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Holiday Gift Guide Review: A Classic Christmas With Rosemary Clooney, Frank DeVol

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White Christmas - Clooney

Welcome to Part One of a two-part series exploring the recent line-up of Christmas releases from Real Gone Music!

1954’s White Christmas, quite simply, remains one of the most beloved holiday musicals to ever hit the silver screen. Built around the songbook of Irving Berlin – who lived to the age of 101 in 1989 but was already a Grand Old Man of American music by 1954 – the film starred Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney, Danny Kaye and Vera Ellen. Such a quartet promised an evening’s entertainment filled with song and dance, and the movie more than delivered. But what it couldn’t deliver was an accompanying soundtrack album.

Bing Crosby was a Decca recording artist and Rosemary Clooney was on Columbia. (This wasn’t the first time this particular problem plagued an Irving Berlin musical. The 1950 Broadway production of Call Me Madam starred Decca’s Ethel Merman. Yet due to RCA’s holding the rights to the cast album, that label’s Dinah Shore subbed for The Merm on record, leaving Ethel to record her own version of the score with Dick Haymes at Decca.) Crosby and Kaye appeared along with Trudy Stevens (dubbing dancer Vera Ellen) on the nominal soundtrack release, with Decca’s star Peggy Lee subbing for Clooney. As for Rosemary, she, like Merman before, was left to record a “studio” version of the score to her big hit musical. Clooney’s 8-song, 10-inch record has just been reissued and expanded by Real Gone Music (RGM-0309) in a wonderful new edition.

At Columbia, Clooney couldn’t exactly replicate the film’s performances. The full minstrel sequence required a large ensemble; songs like Crosby’s “What Can You Do with a General” and Kaye’s “Choreography” weren’t exactly extractable or particularly suitable for her talents. So on the album overseen by Mitch Miller, Clooney reprised her stunning “Love – You Didn’t Do Right by Me,” turned “Snow,” “Gee, I Wish I Was Back in the Army” and “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep” into solos, took over for Crosby on “White Christmas” and Kaye on “The Best Things Happen While You’re Dancing,” and extracted “Mandy” from the minstrel show. Notably, she also reprised “Sisters,” but with her own sister and onetime singing partner Betty Clooney happily filling in for Vera Ellen. The latter is one of the album’s undisputed highlights; if the album versions of “Snow” (a quartet in the film) and “Count Your Blessings” pale in comparison to the movie arrangements, the strength of Clooney’s vocals on these quintessential Berlin songs keeps them wholly enjoyable. Clooney was an innate jazz singer, a quality which would come to the fore in her later years. Her interpretive skills, pure tone and sly vocal wit elevated even the most absurd novelty material foisted on her by Miller; matched with Irving Berlin, the results could hardly be less than delightful. Rosemary Clooney in Songs from the Paramount Pictures Production of White Christmas, as the full title goes, isn’t a true “Christmas album,” but it’s certainly right for the season – or any other.

After the jump: more on White Christmas, plus a look at a rare title from Frank DeVol and the Rainbow Strings! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

December 9, 2014 at 11:48

Holiday Gift Guide Review: “The Classic Christmas Album” Series

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JMCCJohnny Mathis. Frank Sinatra. Perry Como. Steve Vai? Menudo? When it comes to Christmas music, Legacy Recordings doesn’t pull its punches. The label’s series of Classic Christmas Album releases has become a bit of an annual tradition, and this year’s batch of single- and various-artist anthologies once again draws on names both expected and unexpected. While the packages are bare-bones, with no liner notes (but happily with full credits and discographical annotation), the music most certainly is not.

Johnny Mathis recorded his first Christmas album in 1958 and his most recent in 2013; it’s no wonder that the eternally silky vocalist has become one of the artists most associated with the holiday music genre. Hot on the heels of Legacy’s Complete Global Albums Collection for Mathis – which itself features one new-to-CD Christmas album from the artist, 1963’s The Sounds of Christmas – producers Didier C. Deutsch and Jeff James have gone the extra mile for Mathis’ Classic Christmas Album. Two previously unissued tracks make their first appearances anywhere, both from a September 1961 session with Percy Faith’s orchestra – Harold Adamson and Jimmy McHugh’s jovial “Ol’ Kris Kringle” and “Give Me Your Love for Christmas,” from the same session. The latter is the title of Mathis’ 1969 Christmas album, named for a Jack Gold/Phyllis Stohn song. The pair is credited here, but this newly-discovered ballad is wholly different from the more pop-flavored 1969 track. Two single sides arranged and conducted by the great Gene Page in 1979 make their first appearance on CD here – “Christmas in the City of the Angels” b/w “The Very First Christmas Day.” 1970’s surprisingly funky, socially-conscious “Sign of the Dove,” the B-side to the lilting “Christmas Is” (also included here), is another new-to-CD track. These rare treats are joined by highlights such as Mathis’ 2006 duet with Bette Midler of “Winter Wonderland/Let It Snow,” his incomparable 1958 rendition of “Sleigh Ride,” and 2013’s “Home for the Holidays.” Maria Triana has beautifully remastered all tracks.

