Weekend Edition's Annual Music Gift Guide Weekend Edition's music director picks hidden gems in jazz, world music, classical and rock. This years artists include The Black Keys, Sonos, El Guincho, and more.
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The 12th Annual Director's Cuts Gift Guide

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The 12th Annual Director's Cuts Gift Guide

The 12th Annual Director's Cuts Gift Guide

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/131808230/131826675" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Okay, youve bought Kanye West's best-selling album for your boyfriend. You'll stuff the Taylor Swift CD into your sister's stocking. You've downloaded the Beatles onto a new iPod for your mom and dad. But what else is out there for the music fans on your holiday shopping list?

WEEKEND EDITION's Ned Wharton is back with the 2010 edition of his Annual Director's Cuts Music Gift Guide.

(Soundbite of song, "Ten Cent Pistol")

NED WHARTON: Here's the rock CD that's been wearing out my music player this year: Two guys with a big sound, guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney, a.k.a. The Black Keys.

BLACK KEYS (Music Group): (Singing) Well, he ran around late at night. Holding hands making light...

WHARTON: WEEKEND EDITION host Liane Hansen spoke with these musicians in 2004 about their album "Rubber Factory," recorded in an abandoned tire plant in their hometown of Akron, Ohio.

On their latest CD, "Brothers," they're still rocking that gritty blues sound, with many of the cuts recorded in a place famous for '60s and '70s R&B: Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Sheffield, Alabama.

The cinderblock building on Jackson Highway hadn't been used as a working recording studio for years, but Auerbach and Carney arranged to lay down some tracks in the space. We went there for inspiration, says engineer Mark Neill, and by God, we got it - in spades and ghosts.

(Soundbite of song, "Next Girl")

BLACK KEYS (Music Group): (Singing) Oh, my next girl, she isnt like my ex-girl. It was a painful death. Now, I got a second chance. Yeah.

WHARTON: In my annual music guide, I usually try to present albums for a wide range of musical tastes. At first, I thought this next one would appeal to jazz fans.

(Soundbite of music)

WHARTON: But I soon discovered that Canadian bass player Brandi Disterheft covers a much wider playing field.

(Soundbite of music)

WHARTON: I like to throw curveballs, Disterheft says, so the audience doesn't hear just one kind of music for hours.

On her new CD, "Second Side," you'll certainly hear some jazz, but then she sings in French backed by mariachi horns.

Ms. BRANDI DISTERHEFT (Jazz Bassist/Singer): (Singing in foreign language):

WHARTON: Another track has an indie rock groove.

(Soundbite of music)

WHARTON: And here, she serves up some smooth pop with a song she wrote, called "Twilight Curtain."

(Soundbite of song, "Twilight Curtain")

Ms. DISTERHEFT: (Singing) Draw back the twilight curtain, hit me with a star. Shimmering nights lead a wandering sailor. I know Im not so far.

WHARTON: For the world music and alt-Latino fan, my pick this year is from Spain: El Guincho's "Pop Negro."

(Soundbite of song, "Pop Negro")

EL GUINCHO (Singer): (Singing in foreign language)

WHARTON: El Guincho was born in the Canary Islands, and now lives in Barcelona. His real name is Pablo Diaz-Reixa. He's also moved in film and television circles, and contributed to the soundtrack of Woody Allen's "Vicky Cristina Barcelona."

Diaz-Reixa says he used to play in punk bands, but gravitated towards Brazilian Tropicalia and sounds from the Caribbean. In this track, you can hear a hint of steel drums in the background.

EL GUINCHO (Singer): (Singing in foreign language)

WHARTON: Next up, a 2010 DVD release that music lovers will appreciate, called "Who Is Harry Nilsson, And Why Is Everyone Talkin' About Him?"

Mr. HARRY EDWARD NILSSON (Singer-Songwriter): I was born Harry Edward Nilsson the Third on Father's Day, 1941. (Singing) Well, in 1941 a happy father had a son...

WHARTON: Nilsson is perhaps best known for recordings of songs he didn't write, including the classic hit "Everybody's Talkin'," from the movie "Midnight Cowboy." And his soaring tenor brings chills on the song "Without You."

