LIANE HANSEN, host:
Our "Eco-nomical Holiday" series on saving money and the environment convinced our music director, Ned Wharton, that now, more than ever, music makes the perfect gift. Changes in the music industry have made it easy to be environmentally friendly since the increasing demise of plastic packaging and discs. Here's Ned with some tips on digital downloads and his 10th annual music gift guide.
(Soundbite of music)
NED WHARTON: The most popular digital download program, of course, is Apple's iTunes. You can buy their gift cards just about anywhere, but you don't even need to buy the plastic card — just log on and send a load of music credit to a friend. Amazon also sells music. Then there's Napster and eMusic and a whole raft of subscription sites, including Rhapsody. One great advantage of Rhapsody is that it allows you to listen to entire songs before you purchase them. I hope Steve Jobs is listening because that's an iTunes feature that's long overdue. You can find links to music download sites at our Web site, npr.org. Now on to some music suggestions.
(Soundbite of song from album "Car Alarm")
THE SEA AND CAKE: (Singing) Forever giving up Arno(ph), To follow with you.
WHARTON: The Sea and Cake is the name of this Chicago-based band. They've been around since 1993, and "Car Alarm" is their 2008 release. I don't know about the "Alarm" part of the title, but "Car" seems apt. You can imagine these breezy cuts as the perfect tunes for next summer's road trip.
(Soundbite of song from album "Car Alarm")
THE SEA AND CAKE: (Singing) (Unintelligible) It's all right.
WHARTON: Longtime listeners of the program might remember this next artist, who calls himself Cantinero. We traveled to New York to do a story on the music making Chris Hicken did out of his New York apartment. Recording that way had its challenges, evidenced by the sound of his dogs' barking in nearby rooms that ended up on his last record. He's since moved upstate to a place that offers more space for his recording equipment and lots of room for his dogs to roam. He has some solid backing musicians on his new release, "Better for the Metaphor," and some six drummers contribute to various tracks, including Gogol Bordello drummer Tamir Muskat.
(Soundbite of song "Selfish")
CANTINERO: (Singing) Living on a substitute, We'll quibble on the cost. Because I am selfish, You say it's all about me, Because I'm so selfish...
WHARTON: For the world music fan, here's some music from Peru by way of Canada, which makes for tropical rhythms backed by some chilled-out beats. Six Degrees Records is famous for its cross-global electronica. And the Vancouver-based trio Pacifica is fronted by Peruvian-born singer Silvana Kane, joined by a Canadian guitarist and a bass player from Barbados. This is a track from their debut album, "Asuncion."
(Soundbite of song from album "Asuncion")
WHARTON: Brazilian singer Luciana Souza celebrates the power and soul of the human voice with an interesting project this year called MOSS.
(Soundbite of song "Orchard")
MOSS: (Singing) Come to the orchard in spring. There is light and wine...
WHARTON: Souza says she ran into fellow singer Peter Eldridge on a train in New Jersey a few years ago. They began conspiring to bring together some of their favorite singers and vocal arrangers, and started meeting in Souza's apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. That group of innovative vocalists grew to include Theo Bleckmann, Kate McGarry and Lauren Kinhan. In this cut, we hear a beautiful arrangement by McGarry and Eldridge of the Neil Young song "Old Man."
(Soundbite of song "Old Man")
MOSS: (Singing) Old man, take a look at my life, I'm a lot like you. I need someone to love me, The whole day through. Ah, one look in my eyes, And you can tell it's true.
WHARTON: For the classical music fan, here's a music suggestion featuring the violin sonatas of Robert Schumann.
(Soundbite of violin sonata)
WHARTON: German violinist Carolin Widmann is accompanied by Hungarian pianist Denes Varjon. It's on ECM Records, which was founded in 1969 as an avant-garde jazz label by Manfred Eicher and made famous to this day for its pristine recordings. That same recording sensibility is applied to their classical releases, which you can hear in this movement from the Sonata No. 1 in A Minor.
(Soundbite of "Allegretto" from the Sonata Number 1 in A Minor)
WHARTON: Finally, some music from the jazz world. This past year saw the tragic death of innovative Swedish pianist Esbjorn Svensson. He died at the age of 44 in a scuba accident near Stockholm. Years ago, his trio, E.S.T., came to NPR's Studio 4A and showed off their unique performance methods. They pluck strings inside the piano and run the sound of both piano and stand-up bass through electronic processing. This kind of experimentation and improvisation is showcased on their new release, "Leucocyte," a jam session they recorded between gigs in Australia. Little did they know it would end up as the group's final release.
(Soundbite of jam session "Leucocyte")
HANSEN: You can hear full music cuts from Ned Wharton's music gift guide on our Web site, nprmusic.org. And in keeping with the eco-nomical gift series this month on Weekend Edition, you can go to npr.org and click to purchase an iTunes mix of the music presented here and find links for digital download services. Also, at 1:30 p.m. Eastern time today, Ned will chat live online and offer more music ideas for all kinds of music lovers. That'll be on our blog, npr.org/soapbox. This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.