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Archive for December 16th, 2013

Tony Bennett’s “The Classics” Features Solo Hits Plus Streisand, Winehouse, Sinatra Duets

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Tony Bennett - The ClassicsFollowing the success of 2013’s Bennett/Brubeck: The White House Sessions Live 1962 and Live at the Sahara: Las Vegas 1964, Columbia Records, RPM Records and Legacy Recordings are starting off 2014 with a newly-assembled collection from Tony Bennett due on January 28.

The Classics, available in a 20-track standard edition or a 30-track deluxe configuration, features material personally selected by the 87-year old living legend.  In a statement provided by Legacy, Bennett confirmed that he kept two things in mind while compiling this celebratory project: “choosing songs that exemplify to the highest degree a timeless quality, while selecting a performance of those songs that present them in a very immediate and ‘live’ approach. I feel that songs I selected for The Classics absolutely meet both of these criteria.”

Both editions of The Classics open with “Because of You,” the artist’s first Columbia Records single and first chart-topping record.  It goes on to include the “solo tracks that I felt most closely represented the highest level of musical craftsmanship that has been my mandate as I have built my recording catalogue” and includes a number of recent duets, sung “with artists who I admire and have loved working with over the years.”  No rare or new-to-CD material is present.

After the jump, we have full details including the track listing for both versions! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

December 16, 2013 at 16:29

Holiday Gift Guide Review: Woody Guthrie, “American Radical Patriot”

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Woody Guthrie - American Radical Patriot CoverThe title of Rounder Records’ new box set describes its subject, Woody Guthrie (1912-1967), as an American Radical Patriot.  Especially in today’s politically-polarized times, some might find those words a contradiction in terms.  But in the late folk troubadour’s world, very little was black-and-white.  It’s that world which is explored in such depth in this lavish new collection, a limited edition of 5,000 units.  American Radical Patriot (Rounder 11661-9138-2) not only proves why Guthrie matched that label, but does so by presenting music that very few have ever heard and placing it into the context of not just his extraordinary career, but of American history itself.

Over six discs, one DVD, one 78 RPM disc and a packed, 60-page hardcover book (with even more written content available in digital form), the producers at The Woody Guthrie Foundation have comprehensively compiled the material that the late songwriter and activist recorded for the U.S. government – both spoken and sung.  It brings together both the songs and stories he recorded for the Library of Congress, and the music he crafted for the Bonneville Power Administration, a federal agency based in the Pacific Northwest.  Though the Library recordings have been issued before, this box represents the first time that the complete, unedited sessions have been released.  As if that wasn’t enough, the set also includes songs and two radio dramas recorded by Guthrie for the Office of War Information during World War II, and another drama offered to public health agencies to curb the spread of venereal disease.  Though its purview is much more limited, this is the perfect companion to last year’s similarly-impressive, career-spanning Woody at 100: The Woody Guthrie Centennial Collection from Smithsonian Folkways.  It also deserves a spot on the shelf next to Legacy’s recent Woody Guthrie at 100: Live at the Kennedy Center, which showed Guthrie’s lasting influence on future generations of socially-conscious performing talent.

The first four discs of American Radical Patriot are dedicated to the complete Library of Congress recordings, primarily recorded by historian Alan Lomax.  These sessions, which commenced in March 1940 at Washington, DC’s Department of the Interior, were the 27-year old Guthrie’s first recordings with the exception of four airchecks made for Los Angeles’ radio station KFVD (included on Woody at 100).  Lomax intended these sessions to form a kind of musical autobiography, and Guthrie followed Lead Belly, Jelly Roll Morton and Aunt Molly Jackson in Lomax’s series.  Within one month of Guthrie’s first Library session, he was commercially recording for RCA Victor, and his final session for the Library of Congress took place in January, 1941.  A three-hour distillation of these tapes was first released to the public by Elektra in 1964 and reissued by Rounder in 1998.  Here, then, are the complete and unexpurgated tapes, running five hours in length.   Though Guthrie was just 27, he came with a wealth of experience as a musician, radio personality and humorist.  One of the thousands of Oklahomans (or Okies) who migrated to California in the Dust Bowl era, he was well-known as the “Dust Bowl Troubadour.”  These tapes are living history, but they’re also vibrantly entertaining.  Lomax introduces the artist as “about 30 years old from the looks of him, but he’s seen more in those thirty years than most men see before they’re 70.”

