After I'd been doing this for nearly 30 years, the right idea finally presented itself.
Instead of rummaging through stacks of often easily dismissed recordings and new release info about holiday-timed music in an effort to compile some sort of stylistically comprehensive shopping guide, I relied on instincts.
In short, my annual gift- giving choices of new holiday releases are all, in essence, critic's picks. These are recordings I've listened to, enjoyed and, as a result, recommend. Simple as that.
Some genres might get short shrift in this process. But the encouraging factor is that this list of 35 recently released recordings all but compiled itself, because there is an unusually healthy harvest of new music available this fall to suit almost any budget.
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So here are the sounds I will be stuffing stockings with this fall.
John Abercrombie Quartet, Wait Till You See Her: One of the ECM label's most acclaimed guitarists in a violin-chilled quartet session.
The Blind Boys of Alabama, Duets: The longtime gospel group sings with Lou Reed, Bonnie Raitt and more.
Sam Bush, Circles Around Me: Kentucky Music Hall of Famer explores bluegrass, new grass and sublime stringed things.
Rosanne Cash, The List: A covers primer by the first lady of progressively minded traditional country music.
Leonard Cohen, Live at the Isle of Wight 1970: The pop poet laureate presents a CD/DVD performance from the British Woodstock.
Miles Davis, The Complete Columbia Album Collection: For big jazz budgets, a package of 52 albums on 70 discs that spans 36 years of music.
The Doors, Live in New York: A six-CD set chronicling four January 1970 shows. The best-sounding Doors live set yet.
Tinsley Ellis, Speak No Evil: Chicago's Alligator label serves its finest guitar blues-rock-soul record of the year.
Liam Finn and Eliza Jane, Champagne in Seashells: The acclaimed Aussie pop stylists offer a freshly diverse but criminally brief EP disc.
Rosie Flores and the Pine Valley Cosmonauts, Girl of the Century: The Rockabilly Filly teams with famed punk/alt-country Welshman Jon Langford.
Jan Garbarek Group, Dresden: An at-times gloriously haunting live recording by the pioneering ECM saxophonist.
Jerry Garcia Band, Let It Rock: The Grateful Dead guitarist shines in a 1975 live set with keyboardist Nicky Hopkins.
Gov't Mule, By a Thread: Warren Haynes presents more meat-and-potatoes rock with an often darkly spiritual cast.
Hem, Twelfth Night: A stunningly beautiful Shakespearean soundtrack full of light strings and Celtic-style fancy.
Keith Jarrett, Testament: Two more sterling Jarrett solo-piano concerts, all improvised, spread over three discs.
King Crimson, In the Court of the Crimson King: A 40-year-old, but still timeless, prog/psychedelic classic, remastered with extra delights.
Robert Earl Keen, The Rose Hotel: A travelogue album of sorts, The Rose Hotel still shines with Keen's Lone Star cunning.
The Kentucky HeadHunters, Authorized Bootleg: This live archival find from 1990 captures the HeadHunters' early electric country gusto.
Mark Knopfler, Get Lucky: Knopfler recalls the rootsy The Ragpickers' Dream more than Dire Straits on his newest.
Fela Kuti, The Best of the Black President: A sampler of irrepressible Afro-pop soul and a preface to a 2010 Fela reissue series.
Los Lobos, Los Lobos Goes Disney: This guaranteed holiday pick-me-up offers Latin-rocking takes on popular Disney tunes.
Lyle Lovett, Natural Forces: A mix of originals and Texas-related covers done up with typically regal Lovett finesse.
Paul McCartney, Good Evening New York City: Sir Paul offers a three-CD/DVD set of his Citi Field shows at one-10th the cost of a ticket.
The Del McCoury Band, Family Circle: McCoury's best-arranged and best-performed session of traditional bluegrass in a decade.
Pearl Jam, Backspacer: Surprises including the Beach Boys-dipped Speed of Sound pepper the sure-footed PJ drive.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, The Live Anthology: The bargain of the season: four discs of live Petty from three decades for about $25.
Pink Martini, Splendor in the Grass: A multilingual, elegantly crafted and exotically inclined cure for winter blues.
Chuck Prophet, Let Freedom Ring: Although lean and bleak in spots, Freedom abounds with Americana ingenuity.
Dave Rawlings Machine, A Friend of a Friend: Gillian Welch mate Rawlings takes the wheel for wicked and delicate string serenades.
R.E.M., Live at the Olympia: A wonderfully scrappy-sounding concert set by R.E.M. with a career-spanning repertoire.
Richard Thompson, Walking on a Wire: The great British guitarist/songsmith shines on this four-disc career retrospective.
7 Worlds Collide, The Sun Came Out: Members of Crowded House, Wilco and more collaborate on a benefit album for Oxfam.
Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys, Can't You Hear the Mountains Calling: A 1981 bluegrass reissue featuring Stanley and Eastern Kentucky native Charlie Sizemore.
Tom Waits, Glitter and Doom Live: A dark, scorched carnival of a concert recording from the brilliant, mercurial Waits.
Steve Wariner, My Tribute to Chet Atkins: At long last, Wariner's guitar-happy salute to his friend and mentor hits the streets.