2017 Holiday Gift Guide...The First Five

Once again, as the year comes to a close, it's time to assess some of the releases we've received that would make great gifts for your loved ones, related ones or your one and only. We picked through the pile and came up with a diversified selection we believe tinkles the eyes and ears of even the most discriminating music lover. Here's five to think about....

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The Fox Box

Allman Brothers Band

With The Allman Brothers Band calling it day in 2014, and Gregg Allman and Butch Trucks put to rest in 2017, all that's left of the fabled kings of Southern rock are the memories. So, once you're done burning the grooves of At The Fillmore, where do you turn to next? For lovers of ABB's live shows, The Fox Box, an eight-CD set comprising a sold-out three-night run in 2004 at Atlanta's Fox Theatre, does a more than adequate job filling the void.

At the time of these three shows, the Allmans were on a creative roll, having released what turned out to be their final studio album, Hittin' The Note, the year before. Founding members Gregg Allman, Butch Trucks and Jaimoe were joined by the guitar tag tram of Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes, along with percussionist Marc Quinones. To make these hometown shows extra special, a number of guests sat in with the band, including guitarist Jack Pearson, a former band member from 1997-99, Derek's bandmate and wife Susan Tedeschi, guitarist Vaylor Trucks (Butch's son) and keyboardist Rob Baracco (Phil Lesh, The Dead, and Dead & Company).

Of the 53 songs performed over September 24, 25 and 26, "Dreams" is the only song repeated, and each features a different guitar solo by Derek Trucks, Warren Haynes and Jack Pearson. Highlights include a monumental, blistering "Mountain Jam" from the first night, with a reprise toward the end of the show featuring Pearson; covers of the Band's "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" and "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright," with Susan Tedeschi on the second night; and a harrowing run at "In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed" with Rob Baracco during the third and final show. There really are no duds on The Fox Box, and anyone who is blessed enough to receive one as a gift should get down on their knees and thank the heavens above.

 

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Simple Dreams

Linda Ronstadt

Over the course of her 40-year singing career, Linda Ronstadt's albums landed on the charts dozens of times, but 1977's Simple Dreams took the number one spot for five consecutive weeks and became her must successful record, surpassing her previous hit album, Heart Like A Wheel. The record included RIAA platinum-certified single "Blue Bayou," a country rock interpretation of a Roy Orbison song; "It's So Easy," which was originally covered by Buddy Holly; and Warren Zevon's "Poor Poor Pitiful Me." And then it got nominated for all these Grammy Awards, including Record of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Performance/Female for "Blue Bayou," and won its art director, Kosh, a Grammy Award for Best Album Cover.

Simple Dreams has received a new coat of paint in celebration of its 40th Anniversary, featuring a newly remastered version, plus live songs taken from a 1980 concert performance. Who could forget Ronstadt's stab at the Rolling Stones' "Tumbling Dice." She and Dolly Parton also covered "I Never Will Marry," a Top 10 hit on the Country charts. In addition to the remastering, the Expanded Edition has live recordings of "It's So Easy," "Poor Poor Pitiful Me," and "Blue Bayou" from an HBO concert. It certainly ranks as a favorite of manager Peter Asher, who says in the liner notes that Ronstadt's voice "affects me like no one else's." For anyone curious about the singer and her rocking past, Simple Dreams is the record to own.

 

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A New Career In A New Town
(1977-1982)

David Bowie

The box set series featuring David Bowie's albums began before the singer passed away in 2016 with Five Years (1969-1973), released in 2015. It was followed by Who Can I Be Now? (1974-1976), which dropped nine months after Bowie died. Released a year later, the third installment, A New Career in a New Town (1977-1982), collects albums from the Thin White Duke's most eclectic period, including The Berlin Trilogy. In addition to remastered versions of Low, "Heroes", Stage, Lodger, and Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps), The 11-CD box, 13-piece vinyl set features bonus tracks, a 128-page book and Re:Call 3, a compilation of singles, non-album singles and b-sides, and soundtracks songs.

At this point in his career, Bowie had already tackled folk, glam rock, and dance music, so with Low, he veered toward a more electronic and avant-garde approach, while his image softened and became more cosmopolitan. "Heroes", with its catchy title track featuring Robert Fripp's rigid guitar line, was another album inspired by German bands like Kraftwerk and Neu!. The included "Heroes" EP boasts four variations of the song — the German album version, the German single version, the French album version and the French single version. Two editions of the live Stage album — the original and a 2017 take with additional songs — capture the singer at three different U.S. shows in 1978. There's also two editions of Lodger, the second of which is a new mix by Tony Visconti that received Bowie's blessing before he died. You'll never hear a better spin of "DJ."

Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps) is Bowie's first entry for the 1980s with a little more commercial sheen. Re:Call 3 may get the most air time with an extended version of "Beauty And The Beast," plus single versions of "Fashion," "Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps)" and "Under Pressure" with Queen. "A stirring 1979 stab at "Space Oddity" makes up for the rambling "Alabama Song." The five numbers from Bowie's Bertolt Brecht’s Baal EP find the singer gripped by dramatic classics to challenge his anamorphic palette of styles. The disc closes with the famous holiday medley of "Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy" that Bowie performed with Bing Crosby in 1977. Crosby died five weeks after the song was recorded.

 

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Songs From The Wood:
The Country Set

Jethro Tull

Jethro Tull's Songs From The Wood, their 10th studio album, was a rural, folksy affair that showed off the band's progressive interplay. With a theme revolving around folklore and countryside, it's regarded by many as Tull's last truly masterful record — although there are strong arguments on behalf of Heavy Horses, Stormwatch and Crest of A Knave. No matter which way you go, the 40th anniversary of Songs From The Wood warranted new Steven Wilson mixes, plus extra tracks, video and other goodies for a triple CD, double DVD box dubbed The Country Set.

Musically, Songs From The Wood is, "with kitchen prose, gutter rhymes and divers," doused in strings, keys and woodwinds — and it still rocks. The title track, with its infectious chorus, "Cup Of Wonder" and "Hunter Girl," all bloom rich and wild with Ian Anderson's flute work and Martin Barre's guitar angling for position. it's all flavoring for David Palmer and John Evan's bedrock of keyboard orchestration. Drummer Barriemore Barlow and bassist John Glascock, of course, keep the whole train running on time. When he isn't singing as well as he ever would or playing the flute, Anderson strums his acoustic or, as he does so well on "The Whistler," toots on a tin whistle.

Extras like the previously unreleased "Old Aces Die Hard," an epic in itself, and "Working John, Working Joe" could have turned the original Songs From The Wood into a double album, but were left off and stored in the vault for safekeeping. Unedited masters of "Songs From The Wood" and "Fire At Midnight" fluff up the instrumentation, while "Magic Bells" makes for a jazzier "Ring Out Solstice Bells" — perfect for the season. Two more CDs comprise live material from 1977, mixed by Jakko Jakszyk. Live video from the same year, plus high-definition and surround mixes of the original album complete a package that follows in the footsteps of previous Tull classics getting the grand and enhanced Steven Wilson Mix treatment.

Songs From The Wood: The Country Set is topped off with an 80-page booklet that goes deep into the album's inspiration, making and legacy, including track-by-track annotations by Ian Anderson. The pages are adorned with rare and unseen photographs, and the odd vintage advertisement. Songs From The Wood is the culmination of a rock, prog and folk-rock mix that signifies a unique sound and identity associated with Jethro Tull. Always a fan-favorite, it remains one of their most popular albums. For any Tull fan on your list, this speaks volumes about the care and love you would have to have for one lucky recipient.

 

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Leftoverture Live & Beyond

Kansas

I had the privilege of seeing Kansas twice in 2017. Celebrating yet another rock and roll 40th anniversary, the band's break-out album Leftoverture was played from top to bottom following selections from other key albums, including their latest The Prelude Implicit. From what I can tell, Leftoverture Live & Beyond is a document of the 2017 tour that found the band with a new outlook and a ripe history to share. For their first live album since 2009, Leftoverture Live & Beyond features 19 songs selected from 12 shows recorded during the 2017 Leftoverture 40th Anniversary Tour.

The first disc offers up hits like "Point Of Know Return" and "Dust In The Wind," with deeper tracks like "Icarus II" and "Journey From Mariabronn" and three songs — "Rhythm In The Spirti," "The Voyage Of Eight Eighteen," and "Section 60" — from The Prelude Implicit. The second CD contains all of Leftoverture performed in its entirety. Singer Ronnie Pratt is more than capable of singing the classic Kansas songs with all the nuances and passion of Steve Walsh.. The singer and the other new recruits — keyboardist Dave Manion and guitarist Aak Rizvi — suitably fill the roles of Walsh and guitarist Kerry Livgren by revisiting the whole album with reverence and clarity.

Leftoverture Live & Beyond is produced by Jeff Glixman, whose vision has guided the bulk of the Kansas catalog. By the sound and look of it, the band — rounded out by original drummer Phil Ehart and guitarist Rich Williams, with longtime bassist Billy Greer and in-then-out-but-now-back-for the long-run violinist David Ragsdale — is just getting down to business. Another album, backed by plenty of touring, looks likely as they continue to remind everyone to "carry on." Grab one of these for the Wheathead in your family, and your fate is sealed.

 

~ Shawn Perry

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