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Queen: Video Hits Vol. 1

After years of being available only on VHS, the squeaky clean DVD remaster of Video Hits Vol. 1 is a glittery visual token of the band's peak. The perks of the 2-disc set include ample "behind the scenes" footage, a handful of extra tracks, and impressive surround sound. Made long before the advent of high-budget MTV videos, the campy magic of Queen's frosted lenses and psychedelic camera effects have aged beautifully, not to mention the previously unseen footage of "Bicycle Race" with its troupe of nude ladies on bikes. Although every one of the 22 tracks was a hit for the band, the visual standouts are "Killer Queen" and "Crazy Little Thing Called Love."

ALBUMS

Frank Sinatra: Classic Duets

Not to be confused with the below-par (and wildly popular) sides the Chairman cut with Bono, Streisand, and other mismatched colleagues a decade ago, this Capitol CD gathers together 21 late-'50s collaborations -- some of them good, most of them terrific -- between Sinatra and a swingin' lineup of contemporaries. Louis Armstrong's trumpet playing on "Birth of the Blues" is itself worth the price of admission. But Ella and Frank lazily harmonizing on "Moonlight in Vermont" ain't exactly chopped liver, and a bantering medley/duel with Dino is a delight. Taken from a short-lived TV variety show and never previously released, the selections capture Sinatra, orchestrator Nelson Riddle, and singing partners Peggy Lee, Lena Horne, and Elvis Presley (!), among others, at the top of their game.

Christmas Remixed

Clubbers celebrate the holidays along with everyone else, though you can hardly work Bing Crosby or Duke Ellington into a DJ set without causing quizzical looks from the dance floor. So here comes local electronica label Six Degrees right down Santa Claus Lane with their answer -- a passel of Yuletide favorites remixed by clever elves in house, hip hop, and downtempo music. Since the holidays bring out the cheesy sentimentalist in everyone, these renditions by Dan the Automator, Robbie Hardkiss, and Mocean Worker of faves like Dean Martin's "Jingle Bells" and Mel Torme's "The Christmas Song" will do the trick at your holiday party for both the parents and the disaffected rebel nephews.

Ghosts of the Great Highway

Sun Kil Moon

Mark Kozelek's new band, Sun Kil Moon, sounds like, well, Mark Kozelek. But the exquisite Ghosts of the Great Highway teems with the ravaged spirit and expansive feeling sometimes hidden deep inside songs by Kozelek's former band, Red House Painters. He still relies on the same hushed formula: soft melodies, gentle orchestration, and creepy guitars. Even the crunchy, cranked-up songs like "Salvador Sanchez" and "Lily and Parrots" are seductively slow and sedate -- the very soundtrack of desperation. The literary Kozelek makes brooding beautiful, with lyrical turns, dampened solos, and his hypnotic, charged vocals -- singing so fluid and even, it becomes dominant and tortured. The San Francisco songwriter understands the dramatic, as six of the 10 songs drone on for more than five minutes. Ghosts is something to be cherished, an exhausting, cathartic affair that blurs the boundaries of quiet, begging the question: Who actually kills whom?

Antistar

Marshmallow Coast -- aka Andy Gonzales -- has created easily the year's oddest, catchiest, and most irreverent folk set in Antistar. The former Of Montreal member strums acoustic guitars beneath omnipresent flutes, sprightly bongos, and strange underwater noises -- a fantasy mix that is as dry and simple as it is outrageous and ironic. Telling tales of snooty women, underappreciated men, and elusive roadkill, Gonzales speaks for the juvenile, unglamorous Everyman. His unaffected, strained vocals set up his silly-smart lyrics; "I'm gonna find my lover though, it may be hard/ I've looked high and low/ Where'd that Chinese lady go?" sings Gonzales on the soulful barbershop closer "Chinese Lady." And it's precisely these basic but sing-along melodies that ground the songs' crisp, slapstick arrangements. The 11 tunes bubble with pop-subversion and deadpan humor, from the Zanzibar boogies to the acid harmonies to Gonzales' grumpy wit: An anti-star is born.

Heaven/Earth and Kites Are Fun

The Free Design

In the fabulously fecund period known as the 1960s, there was so much going on musically that people are still trying to catch up with stuff that fell through the proverbial cracks. One such group was The Free Design, who released five albums between 1967 and 1972. Comprised of siblings Chris, Bruce, Sandy, and Ellen Dedrick, The Free Design specialized in deceptively cheery, intricately arranged vocal-group pop-rock with subtle jazz undertones -- imagine the Mamas & the Papas or the Fifth Dimension with arrangements by Neal Hefti or Gil Evans, or Stereolab (who are FD fans) during the Summer of Love. But along with the sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows came unexpected dissonances and eerily pensive passages of melancholia, as if they knew how fragile the carefree soap bubbles were. www.lightintheattic.net

Artist's Choice

Johnny Cash

Ray Davies said he liked perusing people's record collections as he felt he could gain insight into the character of the owner. Now, the Columbia/Legacy Artist's Choice series -- Starbucks-distributed compilations in which established performers choose their favorite and/or most influential songs by others -- gives us a unique perspective on the late Man in Black. Some selections are hardly surprises -- Hank Williams Sr.'s proto-honky-tonk, the big-as-the-sky gospel of Mahalia Jackson. But there's also the slick L.A. country-rock of Linda Ronstadt's "Desperado," the immaculately orchestrated angst of "Wichita Lineman" by Glen Campbell, and Eddy Arnold's "I'll Hold You in My Heart," the latter exemplifying the Nashville Sound Cash disdained throughout his career. Also: Kris Kristofferson, Dylan, Roberta Flack. Through these, we can hear the America Johnny Cash heard.

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