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Give the gift of music
(or an actual musician)

12/15/11
By Michael Witthaus music@hippopress.com



While you’re shopping for that special music fan, a barrage of the tried and true will compete for your holiday dollars. We’re talking deluxe packages. At the top of the pile is U2’s aptly named “Über Edition” of the 1991 album Achtung Baby, a numbered limited-edition 10-disc set with seven vinyl singles and a bunch of other goodies (including the follow-up, Zooropa) to justify a price north of $400. The Rolling Stones (Some Girls, $150), Pink Floyd (Dark Side of the Moon, $120) and The Who (Quadrophenia, $130) have each released coffee table versions of big albums. Even Nirvana’s Nevermind receives the completist treatment — five discs, one a DVD with rare performances, and a 90-page book for around $150.

But here’s a bit of contrarian advice: forget about legacy bands. Read Simon Reynolds’ Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction to Its Own Past, or give it as a gift ($14 paperback) to someone stuck in a classic rock rut.  Reynolds frets that it’s an unhealthy focus spelling the end of originality.

He may be right, but here’s how to prove him wrong: buy something new and local. For hard rock fans, The Black Harvest from Salem’s Armor for the Broken is a good choice. Country music lovers will enjoy Jandee Lee Porter’s latest, Whisky and Wine. Jazz doesn’t get any better than Mike Stockbridge’s Ama. Hip-hop artist Quiet Akillez dropped the Official Manchester Video on YouTube earlier this year, featuring Da Chief, and QA has a new album, The Secret.

Acquiring the music can be tricky with the industry in its present state. Brick and mortar stores like Newbury Comics and Bull Moose have a lot of local stuff — Before the Day, a fine new disc by the rootsy band Old Abode, is available at the former. But experimental rocker Otto Kinzel prefers fans pick up his unique concept album The Zodiac Killer at iTunes. “I’m trying to use it as much as possible, hoping to get enough sales to create a ‘buzz’ as an indie artist amongst all the national/major label peeps,” he says.

You can give the gift of music, or if you’re so inclined, the actual musician. For a few hundred bucks, hold a house concert and invite some friends. Amy Petty has a great new Christmas album, Sycamores, and she does a terrific guest turn on Tim Janis’s three-disc American Christmas Carol ($20 at www.qvc.com). You can book Petty to perform in your living room — “My absolute favorite kind of concert,” she says. Send an e-mail to www.amypetty.com. To find artists available for a private serenade, go to www.newenglandfolknetwork.com.

If that’s a bit too intimate, there are other ways available. Kickstarter (www.kickstarter.com) is a website used by artists to fund projects, everything from small tours to recording. Local comic Nick Lavallee made The Other Guy that way; contributors received everything from pre-release copies of the CD/DVD set to custom YouTube tributes (for a $250 donation). Keene Americana quintet GirlandPiano recently completed The Wayward Ark (available as a digital download on girlandpiano.bandcamp.com) and is soliciting backers for mastering, mixing and other production costs. Donate $500, and the band will write a song in your honor.

There’s always traditional live music; tickets to a show make a great gift. The Capitol Center for the Arts in Concord is sweetening its deal. Buying a gift card worth $25 or more unlocks a two-for-one deal on tickets to several upcoming performances, including a tribute to Paul “King of Jazz” Whiteman (Jan. 15), Comedian Lenny Clarke (Feb. 25), Irish traditionalists Danú (March 11) and evenings devoted to the music of Queen (March 29), Louis Armstrong (May 6) and Joni Mitchell (May 11). See the full list at www.ccanh.com.

Hard rock fans will jump for joy to find tickets in their holiday stocking for Gigantour, a Jan. 29 concert at Lowell’s Tsongas Center featuring Megadeth, Motorhead, Volbeat and Lacuna Coil ($39.50 & $49.50 at www.tsongascenter.com. A revamped L.A. Guns with Steve Riley & Phil Lewis hits Nashua’s Junkyard Nightclub on Jan. 27 ($15 at www.lonewolfjames.com) and Taproot play a multi-band show Jan. 28 at Boston Billiard Club in Nashua ($20 at www.ticketmaster.com).






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