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Music for the holidays never loses its cool
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Music for the holidays never loses its cool

by Albert Rodriguez - SGN A&E Writer

The gift that's always hip is music, and there are hundreds of new titles this holiday season ready to be downloaded online or purchased at your nearest record store. CDs and live concert DVDs make fun, cool presents that don't take much time to wrap - you can send them by e-mail with an e-card in a matter of minutes. So, whether it's a favorite nephew or a longtime co-worker, you'll hit all the right notes by giving them fresh tunes to listen to on their iPods or home stereos. Here are 12 newly released or soon-to-be released albums that I personally recommend for the music lovers on your list.

The Fame Monster
Lady GaGa

Remember when Lady GaGa performed at Neighbours nightclub? Look at her now: a global pop-dance queen and MTV VMA winner who continues to push the envelope with every appearance, televised speech, and interview she gives. Prepare yourself for more GaGa domination with the release of her newest work, The Fame Monster. Listed as new tracks on this double-disc are "Bad Romance," "Alejandro," "Teeth," "Dance in the Dark," and "Monster." The complete roster of songs from Lady GaGa's chart-topping album, The Fame, fill up the second disc, along with three bonus tracks (UK and Japan imports only). You know you want one too, so buy a personal copy for yourself and listen to it on the plane, train or automobile en route to that family holiday dinner.

Glee: The Music
(Season 1, Volume 1)
Glee cast

TV's biggest hit series of 2009 is Glee, a huge favorite in Gay households, some of which organize weekly viewings of it for friends and neighbors. Centered around a group of high school students wanting to resurrect a once-lauded glee club, the show features a what's-what of modern pop tunes each week, many of them plucked directly from the initial season's episodes. The first of two forthcoming soundtracks includes "Gold Digger," "Sweet Caroline," "Don't Stop Believin'," "Hate on Me," "Somebody to Love," and a duet of Heart's "Alone," all sung by the talented, young cast - my personal favorite, "Keep Holding On," is also on the track list. Glee fanatics will be overjoyed with this in their stockings, and be sure to grab an extra copy for everyone to sing along to at your NYE bash.

Bleach
Nirvana

It's hard to believe that 20 years has gone by since the release of Nirvana's groundbreaking debut, which woke up the rock world to a feverish new sound. Before the phenomenal success of Nevermind, the Seattle trio wowed a mostly regional fan base with Bleach, recorded at Reciprocal Recording Studios here in the Emerald City. To celebrate its two-decade anniversary, the original distributor of Bleach, local indie label Sub Pop Records, has released a deluxe edition of the album, complete with a never-before-seen live concert from Portland in 1990, as well as a 48-page CD/16-page LP booklet, and a limited number of copies on white vinyl. Bookended by a pair of standout cuts, "Blew" and "Downer," this 13-track collection is a rock lover's must-own.

Suckin' It for the Holidays
Kathy Griffin

She isn't very musical, but she's laugh-out-loud hilarious, and we can all use some comedy around the holidays. Kathy Griffin has cozied up to predominantly Gay sold-out crowds across America, and in far-away locales like Australia, Ireland, and the island of Bora Bora. A multi-Emmy Award winner and 2008 Grammy nominee, the redheaded TV star became the first comedienne to debut atop Billboard's top comedy albums chart with last year's work, For Your Consideration. On her newest project, Griffin takes shots at Justin Timberlake, Katie Couric, Suze Orman, the Real Housewives clan, and sacred cow Maya Angelou. Accompanied by a good boxed wine (her mom's fave), your non-hetero friends and co-workers will love you for a copy of Suckin' It for the Holidays.

Milwaukee at Last!!!
Rufus Wainwright

Not many live recordings are set in Milwaukee, and it's one reason to scout for Rufus Wainwright's latest project at the record store. Another reason is that if you've never seen him in concert, or if you have and want more, this CD/DVD set is true to the artist's show-stopping performances. That said, you won't find Wainwright gems like "Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk" or " Grey Gardens" on either of the two discs, though you will come across fabulous renditions of "Gay Messiah," "Between My Legs," "Sanssouci," and the dramatic, stark "Going to a Town." The music portion of the package features 10 songs, and the video segment presents 23 tracks recorded during a sold-out performance at Milwaukee's Pabst Theatre.

I Look to You
Whitney Houston

You can chalk Whitney Houston's comeback bid in the triumph column, thanks to this top-selling and artistically good album - it isn't her strongest, yet it isn't her weakest, either. I Look to You is the diva's first studio recording in seven years, and it culls some of music's golden circle of producers and writers, including Alicia Keys, Swizz Beats, David Foster, and Fernando Garibay. Houston's less-powerful pipes are noticeable throughout, especially on "Million Dollar Bill," and for reasons best left unsaid, she doesn't rise to the occasion as she once did. But what she lacks in vocal prowess she avenges with sophistication - "I Didn't Know My Own Strength," "I Got You," and the lovely title track demonstrate her move from mainstream pop to mature R&B.

