Music from breaking new artists make great last minute Christmas gifts

OK, itís Christmas week, and you still havenít finished your shopping. Maybe a CD is the answer? Over the past month, Iíve written about slick box sets from The Grateful Dead and Dead Can Dance (two bands that share a similar name but couldnít be farther apart musically!) as well as "Best Of" collections from a host of Ď80s and Ď90s artists. If those didnít send you to the store, I have a list of new releases,from both old and brand new artists, for you this week: Ray Romano - Live at Carnegie Hall

Sitcom/comedy fans may appreciate the standup routines of "Everybody Loves Raymond" star Ray Romano. His Live at Carnegie Hall is out now on Columbia. The more hip and cynical intellectuals on your list may really appreciate the two-CD DVD set from Henry Rollins. One of the hardest rockiní alternative punk band leaders around (The Rollins Band, Black Flag) Rollins splits his time these days between music and his ascerbic and hysterical spoken word performances. Part comedy, part thoughtful monologue, two of his 1993 performances are captured on Talking From The Box: Henry Rollins Goes To London on Imago. Rollins also has a new hard rock release out with The Rollins Band. Their disc, Nice, is available on Sanctuary Records.

Fans of heartland folk rock may be interested in receiving the latest Bob Dylan release, Love and Theft, on Columbia, or John Mellencampís loose, easy rockiní Cuttiní Heads, on Columbia (it features his recent hit "Peaceful World").

Jennifer Paige - Positively SomewhereOne of the slickest girl-pop discs out this year belongs not to Britney Spears, but to Jennifer Paige, who scored a couple yearís ago with "Crush." Paigeís second album, Positively Somewhere, on Hollywood Records, is a gorgeous mix of upbeat love pop with soaring harmonies, strumming and occasionally mildly distorted guitar riffs and all-round smiley-happy synthesizer sounds. The opener, "These Days" and "You Get Through" are two of my favorite songs of 2001. Sharper than Britney, softer than Alanis, as catchy as Natalie Imbruglia, this album never gets stale Ė itís one of my favorite pop discs of the year.

A close followup to Paigeís sugarpop comes in the debut disc from Carly Hennessy. Ultimate High, on MCA, is loaded with "na-na-na-na"s and silky, seductive upbeat pop candy. In the driving chorus of the opener, "Beautiful You," she delivers a perfect new relationship sentiment ("Beautiful You - oh baby, wonít you come my way/your beautyís true/donít listen to what fools might say/Beautiful You/oh baby Iím so blown away/with everything you do Ė youíre beautiful"). And in the equally jaunty finger-snapping next track, "Iím Gonna Blow Your Mind," she promises heaven to a new boyfriend with the teasing chorus, "I really really really wanna kiss you/but much more than that/Iím gonna blow your mind." While later tracks bog down with slower pacing and overproduction, the first few songs on Ultimate High are a pop loverís dream.

JJ72For the alternative rock fan on your list looking for new music, try JJ72 or The Strokes. JJ72 has a self-titled disc out on Lakota/Columbia, and should appeal to fans of the dreamier side of The Smashing Pumpkins with their mix of driving distortion, high-pitched vocals and echoey melodicism on tracks like "Undercover Angel" and "Oxygen." Another new band that has alternative fans excited is The Strokes, a quirky band on RCA whose major label debut Is This It opens with a minimalist titletrack and progresses through a10 more songs dominated by punky rhythm guitar and spoken vocals that share a barebones music philosophy with early Violent Femmes.

Know someone who really loved the last couple albums by Fastball and The Jayhawks? Get them the new disc from Convoy. Black Licorice on Hybrid Records has that same dual vocal harmony, classic guitar Americana influence that both Fastball and Jayhawks have scored with over the past couple years. The opening track, "Gone So Quick Tomorrow" should be playing on every FM rock station thanks to its singalong harmonies and hooky chorus. And in "Hereís Looking At You" they wear their influences on their guitars as they borrow and bend a hook from John Lennonís "Mind Games" to support a Wallflowers-style easy rocker. This is a solid rootsy rock release with a timeless sound.

Now 8Still canít make up your mind, but youíve got a giftee who likes lots of current pop music, be it Jennifer Lopez, Backstreet Boys,Smash Mouth or harder rock like Blink-182, Fuel and 3 Doors Down? Pick up Virgin Recordsí new Various Artist compilation Now Thatís What I Call Music! Vol. 8. This latest edition of the popular hit collection series features new hit music from all those artists, as well as NSYNC, Destinyís Child, Aaliyah, Usher, Wiseguys and U2.

Soundtracks are always a good gift bet, and the Oceanís Eleven movie soundtrack on Warner Bros. features lots of new and old hipster groove music from the Ď50s-Ď60s, interspliced with dialogue from the film. Percy Faith and His Orchestra, Perry Como, Elvis Preslety, Quincy Jones and David Holmes all appear. Fans of the film know the music is an integral part of this filmís experience and will enjoy spinning this one at home. The Vanilla Sky soundtrack features the usual solid mix of songs thanks to director Cameron Crowe (a former Rolling Stone correspondent). Released on Reprise, this disc includes new music from R.E.M. and Paul McCartney, as well as classic tracks from The Monkees, Peter Gabriel and Todd Rundgren and some moody offerings from Radiohead, Red House Painters and Nancy Wilson.