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The Gift Of Music

2001s top ten picks

Many of those ugly emotions are on display on Brooklyn/Boston-based am-bient alt-country punks Clem Snide's The Ghost of Fashion. Lead singer Eef Barzelay's cryptic explorations ("From /the corner of my eye/The Chinese baby cries/for you /It sounds like / Boo-hoo/Booo-hoooo") of jealousy, vanity, and inadequacy and God knows what else can leave one scratching one's head in puzzlement for days. The music on Ghost is much easier to comprehend, though every bit as complex. The Ghost of Fashion is as swellingly magnificent as any CD released in 2001, and its seamless structure from one song to the next makes this one tough album to eject.

Charlie Robison's Step Right Up was a failure commercially, and it doesn't take long to figure out why. Sony selected the only two relatively lame songs on the album and made them the singles, thus falsely advertising this outstanding album as a twangy collection of pop/ country NRBQ covers. In reality, it was the finest major-label album to come out of Nashville this year, ranging from Irish rave-ups ("John O'Reilly") to modern-day Texas outlaw anthems ("Desperate Times"). But the real centerpiece here is his duet with Natalie Maines on the stoic weeper "The Wedding Song," which, simply put, is one of the best country music songs you'll ever hear. First it makes you laugh, then it makes you cry, and finally you just sing along. Anyone married or long-shackled to a significant other will find plenty on this Robison-penned masterpiece to chuckle and/or bawl over.

If Robison's downfall has been major labels foisting material inferior to his own off onto his albums, Toni Price's has been the opposite. "When," finicky fans want to know, "is Toni Price going to write her own material?" The answer is never. She simply doesn't believe that she has to write the songs she sings, so get over it. And who can argue with her success? No, she's not a national household name, but she doesn't want that. She is the queen of Austin, though, and Midnight Pumpkin offers us another justification for her seat on the throne. Ranging from torch songs through Caribbean lilters and Appala-chian styles (but never straying far from her blues bedrock), Price and her impeccable pickers prove that not all from Austin is overhyped and merely pretty good. This is a great album, and if a bridgekeeper like the one in Monty Python and the Holy Grail were to put it to me to name my favorite of 2001, on pain of death, this would be the one.

Cactus Music -- eight time winner of Best Music Store
Cactus Music -- eight time winner of Best Music Store

No, wait a minute. As for Christmas CDs, the older the better. This is a holiday about children and memories of childhood, and whatever tickles your nostalgia bone the most is the one you'll want to buy. Perhaps the ultimate holiday CD, the one that has probably seemed nostalgic since its release in the 1950s, is Nat "King" Cole's The Magic of Christmas. This is the one definitive nucleus that every yuletide CD collection should revolve around. Some may prefer Bing or Sinatra, but Cole's is the best. As a bonus, there's Cole's spoken-word Christmas card to his listeners, alone worth the price of the disc.

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