SF* Roots of Our Nature and Slideways
Roy Rogers & Norton Buffalo
Slide guitar wizard and Raitt collaborator Roy Rogers has been no slouch lately either, putting out two releases in 2002. Roots of Our Nature has him teamed again with monster harp player Norton Buffalo for their first album together in 10 years, and their chemistry has fermented into a high-octane roadhouse cocktail of blistering harmonica and steel string riffs. Slideways, Roy's first instrumental record, is a rollicking, searing set of crunchy yet sweet grooves, many of them propelled by Meters drummer Zigaboo Modeliste.
SF* El Cielo
Los Gatos outfit Dredg is poised to break out with its major-label debut on Interscope Records. Impossible to pigeonhole, El Cielo is at once psychedelic, atmospheric, and melodic. There's a hard-rock guitar sound, but tight instead of sloppy, overpowering drums. Their Depeche Mode-ish harmonic vocals are a welcome respite from your typical Live 105 screamers. Dredg's sound is all over the map, but the journey is the fun part, and getting lost is preferable.
SF* Blood Moneyand Alice
Two albums were growled out this year by Sonoma's carnival-macabre drum major Tom Waits. His grunting vocals, swirling and honking instruments, and darkly nostalgic lyrics assemble a dreamy freak-show on a bleak and echoing landscape. Alice was written 10 years ago as an accompaniment to an opera about Lewis Carroll and explores the real-life obsession the looking-glass girl inspired. "I like my songs to sound as though they've been aging in a barrel and distressed," says Waits in describing Blood Money. In style, it's a stagger sideways toward the sound of 1985's Rain Dogs.
Independent label Concord Records finally outgrew its East Bay headquarters and moved to L.A. this year, where it continues its rapid expansion as a major player in the jazz, pop, and Latin music worlds with a catalog that now tops over 1,000 releases. Some of this year's tastiest offerings include Poncho Sanchez's two-CD Ultimate Latin Dance Party (the title says it all), Keely Smith Swings Basie-style With Strings, and a posthumous retrospective of prolific bassman Ray Brown's contributions to the label, entitled The Best of the Concord Years (1974-1992).
New comedy albums this year include Yippie muckraker and former San Franciscan Paul Krassner's Irony Lives!, which dares to take on our post-9/11 national mindset. Rykodisc has given us two performances from the late Bill Hicks' vault, LoveLaughterAndTruth and Flying Saucer Tour Vol.1, promising more releases in the future. Stoner icon-in-the-making Jim Breuer has put out Smoke and Breu, a raucous sampling of his unsubtle humor.
Two different seasonal releases include Time-Life's A Peaceful Christmas, which could be the perfect, calming wind-down disc after a hectic holiday, and Ryko's The Golden Dreydl: A Klezmer "Nutcracker" for Chanukah, by Ellen Kushner and Shirim Klezmer Orchestra, which puts a new spin on the ballet classic.
Due to widely varying tastes and sensibilities, it's difficult to buy fiction for other people. In doing so, it is somewhat implicit that you're responsible for the recipient's time spent reading it, and 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 gift book, which can be picked up and enjoyed whenever and by whomever. Stick to light reads and art books like the photography titles recommended here, and try to support your local bookstores.
SF* California the Beautiful
Berkeley resident and prolific nature photographer Galen Rowell was the big dog of landscape, with many books and national exhibitions, as well as countless spreads in magazines like National Geographic. As an expert mountaineer, he was able to access vistas other wanna-be rock-and-tree shooters could not. He was a modern-day Ansel Adams, but in vivid, saturated color. As the first publication of his work following his tragic death this year in an airplane crash, California the Beautiful is a stunning tribute to his home state. Alongside the images are quotes and poetry from California writers like Maya Angelou, John Muir, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Mark Twain. Local publisher Via Books also publishes Rowell's wall calendars and appointment books.
SF* San Francisco: City By the Bay
This perpetually-in-print photo appreciation of the City by Morton Beebe was first published 17 years ago and has just undergone its third revision, which includes aerial shots of PacBell Park and a chapter on the excavation of the buried ship General Harrisonat Clay and Battery. Throughout the book, romanticized pictures of SF are accompanied with essays from such local luminaries as Herb Caen and Barnaby Conrad. A great gift for grandparents or that East Coaster who doesn't understand why you moved here.
Both of these beautiful books imbue a deep sense of time and place. The first is a record of the past through vintage street photography, the latter an architectural requiem of an island's heady history. Though just published this year, The Italiansproject was created in the early '60s as part of a series that began with the seminal Robert Frank book The Americans, but it never saw print. Moore's book shows modern neighborhood scenes and the peeling, crumbling interiors of recycled mansions, a glimpse of the faded opulence of pre-Revolutionary Cuba.