Christmas ideas abound in your local music shop
If you're like me, you haven't even started Christmas shopping yet (I know, I know – some of you were done by Halloween. Don't rub it in.) Naturally my inclination at the holidays is to "give the gift of music." There are lots of greatest hits and box sets (as always) this year. Some have been covered in this column over recent weeks. This past month, Columbia Records also has released Prelude: The Best of Charlotte Church covering the 16-year-old singer's four albums to date, as well as a Greatest Hits from Will Smith. The movie-star rapper has apparently erased his original billing as "The Fresh Prince" from his vocabulary – Smith's hits disc includes the early singles from DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince "Parents Just Don't Understand," "Girls Ain't Nothing But Trouble," and "Summertime," without any attribution to that act, right alongside later solo Smith hits like "Men In Black, "Getting' Jiggy Wit It," "Freakin' It" and "Wild Wild West."
Columbia also offers a new Barbra Streisand collection of Duets including her Neil Diamond classic "You Don't Bring Me Flowers" and smash with Barry Gibb, "Guilty" as well as a new collaboration with Barry Manilow, "I Won't Be The One To Let Go."
Robin Williams fans can now listen to his standup comedy from his recent tour on a two-disc Live 2002 set on Columbia. And Eric Clapton offers fans a two-disc live recording of his 2001 tour on One More Car, One More Rider on Reprise. The selections span his recording career, from "Bell Bottom Blues" and "Layla" to Cocaine" to Wonderful Tonight," "Tears in Heaven," and "Reptile."
There are also a number of great new albums to suit every taste on your Christmas list. Some recommendations (also continued next week):
Leann Rimes may have started out as a precocious country singer, but her latest disc, Twisted Angel, on Curb Records, opens with a danceable hand grenade to the realm of Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. "Life Goes On" is a bubblegum confection that's wonderfully catchy. She goes on to thinly cover urban funk and soul in "Wound Up" and "Trouble with Goodbye" and then offers a couple of big ballads later in the album. Rimes is pushing her musical envelope to connect with the pop charts – and people her own age. ½)
While his peers have fallen from the charts and faded from memory, Bon Jovi somehow continues to peddle his mix of stadium hard rock and heartland blue collar anthems with great success – months ahead of time, he has already sold out a March 1 show at the United Center in Chicago. Bon Jovi's latest release, Bounce, on Island will please longtime fans and anyone who remembers the hair-metal days of the late '80s with fondness. Jon Bon Jovi's vocals are still glam-rock gritty, while Richie Sambora's guitars still crunch loud and hard. There are the requisite headbanging anthems, paired with slower ballads that show off Bon Jovi's Springsteen sensibilities. One of his most "serious" productions, "Joey" opens with a piano as the singer spins a character portrait about a couple friends "locked in" to the old neighborhood and looking for those "blackbird wings" to take them to a better life. He sings about "running all the lights" in both "Misunderstood" and "Right Side of Wrong" and cranks up the distortion on "Hook Me Up" for a refreshing blast of metal past. ( ½).
Boston fans will probably want to own the band's latest studio album (only their fifth release in their 25-plus year history!). Corporate America, on the independent Artemis label, is the band's first studio album since 1994's Walk On, but started out as a project called Downer's Revenge. The title track was released by this "unknown" band on the Internet and instantly hit the MP3.com charts. Ultimately, the CD was released under the name Boston, but the original "Downer's Revenge" moniker hints at the problems with this disc. It starts out strong with a classic Boston-sounding anthem, "I Had A Good Time." That's followed by the mellow harmony-rich "Stare Out Your Window" and then the title track, which moves on an electronic-sounding rhythm bed reminiscent of "Higher Power" (from their Greatest Hits) and hits all of Boston's pro-environmental and anti-corporate greed themes, rolling them into a chugging warcry. From here, though, Corporate America begins to break down thanks to the addition of new personnel and expansion of songwriting duties. The fourth track is a mediocre country-sounding acoustic guitar track sung by new band member Kimberley Dahme (a girl singing Boston songs?) that's totally out of place here. The next track, "Someone," sounds more like the Boston we know and love, but isn't particularly memorable.This is undoubtedly Boston's worst album, but it has its saving moments. ( ½)
Soundtracks and side projects aside, Up, on Geffen, is the first regular studio album release from Peter Gabriel in a decade, and finds the always innovative singer in an even more experimental mode than his last couple of albums. Up defies its name to provide brooding, electronic rhythm beds and melancholy atmospheres. Despite its moodiness, it includes "Growing Up," a throbbing dance-mix ready number that covers life from birth to death, and the CD's single, "The Barry Williams Show," a funky, deceptively poppy dig at over-the-top talk shows. There's also the somber, vaguely Beatles-esque "My Head Sounds Like That." Fans of Gabriel and classic Genesis will welcome this wonderfully layered cinematic tapestry of sound. ( ).