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Holiday Gift Guide Review: A Folk and Country Christmas with The Kingston Trio, The Brothers Four and the Statler Brothers

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Kingston Trio - Last MonthThe cover of The Kingston Trio’s 1960 Capitol release The Last Month of the Year depicts the three young folksingers in suits and ties, each loaded with a bundle of Christmas gifts. With a cover like that, one could be forgiven for having expected the group to deliver a jovial set of holiday favorites. Instead, The Trio created an album of rare beauty but considerable darkness. As such, it’s hardly your typical holiday fare but Real Gone Music’s reissue (RGM-0312) is a worthwhile inclusion on any Christmas music shelf.

Dave Guard, Bob Shane and Nick Reynolds graced The Last Month of the Year with some of their most intricate harmonies and complex musicianship on this delicate collection of twelve acoustic songs. Most were original compositions, though even some of the originals were based on traditional folk melodies. The opening track, Guard’s “Bye Bye Thou Little Tiny Child,” melodically takes its cue from the Coventry Carol but lyrically dramatizes King Herod’s decree to slay all infants under the age of two. Happily, the album could only go to lighter places from such a striking beginning. “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” the album’s most familiar standard, is interpreted in the style of The Weavers and features some rarely-heard lyrics. The spiritual “Go Where I Send Thee,” long a part of the Trio’s repertoire, gets an even more lively performance anchored by David “Buck” Wheat’s bass. “All Through the Night” and “Goodnight, My Baby” are both sweet lullabies inspired by Nick Reynolds having just become a new father at the time of the album’s recording. “Mary Mild” is a darker spin on childhood. Based on the English ballad “The Bitter Withy,” this tale of Jesus ends with a number of drowned children. Nobody could accuse The Kingston Trio of pulling any punches to craft a commercial record!

The album was built around a diverse set of influences. “Follow Now O Shepherds” had its roots in an ages-old Spanish carol; “Sing We Noel” harkened back to 15th century France. The ravishingly pretty “White Snows of Winter” adapted its melody from Brahms. “Sommerset Gloucestershire Wassail” was an adaptation of numerous English folk songs enhanced by the presence of the bouzouki. (The instrument, specially made for the Trio per the original liner notes, also adds colors to the upbeat “Sing We Noel.”) The album’s title track, passed on to the Trio from famed song collector Alan Lomax, asks children to remember, “What month was Jesus born in?” The answer, of course, was “The last month of the year!” You’ll remember The Last Month of the Year, too, via this fine reissue of a haunting and singular Christmas album. Tom Pickles provides copious new liner notes, and the original album artwork has also been retained.

Brothers Four - Merry ChristmasMerry Christmas from The Brothers Four (RGM-0308) is a folk album of a different stripe. With more of a pop slant than The Kingston Trio’s holiday effort, this 1966 LP featured a team of heavy hitters. Group members Bob Flick (baritone/upright bass/bass), John Paine (baritone/rhythm guitar), Dick Foley (lead tenor/guitar) and Mike Kirkland (tenor/guitar/banjo) were joined on this smooth holiday affair by orchestrator/conductor Peter Matz (known for his work with Barbra Streisand and countless others) and Miles Davis’ most frequent producer Teo Macero plus renowned Columbia engineer Frank Laico and vocal arranger (and John Denver collaborator) Milt Okun. Real Gone’s expanded and remastered reissue not only restores the album to print on CD (past CD issues have been commanding high prices) but adds four bonuses, two of which are previously unreleased.

After the jump: more on The Brothers Four, plus a two-for-one reissue from The Statler Brothers! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

December 15, 2014 at 13:20

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like a Real Gone Christmas: Label Preps Robert Goulet, Andy Williams and the Williams Brothers, B.J. Thomas, More

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GouletThe first day of autumn is almost here, but Real Gone Music is looking ahead to winter – and the most spectacular line-up of holiday music we’ve seen since The Second Disc started up nearly five years ago!  The label has just unveiled its release slate for November 4, with a whopping seven Christmas titles, two contemporary Christian albums from a classic pop legend that make a perfect seasonal  complement, and – just to keep things rocking – a hotly-anticipated CD from a classic rock great.

I’m doubly proud to announce that four of the titles in this batch are extra-special to us here at Second Disc HQ.  I’ve compiled and annotated the first-ever collection of The Complete Columbia Christmas Recordings of the one and only Mr. Robert Goulet!  That means both of Mr. Goulet’s sparkling holiday LPs (This Christmas I Spend with You and Robert Goulet’s Wonderful World of Christmas), of course, but we’re also adding a little extra under the Christmas tree with both sides of a rare mono 45 and all three duets recorded by Goulet and his then-wife Carol Lawrence – including “The Christmas Waltz,” never before on CD!  Spectacularly remastered at Sony’s Battery Studios, these long out-of-print Christmas classics from one of the most distinctive vocalists of all time have never sounded better!

Williams BrothersI’ve also written the liner notes for another true labor of love for the Real Gone team: the first-ever wide-release CD issue of 1970’s The Williams Brothers Christmas Album – the only full-length album featuring Andy Williams and his brothers Bob, Dick and Don!  With some of the most spectacular harmony singing ever put on a Christmas record, the album is highlighted by an amazing side-long medley of holiday favorites and the Williams Brothers’ renditions of Kay Thompson’s “The Holiday Season” and “Jingle Bells,” this original Barnaby Records release – freshly remastered from the original tapes for the first time by Mike Milchner at SonicVision – finally can take its place among Andy Williams’ Christmas treasures on compact disc.  This reissue of  The Williams Brothers Christmas Album follows last year’s comprehensive, 2-CD release from Real Gone of Andy’s complete Columbia Christmas recordings!

BJ - Home HappyReal Gone is also chronicling a key chapter in the career of B.J. Thomas with two new releases.  In the mid-1970s, Thomas became one of the most successful artists ever in the field of contemporary Christian music, recording a series of record-breaking, Grammy Award-winning albums for the Myrrh label that reflected the style and high production values of his pop material but with a spiritual emphasis.  Featuring key players from Muscle Shoals and the Nashville A-Team and songs by Hal David, Chris Christian, Archie Jordan, Pete Drake, and B.J. and his wife Gloria, these albums have never received their due on CD – until now!  Home Where I Belong/Happy Man and You Gave Me Love/Miracle, with two albums on each CD, reveal a major chapter in the career of B.J. Thomas – and these amazing, heartfelt and incredibly catchy records aren’t just for Christian music fans!  Best of all, B.J. was kind enough to contribute to my liner notes for both releases, illuminating this often-misunderstood period of his remarkable, and still-thriving, career.

These four titles are joined by other must-have stocking stuffers from The Statler Brothers, The Brothers Four, The Kingston Trio, Frank DeVol and Rosemary Clooney – plus Real Gone has the long-lost solo album from Alice Cooper and Lou Reed’s frequent collaborator Dick Wagner on CD!  After the jump, we have the label’s press release and pre-order links! Read the rest of this entry »