This is something of a grab bag. From time to time nice people at record companies, book publishers, and publicity firms will send me things to listen to, read, or watch. The problem is that I don’t always have time to write about these items, which in no way indicates that I didn’t enjoy them.
So here are a few things that I enjoyed this year. Any fan of good writing, music, and in one case comedy, would be happy to find any of these gifts under the tree with their name on it.
Bettye LaVette (With David Ritz) – A Woman Like Me (Blue Rider Press)
The great singer tells her life story. It’s a raw, emotional ride that takes her from some deep valleys to the peak of her profession. The most honest, courageous book I read all year.
Charlie Louvin (With Benjamin Whitmer) – Satan Is Real: The Ballad of the Louvin Brothers (Igniter)
Charlie tells the story of how he and his brother Ira set the country music world on with their close harmony singing. It’s Charlie’s portrayal of Ira’s hell raising that gives this tale real bite.
Kent Hartman – The Wrecking Crew: The Inside Story of Rock and Roll’s Best Kept Secret (Thomas Dunne Books)
That rarest of things; a book that leaves you wanting more. There is much more to the story that Hartman ably tells, but until someone writes a more comprehensive history of these LA studio stars, this will have to do.
RJ Smith – The One: The Life and Music of James Brown (Gotham)
A well-crafted, warts and all biography of Soul Brother #1, taking him from his cruel childhood to the top of the mountain and back down again.
Shelby Lynne – Revelation Road: Deluxe Edition (Everso Records)
Lynne’s most personal album expanded to include five bonus tracks, a live recording, a concert DVD, and a documentary DVD on the making of the original album. Great for fans, and for those who are not yet fans of the brilliant singer/songwriter.
Los Lobos – Kiko: 20th Anniversary Edition (Shout! Factory)
The East LA band’s classic album given a new remastering and expanded to include demos for the album’s songs, and live tracks. There are also new liner notes from LA journalist Luis Torres. Don’t miss this.
Mel Brooks – The Incredible Mel Brooks: An Irresistible Collection of Unhinged Comedy (Shout! Factory)
This is simply a must-have for fans of the great filmmaker and comedian. The box includes the Emmy-nominated Mel Brooks and Dick Cavett Together Again, vintage appearances by Brooks on the Tonight Show, 60 Minutes, and the American Comedy Awards, The Critic — an Oscar-winning animated short film, Mel and His Movies — a new five– part exploration of Brook’s film career, a 60-page book filled with essays, and much, much more.