Best hits for Hanukka gifts

Still at a loss in searching for that special Hanukka present for the discerning music fan?

alicia keys disk 88 298 (photo credit: )
alicia keys disk 88 298
(photo credit: )
Still at a loss in searching for that special Hanukka present for the discerning music fan? Here are a few suggestions of relatively new releases that may provide many hours of enjoyment for the lucky recipient. TRACY CHAPMAN Where You Live (Hed Artzi) NATALIE MERCHANT Retrospective 1990-2005 (Hed Artzi) Where has all the time gone? I still think of 10,000 Maniacs as a 'new' band, so it's a little jarring to come across a 15-year post-Maniacs retrospective by the band's enigmatic vocalist Natalie Merchant. Likewise, it's startling to discover that Where You Live is Tracy Chapman's seventh album - her 1986 debut still seems like a modern classic. Chapman's style still hearkens back to her folkie beginnings, albeit with a slightly more polished, pop sound. The 40-year-old Chapman's voice remains her calling card. While the material is solidly competent, there's nothing that stands out of the pack, except the riveting "3,000 Miles," which through slightly edgier production, and a deliberate repetitious buildup rises to the emotional heights of her best work. The lilting waltz of "Going Back" has a soothing, opposite effect. Chapman fans who have followed her from the beginning won't be disappointed by Where You Live, while those that have dropped her from the radar could do worse than to choose this to reacquaint themselves with this classy, and timeless singer-songwriter. Merchant's Retrospective - featuring the singles from her solo career as well as 15 additional rarities over two CDs - faithfully captures the twists and turns of her varied solo career. Leaning heavily on her 1995 solo debut Tigerlily, which spawned the hit "Carnival," Retrospective also veers off the 'greatest hits' mode to include choice one-off collaborations with REM, Billy Bragg, and The Chieftains, some of which date back to her days when she still was the chanteuse for 10,000 Maniacs. From jazzy torch, to troubadour folk, to her signature jangly alternative pop, Merchant never fails to provide a refreshing angle that accentuates her unrestrained personality. CREAM Royal Albert Hall (Hed Artzi) This double CD will be a dream gift for those that can still remember when "Clapton is God" graffiti decorated the stairwells of London back in the late 60s. When Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker reunited earlier this year for four shows at the famed Royal Albert Hall, it could have been a recipe for disaster - another failed attempt by oldtimers to relive their past glories. However, the original power trio rise to the occasion with an inspired journey to the wonders of "Badge," "Crossroads" and "White Room, and the prototype heavy metal of "Sunshine of Your Love." Those songs with conventional pop structures hold up better than the psychedelic blues explorations of "Rollin' and Tumblin'" and "Spoonful," and some of the more elephantine originals like "Toad" and "Pressed Rat & Warthog", evidence that not everything from the 60s deserves a second chance. While Bruce's vocals have seen better days, Clapton shines throughout, and the band's ensemble playing is assured and surprisingly supple. And Clapton can still play like a young god. ALICIA KEYS Unplugged (Hed Artzi) After only two official albums, Alicia Keys, the premier soul singer of today, does the obligatory "unplugged" live disc, if you consider a 16-piece band and elaborate arrangements to be unplugged. Keys lets her hip hop side shine on the 16 tracks, with her improvisational piano playing and vocal vamping taking the songs in exciting exploratory directions. In contrast, a duet with Maroon 5's Adam Levine on The Rolling Stones' "Wild Horse" is given a comparatively reverential treatment. If you want to hear where soul, r&b, and hip hop intersect, this is Alicia Keys Unplugged is a good place to start. ARETHA FRANKLIN and OTIS REDDING The Very Best Of If you want to hear where soul and r&b reached perfection, look no further than this double CD, which features 42 tracks from the king and queen of soul. With the tracks alternating between Otis and Aretha, all the songs you'd expect to find are here - from the hits like "Respect" and "Try a Little Tenderness" to lesser known but not lesser material like Franklin's "Do Right Woman" and Redding's cover of Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come." No duets here, but a whole lot perspiration and inspiration.