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Holiday Gift Guide Spotlight: Diamond, Streisand, Williams, Cash, Jones, Wynette and More Join “Classic Christmas Album” Roster [UPDATED]

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Andy Williams - Classic Christmas Revised CoverLegacy Recordings’ Classic Christmas Album series has grown this holiday season.

Last year brought volumes from a variety of artists across the rock, pop, country and R&B spectrum including Barry Manilow, Luther Vandross, John Denver, Willie Nelson, Kenny G and Elvis Presley.  For 2013, another eight seasonal anthologies have arrived under the Classic Christmas Album umbrella from Neil Diamond, Johnny Cash, Andy Williams, Barbra Streisand, Alabama, George Jones and Tammy Wynette, Gladys Knight and the Pips and Martina McBride.

Christmas is the one time of the year you’re guaranteed to hear the voice of the late, great Andy Williams on the radio.  In fact, thanks to Andy, you just might think of Christmas as “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”  And that 1963 Edward Pola/George Wyle standard is just one of the sixteen favorites you’ll hear on Williams’ Classic Christmas Album, newly remastered by Tim Sturges.  Selections have been drawn from all three of Andy’s Columbia Christmas recordings: 1963’s timeless The Andy Williams Christmas Album, 1965’s equally-impressive follow-up Merry Christmas, and the far lesser-known, low-key 1975 Christmas Present.  On the latter, Williams mainly limited his repertoire to traditional hymns, and the new compilation features five of them (“Joy to the World,” “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” “What Child is This,” “Angels We Have Heard on High” and “Ave Maria”) tenderly sung in the vocalist’s pristine tone.  Highlights from the first two, perennial Christmas albums include “Kay Thompson’s Jingle Bells” and “The Christmas Song” (1963) and “Winter Wonderland,” “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” and the haunting reading of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “My Favorite Things” (1965).  One simply can’t go wrong with any anthology of Andy Williams’ holiday recordings, including The Classic Christmas Album.  But one would be better advised to check out Real Gone Music’s new 2-CD anthology The Complete Christmas Recordings.  This set, licensed from Columbia, includes the entirety of Williams’ three Columbia Christmas LPs plus three singles and two previously unreleased tracks.  As every track is essential listening, it’s one-stop shopping for Andy’s Columbia-era holiday music.

Barbra Streisand - Classic ChristmasAnother Columbia Records mainstay, Barbra Streisand, released her first Christmas album, simply entitled A Christmas Album, in 1967, not recording another holiday-themed set until 2001 and Christmas Memories.  Barbra’s Classic Christmas Album reprises nine titles from the first LP and seven from its belated sequel.  Naturally, among the 1967 tracks is Streisand’s iconic reinvention of “Jingle Bells,” along with other staples such as “The Christmas Song,” “My Favorite Things” and “White Christmas.”  From 2001, you’ll hear standards like “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” as well as more contemporary material including Ann Hampton Callaway’s “Christmas Lullaby,” Alan and Marilyn Bergman and Don Costa’s “Christmas Mem’ries,” the Bergmans and Johnny Mandel’s “A Christmas Love Song,” and Streisand’s seasonal reinterpretation of Stephen Sondheim’s haunting “I Remember,” written for the 1967 television musical Evening Primrose.  This is an intelligently-compiled sampler, but both complete original Streisand albums are essential.  Tim Sturges has again remastered.

Neil Diamond - Classic ChristmasStreisand’s fellow Brooklynite and onetime duet partner Neil Diamond is the subject of his own Classic Christmas Album.  Diamond’s twelve-track compilation is drawn from his first two massively successful Columbia Christmas releases, 1992’s The Christmas Album and 1994’s Volume Two.  (Diamond returned to Christmas music for 2009’s A Cherry Cherry Christmas, which blended five new songs with nine returning favorites, but its new songs – among them the self-referencing title track and a cover of Adam Sandler’s “The Chanukah Song” – have been overlooked here.)  Classic Christmas Album makes room for Neil’s very own holiday standard “You Make It Feel Like Christmas” (originally recorded on 1984’s Primitive but remade for The Christmas Album) alongside Diamond-ized renditions of songs both spiritual (“Joy to the World,” “O Come All Ye Faithful,” “O Holy Night”) and secular (“The Christmas Song,” “Silver Bells,” “Sleigh Ride”).  Don’t let Neil’s country-western attire on the cover artwork fool you; The Classic Christmas Album features 12 tracks of traditional holiday pop, even if selections from A Cherry Cherry Christmas would have made this Christmas dish even sweeter.  (An extra bonus: whereas most titles in this series have no liner notes, Diamond has penned an introduction for his volume.)  Diamond’s preferred mastering engineer Bernie Becker has handled those duties here.

After the jump: we cross over to the country side of town and beyond!  Plus: we have full track listings with discographical annotation, and pre-order links! Read the rest of this entry »

Release Round-Up: Week of October 8

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Tony Bennett - Live at the SaharaTony Bennett, Live At The Sahara: Las Vegas 1964 (RPM/Columbia/Legacy)

Previously exclusive to The Complete Collection box set, Bennett’s first headlining act in Sin City is now available for standalone purchase. (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Electricity by Candlelight_ NYC 2_13_97Alex Chilton, Electricity by Candlelight: NYC 2/13/97 (Bar None)

The late Big Star frontman had a talent that not even a power outage at New York’s Knitting Factory could blot out, as this spontaneous, covers-heavy release showcases. (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Kinks - Muswell Hillbillies DeluxeThe Kinks, Muswell Hillbillies: Deluxe Edition (Sanctuary)

The Kinks’ ninth album (and first originally recorded for RCA) gets a two-disc reissue worthy of any 20th century man you might know. (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Barbra Streisand - Classic ChristmasAlabama/Johnny Cash/Neil Diamond/George Jones & Tammy Wynette/Gladys Knight & The Pips/Martina McBride/Barbra Streisand/Andy Williams, The Classic Christmas Album (Legacy)

Following the success of last year’s wave of mid-priced holiday compilations, another eight are coming to fill your stockings with Christmas cheer.

Alabama: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
Johnny Cash: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
Neil Diamond: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
George Jones & Tammy Wynette: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
Gladys Knight & The Pips: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
Martina McBride: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
Barbra Streisand: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
Andy Williams: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.

CBGB SoundtrackVarious Artists, CBGB: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Omnivore)

This 20-track compilation for the new film about the legendary New York club features some of the biggest bands who played that stage, plus a recording by founder Hilly Krystal and a new version of Blondie’s “Sunday Girl.” (Rhino will distribute a digital version in the future with exclusive tracks.)

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