Given the decline of physical product in the music marketplace, figuring out how to give the gift of music can be complicated.
But there are still worthy CDs out there – and concert tickets. For those who don’t want more stuff, the experience of going to your favorite artist’s concert is priceless.
So here are some suggestions for 2017. As far as shows go, consider giving an “IOU” for Durham Performing Arts Center’s 2018-19 Broadway season, which goes on sale in February and will include the mega-smash “Hamilton.”
For albums, prices given are for CDs on Amazon, when available there.
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▪ Avett Brothers – Concord’s durably popular Americana stars, who lit up movie screens this fall with the documentary “May It Last,” play a New Year’s Eve show somewhere in North Carolina every year. Raleigh’s last time up in the rotation was 2014, and they’re coming back in 2017. Always a great way to wrap up the holidays. (Dec. 31, PNC Arena, Raleigh; $45.50-$70.50)
▪ Robert Plant – The Led Zeppelin frontman’s freak-folk solo career has always been both eccentric and really cool. His latest round of touring is to show off another fine solo album, this year’s “Carry Fire.” (Feb. 9, Memorial Auditorium, Raleigh; $64-$472)
▪ Diana Krall – Between her Grammy Awards and gold records, this jazz-pop pianist threads the needle between critical acclaim and commercial appeal. Tickets for this show would be a solid late Valentine’s Day present, if you don’t get them now for the holidays. (Feb. 17, DPAC; $65-$320)
▪ Rhiannon Giddens – Giddens has been on a hot streak in 2017, capped off by the MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant” she won this fall. The Greensboro native and Triangle expatriate’s first local show of 2018 – in Raleigh – should feel like a triumphant victory lap. (April 14, Memorial Auditorium; $32-$48)
▪ Tim McGraw & Faith Hill – If McGraw and Hill seem to be everywhere, you’re right. They’re on a publicity blitz for their new joint album, “The Rest of Our Life” (a first for the married couple), a documentary and the continuation of their Soul2Soul Tour. After stopping in Greensboro this summer, they’re back in North Carolina – their first Triangle show as a duo in more than a decade. This will make them one of the few acts to have played Raleigh’s 18-year-old arena under all three of its names: PNC Arena, RBC Center and Entertainment & Sports Arena. (June 22, PNC Arena; $65.50-$115.50)
▪ Niall Horan – Improbably, One Direction has become that rarest of creatures: a teen-idol boy band that yields up multiple high-profile solo careers. In the wake of big solo successes for Harry Styles and Zayn Malik, Horan – who just nabbed an American Music Award for New Artist of the Year – has stepped out with the “Flicker World Tour,” which will hit Raleigh next fall in its latter stages. (Sept. 17, Coastal Credit Union Music Park at Walnut Creek, Raleigh; $22-$258)
Albums & Box Sets
▪ Ryan Adams, “Prisoner” – The North Carolina expatriate’s 2014 self-titled album was enough of a dud to bring on fears he’d lost his mojo for good. But Adams bounced back with his Taylor Swift “1989” tribute, and “Prisoner” stands as his best album in at least a decade – a heartfelt, brilliantly catchy meditation on romantic depression that’s good enough to wallow in. (Paxam/Blue Note, $11.99)
▪ Beck, “Colors” – Every couple of years, Beck Hansen puts out another album that makes pop music seem like the easiest thing ever. “Colors” is more of the same – 10 delectably hopped-up electro-pop tunes that glide from hook to hook with impressive effortlessness. Forever young at age 47, Beck might be our greatest living pop star. (Capitol, $11.19)
▪ David Bowie, “A New Career in a New Town [1977-1982]” – While there is inherent value in everything Bowie left behind, this 10-disc box covers his last peak of pantheon-level greatness. “A New Career” includes his Berlin trilogy (highlighted by 1977’s “Heroes”) plus 1980’s epochal “Scary Monsters,” with all the original albums’ graphics reproduced in miniature-scale for compact disc. Impressive attention to detail. (Rhino/Parlophone, $109.69)
▪ Chris Hillman, “Bidin’ My Time” – The former Byrd/Flying Burrito Brother’s first solo effort in a decade-plus is an excellent Americana collection, but one tinged with sadness. It stands as the unexpected curtain call for Tom Petty, who produced “Bidin’ My Time” before his untimely death by heart attack in October. (Rounder, $11.99)
▪ Rachel Kiel, “Shot From a Cannon” – Thirty-some years ago, the Southeast was America’s hippest musical zone, especially R.E.M.’s North Carolina associates like the dB’s and Let’s Active. Carrboro singer-songwriter Kiel’s “Shot From a Cannon” recalls that era’s underground-pop glories, with 10 songs guaranteed to set toes to tapping. (rachelkiel.bandcamp.com, $12.97)
▪ LCD Soundsystem, “American Dream” – Six years after bidding farewell, LCD Soundsystem is back in force on this full-length comeback album. It’s a pretty incredible return – and a return to form. “American Dream” kicks out the ambient jams with a driving pulse, some of the most kinetic and funked-up rock music since the heyday of Talking Heads. (DFA/Columbia, $11.96)
▪ Michael Rank, “Another Love” – When he emerged three decades ago as a Rolling Stones-style rocker, Rank gave no indication of just what a chameleon he’d turn out to be. But after a stretch of years as a folksy Americana balladeer, this Pittsboro resident’s latest direction is full-on funk. An album Beck himself would be proud to call his own, the three-disc (!) “Another Love” ought to tickle anyone who fondly recalls “Superfly,” “Family Affair” and other funk milestones of the early ’70s. (michaelrankmusic.com, $13.77)
▪ Rapsody, “Laila’s Wisdom” – From the orbit of super-producer (and college instructor) 9th Wonder comes the Grammy-nominated Rapsody, who makes her major-label bow alongside an impressive guest list, including Kendrick Lamar, Anderson.Paak, Black Thought and other hip-hop peers. Busta Rhymes almost steals the whole thing with a ribald star-turn cameo that would make Barry White blush, but ultimately there’s no stealing this from Rapsody herself – a young woman with a lot to say and a stylish way of saying it. Available for now on streaming services. “Laila’s Wisdom” should emerge on CD before the end of the year. (Jamla/Roc Nation, price TBA)
▪ Sylvan Esso, “What Now” – The Durham duo of Nick Sanborn and Amelia Meath make electronic songs that sound like they could be campfire sing-alongs because (a) those songs are really, really catchy and (b) Meath is one of the most personable vocalists out there. “What Now” is Sylvan Esso’s second album, and it climbed all the way up to No. 32 on the Billboard 200 album chart – impressive for an independent release. (Loma Vista; $11.99)
▪ The War on Drugs, “A Deeper Understanding” – Album-length statements are unusual these days, but War on Drugs mastermind Adam Granduciel makes albums that feel like epic events. Combining fiery guitar heroics, dreamy soundscapes and a cutting Dylan-esque voice, Granduciel always conveys the sense that his songs are about matters of life and death – yours as well as his. (Atlantic; $12.56)