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Tunin' In to Music Gifts 

Box sets, hard-to-find instruments and where to get waxed

It's that designated time of year again when everyone must ... buy ... stuff. The music staff at Creative Loafing has a few suggestions about some of the more interesting music-related items we ran across this year -- new or classic -- that seem like worthwhile things to blow your money on. Hey, at least we waited until December.

Box Sets
UnEarthed: Johnny Cash (American/Lost Highway) List $79.99

The first official posthumous release from the Johnny Cash/Rick Rubin (producer) era is an embarrassment of riches for anybody who enjoyed the Man In Black's fertile twilight years. The five-disc set covers the unlikely but fecund association between Cash and Rubin from 1994-2002, and features 79 songs -- 64 of which have never seen official release. They include a few remakes of early Cash classics like "Long Black Veil" and "Flesh and Blood," covers of songs by Steve Earle, Roy Orbison and Neil Young, and duets with everyone from Carl Perkins, Willie Nelson and Glen Campbell to Fionna Apple, Nick Cave, and the late Clash leader, Joe Strummer. There's also an album of greatest hits from the American Recordings series, and a 15-song disc of solo acoustic spiritual songs that Cash's mother sang to him as a child, subtitled, "My Mother's Hymn Book." (Schacht)

Once In A Lifetime: The Talking Heads (Rhino) List: $59.99

The first-ever Talking Heads box set (three CDs, one DVD), this handsome compilation covers the band's salad years of 1976-1992. Containing over 50 re-mastered greatest hits, fan favorite deep cuts, and a sprinkling of "rarities," the box set also includes the out-of-print video compilation Storytelling Giant, now on DVD for the first time. The set is packaged in the typical gee-whiz Rhino Records (and David Byrne) style: a long, horizontal box with quaint (yet nudity-filled) painted album art. As befits the band's art-school image, the package includes lauds and recollections from folks like Rolling Stone long-timer David Fricke, Japanese editor and writer Kyoichi Tsuzuki, and authors Rick Moody, Maggie Estep and Mary Gaitskill. A great listen, and, especially if you're shopping on a budget, probably all the Talking Heads you'll ever need. Remain in Light? Let's just hope it Remains in Print. (Davis)

The Raga Guide: A Survey of 74 Hindustani Ragas (Nimbus) List: $55.99

This box set is a benchmark in cataloguing the basis of Hindustani (North Indian) Classical music, the Raga. A raga is not easily defined, so for the purpose of brevity let's say each raga has a characteristic "sound," lending it to almost endless compositional variations in the right hands or voice. This set puts 74 of the most popular and varied ragas into perspective with four CDs and a 196-page book explaining the origin of each raga, western and Indian notations, and an accompanying sample track. Musicians such as Hariprasad Chaurasia and Buddhadev DasGupta spell things out for proper mode on flute, sarod and other Indian instruments. (Shukla)

DVDs

U2 Go Home : Live From Slane Castle, Ireland (Interscope) List: $19.99
U2, a band almost without parallel in appealing to multiple age groups, show they're still at the top of their game with this release. Excellent 5.1 Digital Surround Sound, an Unforgettable Fire documentary, and dozens of classic U2 songs performed in front of some of the most beautiful turf you'd ever hope to see -- what's not to like? (Davis)

Lennon Legend: John Lennon (EMI) List: $24.99
The "almost without parallel" line above? Why, that's because we still wanted to mention the new Lennon Legend DVD that just came out, featuring loads of John Lennon videos and outtakes, and even some nifty animations of Lennon's quirky line drawings. Granted, most of the "videos" are of Lennon walking around looking at stuff with Yoko, but they're still a lot of fun, and many are of the "never before seen" variety. (Davis)

Sinead O'Connor: Goodnight, thank you. You've been a lovely audience - Live In Dublin (Eagle Rock) List: $24.99
O'Connor has more balls then about 99 percent of gangsta rappers when it comes to pissing off the hierarchy. She has done it with effusive pop music wrapped around an instantly recognizable voice; and this DVD is her farewell gig as she has now officially retired from the public eye. All told, 2 1/2 hours of material covers a full concert in Dublin, featuring her biggest hit "Nothing Compares 2 U," along with some wonderful and ethereal pop and Celtic music. She closes the concert with "The Last Day of Our Acquaintance." I certainly hope it's not, though it looks that way. (Shukla)

