis: The Complete Atco Singles. 24 of them never appeared on any album. There are 66 cuts here all togther and they feature people like Cornell Dupree, Jimmy Johnson, Spooner Oldham, Roger Hawkins, to say nothing of Duane and Clapton. doing songs like Memphis Soul Stew, Ode to Billie Joe, and Whole Lotta Love. The notes area by Leiber & Stoller Music Publishing head, Randy Poe. (And a special mention to Real Gone for the re-release of the terrific cd, "the Dictators debut Go Girl Crazy!," one of the funnest and funniest punk rock albums of all time. I'd forgotten how great it was, but I've been listening to it almost every day and it always improves my mood.) Finally, if you need more Dead in your life, they've got a re-release of Dick's Picks Volume 3, a two cd version of a great 1977 show from Pennsicola, Florida in 1977, in this writer's not so humble opinion, their best year ever. Eight songs are left out though because back then, the idea of three and four cd Dick's Picks struck everyone as overly radical.
In the Old-Fogey bluray sweepstakes, the winners are Eric Clapton, Slowhand at 70 -- Live at The Royal Albert Hall [2 CD/Blu-Ray Combo] and The Who Live In Hyde Park [2 CD/Blu-Ray Combo]. The former is a decent overview of Eric's career -- I reviewed the Garden show earlier this year. It's not his most inspired playing and I could do with a lot less "Wonderful Tonght" and God forbid, acoustic Layla, etc. And it's not the best rendering of him on film by far. (There is so much, but I think his performances with Stevie Winwood are his most inspired.) But put on, one a good sound system, and everything's ok. It's well recorded and well filmed. The best performance by Eric on guitar, and the band overall, is on "Little Queen of Spades," which for some reason is the bonus track, though that's an artificial concept on a concert video.
The Who show is a genuinely pleasant surprise. I found the "Quadrophenia" show a couple of years ago to be lacking in energy and Pete Townshend bitched to the press all through this tour. But the old guys found some new source of energy for this enormous show and it revived my love for the band and my hope for my old age. In some ways, I like it better than the dvd of the '82 show at Shea Stadium. It has most of the songs you want to hear but no single show could have contained all of them.
If you like giving people expensive photography books, then I am all over the absolutely beautiful Henri Cartier-Bresson: The Decisive Moment Pck Slp Ha Edition
The book itself is reprinted to the exact specification of the original, including Henri Matisse's collage cover and sized according to the dimensions of the framelines of Cartier-Bresson's Leica camera. Originally published 62 years ago, this enormously influential book is more georgeous than ever. The reproductions are first rate from start to finish, done with gravure production. This makes them far less glossy than the usual photobook, but it also gives you a new perspective on photos that have become deeply familiar over time, and deservedly so. It's published by Steidl and it costs about 85 bucks. If you give it to someone as a gift, they will not only be impressed by your generosity, but also by your opinion of their good taste.
Oh, one more idea: Abrams has published new coffee table book on all of Woody Allen's movies, right up to this year. It's called Woody Allen: A Retrospective. The photography stills are really well done and the text by Tom Shone is enormously well-informed and tells you all kinds of things about each movie that -- unless you've written a book about Woody -- you definitely don't know. His judgments about the movies themselves? Well, let's just say a lot of them are really wrong; smart but wrong. But hey, for them to all be right, I'd have had to written this book. People tell me Shone is as knowledgeable about Woody as anyone whose written about him so, if you know some who admires Woody at thirty bucks, it's a great gift and will make you look not only smart but more generous than you are. Meanwhile St. Martin's has also published David Evanier's new biography aptly called Woody: The Biography. I've not read it yet there, but maybe you will.
And finally if you want to give a book to a Deadhead (including yourself) the 50th anniversary has yielded a veritable cornucopia. The best narrative I've come across is that by my friend, David Browne, So Many Roads: The Life and Times of the Grateful Dead. The biggest time kill is the re-release of the previously reviewed, The Complete Annotated Grateful Dead Lyrics, which a good friend of mine compared to the Talmud, which is a bit of stretch but the annotations really are wonderful. And the most valuable source document looks to be This Is All a Dream We Dreamed: An Oral History of the Grateful Dead, an oral history compiled by Blair Jackson and David Gans, which is over 500 pages long and answers most of the questions you had -- at least the ones that are going to get an answer. All of them are cheaper than they should be given their inherent value, especially to the person who already has the dvd/bluray of Fare Thee Well (reviewed in the previous buyer's guide). Keep on Trucking...