So, this does, indeed, come a week after the whole "gifts" issue, but this is traditionally the week for local music suggestions. CDs make great stocking stuffers, are easy to wrap, and won't set you back an arm and a leg. Plus, if you nail someone's musical taste with an album they don't know about or haven't heard, you'll impress the hell out of her.
This column is also a chance to shed some light on some discs that fell a bit under the radar in 2010. We've reviewed none of these discs in this space this year, but all have their redeeming qualities.
For people who like to get sweaty
Kenya Hall Band, Learning for Miles, Vol. 1
Released just last week, this is another disc from producer Frank Hopkins and features many Big Easy regulars, fronted by the big-voiced Kenya Hall, who has paired up with Megan Jo Wilson in the past for the Soul Movement and has now carved out her territory as leader of a band that's easy to dance to. It's a big band, too: five horn players are credited, along with keys players like Nigel Hall and Tyler Quist (some of the keys sounds here are Jamiroquai-spacey), and 10 others. Hall wrote or co-wrote five of the 13 tracks here, but the most interesting credit is probably that of Steve Jones. I didn't have him pegged for this kind of treatment, but "Used to Know" is a pretty great bluesy romp.
For beard-and-sweater types
Elf Princess Gets a Harley, Only Animals Eat Animals
Not sure this indie-pop gem got enough love when it was released this summer. Coming off like Belle & Sebastian teamed with New Order, there's some great local heritage here with Brandon Davis (Extendo-Ride), Jesse Hautala (An Evening With), and Meghan Conley (Sex Sells). Best tune here is probably the Conley-fronted "C to F, Etc."
For people who love the new Kanye album
Fi, Dream in Color
Generally the hip hop in these parts is either quick-delivered underground stuff or goofy intellectual joke-rap. Fi, though, is pretty damn mainstream and pulls it off well. A mix of sing-song wrap and straight-up R&B, there are a lot of pop elements here and a generally relaxed vibe that's good for low-riding in your whip.
For those with lots of green in the closet
Hoffman & Trippe, self-titled
While they're not going to set any land speed records, this pair has put together a charming collection of traditional Irish fiddle tunes, with a sprinkling of original solo fiddle in Hope Hoffman's "Longview." Hoffman's slightly husky playing is nicely complemented by Trippe's very clean vocals and guitar and mando accompaniment.
For Fab Four Fanatics
Steve Grover Quintet, Flying
Beatles tunes reinterpreted as bop and free jazz? Yep, it's just as listenable as it sounds, and Steve Grover continues to be the standard bearer for Maine's small, but impressive, jazz scene. Trent Austin plays trumpet, David Wells tenor sax, Tony Gaboury guitar, and Chris Van Voorst Van Beest bass. Nothing but terrific playing throughout, and cool choices from Grover, including the little-known title track from Magical Mystery Tour and the 11:30 take on "Come Together" that's awesome in the low end.