By Tom Reardon, December 2020 issue.
Oh, dear, music loving friends, it is that time of year again. Perhaps you want the perfect album to share with a fellow fan of rock and roll or just something strange and weird to get some conversation going during your annual gift exchange. For years, I only gave music or books as presents to the people in my life because I wanted them to expand their minds a bit and what better way to do that than to put a little beauty in your brain?
It’s hard, though, to find the perfect record. I heartily recommend perusing discogs.com if you’re into buying online. You can see reviews of the sellers very easily and find just about anything you are looking for, and most often, way more versions of a record than you knew existed. If you want to shop local in the Phoenix area, I recommend Zia Records (multiple locations), The Record Room (North Phoenix), and the Ghost of Eastside Records (Tempe) as excellent places to dig for vinyl and CD gold.
I’ve got three selections, though, right here that are just what you need, so let’s see what should be in your bag this year if you are giving music as a gift or asking Santa for a Christmas miracle.
Chet Baker — Chet Baker Sings
As far as cool gifts go, this one should be at near the top of any list. There is something for everyone on this gem. Chet Baker Sings is the perfect background music for any cocktail party, romantic times, or just to show that you have impeccable taste. Not only is the musicianship on the record incredible, but for a record that was originally released in 1954, it sounds amazing. Russ Freeman’s delightfully played piano darts in an out of Baker’s trumpet playing on tracks like “That Old Feeling” which kicks off the record and “I’ve Never Been In Love Before” in a way that can only warm the cockles of any heart. Baker’s vocals are also pretty damn perfect on this record. Slow and smooth like an 18-year-old scotch, give this one and you will get a kiss, for sure.
Mahalia Jackson — Gospels, Spirituals & Hymns, Vol. 2
If you don’t tear up listening to the “Summertime/Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child” mash-up, then you might still be on a hangover from a certain presidency that will remain nameless. It is one of the most beautiful things ever recorded and is just one of the awesome tracks on this amazing record. First put on in 1992, Gospels, Spirituals & Hymns Vol. 2 is one of those records that may not be your cup of tea, initially, but when a couple of weeks have passed by and you realize that you and the queen of gospel music have been enjoying each other’s company for a fortnight you will realize that you’ve converted. Praise be and “I Just Couldn’t Keep It To Myself.” Give the gift of gospel this year and you will be commended.
Brainiac — Bonsai Superstar
Switching gears, a bit, Brainiac’s classic Bonsai Superstar is a perfect, if not pricey, gift for your discerning fan of beautifully noisy indie punk. Not easy to find and the price tag might offend you, but the record will definitely not. 1994 was a good year for wild music, but song for song and pound for pound this is the best American record of that class. When “Hot Metal Dobermans” kicks off the record, the little hairs on the back of you neck will stand at attention and the person receiving this gift will probably need to be resuscitated out of shock. There is a vinyl reissue that came out a few years ago on Grass Records that can be found for around $80 on discogs.com, but you need to act fast if you want to have it in time for the holiday season. Give the gift of Brainiac and the holiday blues may never come back.