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Archive for December 10th, 2013

Holiday Gift Guide Review: A Real Gone Christmas With Andy Williams, Patti Page and The New Christy Minstrels

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Andy Williams - Complete ChristmasWhen Andy Williams passed away on September 25, 2012 at the age of 84, the loss was keenly felt by anyone who had ever played the “red album” and the “green album” during the holiday season.  The Andy Williams Christmas Album (1963) and Merry Christmas (1965) were the best-selling Columbia LPs that led Williams to embody the title of “Mr. Christmas.”  His rich, warm and resonant tenor was ideally suited to holiday music of both the secular and spiritual traditions, and his association with the holiday lasted for his entire life, through albums, television appearances and stage performances.  Real Gone has just delivered the ultimate celebration of Williams’ Christmas perennials with the 2-CD set The Complete Christmas Recordings (RGM-0197).

This collection includes the entirety of those two aforementioned albums plus 1974’s long out-of-print  Christmas Present LP and a clutch of five rare bonus tracks (two of which are making their first ever appearance here).  The Andy Williams Christmas Album (the “red album”), produced and arranged by Robert Mersey, was divided into a secular side and a religious side, but the treatments of the songs were surprisingly adventurous.  On the former side, Williams’ association with the legendary arranger and nightclub singer Kay Thompson led to the inclusion of her own version of “Jingle Bells” plus a swingin’ medley of Thompson’s “The Holiday Season” with Irving Berlin’s “Happy Holiday.”  The familiar “Twelve Days of Christmas” was also turned on its ear as “A Song and a Christmas Tree.”  On the latter side, Williams’ pure, crystalline tone was at its most pristine on “Silent Night” and “The First Noel.”  But The Andy Williams Christmas Album’s most lasting contribution to pop culture was the introduction of “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” the Edward Pola/George Wyle song that may still today be the single most exuberant track ever to celebrate the holiday season.  It also became a theme song for Williams perhaps second only to Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer’s “Moon River.”

Naturally, a follow-up album was planned.  1965’s Merry Christmas followed the template of its predecessor, with Williams and Mersey applying their combined talents to another group of songs from across the holiday spectrum.  The same “Side One – Tin Pan Alley, Side Two – Church” format was also adhered to, except Jay Livingston and Ray Evans’ “Silver Bells” crept onto the second side!  No matter, though.  “Silver Bells” was just one of the beautifully-sung songs here.  A moody arrangement of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “My Favorite Things” made for one of the song’s finest recordings; the exciting treatment of “Sleigh Ride” featured Williams deftly navigating a staggering number of key changes.  Williams and arranger Bob Florence (subbing for Mersey on just one track) made magic from “Christmas Holiday,” Craig Smith’s otherwise-unknown seasonal tune with an adventurous melody and jubilant lyrics.  Christmas Album and Merry Christmas are included in their entirety here, but both albums have been wholly resequenced for this compilation.

Following Merry Christmas, Williams didn’t return to the holiday songbook at Columbia until 1975.  That was the year he issued Christmas Present, the most atypical of his three Christmas sets for the label.  It also may be Williams’ most personal.  The opening title track, a pleasant slice of mid-seventies MOR, cedes to a frequently-solemn, ravishingly-sung collection of hymns and spiritual music including “Joy to the World,” “What Child is This?,” “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” and both the Schubert and Gounod settings of “Ave Maria.”  Williams’ voice never sounded more natural or more direct in its power, even if the joyous, celebratory feel of the previous two albums was altogether absent.  Christmas Present is a passionate set worth a second look, and Real Gone’s Complete Christmas Recordings marks its return to CD after roughly two decades.   It’s presented in its original running order.

