What with the holidays and all, this seems like a good time for nostalgia. It's a time to look back, to see where things came from, to relish the memories and traditions of the past. Here are a couple of ways to do that musically.

Various artists, "BASEBALL" (Elektra Nonesuch) * * * 1/2.

We learned in Ken Burns' production of the Civil War that music is an integral part of the story, able to convey messages and feelings that words cannot. That lesson is reinforced in his epic "Baseball," which traces the development and appeal of this great American pastime. Music is part of the sport. From the longtime favorite, "Take Me Out To the Ballgame," to lively tributes to a variety of players such as Joe Dimaggio and Willie Mays, we have sung about baseball almost as long as we have played it.

Burns' skillfully weaves a collection of these songs together for this soundtrack recording, lacing them with a few telling quotes, to provide a disc that is not only fun to listen to but also provides a capsule history of society and sport.

For his nine-part documentary, Burns did some 250 versions of "Take Me Out To The Ballgame," so it's not surprising that several show up here, the most definitive, the simple piano solo by Jacqueline Schwab, whose background in English folk music and country dance helps her create the perfect atmosphere for the story. In fact, Schwab's piano is put to good use throughout the album, with five solos, including "The Minstrel Boy" in honor of Branch Rickey, and "Steal Away" for Jackie Robinson. It is a sound ideally suited for the mood of the album.

Among other contributors are Natalie Cole, Duke Ellington, Branford Marsalis, Carly Simon, Les Brown and his Orchestra, Count Basie and the New York Hawks.

Some songs are new versions, some are old. The "Star Spangled Banner" shows up in several arrangements. But other songs are less familiar: "Gee, It's a Wonderful Game," "Baseball Boogie" and "Pound Cake."

It is evocative music, songs that make you feel as well as hear. And hopeful, too. Maybe baseball can survive its current troubles, after all.

Keith and Rusty McNeil, "American History Through Folksong," 6 vols. (WEM Records) * * * *.

If you'd like a musical journey through the history of America, Keith and Rusty McNeil have just the ticket. The husband-and-wife team has spent decades researching, collecting and singing folk songs and now has a six-volume series that traces the history of our country through song. From the tunes of 17th century Colonial America to those of the labor movement in the 1980s, this is the music sung by the common people to express their feelings, fears, frustrations and fanciful parts of their lives.

It is a dramatic lesson on the role music has played in our past, both in recording history and in uniting common attitudes. We have sung about pretty much everything at some time or another. And often, music was the medium of choice to convey a message.

One volume deals with music of Colonial and Revolutionary America, another with the songs of expansion and the early movement West, a third with songs from the Civil War. Other sets feature cowboy songs, songs of the railroad and music of labor and unions. (A couple more sets are in the works.) Each volume has two cassettes and anywhere from 36 to 60 songs performed by the McNeils with help from a variety of family and friends. Included in each set are notes on the songs.

Some of the tunes are familiar, some are not. The railroad series, for example, includes "The Wabash Cannonball" and "The Handcart Song," but also songs like "Drill Ye Tarriers" and "There's Many A Man Killed On The Railroad."

The narration between songs gives them context and helps complete the history lesson. The songs have been carefully researched and authenticated. The notes in the Civil War set explain where many of those songs come from: "In the confederacy, poems about the war were published with regularity in Southern periodicals. Those that captured the fancy of tunesmiths were set to music, and published as songs. Northerners also wrote and published poems about the war . . .

"The sentimental songs, for the most part, were sung by civilians. Soldiers usually preferred the rousing marching songs, humorous songs, protest songs and parodies that sprang spontaneously from army life. Both sides loved Stephen Foster songs."

Accompaniment for the vocals is provided by a variety of instruments, including banjo, guitar, harmonica, tin whistle, mandolin and piano.

These tapes would be a great teaching tool, but they are enjoyable listening as well, a delightful and timeless look at our past. They are available at museums and national parks and monuments around the country, or by mail order from WEM Records, 16230 Van Buren Blvd., Riverside CA 92504. Each set is $19.95 or all six for $99.95. Call 1-909-780-2322 for a catalog or more information.