The trouble with buying CDs as Christmas gifts is, you don't know what the music fan already has.
So I'm going to make a gift list of CDs that have not gotten the attention they deserve. You know, like Charlie Brown's Christmas tree:
Ian McLagan is one of the great old British rockers. He was the keyboard player in the Small Faces, and the Faces with Rod Stewart, and later played with both Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones.
This year he released a knock-out of an album called "Never Say Never," full of alternately rowdy and poignant love songs for his wife Kim. What I did not know then was why Mac's love songs were so inspired: Kim died in a car accident two years ago. These wonderful celebrations of married love where written and sung by a new widower. It's a good reminder to all of us to treasure what we have while we have it.
If you want to celebrate family and friends over the holidays, you can't do better then "Rambling Boy" by Charlie Haden. Haden has been a towering figure in jazz for fifty years, but this album is a return to his childhood roots as a country singer with his parents' group. Charlie's own wife and children are all accomplished musicians, and on this remarkable CD they play and sing traditional country, gospel and bluegrass songs with emotional dedication, musical clarity and pure love.
Speaking of giants of jazz, Sonny Rollins has a new collection gathered from his concerts all over the world. Rollins is one of our great romantics, and there's plenty of romance on "Road Shows," but also the whimsy and exuberance that is always part of a Sonny Rollins concert. "Road Shows" is a surefire gift for anyone over the age of teenybopper.
The Hold Steady are a Brooklyn band who manage to combine the hold-onto-your-hat instrumental drive of the Clash with the locution, passion and eye-for-detail of the very early Springsteen and the barroom lyrical drama of the Replacements. Their latest album is called "Stay Positive."
The first time you hear it you'll say, "This is okay." The third time you'll say, "This is pretty good." The fifth time you'll say, "I love this band!"
What about those meditative moments sitting in front of the fireplace after the kids have finally gone to bed and you need a little break from the Christmas carols? Toumani Diabate is the master of the Kora, a kind of African cross between a harp and a sitar, and he has a beautiful new album called "The Mande Variations." After a tough day looking for a parking space at the mall, this album will bring you back to a spirit of peace on Earth.
It's been a tough year for a lot of people but this season always brings new hope. If you celebrate Christmas, I hope you have a great one. As that old holiday favorite Stephen Colbert sings, "There are much worse things to believe in."