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The Genius of the Electric Guitar

Charlie Christian

Hailed as "the first master of the electric guitar," Charlie Christian is one of music's least-known and most influential innovators. Columbia/Legacy has created a comprehensive four-CD box set encompassing his brief career with Benny Goodman's Quartet and Orchestra (1939-41) before his early death of tuberculosis at age 25. His is a big-band swing style and a precursor to bebop, leading as well as complementing the other instruments -- far removed from modern searing cock-rock solos. Nonetheless, the booklet is littered with testimonials from guitar demigods such as Jimmie Vaughan, Joe Satriani, and Warren Haynes.

The Legendary Sun Records Story

No single label in the history of music has had more influence on rock 'n' roll than Sun Records of Memphis, Tennessee. In the '50s, it was the crossroads where black rhythm and blues was assimilated by Southern hillbilly music and spawned a few careers you might have heard of: Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, and Elvis Presley. This three-disc compilation is a no-frills set that presents 60 tracks from these originators and many others. At $14 from Tower, it's a colossal value of historic interest.

Original Jacket Collection

Leonard Bernstein, Vladimir Horowitz, Igor Stravinsky, or Glenn Gould

Classical enthusiasts tend to be purists, and don't necessarily enjoy their favorite music being butchered for best-of collections or other anthologies. It's buyer beware when the uninformed go gift hunting for these fans. Sony Classical has solved this dilemma with novel box sets that re-create 10 single-artist vintage albums on CDs that are miniature replicas of the vinyl records in both packaging and content, except that they're all digitally remastered. Even if an obsessive has all the original LPs, now he/she can have them for the car.

Cat Stevens

There's something timely and poignant about giving someone a Cat Stevens collection right now. After his conversion to Islam, taking the name Yusef Islam, he denounced his music for a while, but he's apparently come to recognize its value again. This four-disc career retrospective, profits of which go to charities including the 9/11 fund, gives us all the opportunity to re-experience the message of Peace Train.

Like, Omigod! The 80's Pop Culture Box

Rhino Records shows off its anthology mastery once again, this time tackling the decade of checkered Vans, Rubik's Cubes, and skinny ties. The seven-CD, 142-track collection is all hits and doesn't discriminate against any pop sub-genre. There's soul, rock, TV theme songs, novelty tunes, and of course New Wave. It's a plethora of one-hit wonders, comeback songs, and anthems that make you alternately dance and cringe. This kind of box set is great, but begs to be edited on your computer and burned into a best-of sampler.

The Grace EPs

Jeff Buckley

Available on November 26th is a collection of remastered CDs of five previously hard-to-find import EPs that were originally released in 1994-1996 only overseas. As one of the '90s' most tragic cases of a taken-too-soon performer, Buckley was a precursor to today's fashionable slew of male singer-songwriters. Alive, he was the critics' darling. Dead, he's taken on something of a mythic status, and you could make the Christmas morning of your family black sheep by putting this under the tree.

ALBUMS

SF* Silver Lining

Bonnie Raitt

Our North Bay blues contingent has been busy this year. Bonnie Raitt released Silver Lining, her 16th album, and right from the start you can hear that something's changed. The wounded and done-wrong lover has taken a back seat to a funkier, stronger, sexier woman. This album makes a clear shift toward a New Orleans sound with the addition of keyboardist Jon Cleary and does a great job in capturing more of what a live Raitt show is like. It has also been scientifically proven that moms love Bonnie.

SF* Roots of Our Nature and Slideways

Roy Rogers & Norton Buffalo

Slide guitar wizard and Raitt collaborator Roy Rogers has been no slouch lately either, putting out two releases in 2002. Roots of Our Nature has him teamed again with monster harp player Norton Buffalo for their first album together in 10 years, and their chemistry has fermented into a high-octane roadhouse cocktail of blistering harmonica and steel string riffs. Slideways, Roy's first instrumental record, is a rollicking, searing set of crunchy yet sweet grooves, many of them propelled by Meters drummer Zigaboo Modeliste.

SF* El Cielo

Dredg

Los Gatos outfit Dredg is poised to break out with its major-label debut on Interscope Records. Impossible to pigeonhole, El Cielo is at once psychedelic, atmospheric, and melodic. There's a hard-rock guitar sound, but tight instead of sloppy, overpowering drums. Their Depeche Mode-ish harmonic vocals are a welcome respite from your typical Live 105 screamers. Dredg's sound is all over the map, but the journey is the fun part, and getting lost is preferable.

SF* Blood Money and Alice

Tom Waits

Two albums were growled out this year by Sonoma's carnival-macabre drum major Tom Waits. His grunting vocals, swirling and honking instruments, and darkly nostalgic lyrics assemble a dreamy freak-show on a bleak and echoing landscape. Alice was written 10 years ago as an accompaniment to an opera about Lewis Carroll and explores the real-life obsession the looking-glass girl inspired. "I like my songs to sound as though they've been aging in a barrel and distressed," says Waits in describing Blood Money. In style, it's a stagger sideways toward the sound of 1985's Rain Dogs.

Concord Jazz

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