Life during the COVID-19 pandemic has reminded music lovers of soul-sustaining simple pleasures, like dropping the needle on a crackly LP or digging into the catalog of a beloved artist.
And spending winter indoors will mean actually having the time for a voluminous Prince or Joni Mitchell or Tom Petty box set.
Plus, there’s an opportunity this year to make a real difference when you give the gift of music. Everything here can be purchased online, but shopping at a local record store will help keep those vital businesses alive.
Online, the music platform Bandcamp makes sure that 80 to 85% of what you spend goes to the artists themselves. And if you can procrastinate and hold off shopping until Friday, Jan. 1, your favorite bands get a bonus — as they do the first Friday of every month — reaping 100% of sales.
Finally, consider a gift that supports shuttered your local venues or helps sustain local musicians.
Now on to the music, and music-related gift ideas — from Mariah Carey’s new memoir to Tierra Whack shoelaces and Low Cut Connie yarmulkes. (Albums are listed in alphabetical order, by artists’ last names.)
Albums and box sets
“Bobby Bare Sings Shel Silverstein Plus” (Bear Family Records). An essential set for country fans. Bare predated Waylon and Willie as a Nashville trailblazer who took creative control of his records. The music in these eight CDs documents his spectacular collaborations in the ’70s and ’80s with the songwriter, cartoonist, and author Shel Silverstein. Included are concept albums that cover the range from "Singin’ in the Kitchen" (with Bare’s wife and kids) to "Down and Dirty and Drunk and Crazy." ($196)
John Coltrane, “Giant Steps, 60th Anniversary Deluxe Edition” (Rhino). The classic album Coltrane composed in the house on North 33rd Street in Philadelphia where he kicked his heroin addiction while living with his cousin Mary Lyerly Alexander. This commemorative set is available as two LPs or two CDs and includes outtakes previously only available on the mammoth "Heavyweight Champion" box set. ($21.49 on CD, $51.64 on LP)
Paul Desmond, “The Complete 1975 Toronto Recordings” (Mosaic). Alto saxophonist Paul Desmond spent 17 years on the road with the Dave Brubeck Quartet and figured he was spent when he left in 1967. But Desmond soon acquired a Canadian quartet, and the results on these seven discs from 1975 are full of Desmond’s elegant bliss. These tunes, many of them standards, capture the breathy esprit that Desmond exuded. And it ends with Desmond’s “Take Five.” ($119, limited edition, 2,500 copies)
Joni Mitchell, “Archives — Volume 1: The Early Years, 1963-1967″ (JMA / Rhino). Joni Mitchell herself had a revelation listening to this 5-CD box: “I was a folk singer!” That’s a label she’s resisted as being too limiting but apt when referring to these solo sides, including “Day After Day,” the first song she ever wrote. It’s a treasure trove, with a Philadelphia story, including two 1967 excerpts from late folk DJ Gene Shay’s radio show as well as two live shows from the Second Fret in Center City. ($64.98)
Thelonious Monk, “Palo Alto” (Impulse!/Legacy). This single-volume release captures the jazz pianist at Palo Alto High School one 1968 afternoon. Booked by a white high school student who promoted it in Black east Palo Alto in the name of racial unity, the show was recorded by the school janitor. A $500 payday in the midst of an engagement in San Francisco, the performance is nonetheless inspired, with Monk and band fully engaged. ($16.09)
Tom Petty. “Wildflowers & All The Rest” (Warner). The casual mastery of Tom Petty’s songwriting becomes ever more apparent the longer the singer, who died in 2017, has been gone. Released in 1994, "Wildflowers"was his second solo album and his first produced by Rick Rubin. Songs both bighearted (“Wildflowers”) and self-pitying (“You Don’t Know How It Feels”) are expressed with elegant simplicity, and most of the extras on this four-CD set are keepers. ($49.98)
John Prine, “Crooked Piece of Time” (Elektra). This seven-CD set encapsulates the first decade of the career of the songwriting sage, who died of COVID-19 in April. The brilliance of his 1971 self-titled debut, which included “Hello in There” and “Sam Stone,” overshadows the six albums that followed, but all are worth hearing, starting with the bitter, brilliant. and underrated "Diamonds in the Rough." ($54.98)
Staple Singers, “Come Go With Me: The Stax Collection” (Craft). “We’ve got to get ourselves together, and try to understand each other,” the Staple Singers sang on the first song of their Stax debut album in 1968. The timeless music on this seven-CD set gathers hits like “Respect Yourself” and “Come Go With Me” along with deep cuts by the great gospel-soul family band fronted by guitarist Roebuck “Pops” Staples, and featuring son Pervis and daughters Yvonne, Cleotha and Mavis. ($59.92)
Amy Winehouse, “The Collection” (Island/Ume). British soul singer Amy Winehouse released just two albums in her lifetime: her promising 2003 debut "Frank" and 2006′s breakout "Back in Black," which brought on the fame that would engulf her. This five-disc box adds the posthumous, uniformly strong "Lioness: Hidden Treasures," plus a disc of remixes and a 2007 live set. ($49.98)