The 11th Annual Director's Cuts Music Gift Guide So far, 2009 has been the year of Taylor Swift, Beyonce and Lady Gaga. But if you're looking for music gift ideas beyond the blockbusters, Weekend Edition director Ned Wharton picks a few hidden gems.
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The 11th Annual Director's Cuts Gift Guide

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The 11th Annual Director's Cuts Gift Guide

The 11th Annual Director's Cuts Gift Guide

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(Soundbite of music)


2009 has been the year of Taylor Swift, Beyonce and big hits from the likes of T-Pain, Lady Gaga and the Black Eyed Peas. But if you're looking for music gift ideas beyond the blockbusters, WEEKEND EDITION music director Ned Wharton is back with his annual guide to hidden gems for fans of jazz, world music, classical and indie rock.

(Soundbite of song, "In Order")

Mr. JAMES DIERS (Musician): (Singing) Chain, chained, you waited all day, for the delivery's son...

NED WHARTON: A few years ago, guest host Brian Naylor spoke to members of the group Halloween, Alaska here on WEEKEND EDITION. Guitarist and singer James Diers said there's no such place, but he remembers spending a couple of summers in Alaska as a kid.

As a Midwesterner, he said it was his first chance, quote, "to interface with the ocean and very remote places," unquote, and that it ultimately may have influenced his music. On the group's new CD, "Champagne Downtown," the otherworldly grooves can still be heard in tracks like this one called "In Order."

(Soundbite of song, "In Order")

Mr. DIERS: (Singing) Trade your brightest diamond, for the nearest chandelier.

WHARTON: Another indie rock suggestion comes from our intern Sarah Mollner, who turned me on to this music from The Postmarks. The Postmarks inhabits a world of spaghetti Westerns, Theremins, sweeping strings and retro electronics, all propelled by the ethereal vocals of a female lead singer whose unusual first name is Tim.

(Soundbite of song, "Girl from Algenib")

WHARTON: Born in Tel Aviv, Tim Yehezkely ended up in south Florida, where The Postmarks came together. And word has it she holed up in a neighbor's treehouse for days writing the lyrics. The new CD "Memoirs at the End of the World" is beautifully packaged, looking like a well-worn vinyl sleeve from 1965.

Now, here's something from the country side of things.

(Soundbite of song, "Dust of Daylight")

Mr. JAY FARRAR (Musician): (Singing) Hand in hand, there are angels that are holding warning signs...

WHARTON: Singer Jay Farrar and his band Son Volt perform a darker kind of country music for a new generation. The typical fodder of pickup trucks, beer and loose women has been replaced with songs about cocaine, maritime tragedies, gas prices and Keith Richards. And the sound runs from roots folk to gritty rock.

(Soundbite of song, "Down to the Wire")

Mr. FARRAR: (Singing) Feeling down to the wire...

WHARTON: 'Tis the season for parties, and with a new decade just weeks away, here's some high-energy rock and soul to get you grooving well into 2010.

(Soundbite of music)

WHARTON: The sound might be retro, recalling James Brown and Howlin' Wolf, but the group is new to the scene. This is Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears.

(Soundbite of song, "Gunpowder")

Mr. JOE LEWIS (Musician, Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears): (Singing) I said it don't matter, baby, yeah, and though I like it...

WHARTON: They're from Austin, Texas, and Black Joe was at the right place at the right time when he made a splash there for his debut at the South By Southwest Festival in 2007. He played there again this year and set the crowds on fire with songs from his new album, "Tell 'Em What Your Name Is!"

(Soundbite of song, "Sugarfoot")

Mr. LEWIS: (Singing) Sugarfoot called me last night. He said his girl called him. She said: Can I come over? He said yeah, yeah, yeah. She called him on the telephone, said hello, baby, how you doing? Can I come over see you tonight?

WHARTON: The 52nd annual Grammy Award nominees were named just this past week, and singer Oumou Sangare's "Seya" was nominated for Best Contemporary World Music Album. She's one of the most respected artists from Africa, speaking out for women's rights and showcasing the culture of her native Wasulu region in the southern forests of Mali. That said, her latest CD has a perfectly modern sound. Here's a sample.

(Soundbite of song, "Wele Wele Wintou")

Ms. OUMOU SANGARE (Musician): (Singing language spoken)

WHARTON: Another Grammy nominee is in the Classical Crossover category. And for you jazz fans, here's a quick name that tune:

(Soundbite of song, "Take Five")

WHARTON: Yep, that's Dave Brubeck's "Take Five" played by the Quartet San Francisco. It's certainly the most recognizable of the tunes on "QSF Plays Brubeck," but surprisingly not the standout track — at least not for me. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: "Take Five" was composed by Paul Desmond.]

(Soundbite of song, "Blue Rondo A La Turk")

WHARTON: "Blue Rondo A La Turk" was the track that really caught my ear, especially for the wonderful string arrangement. The recording is also superb, and sure enough, this disc is nominated in another Grammy category for Best Engineered Classical Album.

(Soundbite of song, "Blue Rondo A La Turk")

WHARTON: Also in the jazz realm, public radio listeners might recognize the work of this bass player and composer from a certain theme song...

BROOKE GLADSTONE: much. From WNYC in New York, this is NPR's ON THE MEDIA. I'm Brooke Gladstone.

BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield.

WHARTON: The ON THE MEDIA theme was written years ago by host Brooke Gladstone's friend Ben Allison. He was writing what he called chamber jazz at the time, but lately he's been moving in a new direction. For his latest CD, "Think Free," he says, I wanted a band that rocked. And in a groovy way, "Think Free" does just that.

(Soundbite of song, "Fred")

WHARTON: For the classical music fan on your holiday list, here's a digital download offered by Deutsche Grammophon.

(Soundbite of song, "Symphony No. 1 in D: 2nd Movement")

WHARTON: Three years ago, the label launched its DG Concerts series of performance recordings. This year, they capture the explosive American debut of Venezuelan conductor Gustavo Dudamel as he took the reins as music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. If you haven't yet caught the buzz of Dudamania, this electrifying 28-year-old has been called the next Leonard Bernstein. This is from the inaugural concert at Disney Hall in October, Mahler's Symphony No. 1.

(Soundbite of song, "Symphony No. 1 in D: 2nd Movement")

(Soundbite of applause)

WHARTON: Ah, nothing like a fire in the fireplace for the holidays. But if you don't want to singe Santa, how about a DVD of the Yule Log? The New York TV station WPIX started a tradition of broadcasting the static shot of a crackling fire way back in 1966. Today, there are several virtual fireplace DVDs. Here's a new one from Capitol Records called "Christmas Classics by the Fire." For audio you can choose the crackling fire alone or toast your palms next to screen to the sound of holiday chestnuts by the likes of Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Bing Crosby and Dean Martin.

HANSEN: You can gaze into the flames and see a clip from the "Christmas Classics by the Fire" DVD and hear full cuts from Ned Wharton's music gift guide at our Web site

(Soundbite of song, "Baby, It's Cold Outside")

Unidentified Man and Woman: (Singing) Baby, it's cold, baby, it's cold outside.

HANSEN: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

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