Copyright ©2007 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

LIANE HANSEN, host:

A recurring quandary around the holiday season is what to get for the music lover on your shopping list? Fortunately, you've come to the right place.

WEEKEND EDITION's music director Ned Wharton drops down our chimney every December with his suggestions for the best discs of the year.

Ned's list for 2007 includes jazz, classical, world music and rock.

(Soundbite of song, "Traffic and Weather")

NED WHARTON: The New Jersey band Fountains of Wayne took the indie pop world by storm a few years with a racy song, "Stacy's Mom," and their solid CD "Welcome Interstate Managers." Maybe they were victims of their own success. The music media jumped all over, out of state plays of their collection of demos and leftovers released in 2005.

But by the time their new studio CD came out this year, critics were reluctant to generate buzz. It's a shame because their latest is as strong as anything they put out. It's called "Traffic and Weather."

(Soundbite of song, "Traffic and Weather")

Mr. CHRIS COLLINGWOOD (Lead Vocal, Fountain of Wayne): (Singing) 5:40, Channel Six news team. Breaking story about a get-rich-quick scheme. One anchor turns and faces the other. Says it's time and I made you my lover. Ooh. We belong together, like traffic and weather. Like traffic and weather.

WHARTON: Newscasters hitting on each other in the title track are typical of the vivid characters that populate the Fountains of Wayne song.

Here's a taste of another track.

(Soundbite of song, "New Reunion")

Mr. COLLINGWOOD: (Singing) Two men sit in a corner of a diner. Both of them look quite a bit like Carl Reiner.

WHARTON: Like modern-day Edward Hoppers, songwriters Adam Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood paint scenes of urban life that jump off the canvas, creating perfect pop miniatures.

(Soundbite of song, "New Reunion")

Mr. COLLINGWOOD: (Singing) The waitress picks it up with their half-eaten bagels. And when her shift is over she goes back to Mineola. Sits on the couch, opens up a diet Cola and says. I'm so, I'm so sick of this place. I'm so ready for a change of place. I'm just looking for a new routine. So she spins her globe and the next thing you know, she's living in Liechtenstein.

WHARTON: If you're shopping for music for the younger set or simply the young at heart, how about this title "Proof of Youth."

That's the name of this exuberant 2007 release from the Go! Team.

(Soundbite of song, "Doing It Right")

GO! TEAM (Band): (Singing) Do it, do it alright. Do it, do it alright.

WHARTON: The Go! Team mastermind, Ian Parton, was a documentary filmmaker. As a songwriter, he's obsessed with the idea of melody and catchiness, and boy, are these hooks catchy. It's a lo-fi affair layered with samples from tutorial films, found sounds, hip-hop beats and schoolyard shout-outs, but what could become chaos leads to loads of fun.

(Soundbite of song, "Doing It Right")

GO! TEAM: (Singing) (Unintelligible) But what we got to figure it out. And we are going to show you how. Do it, do it alright. Do it, do it alright.

WHARTON: That reminds me. Don't forget to start up on some party music as New Year's comes around. How about this for the mix from the Danish group Junior Senior and their CD, "Hey Hey My My, Yo Yo."

(Soundbite of song, "Take My Time")

JUNIOR SENIOR (Pop Duo): (Singing) I don't understand the way you take my hand.

WHARTON: The Danes have been partying to this music since 2005 when it was released abroad. But this year, Rayko picked it up to share the joy with us here in the States. The American release also includes a seven-song EP of unreleased materials.

(Soundbite of song, "Take My Time")

JUNIOR SENIOR: (Singing) Don't you know that you're taking your time to make up your mind. Don't you know that you're taking your time to make up your mind.

WHARTON: Definitely an '80s sound going on there. And if you want to go even more retro for your New Year's bash, how about this?

(Soundbite of song, "That Black Old Magic")

Mr. LOUIS PRIMA (Jazz Singer): (Singing) Old black magic has me in its spell.

Ms. KEELY SMITH (Jazz Singer): (Singing) Old black magic that you weave so well.

Mr. PRIMA: (Singing) Those icy fingers up and down my spine.

Ms. SMITH: (Singing) The same old witchcraft when your eyes meet mine.

WHARTON: They called her the queen of swing and the first lady of Las Vegas. Keely Smith is singing here with her husband, Louis Prima, on "The Essential Capitol Collection." They won a Grammy nearly 50 years ago for the song "That Old Black Old Magic."

