The Way We Were
Preplayed (i.e., used) CDs can make a great gift. Big Star Books and Music (329 Garfield St., 820-7827), in the space previously occupied by Blue Moon, has a huge selection of unusual and fascinating discs, from Mahler to Monk. Stock also includes brand-new record company cutouts, still shrink-wrapped, $1 and up.
Burn 'Em Up
Medleys of current songs and obscure gems of all genres bearing your personal stamp, tailored to the tastes of your gift recipient, are a few clicks away at any of the Internet music distribution services, such as iTunes, Yahoo Music or eMusic (www.itunes.com, www.music.yahoo.com, www.emusic.com). Everything from Cecil Taylor to Beyoncé is instantly accessible. Download it, burn it, make your own jewel case insert and present the 21st century equivalent of the mix tape. Individual downloads will run you anywhere from 49 to 99 cents.
Beck's new CD, The Information ($17.99 list price), is full of catchy hooks, quirky lyrics, offbeat humor and some serious servings of funk. Crafted in collaboration with Nigel Godrich (who also worked as producer with Beck on 2002's Sea Change), The Information is largely a meditation on the ways technology interferes with human interaction…using a ton of technology.
JJ Cale and Eric Clapton teamed up for the buzz-drenched The Road to Escondido ($18.98 list price). Guest musicians on this brand-new release include Taj Mahal, John Mayer, Albert Lee and Steve Jordan. Cale is a reclusive sort, whose songs (recorded by everyone from Johnny Cash to Widespread Panic) are more well known than he is. The two "guitar legends" co-produced this effort, which is getting raves weeks in advance of its release.
Just the Two of Us
Tony Bennett forges forward in a career spanning five decades, this time with Duets: An American Classic ($18.98 list price). Partnering with the likes of Bono, Elvis Costello, the Dixie Chicks, Elton John, Diana Krall, kd lang, Paul McCartney and James Taylor, Bennett caps his recent re-emergence into the limelight in this collection of standards and classic songs.
Take a Spin
Collectible vinyl makes a great gift for hardcore fans who seem to have everything by a particular band or artist. Audio Synergy (2107 Cerrillos Road, 424-9309) offers a variety of out-of-print and hard-to-find LPs, ranging from Mr. Spock's Music from Outer Space to an original mono pressing of The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Rare items range from roughly $35 to $250 and up.
Angst and Ivories
A whole other side of angst is represented by the new Tori Amos box set, A Piano: The Collection ($74.98 list price), the actual box for which is a 3-D model of a piano keyboard. With five CDs and more than 80 tracks, the set includes several previously unreleased alternate takes and remixes.
The only independent local music store selling new CDs, vinyl and more, Candyman (851 St. Michael's Drive, 983-9309) has recently undergone a sea change of sorts (check out the "sex and drugs" book collection, for example). We asked, "What's the hot new box set that makes a perfect gift?" expecting maybe opera or the complete Mozart. The recommendation: A Life Less Lived: The Gothic Box. This critically acclaimed collection features everything from Throbbing Gristle to Dead Can Dance (as well as obscure bands such as Virgin Prunes and Christian Death). The set includes three CDs and a DVD, as well as a lavish booklet, all wrapped in sexy faux leather for $64.99.
Another extravagant box set is Robert Plant's new Nine Lives ($99.98 list price), with nine CDs and a one-hour DVD documentary as well as a wealth of other doodads and Plant memorabilia. Everything Plant recorded in the studio post-Zeppelin is included. The box makes a perfect gift for someone who had no idea Plant recorded anything post-Zeppelin.
Despite passing away 15 years ago, Miles Davis' releases continue to be big news. The most recent is The Complete Cellar Door Sessions 1970 ($110 list price), a groundbreaking six-CD package in which one can hear Davis' rock/funk/soul/experimental conception unfold over the course of a single legendary gig. The best reason to give this box set is that 90 percent of the music was never released in any form, unlike other Davis boxes of recent years.