Music for Men
Gossip

Fronted by a big-busted Lesbian and infusing their latest batch of songs with disco-sparkled keyboards, Gossip is the new favorite of American and European Gay hipsters. Formerly based in the Puget Sound, the Beth Ditto-led foursome capitalized on 2006's Standing in the Way of Control with this saucier mix of tunes, primarily on the leadoff single "Heavy Cross," which finds Ditto growling as if she'd carpooled to the recording studio with Wendy O' Williams. "8th Wonder" is a perfect warmer-upper for frosty winter nights, "Men in Love" is juiced with a quivering base and background cowbell, while "Pop Goes the World" offers fans a ride on an '80s party train. What's not to love about a hot band that just got hotter?

This Is It:
The Music That Inspired the Movie
Michael Jackson

The post-tragedy Michael Jackson movie This Is It is being praised by critics nationwide, surprising when you consider how quickly it was assembled following his untimely death. Those who've seen the film will undoubtedly want a copy of the soundtrack, featuring remastered versions of The Gloved One's classic hits, among them "Man in the Mirror," "Smooth Criminal," "The Way You Make Me Feel," "Black or White," and the stunning "I Just Can't Stop Loving You." The not-so-new single and title track "This Is It" appears twice on the double-disc set, as a standard rendition and with an orchestra. Demo versions of "Beat It," "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" and "She's Out of My Life" are also included in the package. If you have a King of Pop fan on your list, you simply can't go wrong by wrapping a big shiny bow around this.

The Fall
Norah Jones

Nine-time Grammy winner Norah Jones makes a sweet return with her appropriately titled new album, The Fall. Collaborating with the likes of Ryan Adams and Okkervil River's Will Sheff, the pop chanteuse detours slightly from her jazzy roots, evidenced on the mid-tempo first single "Chasing Pirates" - give it a listen, and see how fast it grows on you. The clunky, westernish "Tell Yer Mama" continues Jones' love for country-folk, and don't be surprised if it's released as a single in the coming months. Two other superb tracks are "Light as a Feather" and "Waiting," but New Yorkers might opt for the slick number "Back to Manhattan" - it sounds so Big Apple. Instead of an album of microwaved, cheese-drizzled jazz standards (you listening, Rod Stewart?), Norah Jones turns in a record of beautiful, quiet originals.

Love Is the Answer
Barbra Streisand

Though she isn't at the height of her career these days, Barbara Streisand still enjoys superstar status as both a recording artist and film actress, not to mention selling out large concert arenas in Europe and the United States. On her latest work, the famed diva collaborates with jazz great Diana Krall on a collection of ballads surrounding matters of the heart. Award-winning arranger Johnny Mandel smartly allows Streisand's voice to be the centerpiece on "Here's to Life," "A Time for Love," "Make Someone Happy," and "In the Wee Small Hours of Morning." This is the Grammy- and Oscar-winner's best material since The Broadway Album, with a special nod to 2003's The Movie Album. But whether it's her finest work or not, her very loyal followers will drink it up like a peppermint latte.

Live in London
George Michael

Recorded in his backyard of London, George Michael's latest fan-pleaser is a 23-song DVD recorded from the final two performances of his 25 Live Tour. Featured solo material includes "Father Figure," Faith," "Freedom '90," and "Fastlove," plus you'll get tunes from his days with pop duo Wham!, such as "Careless Whisper" and "Everything She Wants." The second disc contains bonus cuts, like "Jesus to a Child," "Precious Box," and a documentary entitled "I'd Know Him a Mile Off," filmed and directed by David Austin. Those on your gift list can re-live the craziness of George Michael with this keepsake of his most recent road outing.

Jason Mraz's Beautiful Mess:
Live from Earth
Jason Mraz

Pop music's quirkiest poet, Jason Mraz, is in a giving mood this holiday season, delighting his worldwide fan base - many of whom are Gay males - with a live show recorded at Chicago's Charter One Pavilion. The CD with bonus DVD set features many of Mraz favorites, such as "The Remedy (I Won't Worry)," "Butterfly," "Sunshine Song," and a fun, groovy cover of Lionel Richie's "All Nite Long (All Nite)." Worth noting is friend and touring companion Colbie Caillat's guest appearance on a duet of "Lucky." If you missed Mraz's sensational performance at Bumbershoot two months ago, you'll get a good taste of it with Beautiful Mess.

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