(Soundbite of song, "That Black Old Magic")

Mr. PRIMA and Ms. SMITH: (Singing) In a spin, love the spin I'm in, under the old black magic called love. And the old black magic called love.

(Soundbite of song, "Feedback (Nitin Sawhney Remix)")

WHARTON: For the world music fan on your shopping list, check out Barcelona's Ojos de Brujos. Last year, they brought us "Techari," a fiery fusion of flamenco and hip-hop.

(Soundbite of song, "Feedback (Nitin Sawhney Remix)")

WHARTON: This year, the songs have been shaken and stirred for a set of "Techari" remixes.

(Soundbite of song, "Feedback (Nitin Sawhney Remix)")

WHARTON: "Techari Remixes" is a digital-only release available online through services such as iTunes or directly from the label Web site, sixdegreesrecords.com.

Most of the remixes are trippy, amped-up versions of the originals. But one cut actually morphed the music away from the dance-floor sound for an ethereal piano-backed version of the song "Corre Lola Corre."

(Soundbite of song, "Corre Lola Corre")

OJOS DE BRUJOS (Singing Group): (Singing in Spanish)

WHARTON: Downloading music such as that Ojos de Brujos may mean instant gratification, but there's no substitute for a beautifully packaged and recorded CD.

"Sky Blue" from the Maria Schneider Orchestra comes with two booklets, one focusing on Schneider's compositions with pictures of sheet music scribblings that trace the genesis of each piece and another scrapbook of photos from the recording sessions, with shots of an all-star band, including sax player Steve Wilson and Donnie McCaslin, pianist Frank Kimbrough, singer Luciana Souza, guitarist Ben Monder and trumpeter Ingrid Jensen.

(Soundbite of song, "The Pretty Road")

WHARTON: In a classical vein, one of the most beautiful and haunting melodies ever written for the violin came not from centuries past. It wasn't even written for the concert stage but for a film, "The Red Violin."

(Soundbite of song, "The Red Violin")

WHARTON: American composer John Corigliano's music was played by violinist Joshua Bell. Now, the film music has been shaped into a full concerto, and the premiere recording with Marin Alsop conducting the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra was released this year on Sony Classical.

Also in the classical realm, let's see - does P.D.Q. Bach count? He's the long-lost member - well, nonexistent member, actually, of the Bach family. "The Jekyll & Hyde Tour" is on Telarc Records. Peter Schickele, professor of Musicology and Musical Pathology at the University of Southern North Dakota at Hoople is our P.D.Q. expert.

(Soundbite of song, "Menuetto No Sweato" from String Quartet in F major - "The Moose")

Professor PETER SCHICKELE (Musicology and Musical Pathology, University of Southern North Dakota, Hoople): Several sections start out exactly like the Beethoven. But then they get farther and farther away. And this is the perfect illustration of the thing that has been said about P.D.Q. Bach, which is that the most original places in his music occur where what he couldn't remember how - what he was stealing from when.

(Soundbite of song, "Meneutto No Sweato" from String Quartet in F major - "The Moose")

WHARTON: That's a bit of "Menuetto No Sweato" from P.D.Q. Bach's String Quartet called "The Moose."

Onward now from the silly to the sublime. Here is some music that seems to fit the spirit of the season. It wasn't written for any particular tradition or religion or ritual. In fact, this music is purely improvised by Linn Barnes, who plays the lute, and harpist Allison Hampton.

(Soundbite of song, "The Shades of St. Germain")

WHARTON: The Washington-based duo of Barnes and Hampton found themselves on holiday in Paris, where they rented an apartment on the Left Bank, not far from the church of St. Germain des Pres. They asked the curae(ph) if they could record and perform an impromptu concert in the space, and he agreed. The CD "Rose Window" also includes their performances at St. Sulpice.

It may have been recorded in a Christian setting, but the music seems appropriate for many moods of the season: the festival of lights and Christmas, 12th night, the winter solstice, or any time the snow sparkles on a clear, cold night.

(Soundbite of song, "The Shades of St. Germain")

HANSEN: You can hear full songs from Ned Wharton's CD gift guide and read many more lists at npr.org/music.

(Soundbite of song, "The Shades of St. Germain")

HANSEN: This is NPR's WEEKEND EDITION.

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