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This is the time of year when you sort through a mountain of gifts and decide what to exchange. Many of you may have received gift cards from Barnes & Noble, Best Buy, Media Play, etc..., or you may just be staring blankly at a lovely new Clay Aiken Christmas disc from Aunt Gussie. If so, consider this handful of recommendations for terrific 2004 releases which may have slipped under your radar:


Baby Snakes

For those of us who’ve suffered for years through worn VHS tapes of this long out-of-print Frank Zappa concert film, the fact the late composer’s estate has finally issued it on DVD is something of a holiday miracle. Better still is the deluxe remastering given this epic (almost 3-hour) film. The live material (from Halloween, 1977) finds original Mothers of Invention vocalist Roy Estrada and ringers like King Crimson guitarist Adrian Belew and a pre-Missing Persons Terry Bozzio. It’s as thrilling and absurd as ever. The ancillary footage of burnout stop-motion animation genius Bruce Bickford is the closest one can come to an acid trip without breaking the law – or so I’m told. An unsurpassable gift for the FZ fan, and damned near great for the uninitiated as well. (Eagle Rock)


Pixies - Live Reunion Shows

So you missed your chance to see the most talked-about reunion tour in the past decade? Maybe you caught a night by this supremely influential alt.rock quartet (“Here Comes Your Man,” “This Monkey’s Gone To Heaven”), and want a memento?

Well, the Pixies are selling soundboard recordings of most of their tour. It’s like a bootleg, only better: they’re professionally mixed, and the group get a cut of the dough.

The CDs sold out ages ago, but you can still get hi-fi downloads of 17 different shows (including both Atlanta dates) for only $12 each.

You can’t burn them onto CD-R, but folks with a modicum of computer savvy can probably get around this fairly easily. The rest can listen to our hearts’ content on a home or office computer – as I’ve been doing for weeks. (


Camper Van Beethoven -

New Roman Times

Speaking of reunions, the first legit studio album in 15 years by these quirky, art-rock icons is not the best thing they’ve ever done – but it’s heads and tails above most of what’s passed off as “intelligent alternative music” these days.

At times it sounds like a cross between CVB and its two offshoots, Cracker and The Monks of Doom. So, that means tongue-in-cheek lyrics that drift toward sentimentality, buttressed by world music flourishes, roots-rock twang and plenty of Pink Floyd allusions.

Sure the right wing-meets aliens “concept” behind the album is a crock, but who cares? CVB is back in a big way, and all is right with that particular corner of the world. (Vanguard)


Freaks and Geeks - Deluxe Limited Edition 8-Disc Set

True, you can easily pick up a 6-Disc set of this note-perfect cult TV ode to early ‘80s otherness (that NBC unceremoniously shitcanned, despite universal acclaim). But why bother, when you can order this expanded version with all that plus hours more bonus features? It’s all here: audition tapes; outtakes; multiple commentaries from cast and crew; production notes, etc... – all housed in a replica of a leather-bound high school yearbook.

This treasure trove of arcana is a virtual love letter from F & G creators Judd Apatow (The Larry Sanders Show) and Paul Feig (I Am David) to the diehard fans who lobbied for its release. Entertainment Weekly called this “the finest DVD treatment of the year,” and there’s still a few left online, but once they’re gone, they’re gone. (


Howard Tate - Rediscovered

There aren’t many legendary soul singers left on this earth, so when the long-lost king of them all (and funeral home magnate) Solomon Burke resurfaced in 2002 with the wonderful Don’t Give Up On Me, it started people pining for the return of other MIA ‘60s frontmen.

Now, at last, producer and songwriter Jerry Ragavoy has tracked down his old partner Tate, one of the most beloved - if remarkably unknown – vocalists from that time.

This Macon native was a huge influence on Jerry Wexler’s Aretha Franklin sides on Atlantic, and his comeback LP is mind-blowingly great. After vanishing in an early ‘70s drug haze and eventually joining the ministry, Tate is back to show the world how Northeastern soul was meant to be sung. Buy this CD and turn it up loud. (Private Music)