Gift ideas for everyone: 'Harry Potter,' Adele, 'Law & Order,' and 'Super Mario 3D'
Your gift list can get long with nieces and nephews, grandparents and friends all needing a present this holiday season. Try a few of these items that are sure to please like 'Winnie the Pooh,' 'Ken Burns: Prohibition,' and the video game 'Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception.'
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Winnie the Pooh ($29.99)Skip to next paragraph
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"Winnie the Pooh" is comfort food for kids and adults alike. It seems fun almost by accident. The story, which comes straight from the pages of author A.A. Milne (scenes are often literally set amid punctuation and paragraphs), sets off with seemingly no destination in mind, but in the end arrives at someplace pleasant. It combines three stories from the "Pooh" books, with Pooh's perpetual search for honey interrupted by a quest to find Eeyore's tail and the gang's expectedly incompetent attempts to rescue Christopher Robin from an imaginary monster. The attempt to knit three stories into a single narrative gives the story its occasionally rudderless feel. The musical numbers, at first, also come as a bit of a surprise. But ultimately, "Winnie the Pooh" is about what "Winnie the Pooh" should be: an unassuming and rather enjoyable hour in Hundred Acre Wood.
MUSIC Ray Charles: Singular Genius: The Complete ABC Singles ($42.98)
After his smash "What'd I Say" finally opened the door to the pop market, singer/pianist Ray Charles bolted from the R&B confines of Atlantic Records for the larger, mainstream label ABC/Paramount. "Singular Genius" is a box set of five discs containing all 53 of Charles's ABC singles, plus a 24-page booklet. The range of musical styles alone is breathtaking, all commandeered by Charles's soul-stirring vocals and funky piano. Soul, gospel, R&B, jazz and, yes, country harmonically coexist on these discs. Only Charles could have pulled that off. Offered complete freedom in the studio by ABC, Charles was soon back on top with the gorgeous ballad "Georgia on My Mind," followed by the infectious "Hit the Road, Jack." But not content to be fenced in by popular expectations, Charles transformed the country chestnuts "Unchain My Heart," "That Lucky Old Sun," and "Crying Time" into pop hits. And no one delivers the blues like Charles, who magically transformed "America the Beautiful" into a soulful tour de Charles. No box could contain this man's genius. But this is as close as you'll get.
Adele: 21 ($9.99)
At this point Adele could sing the pages of a telephone book and have a worldwide hit on her hands. Her voice is that memorable, powerful, passionate, and far more careworn than her 22 short years on this planet would suggest. Thankfully, the songs she writes are far better than the yellow pages. The dozen songs on "21" were wrenched, kicking and screaming, from a true-life breakup the singer suffered at the beginning of the album's sessions, and it's the sinew that binds the songs' themes and mood together. Turns out real life is much more interesting than rhyming couplets! "Rolling in the Deep" is the breakout hit; "One and Only" is a Southern-soul-style plea to an unsuspecting crush; and "Lovesong" recalls idol Dusty Springfield's soul stylings, four decades ago. Not all the material lives up to the promise of her glorious instrument, but it's hard to imagine a better album to ward off the imminent winter chill.
Fleet Foxes: Helplessness Blues ($8.99)
Ignore the word blues. This doesn't sound like any blues you've ever heard. It sounds more like rainbows. Seattle's Fleet Foxes sound like the hippie commune children of Crosby, Stills and Nash, along with assorted progeny of the Beach Boys. It's a lovely, airy, echo-laden harmony festival. Lead singer Robin Pecknold possesses a reedy, Neil Young-like tenor that slices through the layers of guitars, flutes, stacked voices, and finger-cymbals like a glass cutter. The song's lyrics are somewhat old-timey and obtuse, but generally seem to ask the big question "What is my purpose in this world?" The title song sets the basic tone:
I was raised up believing
I was somehow unique
Like a snowflake distinct among snowflakes,
Unique in each way you can see.
But, now, after some thinking,
I'd say I'd rather be
A functioning cog in some great machinery,
serving something beyond me.
The Fleet Foxes have created a timeless, mystical tapestry of sound and wonder that is a joy to behold.