A refreshingly straightforward document of the band’s landmark 1969 Woodstock set, the record serves as a noteworthy addition to the rarefied pantheon of Live Albums That Emphatically Do Not Suck. Among the songs the Family Stone performed that August night in ’69 were “Sing a Simple Song”, “You Can Make It If You Try”, “Dance to the Music”, “Stand!” and, of course, “I Want to Take You Higher”. Noticeably, each title is either a command or else reminiscent of some ancient proverb. There’s a consistent spiritual element to the band’s central ethos; one that today’s more cynical audiences might consider played-out but regardless continues to be an inspirational force to upcoming musicians and open-minded listeners. As for Woodstock and its associated madness, music fans can and should make of it what they will. One thing’s for certain: While this particular concert-for-the-ages boasted performances both legendary and mind-altering, you sure as hell didn’t need LSD to get down with Sly & the Family Stone.
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Warp Records is celebrating 20 unique years in music as the industry’s best electronic music label with Warp20 (Chosen) and Warp20 (Recreated). (Chosen) has 10 songs by the record’s artists selected by voters on the Warp website including Jamie Lidell and Plaid. (Recreated) holds 14 tracks chosen by co-founder Steve Beckett rounding out the collection with tracks from Born Ruffians and Hudson Mohawke. If there is an electronic music fan on your list this year, this compilation is a no brainer. If you happen to know an electronic music dabbler, this set will make a solid gift of reference.
In the early 1990s, there was a glorious re-explosion of tuneful pop music, but it was pop music that came with an awareness that a healthy slice of edge can immunize a catchy song from seeming vapid. In simple terms, this meant that bands who loved the Beach Boys and the Beatles also loved the Velvet Underground and the Ramones. With a little bite added to the mix, these bands, largely working independently, were able to recapture the strength of great ‘60s pop. The Apples in Stereo were, and are, one of these bands. They emerged 18 years ago as part of the “Elephant 6 Recording Company”, along with Neutral Milk Hotel, the Olivia Tremor Control, and a few other bands constructed from a small group of pop-crazed friends. #1 Hits Explosion is a compilation of the best, catchiest, and most irresistible stuff from the Apples in Stereo; the cherry on top of the pop sundae—an infectious gift for the pop aficionado on your list.
In the song “Paint a Vulgar Picture”, Smiths singer Morrissey once sang: “Re-issue! Re-package! Re-package! / Re-evaluate the songs / Double-pack with a photograph / Extra Track (and a tacky badge).” This was his depiction of the garish and ghoulish treatment inflicted by record labels upon artists whose time has passed. Two decades later, and the Mozzer is re-packaging himself on The Sound of the Smiths. Well, he is getting a little help from Rhino Records and his former collaborator extraordinaire, guitar Johnny Marr. In their first act of cooperation since 1987, they selected the track listing. Going their separate ways once again, that droll wordsmith Morrissey provided the title (while brushing his teeth, one presumes), and the golden-eared Marr supervised the compilation’s mastering. The sound on all of the material is superb. Along with a welcome boost in volume, Marr’s mastering sparkles and yields much greater separation between the instruments. The extra and substitute tracks here are all perfectly chosen, as well. The standard version of The Sound of the Smiths takes over as the definitive single-disc sampling of the band. A few true rarities and a generally strong selection of album tracks and b-sides on disc two probably makes the deluxe edition worth the extra seven to ten bucks, too. Either way, one of the very best bands of the 1980s is brought to a new generation of listeners, and is wonderfully refurbished (and, yes, re-packaged) for established fans.
Columbia/Legacy commemorates the 40th anniversary of Janis Joplin’s appearance at the Woodstock Music & Arts Fair and her first solo album, I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama!, after departing from Big Brother and the Holding Company with a two-fer entitled Janis Joplin: The Woodstock Experience. The title connotes peace, love, and flowers and all those groovy things the fest was supposed to stand for as a cultural beacon. The reality of Janis at Woodstock was a much different experience. Joplin may not fit the Woodstock myth, as she and her music were always much more grounded in troubles than good times. But the reality of Joplin at the Woodstock Festival is more compelling than any fairy tale. And the album she released just a few months afterwards shows that she was still making excellent music. This set will make an insightful educational gift for anyone dabbling in the blues or music from the ‘60s.
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