*The Jam: Graham Central Station Anthology
The pluck and thump baseline that drove 60's funk higher came out of Oakland via Larry Graham while onstage with Sly and the Family Stone. By the time he left the band in 1972, his influence could be heard all over the funkadelic landscape. The Jam is a 33-song retrospective of his post-Sly work with Graham Central Station and some solo stuff. The band was a kind of gospel/ soul/ funk concoction that seemed to want nothing to do with the sexual revolution, judging by the common theme of commitment, but that wanted to get down on the dance floor nonetheless. Can a band be wholesome and badass? They come close.
Can You Dig It? The 70s Soul Experience
The best packaging of the year award goes to this six-disc, 136-song collection of soul classics disguised as a case of 8-track tapes. A full 65 of the selections were #1 on the R&B and/or pop charts, making this a dazzling display of licensing. It reminds us that the soundtrack for the blaxploitation 70's was soul, not disco. Also reflected in the music are black power, women's lib, and castrati-falsetto-chic. Survivors like Isaac Hayes and Tower of Power are sandwiched between other masters and a slew of one-hit wonders. These discs are great for drivin,' dancin', or makin' sweet love.
*Blind Pig Records 25th Anniversary Collection
For a quarter of a century, Blind Pig has been releasing some of the most authentic, honest, contemporary blues music in the country out of their Bernal Heights HQ. But don't think down-and-out blues; think barroom blues, hot-lick blues, and hip-hop blues. Two CDs chronicle an impressive array of performers, from big-time bluesmen like Muddy Waters and Albert Collins, to local luminaries like Tommy Castro and Norton Buffalo, who have shared stages with the best. Disc 3 is a CD-ROM of videos and interviews of Blind Pig alumni such as B.B.King and Popa Chubby. For the complete roster, visit www.blindpigrecords.com.
Fail-safe gifts for music snobs who find fault with everything would be Poncho Sanchez's Latin Spirits, or The Very Best of Cubanismo. Let them try to find something wrong with this passionate, soulful, superb musicianship.
Two new CD's that will work wonders on the young hipster who wants only the latest are Afro Celt Sound System Volume 3: Further In Time and Ozomotli's powerful Embrace the Chaos.
Other new releases for the urban set are Bullfrog, a Montreal hip-hop outfit including Kid Koala, a fun and funky record reminiscent of The Pharcyde and MC 900Ft Jesus, and The Coup's Party Music, an insanely indignant and contemptuous anti-capitalist manifesto wrapped up in brilliant rhymes and flawless production from this Oakland collective.
Is that a jukebox in your pocket or just a little hard drive? Apple's iPod is both, actually. This groovy gizmo is the size of a pack of smokes and holds up to 1000 mp3 files. Designed as a companion to Apple's simple-to-use iTunes application, synchronization is automatic upon plug-in, and an entire CD can be downloaded in about 10 seconds via the firewire port. The 5-gig hard drive can also be used to transport and transfer non-music files. If James Bond ripped albums, he'd carry one of these.
Due to widely varying tastes and sensibilities, it can be problematic to buy fiction for other people. In doing so, it is somewhat implicit that your are responsible for the recipient's time spent reading it, in that if they think the book blows, they'll blame you for the wasted nights and Muni rides. Long fiction is also a gift that creates resentment if they plow through it just because you may ask them how they liked the ending. This doesn't apply to the proper gift book, which can be picked up and enjoyed whenever and by whomever, or, in the case of fiction can be read in an evening or two. The best advice is to stick with visual arts and light reads, and of course to support the bookstores in your neighborhood.
One of the thoughts that come to mind when flipping through Atget's beautiful monograph on Paris (1857-1927), is to thank God he did this. Without his efforts, many of the scenes he photographed would be gone from the human record; as it is, the romance of turn-of-the-century France is both preserved and perpetuated by the totality of his work. Atget reveals the lavish to the low-down in a comprehensive study of the culture: a lobster stand, a newspaper kiosk, bakeries, carnivals, a wine merchant's shop, clothiers, parks, buggies, sculpture, alleyways, staircases, castles, interiors, and his famous Parisian store windows. There are rarely people in his photographs, but you feel you really understand those who lived there through the streets they walked. Thankfully, the shots of Montmartre and the Moulin Rouge are free from Christina Aguilera and Lil' Kim. And don't look for Pink, either; this is all in glorious black-and-white.
San Franciscan Jim Marshall is considered by his peers to be the greatest photographer of musicians. His is a genius of mixing talent, timing, and Tri-X to create images that become definitive of the subject. Hendrix's flaming guitar, the Allman Brothers at the Fillmore East, Johnny Cash at Folsom, and Janis Joplin with her Southern Comfort bottle--you know these images even if you don't know the man who took them. A few years ago he published Not Fade Away, a collection of his rock music images that views like a celebration and a memorial roster at the same time. Marshall captures the exuberance of the early days of 60's rock, but time and circumstance have put in a somber undertone, with all the casualties preserved in their prime. Not Fade Away is also available in paperback, and Jim has collaborated with two other photographers, Barry Feinstein and Daniel Kramer to produce an intimate book of photographs and anecdotes entitled Early Dylan, which focuses on the mid-sixties era.