For every John Fahey solo "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen Fantasy" or McGarrigle Christmas Hour you give us, there are hundreds of not-so-cool yuletitles from Mariah Carey, Shania Twain and the Now That's What I Call Christmas collection, which isn't as much Christmas as it is nauseating. But one local Christmas release has a lot to do with the spirit, thanks to the MUSIC MAKER RELIEF FOUNDATION, a Hillsborough-based organization that provides a network and funds for aging blues musicians who have rarely had more than the music itself.
What's cooler than being cool? Cool John Ferguson's Cool Yule, of course, a lesson in standards from one of the greatest living electric guitarists. It will delight teenage nephews obsessed with Hendrix and Page and parents who are lifelong blues devotees. And this year, give it in addition to the Music Maker Treasure Box, a $35 collection with four hours of unreleased blues, a limited-run poster, a guitar pick, a Music Maker bag, a subscription to the Music Maker Rag and a donation to the fund in the recipient's name. With Cool Yule, it's $50, and--for the uber-enthusiast--there's the $135 package, which includes a subscription to the Givin' It Back record club, which funds the recording process itself and which earns the recipient the records before they're released. --Grayson Currin Musicians make good neighbors (so support them) People all around you are making good music, so TRY BUYING AND LISTENING LOCALLY. You won't find most of these at Best Buy, so try CD Alley (Chapel Hill, 960-9272), Schoolkids Records (Chapel Hill, 929-7766; Raleigh, 821-7766), The Record Exchange (Raleigh, 831-9666), Offbeat Music (Durham, 688-7022), 4-4 Records (Raleigh, 754-1483) and a new shop near Durham's Ninth Street: Chaz's Bull City Records (286-9640).
The Kingsbury Manx, The Fast Rise and Fall of the South--Finest album to date from Chapel Hill group, lifting low-key pop with beautiful elliptical imagery, lilting guitars and infused keyboards.
Little Brother, The Minstrel Show--Soul and jazz samples from one of the most-buzzed producers in hip hop supporting intuitive lyrics about school, family and love.
The Rosebuds, Birds Make Good Neighbors--These days, Fuquay-Varina produces strip malls and fast-food chains. But 20 years ago, its Roses (still standing!) produced Ivan Howard, a sad-eyed but enthusiastic songsmith to treasure.
Brian Walsby, Manchild--Book by Carolina-via-California punk artist and cartoonist. Walsby dishes dirt from 20 years in the music business. From drawing a Motley Crue T-shirt in high school to starting a band with Ryan Adams, laugh riots all around.
Chatham County Line, Route 23--Ol' time grass through post-big-box-hardware-store eyes, combining good-timin', lady-lovin' wit with a little-man, just-livin' populist agenda.
The Prayers and Tears of Arthur Digby Sellers, The Mother of Love Emulates the Shapes of Cynthia--For the post-grad in the family who wears scarves and gloves and who does Tolstoy and not bowl games after lunch.
Compulations 1 & 2 --More of a smorgasbord than a sampler, let a family member sink their ears into 40 of the state's best indie bands for cheap.
The Cherry Valence, TCV3--New lineup and a great new record of pounding drums and blistering guitars, made expressly for the guy in your family who works too damn much and likes to complain to his bottle and maybe his baby.
The Bleeding Hearts, Stayin' After Class--Remember high school? Blah. If your nephew likes rock 'n' roll, loves girls and hates school, let him and The Hearts commiserate.
Des Ark, Loose Lips Sink Ships--Highly recommended listening for the girl who will turn her back on Avril as soon as she finds out there's nothing punk about major labels or overly-compressed drums.
Dark Holler: Old Love Songs and Ballads (Smithsonian Folkways recording)--Madison County's deep-and-wide folk balladeer Dillard Chandler as documented by John Cohen on record and on the accompanying film, The End of an Old Song.
TheloniOus Monk & John Coltrane, Live at Carnegie Hall--For the snob in the family who insists that nothing worthwhile has ever crept from our state, Monk (born in Rocky Mount, 1917) and Coltrane (born in Hamlet, 1926) prove differently in this newly unearthed gem. --Grayson Currin
Pendants for pups (and other 4-leggeds)
The devastation Hurricane Katrina wrought on companion animals along the Gulf Coast doesn't make the headlines any more, but beloved pets and homeless strays are still being rescued in Mississippi and Louisiana. Many of the national groups have pulled up stakes, but the Humane Society of Louisiana is hard at work re-establishing their operations in New Orleans. The group has lost its entire base of local donors and volunteers, the shelter needs extensive reconstruction, and every day, more animals need help.
Hillsborough resident LYNN BURCHER has created a beautiful way to chip in. The proprietor of Gilded Lily Glass Designs, Burcher is giving away gorgeous FUSED-GLASS PENDANTS in exchange for a minimum donation of $10 to the HUMANE SOCIETY OF LOUISIANA. One hundred percent of the proceeds go to the rescue group.
She sold about 150 in the first month; the first 50 or so garnered nearly $1,000.
"The wonderful thing, of course, is that people are contributing more than the requested donation," says Burcher.
The pendants are available at Four Paws Animal Clinic in Chapel Hill's Glenwood Square, Phydeaux in downtown Carrboro and Carolina Stained Glass on Guess Road in Durham.
Because she turns them out of her kiln in small batches, there may be intermittent supply, so check back later if you don't find them at first. --Jen Strom
Hallmark vs. handstamped
As long as we're doing good by gifting this holiday season, shouldn't we also choose our Christmas/Hanukkah/Solstice cards with a high-minded purpose? Alt-cards are available in a variety of places, but one source you might not know about is the CARD GROUP at the WAKE COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES' DROP-IN CENTER IN RALEIGH.
The center is a relaxed place for men and women with a history of serious mental illness. They drop in--usually for a day or two a week--to socialize, work on their job skills, and earn a little money if they want to. Participants craft a variety of cards by hand, sell them for $1 each, and use the proceeds to buy their supplies. Profits are used to repay the county for their wages, which are equal to the minimum wage of $5.25 an hour for up to four hours a week.
The Card Group works year-round and makes cards of all kinds. But, like every retailer you know, this is their biggest time of the year. To order cards, call Pam Floyd at the Drop-In Center, 856-5240. --Bob Geary
A good place to find the unusual gift is at a fundraising auction. Lots of nonprofits have them. A new nonprofit we like, because the cause is teaching progressive political activism, is TRACTION--short for Triangle Action--which is holding its inaugural holiday gift fundraiser-auction.
The theme of the event, swiped from a famous Seinfeld episode, is "FESTIVUS FOR THE LEFT OF US." So look for a few good "Festivus" traditions, like the annual "Airing of Grievances," Traction founder Lanya Shapiro says.
Among the donated gifts so far: Rock-climbing lessons, handyperson help, a two-hour massage/acupressure session, and a week in a western North Carolina mountain house.
Traction (www.gettraction.org) mixes good times with politics for the 20- and 30-something crowd. But olders and elders are most welcome at this event too, Shapiro says. Especially if they come to buy!
Think globally and shop locally on Saturday, Dec. 10 from 4:30-6:30 p.m. at the Broad Street Café, 1116 Broad St., Durham, 416-9707. --Bob Geary