Take that Christmas cash to the record store

So did Santa bring you what you wanted this year? Did he skimp on the music side, or give you a gift certificate to a record store that you’re not quite sure how to spend? The following are some good bets to spend your Christmas cash on.

 

Lauren Christy
Breed
(Mercury)


A couple years back, Lauren Christy turned up with a lush, adult contemporary debut which received high marks in this column. This year, Christy came back with a reinvented sound that’s more in keeping with the times. With a touch of Alanis, a tad of Meredith Brooks, and a still-savvy sense for catchy melodies and harmonies, Breed is one of the best albums released in 1997, and another radio overlooked gem. "Breed" turned up earlier this year on the Batman and Robin Soundtrack and its buzzing guitars and lyrics that wrestle with the very essence of femininity, makes Brooks’ "Bitch" sound shallow. Christy’s lyrics deal with a woman’s "coming of age" and are at times amusing (in "Magazine" she sings of women’s love of gossip mags "magazine, stuck to my hand/the boys don’t ever get it but the girls all understand") while in "Boomerang Bang" she deals with the cold truth of a purely physical one-night stand. Sharp, contemporary and sometimes sexy, Lauren Christy’s Breed is an alternative pop treasure.

 

Del Amitri
Some Other Sucker's Parade
(A&M)


Scotland’s Del Amitri is one of the most overlooked bands in pop. Consistently churning out hooky, hoppy pop rock with chewable guitar riffs and oh-so-sad "done me wrong" lyrics, they’re, in some ways, the Gin Blossoms from across the ocean. Some Other Sucker’s Parade has at least six sure-fire radio hits on it, but I’ve yet to hear one on the radio since the disc was released this summer. The leadoff song, "Not Where It’s At" is one of the best singles of the year, and sits easily next to the band’s 1995 hit "Roll To Me" as one of singer Justin Currie’s best creations. If you like warm, harmonic guitar-based pop, and enjoyed the band’s other hits, "Always the Last to Know" and "Kiss This Thing Goodbye," you’ll enjoy this album.

Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab’s Original Master Recordings:

Put simply, Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs takes great albums and makes them better. For years, the MFSL imprint has been going back to record companies, getting the original masters of popular discs and then remastering them to sound cleaner, crisper and fuller. Before CDs came into vogue, MFSL made a name for itself by putting albums on high quality vinyl and using better equipment than the regular mass-producing record companies. (They still produce vinyl audiophile recordings as well). With the advent of the compact disc, MFSL began creating CDs of higher quality, using actual gold to embed the sonic signals in (gold holds the digital information better and with more range than the standard aluminum). The latest CD releases by MFSL are all great albums which have been tweaked and touched up for higher sonic performance than the standard issue. If you love any of these albums, you should own the MFSL versions.

 

Moody Blues
Long Distance Voyager


Cheap Trick
Live at Budokan


Steppenwolf
Steppenwolf
½


Long Distance Voyager is an album that everyone should own. Arguably the most cohesive album ever assembled by The Moody Blues, it has seminal pop hits ("The Voice" and "Gemini Dream"), a trademark Moody song-poem ("Reflective Smile"), the last hint of the Moody’s progressive rock leanings ("22,000 Days," "Veteran Cosmic Rocker") and a couple of tightly strummed Justin Hayward-crooned ballads ("In My World," "Meanwhile"). Long Distance Voyager always was a well-recorded, seamless whole and MFSL has sharpened the sonic outlines just enough to make everything feel a little brighter.

Cheap Trick’s At Budokan disc is, of course, one of the most popular live albums of all time. It spawned two live hits – "Ain’t That A Shame" and "I Want You To Want Me" – and ultimately captured the band at the height of its power pop form.

It has never been the best of live recordings; Robin Zander’s vocals are often echo-drenched and the Trick’s penchant for tinny distortion and the inclusion of the screaming Budokan fans throughout the tapestry of the disc make for a high-end fest for your speaker tweeters. But at the same time, At Budokan does capture the energy of a late ‘70s Cheap Trick show, and MFSL has brought out some of the drum slaps tighter and walked the fine line of sharpening the sound without adding to the occasionally shrill nature of its unavoidably heavy high end.

The beauty of recordings from the late ‘60s is that, since a lot of effects and overdubs weren’t used, the albums sound like the band is practicing in your living room.

Steppenwolf’s first album sounds spontaneous, its blues rock guitar riffs sometimes less than perfect, John Kay’s vocals right there in the center of your room. MFSL’s remastering has helped define the keys, guitars and drums, and brightened up the whole show just a bit. This was the album that launched Steppenwolf’s career with the single "Born To Be Wild," and includes some of the band’s best album tracks, "Take What You Need," "Everybody’s Next One" and "The Ostrich." It’s refreshing to hear it spiffed up and blasted out of the speakers again.