Guthrie accompanies himself on guitar and harmonica, singing his own Dust Bowl songs, his adaptations of folk traditionals, and songs learned from the likes of Jimmie Rodgers and The Carter Family.  These are interspersed with dialogue in seemingly casual conversation with Lomax.  In his populist drawl, Guthrie reflects on his difficult Okemah, Oklahoma upbringing and strained family life in direct but plain-spoken terms, not shying away from frankly addressing the issues of racial and social inequality that weighed so heavily upon him.  These recordings offer as complete a picture of Guthrie as has ever been drawn, although his political opinions were naturally shifting and evolving over time.  The box’s enclosed book (also available in a greatly-expanded 256-page form as a PDF on the first CD here) is recommended reading while listening; it attempts to answer questions that still elude even Guthrie’s biggest devotees such as “What was it that Woody Guthrie truly believed?” and “Woody Guthrie: communist or ‘commonist’?”  Perhaps these questions can never truly be answered in conclusive fashion.  The book even cites one historian who found that Guthrie had some conservative views!  And let’s not forget that Guthrie served for over one year in the Merchant Marine and was honorably discharged after serving in the United State Army, as well.  American Radical Patriot certainly comes close, however, as a definitive chronicle of a key period in his life.

Lomax discusses Guthrie’s personal history as well as his musical history, probing him about how his interest in music began and how he learned to become a musician.  Guthrie frequently illustrates or punctuates his lengthy spoken recollections with music, and when recording for RCA in April 1940, he re-recorded a number of the songs he played for Lomax.  These songs have retained much of their power, and when listening to tracks like “Greenback Dollar,” it’s impossible not to notice just how much of Guthrie’s style of delivery and phrasing was appropriated by the young Bob Dylan.  Ironically, RCA concentrated on Guthrie’s more explicitly political songs, while the Library of Congress recordings featured a wide range of material harkening back to Guthrie’s youth – all part of Lomax’s quest to have a well-rounded portrait in music and word of his subject.

Guthrie tackles jailhouse songs, Dust Bowl songs, Depression songs, outlaw songs, railroad blues, and even a square dance tune over the course of these first four discs.  He made his own songs like “The Midnight Special,” “Stewball” and “Stagger Lee,” all songs which are still well-known today.  Guthrie also invokes his friend John Steinbeck, who so eloquently put the Dust Bowl experience into prose.  His reminiscence leading into “So Long It’s Been Good to Know Yuh” – about “the end of the world,” “what is right, what is wrong” and the mistreatment of humans at the hands of their fellow men – is bone-chilling.  His great empathy and common touch are both particularly evident.

After the jump, there’s much more on Woody! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

December 16, 2013 at 15:17

Holiday Tunes Watch: Sony CMG Celebrates The Season with Bing, Buck, B.J., JB, Elvis and More

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Christmas With Bing CoverOccasionally the aisles of your local grocery or big-box store turn up releases you won’t find even in your local indie music store.  Such is the case with a recent batch of holiday-themed titles from Sony Commercial Music Group.  Just in time for Christmas ’13, CMG has unveiled a number of holiday compilations – and a handful of straight album reissues – for fans of classic pop (Bing Crosby, Patti Page), country (B.J. Thomas, Buck Owens, Roy Clark), rock-and-roll (Elvis Presley) and R&B (James Brown, and latter-day incarnations of The Drifters, The Platters, The Miracles and Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes).  As you’ll see, there are some buried treasures to be discovered here.

