Have you noticed friends and family members spending an inordinate amount of time over at your CD rack of late, perusing your collection, only to walk away with nothing in their hands for the player? When you inquire what exactly it is they're looking for, do they nervously issue an evasive or oblique response such as "What? I wasn't looking at anything," or "Oh, nothing. I just couldn't seem to find any Kenny G."?
Let me clue you in, pal. Somebody has you down on his or her Christmas list as "music lover." And so, with your secret Santa in mind, The Inlander presents our annual CD Gift Guide, a mere smattering of some of the season's current -- and presumably noteworthy -- releases. Whether your tastes run in a rock vein, with a classical crowd or under a jazz moon, there is music here to soothe your savage beasts and those of even the most persnickety aural connoisseur. It's hip. It's now. It's giftable tunage.
The Strokes: This Is It (BMG) The best band in the world or the biggest hustle since the Bay City Rollers? Now that the hype surrounding this young New York City band has settled out a tad, it's easier to truly assess their worth. Yes, it's tempting to dismiss a group rising so fast from the birthplace of the Television and the Velvet Underground with a singer that looks like Tom Verlaine and sounds like Lou Reed (and debuting on a major label, no less.) But the fact remains, contrived or not, the songs here are engaging and exciting -- fresh kill on the altar of rock 'n' roll. Buy it for someone you love and then spend endless hours together (with the rest of the freaking rock world) deconstructing it. --M.C.
Death Cab for Cutie: Photo Album (Barsuk) One of the freshest, most satisfying slabs of Northwest rock to come along since well, the last DCFC album. Here's what reviewer Miranda Hale said in a recent issue of The Inlander: "The Photo Album combines Death Cab For Cutie's characteristic ethereal and emotionally intense lyrics and vocals, with an intense yet concealed feeling of progress and fiercely dazzling determination. Many of these songs are akin to open wounds; the lyrics, however, move beyond mere bewailing of loss, anguish, frustration, and disappointment, to a sense of precarious self-assurance and a consciousness of art's role as a potent savior. Within these ten songs, nothing is escapable and the possibilities of love cannot be denied. The Photo Album delves into love and pain with equal abandon. Close your eyes, listen, and hold your breath. It's worth it." --M.C.
Lyle Lovett: Anthology Volume One: Cowboy Man (MCA Nashville) Question: How do you anthologize someone like Lovett whose repertoire is all over the map, spanning virtually every conceivable American popular music genre? Answer: With more than one anthology disc, naturally, each concentrating on a particular style within his multi-faceted cannon. And that's just what MCA Nashville is doing. Anthology Volume One: Cowboy Man collects Lovett's folk and cowboy songs from his early period including those that have become modern standards such as "If I Had a Boat", "San Antonio Girl" and "Cowboy Man." A terrific collection from one of the most innovative, consistently intriguing and slippery purveyors of what can only accurately be described as Musica Americana. --M.C.
Franz Schubert: Piano Quintet in A Major, Op. 114 ("The Trout")(Sony Classical) If you're fishing in classical streams for the first time, you can't go far wrong with "The Trout." And for those folks on your gift list who might appreciate some pointing towards serious music, Schubert's chamber piece is quite the catch. With enriched melody (part of Schubert's reaction against the 18th century, and what makes him Romantic), the Trout Quintet achieves intriguing complexity partly by blending piano and double bass (atypically) with the traditional string trio (violin, viola, cello). As successor to the Rudolf Serkin recording of the late '60s , this is a fresher fish, largely due to headliners Emanuel Ax (piano) and Yo-Yo Ma (cello). So ignore the trilingual liner notes; no need to be intimidated. Imagine relaxing -- sort of an Otis Redding, dock-of-the-bay thing -- only you're fishing an Alpine stream, and the little guy next to you has a German accent and mutton-chop sideburns. Don't throw this one back. --M.B.
Oscar Peterson Trio: Night Train (Verve) If you love baroque and early classical, then this is the jazz for you. The chief feature of baroque's musical texture was that of high melody lines supported by a basso continuo, and all the basic elements are here. Peterson manipulates the melody, with drummer Ed Thigpen providing a soft backbeat with the brushes. Bassist Ray Brown also keeps time, though sometimes coming to the forefront for flourishes. As more than one listener has commented, this is jazz for people who say they hate jazz or don't understand it. The title track, from Duke Ellington's "Happy-Go-Lucky Local," alternates between stabbing thrusts and a sauntering beat that evokes the life of the album's dedicatee, Peterson's father, a sleeping-car attendant on the Canadian Pacific Railway. Nearly all the tunes are right around three minutes, but on "Hymn to Freedom" -- the conclusion to the original 1962 LP -- Peterson achieves dignified pleading in an extended gospel vein. It's a righteous call to action in which Night Train begins to sound like Coltrane. --M.B.
John Coltrane: Spiritual (Impulse) Normally, avoid best-of albums: subjectivity and the profit motive can degrade their artistic intent. But this one has dual advantages: it's thematic, and it has genuine appeal for both jazz newbies and aficionados. Trane's journey from drug addict to spiritual seeker is well known; Spiritual provides an overview of the pilgrimage, drawn from a variety of his works. Naturally, some of A Love Supreme (1964) is here -- Part 1, "Acknowledgment" -- but even longtime disciples may be surprised by the first track ("Welcome") from Kulu Se Mama, recorded just six months later. Everything here is a Coltrane original, and most of the cuts feature his classic quartet of the early-to-middle '60s: McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass and Elvin Jones on drums. With Trane's wailing tenor as a call to worship, any fan should jump at the chance to join this jazz hejira. --M.B.
BOXED SETS -- Emerson String Quartet: The Haydn Project selected string quartets by Franz Josef Haydn (Uni/Deutsche Grammophon) The Emerson foursome present their first all-Haydn effort. It's evident that artists and composer share a sense of inventive playfulness. The Emersonians rotate as lead violinist; Papa liked his little games, too. For example, Op. 33, no. 2, known as "The Joke" -- one of seven quartets played here -- has a finale in which the players come to a full stop, and then an extended full stop, and then another -- all in an attempt to trick the audience into premature clapping. While the C major "Erdody" quartet (Op. 76, no. 3) does not appear in this collection, it provides more evidence that Haydn is chuckling in his grave. Erdody no. 3, you see, is the basis of the German national anthem. Haydn was an Austrian. --M.B.
Creedence Clearwater Revival Boxed Set (Fantasy) You know it in your heart of hearts, so you might as well just stop struggling and admit it: Creedence Clearwater Revival was one of the best things to happen to late '60s radio. At a time when pop music was becoming overly commercialized, psychedelicized, wimpy, self-important or just plain crappy, John Fogerty and his poor boys set the industry on its ear with song after great song celebrating life's simple pleasures in irresistibly catchy, tuneful and soulful three-minute rockers. This box captures on six discs essentially everything the group recorded during its all-too-brief existence. With plenty of live stuff, early, pre-CCR tunes and a 72-page booklet with liner notes by Robert Christgau and Dave Marsh (among others), it's time to replace those moldering LPs I know you have hidden away. --M.C.