Welcome to the home stretch of holiday shopping — white-knuckle time. As always, we want to make your life easier; the crop of goodies enumerated here should be especially helpful for the weirdos, eccentrics and "different drummer" types on your list (you know, the ones who aren't getting the new Jingle Cats DVD). So, without further ado, let's get to giftin'.
For the Glam Neophyte
Rhino brings glad tidings for glam-rock completists with four deluxe CD comps encompassing the brief but prolific career of Marc Bolan and T. Rex. Although Bolan's influence is readily apparent across the spectrum of pop music, having inspired everyone from superstars like David Bowie to alt-rockers Shudder to Think and Grant Lee Buffalo, only a few of his songs have entered the classic-rock canon.
The double-disc reissue of Bolan's seminal album The Slider is probably the best point of entry for fans who've already downloaded "Get It On (Bang a Gong)" (or own Rhino's previously reissued Electric Warrior) but are unfamiliar with the rest of the rocker's oeuvre. Boasting such catchy, off-kilter tunes as "Buick Mackane," "Telegram Sam," "Metal Guru" and the title track, it's a potent introduction to Bolan's seductive, playfully psychedelic minimalism.
It's some of Bolan's most polished, accomplished work, as well as a crucial bridge between first-wave glam and the arty side of punk.To explore this demimonde's shiny, bouncy contours still further, check out The T. Rex Wax Co. Singles: A's and B's 1972-77. This two-CD anthology includes "20th Century Boy," "Children of the Revolution," some key Slider tracks and an array of oddities, like his version of "To Know You Is to Love You (To Know Him Is to Love Him)." The "Deluxe Edition" reissue of Zinc Alloy and the Hidden Riders of Tomorrow is perhaps the most elaborate, offering the complete LP, five "extended play" tracks — notably "The Groover" and "Truck On (Tyke)" — and a bonus disc entitled The Alternate Zinc Alloy ("Change") with its own bonus tracks and a slate of acoustic demos. Finally, if your appetite for Bolan's enigmatic androgyny remains unslaked, plunge into his last official work, 1977's Dandy in the Underworld. With standouts like the anthemic title track, the sexed-up "Crimson Moon," the cello-rocking "Visions of Domino," the choogling, mythological "Teen Riot Structure" and the funky "Groove a Little," it's some of Bolan's most polished, accomplished work, as well as a crucial bridge between first-wave glam and the arty side of punk. The disc includes a complete alternate version of the album (titled Prince of Players) and several extended-play and bonus tracks. Get it, and get it on.
For the Jazz Head
This one's a no-brainer. The 1957 Carnegie Hall concert by the Thelonious Monk Quartet featuring John Coltrane is one of those legendary performances, a night of miraculous musical chemistry that had presumably vanished into the ether. But the gig was recorded, and only this year were the tapes discovered (as a virtually unlabeled lot in the Voice of America archive). Blue Note wasted no time in presenting Thelonious Monk Quartet With John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall, which boasts stunning, virtuosic and poignant renditions of "Monk's Mood," "Evidence," "Crepuscule with Nellie," "Epistrophy," "Blue Monk" and more. The sound quality is gorgeous, and Monk and Trane — ably assisted by bassist Ahmed Abdul-Malik and drummer Shadow Wilson — betray a telepathy that until now has been the stuff of myth. Blue Note has also been kind enough to offer an online audio/video preview player so you can hear and see what all the fuss is about before you buy.
For the Singer-Songwriter
Why does something have to be new to be recommended? Anyone who digs intimate, meaningful music with a groove will embrace Bill Withers Live at Carnegie Hall, a 1973 release that's been on CD for years but still isn't widely known. Accompanying himself on acoustic guitar and backed by a superb ensemble, Withers roused a 1972 audience shell-shocked by a spate of recent assassinations, an ongoing war and other horrors, and the energy of revived hope is tangible. Starting with a version of "Use Me" that runs over eight minutes and earns an explosive ovation, Withers never lets up; "Ain't No Sunshine," "Grandma's Hands," "Lean on Me" and lesser-known but equally compassionate and engaging offerings serve as a primer for telling stories in song. Is it the best live album ever made? Hard to say, but live doesn't get much more alive.
For the Classic-Movie Aficionado
With Peter Jackson's expensive, CGI-cluttered remake of King Kong looming over the holiday season, now is an excellent time to revisit the 1933 original, which inspired Jackson (the director of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the superb Heavenly Creatures and, of course,
Why is the original Kong such an iconic work?the audacious gagfests Dead Alive and Meet the Feebles) to make movies in the first place. Why is the original Kong such an iconic work? The hypnotic, envelope-pushing brilliance of Willis O'Brien's stop-motion animation undoubtedly gave the big ape his soul (it didn't just inspire Jackson — stop-motion visionary Ray Harryhausen also cites the film as his talisman). The story itself, however, is surprisingly fleet and piquant. There are pungent (and often putrid) distillations of racial mythology that still present themselves in popular culture. But most of all, as the film relentlessly, almost irritatingly, reminds us, there's the story of Beauty and the Beast. It's still dazzling and deeply moving — and was any climax in any flim as stunningly, vertiginously realized as the finale atop the Empire State Building? The digitally revitalized edition on the new DVD positively sparkles, and restored passages such as Kong peeling off Fay Wray's clothes like a banana skin and then sniffing his fingers (in what is arguably the dirtiest cinematic moment of the decade) are revelatory. The bonus disc features an incredible menu of documentaries, including features on O'Brien's effects wizardry, test footage and Jackson's clever (and authentic-looking) black-and-white reconstruction of the lost spider-pit sequence, which was cut from the film. Some say it was left out because it was too grisly for audiences, though the filmmakers claim it was excised for length. Jackson's own Kong, naturally, includes a suitably hairy, full-color confrontation with a giant arachnid.
For the Cult-Movie Freak
Mondo Macabro DVD specializes in reissues of truly strange, often gory, generally mind-boggling films from around the world. Most are low-budget genre exercises filled with acts of perversion that would move a portion of the general public to recite the Lord's Prayer — and make others giggle while reloading the bong. Some, like the "midget secret agent movie" For Your Height Only or the Euro-sadistic Girl Slaves of Morgana Le Fay, are fairly self-explanatory.
Most are low-budget genre exercises filled with acts of perversion that would move a portion of the general public to recite the Lord's Prayer.But among MM's releases I recently discovered a favorite from my adolescence. Made by Italians, filmed in Holland and apparently set in Belgium, the 1960 horror flick Mill of the Stone Women is hardly as extreme as Mondo titles like the Argentine vampire outing Blood of the Virgins or Jess Franco's psychotronic go-go gorefest The Diabolical Dr. Z, but it has its eerie moments, some memorable visuals and a truly haunting musical motif. An elusive madman who lives inside a windmill needs the blood of young girls to preserve the life of his daughter, and uses, um, organic materials to create his statues of historical femmes fatales. (NOTE: Fully half of Mondo's titles concern elusive madmen requiring the blood of young females for some reason or another.) The haunting carousel theme and lurid, dreamlike imagery (suggesting German expressionism crossed with Vermeer and a seeming influence on the non sequitur nightmares of David Lynch) are its strong suits. On the other hand, the dubbing is atrocious, the pacing sluggish and the premise beyond preposterous — but if you've read this far, those won't be obstacles for you or your cult-loving friends.