After the jump: more on Andy, plus Patti Page and The New Christy Minstrels! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

December 10, 2013 at 14:45

Review: James Taylor, “The Essential James Taylor”

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Essential James Taylor largeIn the annals of American popular song, there’s a place reserved for James Taylor.  For 45 years, the Boston-born troubadour’s distinctive and soothing baritone has been a reassuring voice bringing light to the darkness with his nakedly emotional, often autobiographical music.  Sure, recording technology has changed a bit over the years, but Taylor’s style now is essentially the same as it was then – applying that warm voice and shimmering, precise guitar to those direct, melodic and deceptively simple songs.  This stripped-down, back-to-basics style has served Taylor well, and it lends a consistency to The Essential James Taylor.  Taylor’s first 2-CD compendium, it’s drawn from his Warner Bros., Columbia and Hear Music catalogues, only overlooking his 1968 debut for The Beatles’ Apple label.  (“Something in the Way She Moves” and “Carolina in My Mind,” both first recorded on Apple, are included in their fine Warner Bros. remakes for 1975’s Greatest Hits; that classic compilation’s live recording of the blues take-off “Steamroller” has also made the cut here.)

This new anthology has been produced by Bill Inglot.  No stranger to Taylor’s discography, Inglot remastered 2003’s excellent single-disc primer The Best of James Taylor.  The first disc here chronologically surveys the artist’s career from 1970 to 1977, and opens with the very first song heard on Taylor’s first American LP: the title track of Sweet Baby James.  There weren’t too many country waltzes opening rock records in 1970, but the lullaby disarmed, and hooked, listeners.  “Sweet Baby James” didn’t wear its three-quarter-time sophistication on its sleeve, but quietly established Taylor as a rather special musician.

Remarkably, and equally subversively, he took the bleakly beautiful “Fire and Rain” up the charts.  A song of stunning depth even with its initial impact long dulled by familiarity, “Fire” was plain-spoken poetry.  Its opening lines were shocking and sad (“Just yesterday morning, they let me know you were gone/Suzanne, the plans they made put an end to you…”), with the song permeated by angst and awareness of the finality of it all (“But I always thought I would see you again…”).  Many of its lyrics were starkly autobiographical, as with the reference to “sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground.”  (Taylor’s first band, with Danny Kortchmar, was The Flying Machine – not the “Smile a Little Smile for Me” group of the same name.)  But Taylor had a dramatist’s gift of understanding, that the most specific writing is usually also the most universal.  “Fire and Rain” struck an emotional chord.  It still does.  “Fire” also shows off another Taylor trademark: the instantly-memorable opening guitar riff.  These “vamps” – think “Mexico,” “Fire and Rain,” “You’ve Got a Friend” – have become integral parts of songs themselves.

After the jump, we have more on JT! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

December 10, 2013 at 11:42

Posted in Compilations, James Taylor, Reviews

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Bob Mould, Lone Justice, Dream Syndicate Added to Busy Omnivore Release Schedule

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Workbook 25

Happily for fans, Omnivore Recordings has willfully ignored the unwritten rule that reissue labels wind down for a bit toward the end of the calendar year. They’ve just announced the latest catalogue projects of what is already shaping up to be a busy 2014, with rare and unreleased recordings due from Paisley Underground group The Dream Syndicate, country-rockers Lone Justice and legendary ex-Hüsker Dü member Bob Mould.


Omnivore announced yesterday the expansion of Workbook, Mould’s 1989 solo debut, as a 2CD or 2LP set. Released a year after the Minnesota punk band’s acrimonious split, the album saw Mould exploring intensely personal and furiously proficient songcraft (critics and fans have called Mould’s guitar playing on Workbook some of his best), more than a little removed from the noisy power-pop bliss of his follow-up band Sugar. The two-disc Workbook 25 features the remastered album and non-LP B-side “All Those People Know” on one disc, and a mostly-unreleased live show from Chicago’s Cabaret Metro, just two weeks after the album’s original release. (Mould will also embark on seven tour dates to commemorate the album, commencing with a special set at San Francisco’s Noise Pop Festival in February.) A double-vinyl version will add “All Those People Know,” as well.

The Day Before of Wine and Roses

Mere weeks before The Dream Syndicate convened in the studio to record their full-length debut, The Days of Wine and Roses, they took to a studio inside the offices of KPFK-FM in Los Angeles, playing a rapturous set of new and old originals (from their self-titled EP released earlier that year) and covers of Donovan (“Season of the Witch”), Bob Dylan (“Outlaw Blues”) and Neil Young (“Mr. Soul”) to a receptive audience that included members of R.E.M. and The Bangles. First released nearly a decade after the band’s split, The Day Before Wine and Roses captures the live spirit of this seminal band – a spirit which audiences recently got to experience in California for a special set of reunion shows alongside fellow Paisley Underground bands The Three O’Clock, Rain Parade and The Bangles. This reissue features both new liner notes by band frontman Steve Wynn and vintage ones from producer Pat Thomas.

