Music Notes: Holiday gift potential from Elton John, U2, Mariah Carey and other music acts

Box sets from U2 and Elton John, as well as Mariah Carey's memoir, make ideal holiday gift selections in 2020.
Box sets from U2 and Elton John, as well as Mariah Carey's memoir, make ideal holiday gift selections in 2020.

Some of us might need a little push to get motivated for Christmas shopping this year, but, ready or not, the holidays are less than a month away.

Of course, you can spend hours online reveling in Lil Nas X’s “Holiday” video, gawking at Harry Styles and Billie Eilish in Gucci’s new Lookbook or watching her Google-created “Infinite Bad Guy” video on YouTube (short clips from tens of thousands of covers of the song randomly linked together).

But those are all leisure diversions, not gifts.

And despite our obsession with streaming everything and instant gratification, it’s still a welcomed experience to unwrap a present that might become a valuable keepsake or memory — even if it feels like it’s becoming increasingly nostalgic.

Here are a few gift considerations for the music fan on your list.

U2, “All That You Can’t Leave Behind – 20th Anniversary” box set: Though it never received the fawning accolades of 1987′s “The Joshua Tree” or the praises of the inventive “Achtung Baby” in 1991 — the band’s 2000 album that offered “Beautiful Day,” “Elevation” and “Walk On” — is to some fans (hand raised) their masterpiece. The multi-format anniversary release includes a standard, single-CD remaster (with one new song, “The Ground Beneath Her Feet”), but splurge for the super-deluxe box set, which includes 51 tracks. (One CD is strictly B-sides, outtakes and “alternatives.”) In addition to the five-CD set, an 11-LP version is also available. The included hardcover “Walk On” travelogue book by the band’s trusted photographer Anton Corbijn is a treasure in itself. It features shots of the band goofing on the beach in St. Tropez and Bono plopped on the floor and leaning against the luggage carousel in Nice, France.

Mariah Carey, “The Meaning of Mariah Carey”: The pop diva could have released a shallow retelling of her career and her faithful “lambs” would have eagerly inhaled it. But instead, this memoir, one of the first on Andy Cohen’s new eponymous imprint, spills the tea in glorious Mariah manner, dah-ling. Her storytelling voice is clear throughout, whether recounting the lean early years to the mental torment of being married to Tommy Mottola to her spicy affair with Derek Jeter. It’s a rarity — a celebrity autobiography with bite.

Usher heads to Las Vegas in July 2021.
Usher heads to Las Vegas in July 2021.

Usher in Las Vegas: The Atlanta R&B superstar is primed to open a new residency at Caesars Place on July 16. Attendance of course depends upon your comfort level with traveling and breathing in enclosed venues (and of course, who knows what January will look like, never mind July). But the show is expected to span Usher’s 20-year career with hits and dancing. Tickets start at $59 via Ticketmaster. And if you’re heading that way, Donny Osmond will be back, sans sister Marie, for a run at Harrah’s starting Aug. 31. Ticket prices begin at $65, also through Ticketmaster.

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Elton John, “Jewel Box”: Last week, the venerable pop icon told Howard Stern in a fulfilling interview on his SiriusXM show that he was concerned about releasing rarities and deep cuts from the 1965-71 portion of his career because he feared they were going to sound “terrible.” While this is indeed a collection for serious devotees, John needn’t worry about the reaction to these 60 previously unreleased tracks that come as an 8-CD set, various cool vinyl options and a digital choice. “There’s Still Time for Me” (a sweet bop of piano and tambourine), visceral piano demos of “Burn Down the Mission” and “Madman Across the Water,” and the sublime “Snow Queen” (with KiKi Dee) are among a multitude of highlights. The CD collection is housed in a jade green hardcover book, filled with nuggets from John about the deep cuts and their origins with lyricist Bernie Taupin, as well as photos of John through the years, handwritten lyric sheets, album covers and posters. It’s a divine collection for those yearning to dig below his parade of hits.

AC/DC is back and ready to rock with "Power Up," which includes a deluxe, light-up box set edition.
AC/DC is back and ready to rock with "Power Up," which includes a deluxe, light-up box set edition.

Credit: Josh Cheuse

Credit: Josh Cheuse

AC/DC, “Power Up” box set: For their first album since 2014, the legendary Australian hard rockers have crafted 12 new tunes rolled out in multiple formats. But true disciples will stand for nothing other than the “Power Up” box, which includes a button on the side that will ignite a flashing AC/DC logo and the opening bars of “Shot in the Dark” from a built-in speaker. For those about to rock (again), we continue to salute you.

A host of new albums for varying tastes: Ariana Grande’s slinky “Positions”; Bruce Springsteen’s joyful, yet reflective “Letter to You”; Jeezy’s “The Recession 2” (Check out his Marvin Gaye-sampling thumper “The Glory,” with Ne-Yo.); Larkin Poe’s meaty covers album, “Kindred Spirits” (They’ve somehow made Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight” even more eerie.); Goodie Mob’s triumphant return with “Survival Kit”; Chris Stapleton’s atmospheric and introspective “Starting Over.”

Liberty DeVitto, “Liberty: Life, Billy and the Pursuit of Happiness”: Billy Joel fans are as familiar with DeVitto as they are the words to “My Life” or “Tell Her About It.” Many are also aware that the ace drummer and Joel had a falling out in 2005. Good news — they’re pals again. Better news — DeVitto offers not only an intriguing, song-by-song look into the origins of Joel’s catalog, but a deep dive into his own upbringing in New York. (And yes, Italians really do eat their salad at the end of a meal.)

A new book of photos of venues around the country seeks to illuminate the struggles they've endured since the pandemic shutdown.
A new book of photos of venues around the country seeks to illuminate the struggles they've endured since the pandemic shutdown.

Credit: Jose Berrio

Credit: Jose Berrio

“Bring Music Home”: A coffee-table book that documents the current state of 200 music venues across the country (including, in Atlanta, Northside Tavern and Oak ATL), all captured as the pandemic continues to crush the live music industry. Proceeds will benefit the venues as well as “the people and artists who sustain them.” Check out more details at bringmusichome.com (the book ships in January). bringmusichome.com/store/p/bring-music-home-book

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