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With the holiday season in full swing, record companies are bringing out their big guns to attract shoppers' attention. Walking blind into a CD store or an online shopping site can be a daunting experience, especially if the last time you did so was when the Grateful Dead were still together and "mp3" referred to a military police placement. As a public service, here's a rundown of some musical Hanukka gift ideas for loved ones of all ages. All were released by Hed Artzi unless otherwise stated.
FOR THE MATURE, DISCERNING LISTENER:
TONY BENNETT - Duets
The venerable crooner celebrates his 80th birthday with 19 classy duets, each performed with the cream of the generation he influenced. Elton John, James Taylor, Billy Joel, Elvis Costello and Diana Krall are just some of the appreciative performers who lend a helping hand, but it's Bennett's velvety voice which dominates the proceedings on everything from "The Good Life" to "Just in Time."
The Best of Broadway
An enjoyable two-CD set, The Best of Broadway features the signature songs and medleys from such hit shows as Chicago, Grease, Cats and Mamma Mia! as performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Vocalists Mary Carewe and Michael Dore breathe new life into such well-worn favorites as "Luck Be a Lady" from Guys and Dolls and "Don't Cry for Me, Argentina" from Evita.
JOSH GROBAN - Awake
Everybody's favorite handsome opera singerturned-mega-pop star issues a deluxe version of his smash CD Awake featuring two bonus songs and a bonus DVD about the making of the album. But it's the tuneful, passionate main course that will make most listeners' day - especially "Lullaby" and "Weeping," soulful duets with Ladysmith Black Mambazo.
FOR CLASSIC ROCK FANS:
ROD STEWART - Still the Same: Great Rock Classics of Our Time
Having plundered the "great American songbook" for everything it was worth, the still-ticking Stewart turns his attention to a safe "Ktel" or "Ronco" versions of rock classics from the Seventies and Eighties.
More roll than rock, Stewart's voice is perfectly suited for material handpicked by producer Clive Davis, with the original versions of songs on Still the Same performed by the likes of John Fogerty, Bob Seger and Bryan Adams in a similarly gravelly style. While it can be depressing to see what Stewart's come to if you consider his stellar Sixties and Seventies work with the Faces and on his own, it's also hard to resist AM oldies like "Fooled Around and Fell in Love" and John Waites' "Missing You" as sung by Rod the Mod.
JJ CALE & ERIC CLAPTON - The Road to Escondido
Fans of laid-back blues shuffles may have suspected that guitar god Clapton and reclusive southern drawler Cale (author of Clapton hits "After Midnight" and "Cocaine") were one and the same, and The Road to Escondido puts those rumors to rest. The duo's first collaboration finds them meshing sublimely on the album's country, folk and blues-tinged material.
FOR AGING PUNKS:
THE PRETENDERS - Pretenders and Pretenders II (Rhino/Wea)
The Pretenders are back with expanded and remastered reissues of two of the greatest albums to come out of the post-punk explosion at the dawn of the Eighties.
With singer Chrissie Hynde's power ballad movie themes perhaps freshest in our memory, it's easy to forget how vibrant, sexually aggressive and musically masterful she was on the Pretenders' 1979 debut and its 1981 follow-up.
The mere mention of "Precious," "Tattooed Love Boys," "Brass in Pocket," "Message of Love" and "Talk of the Town" should be enough to bring back old memories, and bonus discs featuring demos and extensive live tracks prove that this was one punk-pop band that could truly rock out.
FOR YOUNGSTERS (AND THEIR PARENTS):
PAUL WESTERBERG - Open Season: Soundtrack
Beware the soundtrack of the animated kids film Open Season, which is still being screened in cinemas locally. You might buy the album for your eight-year-old, but you'll soon be downloading the collection onto your own i-Pod.
Indie rock pioneer Paul Westerberg makes unusually smart, multidimensional children's music here, all the while refusing to talk down to his audience. And like his illustrious work with the Replacements and on his own, he keeps things simple, honest, funny and rocking.
FOR THE MODERN ROCK FAN:
FOO FIGHTERS - Skin and Bone
MY MORNING JACKET - Okonokos
Two of modern rock's most accomplished bands have released their first live albums, both of which rise to the high standards of the bands' studio work.
Skin and Bone is Dave Grohl and company's "unplugged" live album, featuring the subtle, more melodic side of the Foo Fighters' work. While the album's 15 songs focus on the "soft" side of the recent In Your Honor, the highlights are provided by relative oldies including "Walking After You" and "February Stars."
My Morning Jacket's Okonokos finds the genre-bending Kentucky quartet reaching new heights on live versions from its five studio albums. Emphasizing material from its latest acclaimed effort, Z, the band plays its warped Americana garage rock with conviction and fire.