Last Minute Gift Ideas

Music CD’s, easy to pick up, easy to wrap, and light-weight enough to carry when you’re in the midst of Christmas shopping frenzy.  But what I’m recommending here are not your current top releases of the season, like Josh Groban’s Noel, selling 2.1 million copies so far this Christmas.  (UPDATE: Josh Groban’s Noel has just climbed to the no. 1 spot as the best selling CD of 2007 in the US, close to 2.8 million copies sold.)  Nonetheless, the following selections are equally enjoyable, and will likely make a pleasant surprise for your recipient.  

I’d give them all  ~ ~ ~ Ripples out of 4.   Actually, any CD from these artists is worthy of giving, although the following titles are my favorites.

CARLY SIMON — Into White

A collection of some familiar tunes, in Carly Simon style, making the new arrangements sound soulful and at times…even better.  Simon’s signature deep alto voice makes titles as simple as Oh! Susanna sound like a folksy classic.  Other numbers include the Beatles’ Blackbird, and familiar tunes like You Are My Sunshine, Scarborough Fair, Over The Rainbow, all offering a much more serene and moving rendition.  I particularly enjoy Devoted To You medly with All I Have To Do Is Dream…oh the wonderful Everly Brothers, re-interpreted by Carly Simon. You Can Close Your Eyes is particularly poignant, with Ben and Sally Taylor, Simon’s children with ex-husband James Taylor. The album also includes two new tunes, Simon’s own Love Of My Life and Ben Taylor and David Saw’s I’ll Just Remember You, which, in Simon’s own words, “…the most beautiful and simple song I’ve ever heard.”  All in all, this CD is one true gem, serenity in audio mode.



EVA CASSIDY — Songbird

Like so many artists before her, such as Van Gogh and Jane Austen, to name a few, Eva Cassidy received her honor and recognition posthumously.  1996 marked her untimely death from melanoma.  Since then, Cassidy’s Songbird album received Gold in 2000 and Platinum in 2001.  Her soulful soprano voice transcends the genres of folk, jazz, and country into a sublimation of a unique vocal style.  Fields of Gold starts off this album.  Just for this song, it’s worthwhile to get the CD.  I find Cassidy’s rendition much more soulful and poignant than the original Sting version.  Other songs include Autumn Leaves, Songbird (in Love Actually, 2003), Time Is A Healer, I Know You By Heart.  Yes, there’s also her own interpretation of the classic Over The Rainbow, bringing into it her signature fine vocal and acousitic guitar playing.  A valuable collection.


JOHN COLTRANE — Coltrane for Lovers

If you’re a jazz lover, this is a must-have (you probably own it already).  If you’re not a jazz lover, this is a must-have.  It’ll introduce you to what jazz can do to your whole psyche.  A compilation of Coltrane’s tenor sax playing some soulful and quiet romantic tunes.  You don’t need to be a jazz lover to be attracted to these soothing and sensitive renditions.  I find it particularly relaxing listening to this CD while driving alone at night…quite a listening, and driving experience.  Selections include numbers with Duke Ellington on the paino, and Jimmy Garrison on bass.  A most enjoyable title for any lover, music or romance.

Amazing Grace for Christmas

 Amazing Grace

This is one amazing film about an extraordinary man’s fight against slavery in 18th Century England.  The story chronicles Christian Parliamentarian and social reformer William Wilberforce’s mammoth battles in the British political arena to abolish the slave trade.

At that time, slaves were shipped from Africa to the West Indies in appalling conditions, many arriving dead.  They were chained to work on sugar plantations of British owners. Abolishing the slave trade meant a threat to the very economy of Great Britain.  William Wilberforce had given up twenty youthful years and his health to champion the anti-slavery cause.  Three days before his death, he saw his life-long advocacy triumphant as the abolition bill passed in the House of Commons, demolishing the institution of slavery in all of the British Empire.

The film is a display of superb artistry.  First of all, it benefits from a well-written screenplay by Steven Knight.  The award-winning Knight’s other film Eastern Promises (2007) has just garnered 3 Golden Globes nominations including Best Picture.

The exceptional cast is most satisfying to watch. Welsh actor Ioan Gruffudd is William Wilberforce, whose performance is intelligent and engaging.  He is effectively supported by a mass of extraordinary British actors, among them the veterans Albert Finney and Michael Gambon.

Albert Finney plays John Newton, the Pastor and mentor of Wilberforce.  It is from Newton that Wilberforce draws his inspiration and strength for his cause.  Newton himself used to be a slave trader.  His ephiphany came during a deadly storm while he was on a slave ship. The tempest he encountered reflected the torrents of guilt billowing in his own conscience.  Ultimately yielding to a merciful God, Newton was totally changed.  He abandoned the slave trade, his own livelihood, and became a Christian Pastor, spreading the message of God’s love and the freedom God had intended for all people. His writing of the tune and lyrics of Amazing Grace summed up the poignant conversion in his life.

The meticulously researched and designed period costumes and set, together with the fine cinematography bring out a beautiful and engaging film.  In many scenes, I feel like I’m looking through a portal of Rambrandt and Vemeer’s paintings in motion. 

The DVD is packed full of commentary and background information.  The music video of Chris Tomlin playing the piano and singing his contemporary version of Amazing Grace is both a visual and audio delight. 

One note of caution though, the film follows closely the British Parliamentary proceedings and political debates of the time.  Those anticipating a more romantic rendition may not have their expectation met.  However, I find the film very educational, informative, as well as inspiring.  What better gift to give this Christmas than the message inspired by the song Amazing Grace:

Chris Tomlin – Amazing Grace

(My Chains Are Gone)

Amazing grace
How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now I’m found
Was blind, but now I see
‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear
And grace my fears relieved
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed
My chains are gone
I’ve been set free
My God, my Savior has ransomed me
And like a flood His mercy reigns
Unending love, Amazing grace

~ ~ ~ 3 Ripples