NASHVILLE SKYLINE: Put Johnny Cash and the Beatles Under Your Tree

Here Are a Few Gift-Giving Suggestions for the Holidays

(NASHVILLE SKYLINE is a column by CMT/CMT.com Editorial Director Chet Flippo.)

So, it’s time once again to think about Christmas gift suggestions.

For Christmas gift ideas for your music-loving relatives and friends this year, I have a few suggestions. This has not exactly been a banner year for contemporary country music, so, accordingly, I don’t have many hints for items relating to any of our current radio chart stars.

My only sure-fire hints for your young, male country-listening friends and kinfolk is this: buy them TRUCKS! GIRLS! BEER!

So that covers a lot of your Christmas list pretty quickly.

But if your circle of friends and relatives has moved beyond trucks and beer, here are a few other milder thoughts.

Given that new, young country hasn’t yet accrued much in the way of lasting music collections and memorabilia, let’s take a look at what is available that you may fancy. These are, admittedly, things that I already have or want, so it’s one man’s wish list.

I know and you know that there has been an almost constant flow of Johnny Cash re-releases and discoveries of previously unreleased recordings since his death in 2003. But his Complete Columbia Album Collection is just about unparalleled in any music genre. It’s a humongous collection of 63 CDs, covering his 59 Columbia album releases. It’s a shame Columbia Records dropped Cash from their label roster in 1986 for not being profitable.

Pretty pricey — about $255 on Amazon.

For the vinyl-head in your life, consider the Beatles Stereo Vinyl Box Set. The remastered albums included are Please Please Me, With the Beatles, A Hard Day’s Night, Beatles for Sale, Help!, Rubber Soul, Revolver, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Magical Mystery Tour, The Beatles, Yellow Submarine, Let It Be, Abbey Road and Past Masters. The latter two-disc studio set consists mainly of A and B sides of singles that were not originally on any Beatles’ albums. That was released on CD in 2009 and is now in stereo vinyl for the first time. This boxed set, complete with posters and a book, runs about $320 on Amazon. But if someone in your life is a vinyl fan and also a Beatles lover, there could be nothing better.

Another vinyl work I’ve been enjoying is Jamey Johnson‘s Living for a Song: A Tribute to Hank Cochran. This double LP set includes Johnson dueting on 16 Cochran songs with artists ranging from Willie Nelson to George Strait to Emmylou Harris. You’ll hear Cochran hits as well as such lesser-known songs.

There are two new coffee table books of music photography this year worth your attention. The first is by Jimmy Steinfeldt, a Hollywood-based photographer who has just published his debut book, Rock ‘n’ Roll Lens: 30 Years of Music Photography and Stories. His photographs here — all in color — include shots of Michael Jackson, Paul McCartney, Dolly Parton, Tammy Wynette and Johnny Cash.

Chuck Boyd’s works are in black-and-white, and he has been photographing the world of music since the early 1960s. He was hired by Sunn Amplifiers in 1967 as the company’s official photographer. In that capacity, he had virtually unlimited stage and backstage access for performances by Sunn clients. They ranged from Eric Clapton to the Rolling Stones to Led Zeppelin to the Who to James Brown. His new book is Forever Young: The Rock and Roll Photography of Chuck Boyd. These photos have not been available to the public before and are remarkable in their candor.

Willie Nelson has a fairly candid — if short — book about his life and career out now. Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die is a sort of running scrapbook of what he wants to recall from his long career. It’s got such tidbits from his past as fond childhood memories as well as some really silly — but funny — jokes.

And there’s a little university press book this year of the sort that very often gets lost in the shuffle. A Few Honest Words: The Kentucky Roots of Popular Music comes, as you might expect, from the University Press of Kentucky. In his foreword, Rodney Crowell notes, “With each generation, roots music retains its appeal for the simple reason that the beautiful vulnerability that defines the human experience is best conveyed through song.”

The book’s author, Jason Howard, traces Kentucky’s role as a crossroads of roots music, with its key figures ranging from Stephen Foster to Bill Monroe and Lionel Hampton. Through interviews with native Kentucky artists as well-known as Naomi Judd and Dwight Yoakam and as little known as Kevin Harris and Carla Gover, Howard shows how Kentucky’s unique culture and even its landscape have influenced music artists and writers across musical genres.

“We are in the midst of a roots music renaissance,” Howard writes, “as people across the country are returning to a music of place. They are rejecting the glossy ad campaigns, images and sounds that accompany the latest Nashville sensations, opting instead for comfort food for the ears. … Many Americans are longing for a return to the basics; a guitar, evocative lyrics and a voice that has not been autotuned or tampered with in Pro Tools.”