When the Sun Goes Down, Vol. 7: Rock Me Mamma
Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup
Bluebird's series of blues collections is subtitled The Secret History of Rock & Roll, a savvy marketing ploy to hook the history-nerd set of the "rock" audience -- works for us. One of the latest volumes presents a little-known figure outside the realm of most blues historians: Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup, whose rhythmic, loose-limbed, proto-rockin' uptempo blues lit a fire under an American icon-to-be. Crudup was a source of considerable inspiration for the young Elvis Presley in Tupelo (along with Dean Martin -- that's another story), who went on to cover several Crudup songs. Elvis' version of his "That's All Right Mama" (from the Sun Records years) is a luminous rock 'n' roll touchstone -- Elvis taught the world, but Arthur taught Elvis.
Though the heat surrounding other members of the Elephant 6 musical collective/record label (comprised of members from lo-fi bands like Neutral Milk Hotel, Olivia Tremor Control, and Apples in Stereo) has cooled off somewhat, the sextet of Bay Area gentlemen known as Beulah puts out one sublime disk after another. Beulah's fourth album, Yoko, the 2003 follow-up to 2001's The Coast Is Never Clear, abandons Coast's sun-drenched, Beach Boys-esque orchestral pop for lush songs from a darker region of the heart. Local scuttlebutt has it that four members of the band cut ties with wives and girlfriends during the album's creation; perhaps that's why the moody lyrics trace a path from heartbreak to loneliness to righteous anger and back again.
Room on Fire
Much to the surprise of fans who thought the Strokes' sly retakes on classic art rock riffs signaled the second coming of relatively obscure critics' darlings like Television and the New York Dolls, 2001's Is This It went gold within a year of its release. Was America experiencing some kind of garage rock revolution? asked a trend-hungry press. As it turned out, hell no; records from mainstream outfits like Nelly and 50 Cent sold exponentially more copies than any of the garage rockers, and the Strokes' big breakthrough was simply a fluke. A delicious, sing-along, fabulous fluke. The band delivers more of the same with Room on Fire, a record so similar to Is This It that it might as well have been part of a double album. No matter; it's still music to our ears.
It seemed a little callous of American to announce the release of a just-in-time-for-Christmas memorial package before the Man in Black was even cold in the ground. But according to label mastermind Rick Ruben, he and Cash started compiling the box set before Johnny kicked the bucket. Four of the five CDs are never-before-heard recordings, including an unreleased spiritual record, My Mother's Hymn Book, and heaps of covers from the late American Recordings era. The 104-page hardcover book (!) contains Cash's commentary on each song and rare photos from his estate. And even the set's low points (like the slightly comic rendition of Bob Marley's "Redemption Song" as a duet with Clash vocalist Joe Strummer) will surely be cherished by Cash's devoted minions.
Footsteps in the Fog
Alfred Hitchcock treasured Northern California enough to make his home in Santa Cruz and to shoot Vertigo (his most personal film) and bits and pieces of several other classics all around the Bay Area. ("It was fog and rain and then sunshine," said Hitch's production designer, Robert Boyle. "A moody, strange area ... it intrigued him.") This book, by Jeff Kraft and Aaron Leventhal, employs the same Hitchcockian fascination and obsession in examining Sir Alfred's local ties. A wealth of stills and contemporary photographs details the exact Bay Area locations Hitchcock employed in his tales of suspense, from Grace Cathedral to a Fairmont Hotel parapet, and the text yields many a little-known nugget (Hitch ostensibly invented the mimosa over brunch at Jack's). Essential gifting for the local movie filbert.
Patricia Unterman's San Francisco Food Lover's Guide, Third Edition
There's more to the Culinary Capital of the West than cafes and restaurants, which is why the Food Lover's Guide is such an indispensable gift for any serious local nosher. Each chapter focuses on a different San Francisco neighborhood or Bay Area region, offering recommendations for the best local bars, bakeries, soda fountains, delicatessens, produce markets, butchers, fishmongers, and cookware stores -- as well as good places to go for a sit-down meal. The brand-new edition, published by Ten Speed Press, is thoroughly updated, reflecting the chronic vagaries of the food biz, and the neighborhood maps are easy to read. Bonus: the month-by-month table of seasonal produce at the front of the book, a handy reference when you're wending your way through the Alemany Farmers' Market.
New Biographical Dictionary of Film, Fourth Edition
Anyone coming upon this hefty slab of wood pulp might reasonably mistake it for a dense, dry reference work for the trivially inclined. But in his wide-ranging analyses of film figures past and present, San Francisco's David Thomson serves up the most challenging and elegantly parsed film writing since Pauline Kael. Each of the book's 1,300 entries is a polished and wonderfully opinionated gem, from Bette Davis ("a curdled cocktail, her lips ashine with greasepaint") to Paul Newman ("his smirking good looks always seemed more appropriate to glossy advertisements than to good movies") to Arnold Schwarzenegger ("how beautifully he coincides with, and climaxes, the movies' passion for mechanical men"). Three hundred new portraits have been written for this new edition, the first since 1994. A must for any movie lover.