FrankFrank Sinatra’s Classic Christmas Album also finds room for rarities. This set features 14 holiday favorites from Young Blue Eyes’ Columbia Records period, long before he was “The Chairman of the Board.” At Columbia, Sinatra was, simply, “The Voice” – the voice which inspired bobbysoxers to riot and listeners everywhere to swoon. In sharp contrast to his later, swingin’ period (which is foreshadowed by tracks here like “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” and “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” from 1948 and 1950, respectively), the tone here is largely reverential. This collection, which has the entirety of the 1948 10-inch LP Christmas Songs by Sinatra, also offers two spirituals featuring The Charioteers first issued on a 1947 single (“Jesus is a Rock (In a Weary Land)” and “I’ve Got a Home in That Rock”); both are somewhat unusual fare for a holiday album.  You’ll hear pure recordings from The Voice on “Silent Night,” “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” and “Adeste Fideles.” Sinatra is equally affecting and bittersweet on “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” which like most of these tracks was arranged and conducted by his first great collaborator, Axel Stordahl. Two previously unissued performances round out this fine compilation: a loose take of Frank Loesser’s “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” with soprano Dorothy Kirsten and an alternate version of Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne’s “Let It Snow!” with the Page Cavanaugh Trio. This alternate is radically different than the 1950 version as it takes the song as a soft ballad rather than as a big-band swinger. Sinatra performed “Baby” with Kirsten on 1949’s Light Up Time radio program; it’s a real treat as the song wasn’t subsequently recorded in the studio by Sinatra. “Let It Snow” with Cavanaugh dates to 1946’s Songs by Sinatra show. Sound is top-notch courtesy of Maria Triana’s remastering.

After the jump: a look at Perry Como, Barbra Streisand and more! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

December 5, 2014 at 11:14

Holiday Gift Guide Review: Todd Rundgren, “At The BBC 1972-1982”

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Todd at BBCChristmas has come early for Todd Rundgren fans this year with the release by Cherry Red’s Esoteric Recordings imprint of Todd Rundgren at the BBC: 1972-1982, a handsome new 3-CD/1-DVD box set of live performances drawn from Rundgren’s first decade of rock stardom. The latest release in Esoteric’s Todd Rundgren Archive Series, At the BBC captures the transformation of the ever-evolving artist from precocious pop chameleon to prog-rock adventurer and beyond.

1972’s sprawling Something/Anything announced Rundgren as an artist with whom to be reckoned, following the more modest solo releases Runt and Runt: The Ballad of Todd Rundgren. On the heels of the U.K. single success of “I Saw the Light,” Rundgren made a trip to Britain and the BBC for Radio One’s In Concert program in July 1972. His half-hour performance kicks off this set, and it’s a fascinating document. Of its six songs, five were from Something/Anything. Three were played solo by Rundgren at the piano (the aching ballads “It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference” and “Be Nice to Me” plus the dry blues spoof “Piss Aaron”) and three more with Rundgren accompanying himself to unique, pre-recorded backing tracks for which he supplied all instrumentation and backing vocals (the pure pop hits “I Saw the Light” and “Hello, It’s Me,” and the searing “Black Maria”). The stripped-down “Hello It’s Me” harkens back to the original Nazz ballad version of the song, with the backing vocals subtly enhancing what’s essentially a solo voice-and-piano rendition. The half-hour format also allowed for a liberal amount of banter, including Todd self-deprecatingly dismissing the beautifully vulnerable “Be Nice to Me” as a “simpering” song, or explaining the concept of meat loaf to his U.K. audience during “Piss Aaron.” No, not Meat Loaf, as in the rocker for whom Rundgren would produce the smash Bat Out of Hell, but meat loaf, the food!

While Rundgren’s 1972 appearance on The Old Grey Whistle Test has not survived, At the BBC happily continues with two October 1975 songs performed for Whistle Test. Rundgren is joined by Utopia – then consisting of Roger Powell on keyboards, John Siegler on bass and Willie Wilcox on drums – for the blue-eyed soul of “Real Man” and the extended prog rock-soul jam “The Seven Rays.” On those songs, Utopia welcomed backing vocalists Luther Vandross and Anthony Hinton, and the pair also appeared with the band for an October 9, 1975 Hammersmith Odeon concert broadcast by Radio One. That show, featured on the box set’s second disc, was previously released on CD by Shout! Factory in 2012, but here adds Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim’s pulsating West Side Story standard “Something’s Coming” which was unfortunately cut from the previous release.

The Hammerstein Odeon set closely resembled that of the concert released by Utopia as Another Live, which was recorded just a couple of months earlier with the six-piece line-up of Rundgren, Powell, Wilcox, Siegler, Moogy Klingman and Ralph Schuckett. Both concerts saw “The Wheel,” “Heavy Metal Kids,” Roger Powell’s “Mister Triscuits” and Jeff Lynne’s “Do Ya” all performed. Hammersmith Odeon, interestingly, offers both “Do Ya” and the Rundgren original “Open My Eyes,” first recorded by The Nazz. It’s been said that Rundgren covered “Do Ya” as a response to Lynne’s pre-ELO band The Move covering his “Open My Eyes.” The Hammersmith set deftly balanced Rundgren’s rock and pop sides, and also took in songs from select solo albums, including “When the Sh*t Hits the Fan/Sunset Boulevard/Le Feel Internacionale” (A Wizard, A True Star), “The Last Ride” and “Sons of 1984” (Todd, also original home of “Heavy Metal Kids”) and “Couldn’t I Just Tell You” (Something/Anything). “Freedom Fighters” originated on the 1974 Todd Rundgren’s Utopia album and “The Wheel” on Another Live.

