Best CDs of 2011: a holiday gift guide
by Richard Antone
Dec 15, 2011 | 2623 views | 0 0 comments | 54 54 recommendations | email to a friend | print

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Maybe you like itunes but have tuned out auto-tuned vocals. Maybe you’re not waiting for Grammy nominations to tell you what’s hip. In no particlular order, here are some albums, available in CD or as downloads, that make great gifts for any season.

Sing It Loud k.d. lang and the Siss Boom Bang (Nonesuch)

Once agains, k.d. lang makes it sound easy. With her warm, supple voice and a new band to collaborate with, she glides through these heavenly songs with grace. There’s a lovely cover of the Talking Heads’ “Heaven” and the originals are exquisite. It’s a solid, satisfying match of singer, songs and band. One of her best ever.

The Goat Rodeo Sessions-Yo-Yo Ma, Stuart Duncan, Edgar Meyer & Chris Thile (Sony Masterworks)

This is superstar cellist Yo-Yo Ma’s refreshing romp through folk and bluegrass hybrids with bassist Edgar Meyer, fiddler Chris Duncan (of Nickel Creek and the Punch Brothers) and mandolin player Chris Thile. These virtuosos travel to some exciting places. Vocalist/songwriter Aoife ‘O Donovan adds a plaintive touch to the songs “Here and Heaven” and “No One But You.”

Bootleg Volume III: Live Around The World-Johnny Cash (Columbia/Legacy)

This live album by The Man In Black captures his iconic bass voice and his moving, country, rockabilly, folk and gospel songs that still bring people together. Many vibrant unreleased live tracks include “I Walk The Line,” “Jackson” (with June Carter Cash) and classic covers like Peter LaFarge’s “The Ballad of Ira Hayes,” Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” and Kris Kristofferson’s “Sunday Morning Coming Down.”

A Nod To Bob 2-Various Artists (Red House)

The acoustic label’s second tribute to Dylan’s influence. Highlights include John Gorka’s version of “Just Like A Woman,” Eliza Gilkyson’s husky live “Jokerman” and Ray Bonneville’s bluesy cover of “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues.”

40 Acres And A Burro-Arturo ‘O Farrill/Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra (Zoho) Queens resident ‘O Farrill and the ALJO come out swinging and don’t let up. From Oscar Hernandez’ “Rumba Urbana” to Dizzy Gillespie’s “A Night In Tunisia” to his own composition “A Wise Latina,” ‘O Farrill and his band make energetic music with style. Check out Paquito D’ Rivera’s witty solo on “Um A Zero.”

Legacy-Gerald Wilson Orchestra (Mack Avenue)

The Detroit-based composer-arranger-orchestrator has a well earned title for this album. It’s an evocative collection of impressions of the Chicago jazz and blues scene, as well as several classical-inspired pieces. Contributions by his son Anthony and grandson make this a cool family affair.

Live At Town Hall-The Klezmatics (Klezmatics Disc)

New york’s most eclectic klezmer band, recorded in 2006 with many special guests, including Susan McKeowan and several former members. They gleefully mix original and traditional klezmer with songs by Holly Near and Woody Guthrie. Breathlessly exciting.

Mercury-Pieta Brown (Red House)

This acoustic singer-songwriter has released a quiet charmer. This is the kind of music that can get you through a long winter day. Open-hearted stunes, uncluttered arrangements and solid influences make for soothing listening. Mark Knoplfler has a quiet cameo on “So Many Miles.”

Pecados y Milagros-Lila Downs (Sony)

Bravura Mexican-born vocalist-songwriter Downs fearlessly mixes traditional Mexican sounds with eclectic Amercian sounds from jazz to blues and so much more. It’s a musical potpourri from an artist that never runs out of inspiration or ideas. A bold album that passionately demands to be heard.

The Complete Reprise Studio Recordings-Frank Sinatra/Count Basie (Concord)

This reissue pairs two classic albums, perfect showcases for Sinatra’s jazz-influenced vocals and Basie’s razor-sharp musicians. “(Love Is) The Tender Trap” and “I Won’t Dance” (from1962’s Sinatra-Basie-A Historic Musical First) really swing with Neal Hefti’s brisk, urbane arrangements.

Then there’s “Fly Me To The Moon (In Other Words),” “The Best Is Yet To Come” and ‘I Believe In You” from 1964’s It Might As Well Be Swing. They soar with Quincy Jones’ sparkling, tailor-made arrangements.
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