Peggy Lee’s musical life is the focus of James Gavin’s biography.
Peggy Lee’s musical life is the focus of James Gavin’s biography.Getty Images

The weather outside might be frightful, so it’s the perfect time to curl up with a delightful book, DVD, or box set from a favorite musical artist. Whether you’ve got a rock, pop, country, metal, hip-hop, gospel, jazz, or classical music fan on your list, there is something here that they will be happy to find in their stocking — and then, hopefully, in the spirit of the holidays, share with you.

Gift books

Our pick:

Sharon Robinson/Sharon Robinson



Leonard Cohen is known for many things: the poetry of his songs, the gravitas of his voice, the air of sophistication that surrounds him. Dirty laundry does not come to mind.

But there he is in Sharon Robinson’s new photo book, “On Tour With Leonard Cohen,” standing in a laundromat. With his back to Robinson’s camera, Cohen is in a long coat and one of his signature fedoras, looking far more refined than most on laundry day.

So does the man who wrote “Hallelujah” mix dark colors with whites?

“I’m not sure,” Robinson says with a laugh. “I do know that as a person he’s very meticulous, so I would guess not.”

That photo is one of several intimate images Robinson, whose long history with Cohen includes more than 30 years as a co-writer, backing vocalist, and producer, shot mostly with her iPhone. Set for release on Dec. 9, the book is a window into Cohen’s return to the stage in 2008, and follows him and his entourage all the way through last year.

The pictures offer a behind-the-scenes view of both the splendor and tedium of life on the road. We see Cohen dropped to his knees, performing to an empty theater during soundcheck. In another shot he’s on a tarmac waiting to board a plane, his guitar strapped to his back in a soft case. (Look closely and you’ll also see Bob Metzger, the local guitarist who has often recorded and toured with Cohen, in some of these images.)


“I think there’s almost a serenity to the pictures that definitely was part of the tour,” Robinson says. “That has to do with Leonard’s persona, the music we were playing, the discipline it took to prepare yourself every night for a show. The legs of our tours were quite long. It started to have its own rhythm, and I hope that you get that feeling from the book.”


More gift books:

Marcus Baram, “Gil Scott-Heron: Pieces of a Man” A complicated and uncompromising artist, Scott-Heron was ahead of his time as a songwriter, poet, and forefather of hip-hop. Baram traces his troubled journey from his roots in Tennessee to his death in 2011, leaving behind a legacy that had been largely unexplored. (J.R.)

Paul Brannigan and Ian Winwood, “Into the Black: The Inside Story of Metallica 1991-2014” This unauthorized book on the thrash-metal titans picks up where the authors’ 2013 tome left off, covering the quartet’s wildly successful and equally tumultuous storming of the mainstream — and including a vigorous defense of “Lulu,” the band’s oft-derided collaboration with Lou Reed. (S.R.)

Brian Coleman, “Check the Technique Volume 2” From his home in Boston, Coleman is a hip-hop scholar who has never forgotten the genre’s power to change lives. This new installment of his seminal “Check the Technique” series digs deep into the stories — “invisible liner notes,” as Coleman calls them — behind classic hip-hop albums by Ice Cube, Raekwon, and 23 others, including Roxbury-raised rapper Edo G. (J.R.)


Mick Fleetwood, “Play On” The towering, gleefully maniacal man who has kept the beat for the oft-shifted lineup of Fleetwood Mac since its inception details how he got the beat, the times he lost it, and the rumors and truths behind one of the most fractious, record-shatteringly triumphant groups in rock history. (S.R.)

James Gavin, “Is That All There Is? The Strange Life of Peggy Lee” A chanteuse for whom many listeners under 50 may only know one or two songs — most likely “Fever” and the one that gives the book its title — Lee led a captivating life full of pioneering moments and deep insecurities. With meticulous research, Gavin captures them all. (S.R.)

Richard Havers, “Blue Note: Uncompromising Expression” To commemorate the iconic jazz label’s 75th anniversary, this 3½-pound tome is a handsome and definitive document of Blue Note’s legacy. Rich with text, archival photos, and album artwork, the book chronicles the label’s origins in the 1930s and winds down with Gregory Porter’s Grammy-winning album from last year, “Liquid Spirit.” (J.R.)

Zoë Howe, “The Jesus and Mary Chain: Barbed Wire Kisses” Brothers William and Jim Reid are self-made men who emerged from a tiny Scottish town to form the Jesus and Mary Chain, one of rock’s most iconic bands from the 1980s. Through interviews with band members and their supporters, Howe cuts through the haze and mythology of their work to size up their influence. (J.R.)


Graham Johnson, “Franz Schubert: The Complete Songs” A composer’s life in lieder, and perhaps a writer’s too. The collaborative pianist and author Graham Johnson has spent decades performing and annotating Schubert’s incomparable songs. Now he has created a unique reference guide: a magisterial three-volume encyclopedia that gives each song its due with commentaries, texts, and translations, and a wealth of other materials, published by Yale University Press (www.yalebooks.com). (J.E.)

Lisa S. Johnson, “Rock Star Guitars” The six-string fetishist in your life will delight in poring over this gorgeous coffee-table book filled with photos and stories about the axes of the rock gods. Beyond a foreword by pioneer Les Paul, it includes everyone from Eric Clapton to Jack White. (S.R.)

Fred Schruers, “Billy Joel: The Definitive Biography” The piano man abandoned plans to pen his own autobiography, but gave veteran music scribe Schruers the go-ahead to use their 100-plus hours of interviews — as well as ones conducted with Joel’s family, friends, and business associates — to fill the gap with this funny, revealing, and poignant look at his long career. (S.R.)

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