Skip the iTunes gift cards and Adele CD. For the music lover on your holiday list, consider a more substantial present such as a book or CD boxed set.
Carrie Brownstein’s memoir “Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl” (Riverhead, $28) is about how a young woman from suburban Seattle found and lost herself in rock ’n’ roll. This is more about Sleater-Kinney, the influential indie-rock trio, than “Portlandia,” her cult-loved TV series. At times, Brownstein is very revealing, and then at times she wants to hide. It’s those insecurities that have made her music and this memoir appealing. Also available as audio book with Brownstein reading.
Hardly a year passes without a new book about the Rolling Stones. This year’s most curious Stones offering is Ronnie Wood’s “How Can It Be? A Rock and Roll Diary” (Genesis, $45), which reprints a facsimile of his personal diary from 1965 in his own handwriting. He was an aspiring guitarist. His life included attending concerts by Bob Dylan, the Who and the Rolling Stones. He also offers asides that update his story plus vintage photos and drawings by his own pen.
In “The Rap Year Book” (Abrams, $19), Shea Serrano chooses the most important rap song from every year (starting with 1979) and dissects it and its cultural impact. Analytical but conversational, Serrano tells it like it is. He isn’t afraid to court controversy. And he has a sense of humor, which is complemented by Arturo Torres’ colorful illustrations. “Eminem is not a gangsta rapper,” Serrano writes about “My Name Is” from 1999. “But he is a philosophical extension of gangsta rap, especially with regard to the existential conundrum” of white adults thinking their kids are experiencing offensive music.
As the Grateful Dead celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, many new Dead titles landed on bookshelves. Most intriguing is “Jerry on Jerry: The Unpublished Jerry Garcia Interviews” (Black Dog & Leventhal, $28). Dead publicist and official biographer Dennis McNally has edited a series of unpublished marathon interviews he did with the head of the Dead and arranged them by topic such as songwriting, movies, religion, LSD, the creative process and San Francisco. Included are rare family photos and Garcia artwork.
As the 100th anniversary of Frank Sinatra’s birth is being celebrated, there arrives a most unexpected and rewarding set, “Frank Sinatra: A Voice on Air (1935-1955)” (Columbia/Legacy). This is no introductory collection but rather a fascinating document of his growth as singer on 107 tracks (91 previously unreleased). The four-CD package provides well-conceived context with such ephemera as commercials sung by Sinatra, interviews with him and a D-Day announcement by him. A 60-page booklet offers essays, insight and classic photos.
Because he died so young (at age 26) in an airplane crash in Wisconsin, Otis Redding is often overlooked when it comes to the great male soul singers. If you need evidence, check out “Soul Manifesto: 1964-1970” (Atco), which collects the 12 albums he made (including two concerts discs and four posthumous CDs). He sings with such ache, joy and passion, and he was a terrific songwriter. He deserves more R-E-S-P-E-C-T, which is the title of a famous song he wrote.
Many people think Bob Dylan’s greatest work was done in the mid-1960s, which is what makes “The Best of the Cutting Edge 1965-1966: The Bootleg Series Vol. 12” (Columbia) so compelling. These two discs (six-CD and 18-LP versions are also available) offer alternate takes on such classics as “Like a Rolling Stone,” “Desolation Row,” “Highway 61 Revisited” and “Positively 4th Street.” Fans will gain insight — or further confusion — into Dylan’s creative process and debate whether he issued the best version of these songs in the first place.
In compiling “Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock ’n’ Roll” (Yep Roc), music historian Peter Guralnick didn’t choose the seminal record man’s greatest hits but rather songs that reflected his spirit and vision. So there are plenty of selections from Phillips’ stable including songs by Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis, but also essential efforts by Howlin’ Wolf, James Cotton and John Prine. This 55-song collection rocks — and provides a lesson in early rock and blues for the younger generations.