Looking to rouse some hometown holiday cheer? Musiq Soulchild and Boyz II Men have your number with music releases this week on CD and DVD.
Plus, lots of other good musicians, perhaps not nearly as high on our collective radar screen, as say, Kanye West or Britney Spears, also deserve consideration for last-minute gifting and getting.
BRINGING IT ALL BACK HOME: Musiq Soulchild, the Philly-born but now "Dirty South" (Atlanta)-based nu-soul stylist, serves up two new treats that capitalize on his buffed, modernistic ear and multi-layered vocal technique.
His locally recorded, seven-track EP "A Philly Soul Christmas" (Atlantic, B+), available exclusively at Target, puts a lighthearted and ultra-personal touch on traditional faves that comes off really fresh. Even "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!" swings with a modern, urban feel, while "O Holy Night" has a reggae-groovin', "Funky Bethlehem" vibe that's Toots- sweet!
A lilting Jamaican groove (with help from Damian "Jr. Gong" Marley) also makes "iwannabe" one of the best tracks from Music Soulchild's new full-length "ONMYRADIO" (Atlantic, B+). Even more so here, with self-scribed tunes and runtogether song titles themed mostly on love, you can't help but be impressed by the guy's ability to do more with less - his own vocal layering and spare accompaniment.
To court the younger demo, Soulchild's bookended the most contemporary-sounding tracks - "backagain" and "radio." But listeners will be digging deep into the jazzy, King Pleasure-meets-Smokey Robinson vocal line on "deservumore," the Wonder-ful romantic testimony of "until" and his spunky give-'n'-take with Mary J. Blige on "ifuleave."
While spinning off their recent CD of Motown covers, Boyz II Men has kind of fudged the theme on their DVD video concert "Motown Live - A Journey Through Hitsville USA" (Decca, B), filmed at the House of Blues in Atlantic City.
They open with their old, connect-the-dots anthem "Motownphilly" and return at show's end to signature tunes like "End of the Road."
But the meat inside the sandwich includes juicy renderings of Motor City classics like "The Tracks of My Tears," "Mercy, Mercy Me" and "It's the Same Old Song/Reach Out, I'll Be There," delivered with vital lead vocals and backing harmonies so smooth they could pass for pre-recorded.
SHOULD OLD ACQUAINTANCES BE FORGOT: If you grew up in the '60s with Pixanne, the popular kiddie-show host on WCAU-TV, you'll get a charge out of hanging with her alter-ego, Jane Norman, for "A Perfect Christmas - A Winter of Love" (www.pixanne.com, B).
Norman has seasoned into a wise, lilting cabaret stylist and is ably enhanced here by the tasteful, jazz-tinged arrangements of Richard Rome on comfort-food standards like "My Favorite Things," "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year" and "Count Your Blessings."
TIPS OF THE HAT: Those dripping-in-irony, big-time Chicago rockers Fall Out Boy contrast the bitter (ultra-bleak lyrics) and the sweet (cheerily sung, pop-rocking tunes) on "Folie a Deux" (Island, B). Sounds like they've been listening some to Billy Joel and Elvis Costello - who guests on the track "What a Catch, Donnie." BTW, the title translates as "a madness shared by two."
Jeff Beck "Performing This Week
. . . Live at Ronnie Scott's" (Eagle, B) picks up steam halfway through when he lets his jammy, improvisational side out to play.
I know the Killers don't have the hippest image in rock. Still, the anthemic, chest-beating quality of tunes like "Human" on their new album "Day & Age" (Island, B+) sure gives me a joyous, Springsteen-like tingle.
Ahmet Ertugen got all the media attention. But his producing brother Nesuhi did yeoman's work building up the jazz catalog and legend of Atlantic Records.
Five discs of his treasures (with talents like Ray Charles, John Coltrane, Mose Allison and Les McCann) are gathered in the staggering "Hommage A Nesuhi" (Rhino Handmade, A).
Can't let the year end without giving a nod to three sleeper sets. On her new album, "Parplar" (Young Gods, A-), Larkin Grimm strikes as the most innovative and compelling (verging on the possessed) female singer/songwriter since Laura Nyro.
On the male side, Ray La Montagne ruminates like a young Cat Stevens on "Gossip in the Grains" (RCA, B+).
And jazz bassist Charlie Haden & Friends shock and awe with the revelations of his country-music roots, here working with his daughters on "Rambling Boy" (Decca, A-). It's likely to show up on many a best-of- the-year critic's list.
CHEAP VACATIONS: Can't afford a trip to Vegas? Two new, longform music videos can still take you there.
"Elton John The Red Piano" (Redline, B, exclusively at Best Buy) captures his Caesar's Palace production, a standout because of David LaChapelle's high-tech, wrap-around video-screen visuals, seguing from Vegas cityscapes to a sexy dance of seduction to a parade of past Eltons. (A video bit with Justin Timberlake disguised as a young, flamboyant E.J. is especially ripe.) Yours in both DVD and high-def Blu-Ray.
Fans of the Beatles and Cirque Du Soleil will get a kick out of "All Together Now," (Apple/Capitol, B+), a big-budget DVD documentary about the making of the utterly amazing "Love" extravaganza.
Anglophiles also might want to journey back to England circa 1977 for the video "The Who At Kilburn" (Image, B+). After splitting for more than a year, the guys got together for this "one-off" because the director of their documentary "The Kids Are Alright" needed new performance footage.
The night would be drummer extraordinaire Keith Moon's second-to-last time on stage with the other blokes, and it literally kills when he "jokes" at one point that he's going backstage to get wasted.