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Music in frames 

Wrapping it up in DVDs

Shuffling through the batch of DVD releases from the past few months, here's our year-end wrap-up. The stack includes documentaries, an outlaw anthology, indie band reunions, multi-band tributes, a multi-national rock behemoth, the ramblings of William Burroughs and a gangsta mockumentary.

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The Harry Smith Project Live

Various Artists


Lou Reed, Beck, Richard Thompson, Nick Cave, Steve Earle, Elvis Costello and Philip Glass are among the performers in concerts held in London, New York and L.A. for a tribute to the late, great Harry Smith. Smith was a chronicler of early American folk and blues, and his anthologies are benchmarks of the genres. There are choice renditions of classic American music presented here, some of which was made famous by others in earlier eras. This Hal Willner project is essential viewing.

Extras: An excerpt from The Old, Weird Americas: Harry Smiths's Anthology of American Folk Music.

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Zoo TV -- Live from Sydney



The Irish rock quartet blew the roof off its arena rock stardom with the release of a couple of ground breaking albums in the early 90s. The back-to-back albums Achtung Baby and Zooropa may have left some fans scratching their heads, but they clearly marked the beginning of a new musical direction for U2. The ensuing tour for the two albums, the Zoo TV Tour, was a multimedia bulldozer. This release is the DVD version of the show filmed on Nov. 27, 1993, in Sydney, Australia, with the rockers performing such hits as "Numb," "Even Better than the Real Thing," "One" and "Bullet the Blue Sky," while stacks of screens blast out imagery coordinated with a blinding light show. The tour marked U2's move toward live shows accompanied by sensory overload.

Extras: The limited edition version contains some rare material.

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Nashville Rebel

Waylon Jennings


Jennings can rightfully claim the title of one of the original country outlaws that helped bring country music to the rock generation. Nashville Rebel is a collection of 20 tracks including television appearances, live concert footage, music videos and a couple of TV commercials. It's the accompanying DVD to the expansive 4-CD Box set of Jennings' recordings. Jennings' stage presence and the whiskey-soaked vocals were legendary, and although he never had the crossover success of his Highwaymen cohorts Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson, his music carries more weight on the influence tip.

Extras: None

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Before the Music Dies

Various Artists

(B Side)

The Roots' Questlove succinctly points out the sad truth that it is the only black band currently signed to a major label during an interview on this road trip documentary assembled by a couple of music fans. The duo went on a trek to document original music from the fan's viewpoint and wound up with some great interviews and vignettes on the dilemma of music becoming generic. They talk to fans, regional musicians, music writers and music industry folks who bemoan what the music industry has become, a generic blob of pre-packaged instant pop stars. A point well made in the film states that major labels don't nurture or develop artists like they did in the old days. If the Beatles, Pink Floyd or Aretha Franklin were getting started today, they wouldn't make it past their second recording before being dropped by their handlers.

Extras: Not needed. The commentaries from Erykah Badu, gospel singers, street musicians and others prove great music is still out there and will never die.

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Johnny Cash: In Ireland

Johnny Cash


Cash is shown here in a live 1993 concert in Dublin which featured appearances by Kris Kristofferson, June Carter Cash and the Carter Family. There aren't many camera angles or tricks, but there's no need as Cash and company roll through smashing performances of some of his hits as well as renderings of obscure Carter Family originals and a couple of Irish standards done Cash-style.

Extras: None

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Loud QUIET Loud

A film about the Pixies

(MVD Entertainment)

When the Pixies disbanded, it was a moderately successful band that proved to be enormously influential. Its take on acoustic guitar strumming tempered with feedback and alternately sung and howled vocals were truly original. This is a solid document of a camera-shy group of musicians who give access to their reunion tour through candid interviews, performances and rehearsals. It also follows what the band members have been doing in other projects since the break-up. Pixies' music was, well, loud, quiet, loud, where the chief songwriter and vocalist Black Francis and company made noise righteous. Long live the Pixies.

Extras: Commentaries from directors and bonus scenes.

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Destroy all Rational Thought

With William Burroughs

(MVD Visual)

This film contains one of the last interviews given by the notorious and influential writer William Burroughs. This is a documentary of a festival that took place in Dublin, Ireland, in the fall of 1992. The organizers celebrated the works of Burroughs and Brion Gysin and feature the music of the Master Musicians of Joujouka, Hamri the painter of Morocco, Terry Wilson, Ira Cohen and others. There's also previously unseen footage of Burroughs in his prime during the beat eras of 50s and 60s. The nasally-voiced rambler William S. Burroughs' hallucinatory lifestyle alone is worth viewing.

Extras: Bonus scenes, music by Islamic Diggers, and interview with the director and his vision for the work.

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Bad Brains: Live at CBGB 1982

Bad Brains

(MVD Visual)

One of the most intense shows I've ever seen in a quarter century of gigs was the Bad Brains live at the Milestone Club in Charlotte. The place exploded with the first note as the gathered punks, rastas, and onlookers started flying helter skelter. Never mind that the Bad Brains was antithetical to almost every black rock band that preceded it and have followed since; they played a fiery mix of reggae, dub and late-70s-early-80s punk. This DVD is a recording of a lo-fi hand-held camera, but the show is nonetheless fiercer. The quartet tore down the walls with its bombast and just as easily chilled with roots reggae and dub. For all who missed the Bad Brains version of a rock & roll show, this is the way it was.

Extras: Band interviews and an audio track of "I and I Survive."

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Not a Photograph

The Mission of Burma Story

(MVD Visual)

The Mission of Burma is another band that you never heard of that reunited after 19 years apart and rocked out on this DVD as if it'd never gone away. The legendary Boston trio was a group of rambunctious noisemakers influential to many who have followed. As the liner notes so rightly state, "they're the band who started the whole loud-quiet-loud buzzsaw pop thing that begat Husker Du, who begat the Pixies, who begat Nirvana." Interviews, backstage action, and the famously feisty Mission of Burma live performances galore.

Extras: Archival performances and interviews.

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Valley Fever: Green on Red, Live at the Rialto

Green on Red

(Brink Film)

Alas, how many killer bands have left behind volumes of great music heard by so few? Count Green on Red in that category and here it thankfully reunites, albeit reluctantly, in tribute to its late drummer. The show is no disappointment as Green on Red runs through its gloriously ragged Americana rock at this theater in Tucson. GoR helped evolve and members, including Dan Stuart, Chuck Prophet, Chris Cacavas and Jack Waterson, have continued to perform. This DVD is brought to you by the eclectic and forward-thinking Brink collective.

Extras: Archival material.

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Dreadheads: Portrait of a Subculture


Dreadheads documents the subgenre of dreadlocked Deadheads. Other dreadheads included here are Phisheads and various Caucasian music lovers who are not Rastafarians but have adopted the knotted hairstyle of Bob Marley and others. These dreadheads follow various bands and appear at music festivals and like-minded gatherings. The film is fast paced and sheds a light on this sub-culture within a sub-culture. Dreadheads is made with both lo-fi handheld cameras and crisp digital camera work. Bob Weir and other Grateful Dead affiliated folks give their take and commentary on the subject. There are tons of interviews with dreadheads from coast to coast.

Extras: None

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Jigga Jones

Learn to lie, cheat, and steal from a true gangsta

(Fall Through Entertainment)

About 20 minutes into this mockumentary of a gangsta making his rounds jacking cars and other niceties, the remote control automatically hit the stop button. This self-proclaimed winner of the "Best Documentary of South Central Film Festival" may have been funny in a 5-minute clip on You Tube, otherwise it's insufferably bad.

Extras: Didn't make it that far.

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