(Soundbite of song, "Without You")

Mr. NILSSON: (Singing) Can't live if living is without you...

WHARTON: But Harry Nilsson did write plenty of his own brilliant songs - including "Jump Into the Fire," "Coconut" and "One," which was a huge success in the 1970s for Three Dog Night.

In the documentary DVD, we learn about his friendships with the Beatles, songwriters Jimmy Webb and Randy Newman, and Monty Python alumni Eric Idle and Terry Gilliam. We also hear a lot about how Nilsson liked to party, a lifestyle that led to his death in 1994, at age 52.

Micky Dolenz, from The Monkees, and comedian Robin Williams remember how you'd need to brace yourself when Harry called, looking for a friend to go out on a bender.

Mr. MICKY DOLENZ (Member, The Monkees): Three days later, I woke up in a massage parlor in Phoenix. You know?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROBIN WILLIAMS (Comedian/Actor): Some of those Harry tales, I'll have to be in like, shock therapy to remember them. You know, it's...

(Soundbite of a slap)

Mr. WILLIAMS: Oh, remember that? Ahh. Woo.

(Soundbite of song, "Jump Into the Fire")

Mr. NILSSON: (Singing) You can jump into the fire, but you'll never be free...

WHARTON: You can see the trailer from the Harry Nilsson documentary on our Web site.

Now for some music firmly within the cracks, in a kind of netherworld between classical avant-garde and the Far East.

(Soundbite of music)

WHARTON: Janus is a Brooklyn-based trio with Amanda Baker, who plays flute; violist Beth Meyers; and harpist Nuiko Wadden. The group takes its name from the two-faced Roman god who sees both forward and back. And their new CD, "I Am Not," seems to point towards chamber music both past and future.

(Soundbite of music)

WHARTON: Also in the classical realm, this year we marked the passing of a composer whose music moved listeners deeply. Polish composer Henryk Gorecki died last month at age 76. He was something of a one-hit composer, but that single composition was powerful. His "Symphony No. 3," known as the "Symphony of Sorrowful Songs," was inspired in part by a prayer scratched on a cell wall in Gestapo headquarters during the Nazi era.

This year, a re-mastered audiophile edition of a 1995 recording was released, from Britain's Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and conductor Yuri Simonov.

(Soundbite of music, "Symphony of Sorrowful Songs")

WHARTON: That's Gorecki's "Symphony No. 3," and a 2010 release from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

And finally, here are a couple of CD selections for the holiday season.

(Soundbite of song)

SONOS (Singing Group): (Singing) Do-do-do-do-do. Do-do-do-do-do...

WHARTON: This is a new release from the inventive a cappella group Sonos. "December Songs" features seasonal favorites including "O Holy Night" and "I Saw Three Ships." Also on the CD is "Ave Maria," but not the one you're thinking of. This is by Sonos singer Priscilla Rachel Bearer.

(Soundbite of song, "Ave Maria")

Ms. PRISCILLA RACHEL BEARER (Singer): (Singing) Ave, Ave Maria. Ave, Ave Maria...

WHARTON: If you prefer something more traditional, here's music from a tradition that goes back 40 years: the Christmas Revels.

THE CHRISTMAS REVELS (Singers): (Singing) Noel, noel, noel...

WHARTON: The late John Langstaff launched the Revels to celebrate Christmas and the winter solstice, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1971. But anyone's who's witnessed the Revels knows it's not just a stodgy stage performance. It's more like a Renaissance fair, with actors and dance and audience participation.

The organization has grown quite a bit in four decades, and now there are Revels companies in 10 cities. This weekend, they get under way in Portland, Oregon, and Washington, DC.

And every Christmas Revel since 1971 has come to a rousing close with this song, "The Sussex Mummers Carol."

(Soundbite of song, "The Sussex Mummers Carol")

THE CHRISTMAS REVELS: Welcome, Yule. (Singing) God bless the master of this house with happiness beside, where...

HANSEN: You can listen to full audio cuts from Ned Wharton's Director's Cuts Music Gift Guide for 2010 on our Web site, NPRMusic.org.

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

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