Holiday Guide: Gifts of music jazz up the holiday season

It’s the gift-giving time of year again. In other words, you need to know what to give and, more importantly, what to ask for. CDs make a perfect gift – not too cheap, not too expensive and there’s variety.

This holiday season, there’s a ton of must-haves on the market that most music lovers would love to receive. In addition to all the favorable reviews you have read in The Hatchet this semester, here are a few other albums that won’t leave gift-receivers muttering bah humbug.

For people who crave a good dose of classic-rock artists, a few new albums will fit the bill. Clapton Chronicles (Reprise Records) features new and old tunes by the immortal crooner Eric Clapton. Blue Eyes Blue, a featured song in the Julia Roberts and Richard Gere movie Runaway Bride, opens the album. Change the World and My Father’s Eyes are more recent releases included in the album. However, Clapton’s classics fill a bunch of spots in the center of the album. Pretending, Bad Love and Layla take you back to a time when Clapton was less wrinkled and had more hair.

Genesis released its first greatest hits collection this fall. The band, led by Phil Collins, offers up the famous Invisible Touch, Tonight, Tonight, Tonight and Hold on My Heart for old-school fans of the band. Younger generations will remember songs such as I Can’t Dance, No Son of Mine and Jesus He Knows Me. Turn It on Again – The Hits (Atlantic Records) provides an entertaining overview of a 24-year span of the band’s history.

Wrapping up our list of gifts for someone wanting a artist with a few years under his belt is Sting. With his latest album, Brand New Day,/I> (A&M Records), you shouldn’t be expecting the old Gordon from The Police. It’s Sting with a modern twist. There’s a surreal feel to some of the songs on the album, but Sting pulls it off.

If you already know someone’s favorite artist, a great option is to buy him the artist’s live album (assuming the artist has a live album). Two of the best live albums of the fall come from two well-known female artists. Natalie Merchant and Alanis Morissette deserve rave reviews for their live efforts.

Merchant’s Live in Concert (Elektra Entertainment) is her performance in New York City June 13. The album includes hit songs from Ophelia such as Wonder and Carnival. Though Merchant adds a few new things to the songs during her live renditions, she does not alter the song so much that you can’t sing along with her.

Alanis Morissette MTV Unplugged (Maverick) features a mature Morissette. For listeners who see her as an angry female, the unplugged album will make you look again. The unplugged album features Morissette’s sweet, floating vocals. Well-known hits include You Learn, Head Over Feet, Uninvited and a bunch of others you’ll know. The album also includes three previously unreleased tracks, including The Police’s King of Pain.

The next category of albums comes from television shows. Everyone knows about movie soundtracks. But, there are TV soundtracks too. The follow-up to the 1995 Friends: Music from the TV Series is Friends Again (Reprise Records). None of the songs on the album have been released as singles, but you’ll know most of the artists, such as Smash Mouth, Semisonic, Robbie Williams and Lisa Loeb. The cute little snip-its from the show make the album even more enjoyable.

King of the Hill is the perfect soundtrack for country-music lovers. Though the album contains some pop artists, most of the songs have a twinge of twang to them. The Mavericks does its rendition of Down on the Corner and give it a nice country sound. Numerous big names add their talents to the soundtrack, including Faith Hill, Sheryl Crow and Willie Nelson.

One of the best releases of the year is a two-volume compilation of the most memorable musical performances on Saturday Night Live during the show’s 25 years. The live version of the great hits is an added bonus. You couldn’t make a better mix. Volume one contains classic and pop artists. Paul Simon starts things off with Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes. The unbelievable performances continue with Annie Lennox, James Taylor, the Grateful Dead, and then Randy Newman finishes things with I Love L.A. Volume two boasts alternative and rap music. From Nirvana to Dr. Dre, from Hole to TLC, the second disc is a strange brew of songs that blends together for an album that makes you want to dance.

As always, a plethora of artists have released new albums this year. Counting Crows returned to the limelight with its release of This Desert Life (Geffen Records). The disc is a bombardment of hit pop songs. If you’ve heard the first single, Hangin’ Around, you’ve heard enough to buy the album.

For swing dancers, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy’s This Beautiful Life (Interscope Records) is a perfect gift. The album provides an onslaught of tunes to swing to. If you don’t swing dance, you’ll be tempted to rush out and buy a pair of saddle shoes. An added bonus – the album includes Big Bad Voodoo Daddy’s hit I Wanna Be Like You.

This list of albums is just a starting point. Sarah McLachlan, Ani DiFranco, Stone Temple Pilots and 311 are just a few artists who have released new albums this year. The choices for musical gifts this season are numerous, and giving the gift of music is economical. For about $15, you can’t find an easier gift to give, or to get, this holiday season.

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