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The holidays offer various opportunities to purchase pleasurable things for people you don't really know, including Secret Santa recipients, clients, new family members, and sometimes old family members. Music seems like a good idea, until you try to match your current tastes across an age gap. Giving your in-laws a home-burned CD of your latest Icelandic-celt-hop- trancepop playlist will not endear you to them, and you can forget about being the cool uncle if you offer commercial cheese to your teenage nephew. For reviews of indie and other local albums, visit www.

The relatively mainstream selections below offer a maximum chance of success in your giving endeavors.


Good new box sets are becoming fewer and further between, as most artists worthy of one have already released it. Consequently, some of these have been out for a while. Nonetheless, they offer an opportunity to experience an artist or genre in depth and with chronological accuracy.

Jazz: The Story of America's Music

Ken Burns

With five CDs and almost 100 tracks, this is one of the most ambitious jazz anthologies ever produced, primarily thanks to the cross-label cooperation that enabled some artists to appear together in a single package for the first time. Its scope covers mostly the '20s to the late '60s, with a few cuts from more current decades thrown in to show evolution. Virtually all the greats are represented, including Coltrane, Armstrong, Miles, Ellington, Vaughan, Holiday, Parker, and Rollins. It could be the most influential gift yet for some young adult showing an aptitude for music.

The Genius of the Electric Guitar

Charlie Christian

Hailed as "the first master of the electric guitar," Charlie Christian is one of music's least-known and most influential innovators. Columbia/Legacy has created a comprehensive four-CD box set encompassing his brief career with Benny Goodman's Quartet and Orchestra (1939-41) before his early death of tuberculosis at age 25. His is a big-band swing style and a precursor to bebop, leading as well as complementing the other instruments -- far removed from modern searing cock-rock solos. Nonetheless, the booklet is littered with testimonials from guitar demigods such as Jimmie Vaughan, Joe Satriani, and Warren Haynes.

The Legendary Sun Records Story

No single label in the history of music has had more influence on rock 'n' roll than Sun Records of Memphis, Tennessee. In the '50s, it was the crossroads where black rhythm and blues was assimilated by Southern hillbilly music and spawned a few careers you might have heard of: Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, and Elvis Presley. This three-disc compilation is a no-frills set that presents 60 tracks from these originators and many others. At $14 from Tower, it's a colossal value of historic interest.

Original Jacket Collection

Leonard Bernstein, Vladimir Horowitz, Igor Stravinsky, or Glenn Gould

Classical enthusiasts tend to be purists, and don't necessarily enjoy their favorite music being butchered for best-of collections or other anthologies. It's buyer beware when the uninformed go gift hunting for these fans. Sony Classical has solved this dilemma with novel box sets that re-create 10 single-artist vintage albums on CDs that are miniature replicas of the vinyl records in both packaging and content, except that they're all digitally remastered. Even if an obsessive has all the original LPs, now he/she can have them for the car.

Cat Stevens

There's something timely and poignant about giving someone a Cat Stevens collection right now. After his conversion to Islam, taking the name Yusef Islam, he denounced his music for a while, but he's apparently come to recognize its value again. This four-disc career retrospective, profits of which go to charities including the 9/11 fund, gives us all the opportunity to re-experience the message of Peace Train.

Like, Omigod! The 80's Pop Culture Box

Rhino Records shows off its anthology mastery once again, this time tackling the decade of checkered Vans, Rubik's Cubes, and skinny ties. The seven-CD, 142-track collection is all hits and doesn't discriminate against any pop sub-genre. There's soul, rock, TV theme songs, novelty tunes, and of course New Wave. It's a plethora of one-hit wonders, comeback songs, and anthems that make you alternately dance and cringe. This kind of box set is great, but begs to be edited on your computer and burned into a best-of sampler.

The Grace EPs

Jeff Buckley

Available on November 26th is a collection of remastered CDs of five previously hard-to-find import EPs that were originally released in 1994-1996 only overseas. As one of the '90s' most tragic cases of a taken-too-soon performer, Buckley was a precursor to today's fashionable slew of male singer-songwriters. Alive, he was the critics' darling. Dead, he's taken on something of a mythic status, and you could make the Christmas morning of your family black sheep by putting this under the tree.


SF* Silver Lining

Bonnie Raitt

Our North Bay blues contingent has been busy this year. Bonnie Raitt released Silver Lining, her 16th album, and right from the start you can hear that something's changed. The wounded and done-wrong lover has taken a back seat to a funkier, stronger, sexier woman. This album makes a clear shift toward a New Orleans sound with the addition of keyboardist Jon Cleary and does a great job in capturing more of what a live Raitt show is like. It has also been scientifically proven that moms love Bonnie.

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