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DVDs

Taste-suited gifts: Presents of mind

Elvis lover in the house? Rocio Durcal fan? TV junkie? Here are some ideas for them.

December 23, 2006|Randy Lewis;Robert Lloyd; Agustin Gurza | Times Staff Writer

Running short on inspiration for gifts as the 11th hour of holiday shopping approaches? Consider these ideas for noteworthy DVDs that might have escaped your attention.

Pop Music

Pop music DVDs are as plentiful and varied as the far-reaching field they spring from. Here are several spotlighting fallen heroes, one showcasing a tragically underappreciated band and one celebrating an inspired transatlantic pairing.

"Hot as a Pistol, Keen as a Blade" (Hip-O, $19.98). Elvis Costello and celebrated New Orleans producer-songwriter Allen Toussaint collaborated on one of the year's most powerful albums, "The River in Reverse," much of which reflects on the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. This DVD captures two hours' worth of their joint concert tour from a performance in Montreal, recorded in 5.1 surround sound. In addition to performances of eight songs from the "River" album, the show included new arrangements of several of each artist's signature songs, among them Costello's "Watching the Detectives," "Alison" and "Clubland," and Toussaint's "Fortune Teller" and "A Certain Girl."

*

"Elvis: The Ed Sullivan Shows" (Image Entertainment, $29.99). Pop's other Elvis gets the same treatment in this three-disc set that Image gave the Fab Four in 2003, placing those historic performances in the cultural context of the day. These clips have been shown repeatedly, but when you see Elvis vibrating to the point where he seems on the verge of bursting at the seams in the same show with novelty acts such as Senor Wences and the Amin Brothers acrobatic duo, Presley's revolutionary appeal is all the more evident.

*

"New York Doll" (First Independent, $19.98). You won't find a more surprising or poignant rock documentary than director Greg Whiteley's portrait of Arthur "Killer" Kane, the bassist of one of rock's wildest bands, the New York Dolls. Picking up Kane's life trajectory after that notorious band blew apart in the 1970s, the film follows his completely unexpected conversion to Mormonism and his bittersweet reunion with his former bandmates earlier this decade.

*

"Crowded House: Farewell to the World" (EMI, $29.98). A two-disc set (due Jan. 16) captures the New Zealand band's final concert on its home turf in 1996, running through two dozen songs, among them some of the catchiest and most melodically fresh tunes since the heyday of the Beatles. A second disc includes a behind-the-scenes documentary as well as an Australian TV documentary looking at the motivations for the band's breakup. There's also some commentary from the band members on the 2005 suicide of drummer Paul Hester.

*

-- Randy Lewis

*

Latin Pop

"Cuban Pianists: The History of Latin Jazz" (EFORFILMS, $29.95). Cuba is the country with the most pianists per capita, as one observer blankly states in this informative two-disc documentary. With rare historical footage, the work traces what amounts to a dynasty of Cuban piano, from seminal figures such as Lily Martinez and Bebo Valdes to contemporary prodigies such as Gonzalo Rubalcaba and the phenomenal whiz kid, Aldo Lopez Gavilan. The hazy quality of the second disc doesn't obscure the brilliance of the 13 featured performances.

"Ricky Martin: MTV Unplugged" (Sony BMG $17.98). Forget the bon bon and the vida loca. This acoustic set filmed for MTV reveals a mature Martin surrounded by terrific musicians, many from his native Puerto Rico. He completely revamps pre-crossover hits such as "Maria" and "La Bomba," turning them into irresistible salsa numbers. But the real highlight is the new ballad "Tu Recuerdo," featuring a stirring duet with Mari, lead singer of Spain's Chambao, the marvelous flamenco chill band.

"Rocio Durcal: En Concierto Inolvidable" (BMG, $14.98). Since Spanish singer Durcal died earlier this year, it's well worth recalling why she was one of the greatest pop singers in the Spanish language. This concert was filmed in Mexico City in 2002, when Durcal returned to touring after battling cancer. But it could have been almost any show. She always performed at her best: passionate, elegant and moving. Includes a discography and filmed interview.

"!Maravilloso! Un Siglo del Tenor Continental Don Pedro Vargas" (Sony, $24.98). Vargas was Mexico's classy crooner, a tuxedoed throwback to a more genteel pop era. The rotund tenor had a voice as smooth and mellow as Bing Crosby's but with a dash of Pavarotti's power, as comfortable with an orchestra as with a mariachi. This DVD, released for what would have been his 100th birthday, features clips from his TV show from the '60s and '70s, with settings that now seem campy. A classic of a bygone era. The companion CD includes 22 more songs.

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