Lone Justice

Finally, a spate of unreleased tracks by L.A. rockabilly/roots group The Lone Justice, will be released by Omnivore. Recorded two years before their debut LP for Geffen (which featured an all-star supporting cast including producer Jimmy Iovine, songs co-written by Tom Petty and Steven Van Zandt and session work by Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers’ own Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench) with engineer David Vaught, the aptly-named This is Lone Justice: The Vaught Tapes is a successful snapshot of the band’s raucous spirit as a then-primarily live act. In addition to its 12 tracks, nine of which are unreleased, the CD or red-vinyl LP package features a host of liner notes and essays, from guitarist Ryan Hedgecock and bassist Marvin Etzioni, Billboard‘s Chris Morris and even longtime fan Dolly Parton.

Expect This is Lone Justice on January 14, The Day Before Wine and Roses on February 4 and Workbook 25 on February 25. Hit the jump for full track listings for all of them!

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Written by Mike Duquette

December 10, 2013 at 10:43

Release Round-Up: Week of December 10

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Eric Clapton - Give Me StrengthEric Clapton, Give Me Strength: The ’74/’75 Recordings (Polydor/UMe)

One of Clapton’s most prolific periods is revisited with this six-disc box, featuring expanded versions of 461 Ocean Boulevard (1974), There’s One in Every Crowd (1975), a remixed and expanded double-disc version of live album E.C. Was Here (1975), a disc of sessions at Criteria Studios with blues legend Freddie King and a Blu-Ray featuring new 5.1 surround and original quadrophonic mixes.  (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Ella The Voice of JazzElla Fitzgerald, The Voice of Jazz (Verve/UMe)

A ten, count ’em, ten-disc overview of one of the greatest jazz vocalists ever. (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Radio JellyfishJellyfish, Radio Jellyfish (Omnivore)

Join the fan club! The power-pop cult legends took a stripped-down approach for a 1993 radio tour, and we now get to enjoy these performances for its first official release.

Amazon U.S.: CD / LP
Amazon U.K.: CD / LP

Mellencamp big boxJohn Mellencamp, John Mellencamp 1978-2012 (Mercury/UMe)

All of Mellencamp’s official studio albums for Riva, Mercury, Columbia and Rounder – from 1979’s John Cougar to 2010’s No Better Than This – plus the out-of-print soundtrack to his 1992 acting and directorial debut, Falling from Grace. (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

White Light - White Heat Box SetThe Velvet Underground, White Light/White Heat: 45th Anniversary Deluxe Edition (Polydor/UMe)

The VU’s second album gets the deluxe treatment as a triple-disc set, featuring the album in mono and stereo with 11 bonus tracks, plus a third disc recorded live at New York’s Gymnasium in 1967. (A double-disc version omits the mono disc.)

3CD Deluxe Edition: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
2CD Deluxe Edition: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.

Neil Young - Cellar DoorNeil Young, Live At The Cellar Door (Reprise)

A previously-unreleased disc culled from Young’s late-1970 run at the small Washington, D.C. club – the latest in his ongoing Archive Performance Series.

CD: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
2LP: Amazon U.S. /Amazon U.K.

Saving Mr BanksThomas Newman, Saving Mr. Banks: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Walt Disney Records)

The deluxe version of this new release – from a new Disney film telling the tale of how Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) brought P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson)’s classic children’s novels to the screen – contains never-before-released “pre-demos” from the original 1964 film! (In the U.K., those demos are available on a new double-disc reissue of the original Mary Poppins soundtrack.)

The Complete Motown Singles Volume 12BVarious Artists, The Complete Motown Singles Volume 12B: 1972 (Hip-O Select/Motown)

The final volume in the long-running box set series features five discs of soul-pop classics from the back end of 1972. (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Verve The Sound of America Box SetVarious Artists, Verve – The Sound of America: The Singles Collection (Verve/UMe)

A new five-disc anthology from one of America’s most notable jazz labels. (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)