It used to be that you could buy records in department stores, shopping malls and even the occasional drugstore or truck stop. That was about the same time record stores were plentiful, with the good ones operating as much as social epicenters for music communities as retail outlets.
Today, music shopping is usually done at one's home or office by point-and-click. And that's just for folks who choose to buy and download music legally.
So, as I have in recent years when presenting our annual holiday music gift guide, I encourage you to explore the joy of shopping for music at an actual record store and purchasing gifts you can see, hold and wrap.
If you're hopelessly devoted to digital, I understand. But I implore you to buy the music honestly and legally. We can't have recordings themselves going the way of the record stores.
And now, the big question: What music is worth buying in the first place?
For that, you have come to the right place. Here are a critic's picks from pop, rock, jazz, country, hip-hop and other fields, varying in price from $7 to a little less than $30. On, then, with the sounds of the season.
WALTER'S GIFT PICKS
Brian Eno, Lux. While not exactly retro, producer/instrumentalist/sonic stylist Eno retreats from recent pop experiments back to his atmospheric ambient sounds of the '70s and '80s. In other words, Lux is 75-plus minutes of peace and quiet.
Andrew Bird, Hands of Glory. A wonderful, stylistically far-reaching dessert of a record with songs that touch on Ryan Adams-style Americana, old-timey country and pop deconstructions full of stark, atmospheric color.
Led Zeppelin, Celebration Day. At last, the December 2007 reunion concert by one of rock's most storied acts surfaces as a dynamic double CD/single DVD package. Even as a pack of pop elders, the Zep crew still sounds commanding. Read a review on Page 29.
Various artists, 10 in 20. Subtitled A Lexington Recording Project, this is the culmination of nearly two years' worth of local studio sessions. The result is one of the best-sounding and most gloriously diverse local music samplers ever.
Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Psychedelic Pill. No surprises here, other than the fact that in an on-again, off-again alliance that has spanned more than 40 years, Neil Young and Crazy Horse still fashion lo-fi, post-grunge jams that fascinate.
Donald Fagen, Sunken Condos. The man from Steely Dan returns with a solo recording full of enough sleek jazz/pop sophistication and sardonic story lines to make it indistinguishable from music made during his band's glory years.
Punch Brothers, Ahoy! Call this one a stocking stuffer. The youthful and wildly industrious string-music brigade offers twists on traditional tunes, assorted covers and more on a spry five-song EP that retails for about $7.
The Rolling Stones, Grrrr! The die-hards get two new tunes that are pretty decent. But at heart, Grrr! is just another greatest-hits package to commemorate the Stones' 50th anniversary. Still, it's pretty hard to argue with the material.
Preservation Hall Jazz Band, St. Peter & 57th St. Speaking of 50th anniversaries, New Orleans' Preservation Hall Jazz Band celebrated theirs at Carnegie Hall. St. Peter brings it home with help from Trombone Shorty, Jim James and others.
Tift Merritt, Traveling Alone. One of Americana music's great songwriters, Traveling Alone is a statement that defines, alternately, confidence, defiance and vulnerability. Similarly, its music runs from lean acoustics to buoyant, rockish grooves.
Public Enemy, The Evil Empire of Everything. A companion disc of sorts to last summer's Most of My Heroes Still Don't Appear on No Stamp, Evil Empire solidifies the return of rap music's most socially conscious forefathers.
Branford Marsalis Quartet, Four MFs Playin' Tunes. Jazz titan Marsalis reconvenes his long-running quartet with new drummer Justin Faulkner and a set of predominantly original tunes both playful and rambunctious.
Jamey Johnson, Living for a Song. A disciple of the country outlaw movement reveals a staunchly traditional streak on this sterling tribute to songsmith Hank Cochran. Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss, Merle Haggard and others serve as guests.
Manu Katché, Manu Katché. French drummer Katché has been the engine drummer for, among others, Peter Gabriel. But his recordings are studies in cool. This self-titled fourth CD for the ECM label reflects lustrous grooves of old-school soul.
Marillion, Sounds That Can't Be Made. The ongoing evolution of Marillion from a prog unit into a band with a massive orchestral pop sound drives Sounds. Gaza, the opening suite, is proving to be unintentionally timely.
John Cale, Shifty Adventures in Nookie Wood. Ever the pop pioneer, this founding member of the Velvet Underground explores a thoroughly modern musical view with sounds that run from ambient to abstract.
Frank Zappa, Make a Jazz Noise Here. Nearly the entire Zappa catalog — some 60-plus albums — has been reissued in recent months. Jazz Noise was picked here for its retrospective/revisionist slant. But really, any Zappa CD makes a killer gift.
Peter Gabriel, So. That the 26th anniversary of the career-redefining So offers a new, remastered look at Gabriel's most popular songs isn't new. But packaging it with two discs of unreleased concert music from a 1987 stadium show in Athens, Greece, sure is.