Bing Crosby Enterprises has released a number of projects in recent years featuring ultra-rare Crosby tracks from the late legend’s archives, and the new Christmas with Bing! is no exception.  This release follows other recent, unique seasonal collections like 2011’s Bing Crosby Christmas from Sonoma Entertainment and South Bay Music and Christmas Favorites from Somerset Entertainment. Produced by Robert S. Bader, the compilation offers 14 tracks including a few reprised from the indispensable Crosby Christmas Sessions (Collectors’ Choice Music, 2010).  Three duets are sprinkled in among vintage singles and rare radio performances, including Ella Fitzgerald on “A Marshmallow World,” Bing’s widow Kathryn Crosby on “Away in a Manger,” and David Bowie on, of course, “The Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth.”   Real Gone Music has recently reissued the late Patti Page’s 1955 Mercury release Christmas with Patti Page; now CMG has delivered the singer’s 1965 Columbia set of the same name which featured re-recordings of some of the earlier album’s music plus new holiday songs.  The Columbia Christmas with Patti Page includes such favorites as “Silver Bells,” “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” “Christmas Bells” and “Pretty Snowflakes.”

Buck Owens ChristmasThe late Bakersfield, California country hero Buck Owens has been in the spotlight for much of 2013 thanks to Omnivore Recordings’ stellar release program and the release of his autobiography Buck ‘Em!.  CMG’s Christmas with Buck Owens, produced by Rob Santos and licensed directly from Owens’ estate, includes twelve originals from Owens and his Buckaroos, including “Santa Looked a Lot Like Daddy,” “Santa’s Gonna Come in a Stagecoach” and a still-relevant lament about “Christmas Shopping.”  Its eleven tracks sample Owens’ Capitol long-players Christmas with Buck Owens and His Buckaroos (1965) and Christmas Shopping (1968).  Buck’s Hee-Haw co-host and compatriot Roy Clark also gets a holiday overview with A Christmas Collection, produced by Doug Wygal.  Its fifteen tracks including such classics as “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!,” “Home for the Holidays” and “White Christmas” have all been licensed from Grand Ole Opry member Clark.

B.J. Thomas - Christmas LiveSony collects twelve Christmas tunes from Lee Greenwood (“God Bless the U.S.A.”) on Christmas, licensed from Cleopatra Records.  As well as “Tennessee Christmas” and “Lone Star Christmas,” Greenwood sings traditional classics from “The Little Drummer Boy” to “White Christmas.”  For years, B.J. Thomas has successfully walked the line between country and pop, and he showcases his still-strong voice on his enjoyable Christmas Live set.  This collection, licensed from Cleopatra and of mid-2000s vintage, features twelve live Christmas songs from the “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” man, including “The Christmas Song,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Tennessee Christmas.”  A longer version of the concert, with some non-holiday material, can be obtained on CD-R from Goldenlane Records as Hooked on Christmas or on DVD from Video Music as B.J. Thomas’ Christmas.

B.J. shared some of his repertoire, such as “Suspicious Minds” and “I Just Can’t Help Believin’,” with Elvis Presley.  Twelve of the King’s Christmas staples are represented on Merry Christmas…Love Elvis, produced by Jeff James and Lisa Grauso and remastered by Tom Ruff.  The compilation is drawn from Elvis’ 1957 and 1971 Christmas albums plus the 1966 single “If Every Day Was Like Christmas.  On the classic rock front, CMG also offers up a reissue of Ann and Nancy Wilson’s A Lovemongers’ Christmas.  Originally released in 1998 as The Lovemongers’ Here is Christmas, credited to the Wilsons’ Heart side project, it’s since been reissued under the official Heart name.  This edition contains the two bonus tracks that did not appear in 1998 but have been added to subsequent reissues, Patty Griffin’s “Mary” and Ann Wilson and Sue Ennis’ “Let’s Stay In.”

After the jump: we have the scoop on the soulful titles in this series, plus full track listings and pre-order links for all releases, plus discographical information where available! Read the rest of this entry »