Cheap Gifts!

Notice that the annual box roundup in the Times was almost all mixed-to-pan? That's why I seek out archival music that won't wear out your ears or your wallet. There are two three-CD sets below, one a concession to the box urge, but the rest are single CDs that don't quit. Want to make a splash? Give two.

African Ambience

Skipping all over the continent, raiding definitive albums by King Sunny Ade and Franco & Rochereau, this is not the kind of Afrocomp that ordinarily gets my seal of approval. But does it ever do what it sets out to do, and what competitors on Music Club, Mango, Putumayo, and others too crappy to remember don't: Segue the incongruous vocal attacks and rhythmic gestalts of, for instance, Youssou N'Dour's "Immigres" and Thomas Mapfumo's "Nyoka Musango" into the kind of danceable mix tape world-beat's venture capitalists once imagined we'd all be partying to by now. An ideal introduction for the neophyte, who might then branch out to Ade, Franco, Rochereau, and Loketo's Extra Ball too. Me, I hope I can find that album by Cameroon's Masao for less than the $26 it'll set me back at CDnow. A

Louis Armstrong
An American Icon

Put off my feed by a single godawful piano solo, I fretted that this post-WWII overview was too lax. Certainly he recorded many of these 60 tunes many times; in other versions, seven are on Columbia/Legacy's 16 Most Requested Songs, an utterly convincing budget-priced survey of Armstrong the Beloved, the Entertainer—the Icon. A few selections here are merely lovable and entertaining, not iconic. But having played all three discs many times—Louis is one artist the boy-group fan in the back seat will always settle for—I've yet to locate another moment I'd rather not hear. Armstrong is my favorite artist because he epitomizes what Gary Giddins's newly reissued Satchmo breaks down as the entertainer-as-artist/artist-as-entertainer: "He was as much himself rolling his eyes and mugging as he was playing the trumpet. His fans understood that, but intellectuals found the whole effect too damn complicated." A

The B-52'S
Time Capsule: Songs for a Future Generation
Warner Bros.

The B-52's I bonded with at Max's and CBGB were an art band who epitomized the lost bohemian ideal of camp as love—embodied it so fully that after unspeakable adversity they became the thing they took off on and from. But while I could cavil about edgier song choices and '90s shortfall and their firstest was their bestest, I know that their chosen legacy honors the pop band that belongs to the ages and the masses—the band that still launches keg parties on Myrtle Beach and sells khakis at the Gap. From "Private Idaho" to "Good Stuff," songs I've never cared for are pure fun here. So are songs I've always adored. And the main thing wrong with the two new ones is that they're not fit to shine the spaceship of 1992's visionary "Is That You Mo-Dean." Personal to all tailgaters: The debut's really cool. Er, hot. What you said. A

Miles Davis
Love Songs

Although in theory I like my makeout music instrumental—who needs a peanut gallery?—in fact I prefer undistracted silence. But I'll happily make an exception for the consensual intimacy summoned by Miles's quiet cool and taciturn affection for the limits of the melody at hand. Unless you can't keep your ears off Someday My Prince Will Come, which gives up three of nine cuts, this definitely won't kill the mood. A

Bill Haley & His Comets
The Best of Bill Haley & His Comets: The Millennium Collection

Fat (pudgy), old (30), spit-curled (so?), Haley gets no respect. And for sure you can skip his "Moon Over Miami," "Ida, Sweet as Apple Cider," and "Rip It Up." But they're not here. In his mythic moment of marketability, his mix of jump blues and Western swing was good for a small body of work that's unique in its efficient drive if only because nobody's been square enough to imitate it, though Brian Setzer is due to try. Most of it's here—12 songs, 32 minutes, 10 bucks. Give it some time and you may yet feel in your bones how "Rock Around the Clock" could change the world. A MINUS

The Isley Brothers
It's Your Thing: The Story of the Isley Brothers

Not counting them Beefheart digs, this triple is thesingle-artist box of the year by acclamation, and why not? It does an honorable job on a significant band whose catalog cries out for landscaping. And compared to the completist monoliths on the Isleys from UA and RCA, it distinguishes hills from dales pretty nice. But folks, this is only the Isley Brothers. They gave us "Twist and Shout" and "It's Your Thing" and, um, "That Lady," they hired Jimi Hendrix young and learned a few things, they formed their own label and held on like heroes. They have a great single disc in them. But who's up for canonization next? Frankie Beverly and Maze? A MINUS

Jim Kweskin & The Jug Band
Acoustic Swing & Jug

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