As I write this, there are 10 days until Christmas. By the time you see this in print, there will be less than a handful. But I can tell you right now, I'll still be one of those out there treading the marble of the malls on those final countdown hours. Thank Rudolph that some stores do the gift wrapping for you!

I'll be hunting still for gift ideas, because I have some people on my list that won't want CDs (I can't understand that, but…I've got to go with it!) However, I can offer you three great gift ideas if you have a pop, classic rock or hard rock music lover on your list, and are still heading out just hours before Christmas to find something to have wrapped for them!

 

JJ Cale and Eric Clapton JJ Cale & Eric Clapton
The Road to Escondido
(Reprise)


Classic rock, adult easy listening and guitar afficionados will all appreciate the new CD by two guitar legends – JJ Cale and Eric Clapton. The new disc, The Road to Escondido listens like a back porch jam session of the top musicians in the business…which is pretty much what it is. The disc offers a mix of bluesy, easy strumming tracks that include guest appearances from John Mayer, Albert Lee, Taj Mahal and the late Billy Preston.

Two of Clapton's biggest hits – “Cocaine” and “After Midnight” were actually Cale songs, but this is the first time the two have teamed up to record a CD together. The disc features mostly Cale-penned songs, which span the musical spectrum from blues to reggae, but my favorite is Clapton's “Three Little Girls,” a short lilting folkish ode to his three youngest daughters.

 

Gwen Stefani Gwen Stefani
The Sweet Escape
(Reprise)
½


No Doubt's electric frontgirl stepped out for a solo record two years ago in Love.Angel.Music.Baby. that yielded hits in “What Are You Waiting For?,” “Rich Girl” and “Hollaback Girl,” among others. She took time off from the spotlight to have a baby, but now she's back with a new attack on the pop charts. While it's a frothy, fun listen, it doesn't yield quite the adrenaline surge that her first did. Still, it has plenty of delicious moments, notably in the salacious rhythm experiment of “Yummy,” the disc's standout track, performed with Pharrell.

Like her first disc, “The Sweet Escape” pairs her with a revolving door of producers, which helps keep the songs from all sounding the same. Back again to help are The Neptunes and No Doubt mate Tony Kanal, who cowrote and produced two of the better tracks in the punchy “Don't Get it Twisted” and the simple but sweet ballad “4 In the Morning.” Other standouts include the handclapping “Now That You Got It” and opening single “Wind It Up,” which attempts to repeat the success of her hit “Rich Girl” (which samples an old Broadway musical) by sampling a song from “The Sound of Music.”

 

Tenacious D Tenacious D
The Pick of Destiny
(Epic)
½


A few years ago, Jack Black and Kyle Gass released the hysterical hard rock sendup album Tenacious D and even brought their “acoustic metal” act to TV. Now they're back with a movie about their mythical band and a soundtrack album to boot. While a second helping rarely manages to release as intense a flavor as the first, The Pick of Destiny does have its laugh-out-loud moments. From the addition of chicken lyrics to some of the best known classical themes in history (“Classico”), to the thoughtful politics of “The Government Totally Sucks” to the over-reaching bombast of a “rock-off” between the D and the Devil in “Beelzeboss (The Final Showdown),” the disc is great irreverent fun (that relies, fyi, on healthy doses of the “F” word).

Metal fans will recognize multiple touchpoints that the music is lampooning, and will appreciate the presence of Dave Grohl in the band and Meatloaf and Ronnie James Dio turning up to sing on “Kickapoo.” Black manages to convincingly ape the antics of every cliché heavy metal singer with over-developed penchants for drama that the ‘70s produced. It may not lodge long in your CD player, but it's good for a lark.