sounds of the not-exclusively-digital season

Used to be you could buy records in department stores, shopping malls and even in the occasional drug store or truck stop. That was around the same time record stores were somewhat plentiful, with the good ones operating as much as social epicenters for music communities as retail outlets.

Today, music shopping is usually done at one’s home or office by point-and-click. And that’s just for folks that choose to purchase and download music legally.

So, as we have in recent years when presenting our annual holiday music gift guide, we encourage you to explore the joy to shopping for music at an actual record store and purchasing gifts you can actually see, hold and wrap.

If you’re hopelessly devoted to digital, we understand. But we implore you to purchase the music honestly and legally. We can’t have recordings themselves going the way of the record stores.

And now, the big question: what music is worth plucking down your hard-earned cash for in the first place? For that, you have come to the right place. Here are 18 critic’s pick selections from fields of pop, rock, jazz, country, hip hop and more varying from $7 to just under $30. On, then, with the sounds of the season.

+ Brian Eno: Lux – Producer, instrumentalist and sonic stylist Eno retreats from recent pop experiments back to his atmospheric ambient sounds of the ‘70s and ‘80s. In other words, Lux is 75-plus minutes of peace and quiet.

+ Andrew Bird: Hands of Glory – A wonderful, stylistically far reaching dessert of a record with songs that touch on Ryan Adams-style Americana, old timey country and pop deconstructions full of stark, atmospheric color.

+ Led Zeppelin: Celebration Day – At last, the December 2007 reunion concert by one of rock’s most storied acts surfaces as a dynamic double CD/single DVD package. Even as a pack of pop elders, the Zep crew still sounds commanding.

+ Various artists: 10-in-20 – Subtitled A Lexington Recording Project, this is the culmination of nearly two years worth of local studio sessions. The results make for one of the best sounding and most gloriously diverse local music samplers ever.

+ Donald Fagen: Sunken Condos – The man from Steely Dan returns with a new solo recording full of enough sleek jazz/pop sophistication and sardonic storylines to make it indistinguishable from music made during his band’s glory years.

+ Neil Young and Crazy Horse: Psychedelic Pill – No surprises here, other than the fact that in an on-again, off-again alliance that has spanned well over 40 years, Neil Young and Crazy Horse still fashion lo-fi, post-grunge jams that fascinate.

+ Punch Brothers: Ahoy! – Call this one a stocking stuffer. The youthful and wildly industrious string music brigade offers twists on traditional tunes, assorted covers and more on a spry five-song EP that retails for about $7.

+ Tift Merritt: Traveling Alone – One of Americana music’s great songwriters, Traveling Alone is a statement that defines, alternately, confidence, defiance and vulnerability. Similarly, its music runs from lean acoustics to buoyant, rockish grooves.

+ The Rolling Stones: Grrrr! – The die-hard fans get two new tunes that are actually pretty decent. But at heart, Grrr! is just another greatest hits package to commemorate the Stones’ 50th anniversary. Still, it’s pretty hard to argue with the material.

+ Public Enemy: The Evil Empire of Everything – A companion disc of sorts to last summer’s Most of My Heroes Still Don’t Appear on No Stamp, Evil Empire solidifies the return of rap music’s most socially conscious forefathers.

+ Jamey Johnson: Living for a Song – A disciple of the country outlaw movement reveals a staunchly traditional streak on this sterling tribute to songsmith Hank Cochran. Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss, Merle Haggard and others serve as guests.

+ Branford Marsalis Quartet: Four MFs Playin’ Tunes – Jazz titan Marsalis reconvenes his longrunning quartet with new drummer Justin Faulkner and a set of predominantly original tunes both playful and rambunctious.

+ Preservation Hall Jazz Band: St. Peter and 57th St. – Speaking of 50th anniversaries, New Orleans’ Preservation Hall Jazz Band celebrated theirs at Carnegie Hall. St. Peter brings it home with help from Trombone Shorty, Jim James and others.

+ Manu Katche: Manu Katche – French drummer Katche has been the engine drummer for, among others, Peter Gabriel. But his recordings are studies in cool. This self-titled fourth CD for the ECM label reflects lustrous grooves of old school soul and subtle jazz.

+ Marillion: Sounds That Can’t Be Made – The ongoing evolution of Marillion from a prog unit into a band with a massive orchestral pop sound of its own drives Sounds. The opening suite Gaza, though, is proving to be unintentionally timely.

+ Frank Zappa: Make a Jazz Noise Here – Nearly the entire Zappa catalog – some 60-plus albums – were reissued in recent months. Jazz Noise was picked here for its retrospective/revisionist slant. But, really, any Zappa CD makes a killer gift.

+ John Cale: Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood – Ever the pop pioneer, this founding member of the Velvet Underground explores a thoroughly modern musical view on Nookie Wood with sounds that run from ambient to abstract.

+ Peter Gabriel: So – That the 26th anniversary of the career redefining So offers a new, remastered look at Gabriel’s most popular songs isn’t new. But packaging it with two discs of unreleased concert music from a 1987 stadium show in Athens sure is.



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