• My tip of the top hat for best new holiday CD goes to Maybe This Christmas, a 13-track collection on the Nettwerk label benefiting the U.S. Marine Corps' Toys for Tots campaign. Except for Barenaked Ladies & Sarah McLachlan's take on "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" and a few fan-club rarities, the rest are new compositions or re-interpretations exclusive to the CD.

A handful of local bands have new releases, and they carry the distinct flavor of the past. One might say that time has stood still here in this part of the Midwest, but the current sad state of popular music – from the pop princesses and boy bands to nü-metal – makes each of these releases sound fresher than they might have in a different time.

The Quad City Symphony Orchestra and Festival of Trees Holiday Pops Concert on November 23 was not a concert for orchestral-music purists, but it is an integral part of the symphony season and essential for increasing the local symphonic- and classical-music base.

• This Tuesday the Mod Music label is releasing its Indie Choice 2002 CD, a 16-track collection from its recent worldwide talent search. Grand-prize-winner Angela McClusky is certainly one to look out for, as the former vocalist of the Wild Colonials offers up "It's Been Done," co-written with Nathan Larson of Shudder to Think.

Technology allows virtually all musicians to cheaply record and duplicate their music. The difficult part is getting that music into the hands of listeners. And that need is being met by a handful of small labels that have cropped up in the Quad Cities in recent years.

• One of the greatest eras in power pop has recently been honored in tasty tribute fashion with The Stiff Generation, a 24-track salute to Stiff Records and its stable of breakaway stars in those nutty, new-wave days of the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Dave Deibler pretty much gave up the rock lifestyle about five years ago. After "riding the bull" for 10 years with the Iowa-based power trio House of Large Sizes, he needed a break. "You have to get off that damned animal and lead it around a bit," said Deibler, guitarist, singer, and songwriter for the band.

• My favorite chill-down record of the moment is the just released Last Night, a soulful, sweet funky breeze from the eclectic entity known as His Name Is Alive. Initially a somber, dark sound experiment by Warren Defever, the outfit has re-invented itself with each album on the 4AD label, this time taking a left into funky café jazz and soft acoustic soul.

There are certain words that I promised myself that I would not use in this review. “Anthemic,” for example. Or “rural rock.” Or “heartland,” or “heartfelt,” or “heart”-anything for that matter.
Why? Because these are terms that have been attached to John Mellencamp ever since those early days of MTV, back when Johnny Cougar boogied down with bar bikers in the original “Hurts So Good” video.

Being a Wilco virgin, I was under the tutelage of a handful of veteran listeners who explained that Wilco was more then just alt country. The band’s latest album, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot has garnered much critical acclaim and was even being compared to the Beatles’ White Album, stated one of my new mentors.