Books

Vinyl Hayride Paul Kingsbury (Chronicle Books) List: $24.95

Blue Note: Album Cover Art Graham Marsh (Chronicle Books) List: $19.95

45 RPM Spencer Drate, editor (Princeton Architectural Press) List: $18.95
Yet another loss from the LP era -- aside from a richer sound -- was LP cover art. Sure, CDs have "em, but at about a third of the original size it's not quite the same. But three coffee table books address the issue, and quite nicely in each case. Vinyl Hayride is an album-sized compendium of over 250 classic country album covers, from the cartoon illustrations of the 40s to the rhinestone-happy glamour shots of later years. The book covers the period from 1947 to 1989, thereby sparing fans the gruesome presence of some of today's "country" "artists." Another excellent collection is the comprehensive Blue Note: Album Cover Art, featuring over 400 LP covers that virtually define the notion of "cool." Thanks to the grace and precision of label co-founder Frances Wolff's photography (and designer Reid Miles' revolutionary techniques -- "Hey, you cut half his head off!"), virtually every cover they collaborated on is a jazz classic and vivid visual representation of the beautiful music inside. And, finally, for the truly obsessive, 45 RPM is the visual history of the 7" record. It's divided by decade spanning the 1950s to the 1990s and has more than 200 sleeves that chronicle the 45's evolution from Top 40 mainstay to indie rock accoutrement. (Schacht)

VinylUnited Record Pressing Nashville, TN
MP3s getting you down? Tired of smudged CDs? Longing for that inimitable crackle and hiss of a big platter of wax? Well then, get thee to United Pressing (www.urpressing.com), send them a CD of music, and get some vinyl pressed! Whether you want 7", 10", or 12" sizes, blue, green, marbled or clear vinyl, this place pretty much has it all (United prints records for hundreds of labels, both indie and otherwise). Don't have a band? Then get your whole extended family a nice seven-inch of Grandma and Grandpa's string band, or a recording of the new rugrat learning his ABC's. The point is, it doesn't matter. It is vinyl, and as such, it will always be cool. (Davis)

Exotic Instruments

String
Okay, so the kid is taking guitar lessons and driving you nuts trying to learn that Motorhead riff. Put on some Ravi Shankar and turn the future guitar god onto the ancient and exotic sitar. There are models available for right-handed or left-handed players and prices range from $400-$1000 with some online sites including shipping. Yes, it's tough to learn and takes a lifetime to master, but the soothing resonance will calm your nerves. If you can't fly to India and pick one up, then try the online dealer mondouno.com. Act fast, your guitar player might be about to download Limp Bizkit destroying the Who's "Behind Blue Eyes." At www.mondouno.com (Shukla)

Percussion
An all-around percussion instrument that fits almost any budget and also looks great sitting in a corner, is the doumbek. It's a goblet-shaped Middle Eastern drum also known as a tonbak, onbak, tombak and a host of other names -- depending on the region and dialect. The drums come in intricately designed wooden pieces, or in metal casings for that 4-year-old who likes to roll things down the stairs. Prices range from $150 on up. Try your local music store or www.bangadrum.com (Shukla)

Rockin' Road Trips

Rock the Boat
Money no object? Perhaps you're a major-label fatcat, tired of supping at the teats of the musicians you "employ," and are looking to get away. However, you don't want to get too far away from the music. Have we got the solution for you. Why not take a rock vacation? These days, you have more than a few choices. There's The Rock Boat (www.the rockboat.com), where you can rock (in more ways than one) with your favorite musical artists, provided your favorite musical artists include Edwin McCain and Sister Hazel and the like. The same folks are also starting something called The Rock Slope (www.the rockslope.com), which is, you guessed it, a rockin' ski vacation. (Davis)

Fishin' Blues Tourney
Fishing more your game? Got an extra five G's lying around? Then you may well want to check out the Taj Mahal Fishin' Blues Fishing Tourney (http://www.musicmaker.org/ tajtourney2.html). You, along with 27 other lucky souls, get the chance to fish and eat and pretty much just pal around with Taj and Bill Lucado and ex-Allman Brother Dickey Betts. Part of the entry fee is tax-deductible, and goes towards the Music Maker Relief Foundation, an organization set up to aid elderly musicians without health insurance and other amenities. (Davis)

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