Retailers love the smell of desperation on Christmas Eve morning. It smells like victory.
They won’t get a whiff of you this year, though, because you followed our previous advice and got all your hunting and gathering done before Yuletide. Or will you be undetectable in the marketplace because you’re safe and sound indoors at the last minute, buying music for your nearest and dearest over the World Wide Interwebs?
Yes, this close to Dirty Santa, your first inclination is to grab the keyboard and start tapping like Savion Glover, because no matter how finicky folks may be about clothing, jewelry and Tiki torch lamps, everybody likes some kind of music. All you have to do is figure out what kind.
It was so much easier when radio told us everything to like. Now, there’s no screen on the intake valve, and we are obliged to use our own critical faculties in a quixotic effort to sort out what sounds good, let alone what sounds great, from ever-larger waves of releases crashing upon our sonic shores. Or wherever else you pick up your music these days.
At one time, it would have been a relatively simple matter to knock out a best-of list for the year in music, because there weren’t that many albums to choose among, there weren’t many genres to obfuscate our national preferences and I had fewer qualms about imposing my taste on people. A conscientious critic of the present day must confess that he hasn’t had time or opportunity to listen to every good thing that’s out there, because there are literally thousands of CDs and downloads from 2013 that merit a listen.
So I’ll do what I ordinarily do when someone asks for advice on what makes a good musical gift for Christmas: wing it.
If you’ve got old folks on your list, you’re in luck, because, though they may like music, they almost never buy it anymore, so you’ve an excellent chance of hitting a bulls-eye. There’s a recent Bob Dylan collection, Another New Morning, dating back to when he crooned instead of croaking, and his 40 year-old recordings sound good as new. Sir Geezer Paul McCartney, by comparison, has stayed pretty much on pitch throughout the decades, so his latest release, New, may actually sound old to a fan. Boomers might like the current boxed collection of 1974-era Eric Clapton, but why not take a chance and give ‘em this year’s studio efforts by Elton John (The Diving Board) or David Bowie (The Next Day)?
Should they like country music, resist the urge to buy the latest from Alan Jackson or George Strait and instead jump on Bakersfield, a Vince Gill tribute to Buck Owens and Merle Haggard, or To All The Girls…, in which Willie Nelson sings duets with lots of ladies and sounds as though he’s paying attention for a change.
Speaking of ladies, 2013 was a banner year for the distaff. There’s buzz aplenty for Beyonce dropping a surprise CD at the end of the year, but don’t overlook M.I.A.’s Matangi, Mazzy Star’s Seasons of Your Day or Janelle Monae’s The Electric Lady. For sheer mood music, it was hard to beat Goldfrapp’s Tales of Us or Linda Thompson’s Won’t Be Long Now, and why Neko Case picked up only one Grammy nomination for The Worse Things Get… deserves further review by the referees.
About genteel ladies’ music: I know I should have been more agog about Katie Crutchfield’s Waxahatchee project and Cerulean Salt, but Maria Taylor can actually play her instrument, and her new CD, Something About Knowing, is better in every respect. Plus, Maria’s from Birmingham. Go ASFA!
Okay, guys put out some good records in 2013, too, none better than Jason Isbell’s Southeastern, songs from which compare favorably with those of Hank Williams, another Alabamian who knew something about detoxification, though perhaps not enough. Other fine albums issued by bearers of Y chromosomes might include Maggie and the Dandelion by those Avett Brothers; The Muse, by another set of brothers named Wood; Truth Serum by Garland Jeffreys and the second effort by Jake Bugg, Shangri La.
I wish I liked Yeezus by Kanye and Wise Up Ghost by Elvis Costello more. I am likewise lukewarm on Reflektor by Arcade Fire and anything on Random Access Memories that isn’t “Get Lucky.” Too, I liked Lorde’s version of “Royals” less than a sublime version laid down by the Florida State University Acabelles (see above).
But Phosphorescent’s Muchacho was excellent.
Perhaps all this helpful advice has you now inclined to skip software and go for hardware. In that case, I would direct your attention to a little guitar raffle our friends at Three Hots and a Cot, the veterans’ assistance organization, have put together for a seasonal fundraiser.
By “little,” I don’t mean the size of the guitar, which is a Washburn cutaway that can be played acoustically or through an amp, worth the price of your $100 raffle ticket all by itself.
What elevates this guitar’s intrinsic value is the handwriting upon it. Some gents you may have heard of — including Roger Daltrey, Jeff Baxter, Jack Bruce, Joe Walsh, Slash and a couple of blokes named Robert Plant and John Paul Jones — have autographed this guitar for the raffle, with all proceeds going to the continuing work of Three Hots and a Cot.
By “little,” I mean the size of the raffle itself, the limited number of tickets available for which improves your chances of doing some signature-bedecked strumming in the new year ahead. Get the details from the top swab himself by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org; he’ll be offering tickets through December 23, after which, presumably, the winning ticket will be drawn by a member of Santa Team Six.
Until next year, in the words of the festive carol, we wish you a merry Christmas, inna-gadda-da-vida.