Hit the jump for more, including the full track listing and order links! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

December 2, 2014 at 11:54

THE SECOND DISC’S HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE IS HERE!

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Holiday Gift Guide 2014

We wouldn’t want you to be left out in the cold for Cyber Monday, so we’re proud to present our annual Holiday Gift Guide featuring over 40 essential selections for the music enthusiast in your life!  Just click on the banner above to peruse the full guide now!

Written by Joe Marchese

December 1, 2014 at 11:30

Posted in Box Sets, News, Reissues

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Holiday Gift Guide Review: Johnny Mathis, “The Complete Global Albums Collection”

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Mathis - Global Box Set

In two short years, Johnny Mathis will likely celebrate his 60th anniversary with Columbia Records, a towering achievement by any standard. But even the strongest marriages must sometimes weather separations, as was the case when the vocalist jumped ship to rival Mercury Records for the period between 1963 and 1967. At Mercury, Mathis formed Global Productions to administer his master recordings, and recorded some eleven albums (only ten of which were originally released) under its aegis. Upon his return to Columbia, a select few of Mathis’ Mercury recordings were reintroduced to the catalogue; the others remained dormant. A 2-CD set, The Global Masters, arrived in 1997 as an overview of this period, and in 2012, Real Gone Music finally reissued the ten original albums, and the eleventh shelved album, in full. Now, Legacy Recordings has released The Complete Global Albums Collection with all eleven LPs plus two more discs of bonus material, more than half of which has never previously seen the light of day. Within the compact, nondescript package, the box set contains some of the most beguiling music ever recorded by the velvet-voiced singer. And as the 1963-1967 period birthed some of the most seismic shifts in popular music, the box also traces the evolution of the Mathis style as he transitioned from Broadway and Hollywood standards to contemporary pop without sacrificing his rich, warm vibrato or the manner in which he caressed a lyric.

At Mercury, Mathis didn’t veer too far from the richly romantic ballad style that made him famous. He made the decision to self-produce a number of his albums, modestly reflecting in his specially-penned liner notes that “I tried to do what I could, but I had no idea what would be good for the market.” Crucially, though, he enlisted a number of the arrangers with whom he had worked at Columbia, including Don Costa and Glenn Osser.

Costa helmed Mathis’ Mercury debut, 1963’s The Sounds of Christmas, which is only now premiering on CD as part of this set in its original format. Columbia’s past LP and CD reissues retitled the album Christmas with Johnny Mathis and dropped two songs (“The Little Drummer Boy” and “Have Reindeer, Will Travel”). Both are happily reinstated here. The collaboration between singer Mathis, arranger Osser and producer Costa resulted in one of Mathis’ strongest and most diverse holiday sets – with spiritual songs, Tin Pan Alley favorites and novelties all represented.

Most of Mathis’ earliest Mercury albums concentrated on Broadway and Hollywood repertoire, exquisitely sung and lushly arranged, from songwriters of the past and present: Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen (“Call Me Irresponsible”) Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart (“A Ship Without a Sail”), Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe (“Camelot”), Charles Strouse and Lee Adams (“Put on a Happy Face”). Jerome Kern and Ira Gershwin (“Long Ago and Far Away”) and Jay Livingston and Ray Evans (“Never Let Me Go”) among them. The smart and sophisticated songs of Bart Howard also made a striking impression on these albums. Mathis championed his friend by recording such compositions as “Forget Me Not,” “Sky Full of Rainbows,” “What Do You Feel in Your Heart,” “Fantastic,” “Tomorrow Song,” “A Thousand Blue Bubbles.”

The most radical long-player of The Global Albums is 1964’s adventurous Olé, arranged by Allyn Ferguson. On this true departure of a record, Mathis performed a number of Latin American songs in their original language. These weren’t just much-covered songs from the bossa nova boom (although he did record Luis Bonfá’s “Manha de Carneval”) but also light classical pieces from the likes of Heitor Villa-Lobos and even Desi Arnaz’ signature “Babalu.”

Keep reading after the jump!

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Written by Joe Marchese

November 17, 2014 at 09:45

Holiday Gift Guide Review: Various Artists, “The South Side of Soul Street”

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South Side of Soul StreetThe trusty musical archaeologists at the Omnivore label have the perfect stocking stuffer for those looking for a little bit of southern soul hung by the chimney with care.  The 2-CD anthology  The South Side of Soul Street (OVCD-68, 2013), collecting the A- and B-sides of 20 singles released by the Minaret label between 1967 and 1976, makes the argument that Valparaiso, Florida’s Playground Recording Studio deserves to be spoken of in the same breath as Muscle Shoals, American Sound, Stax and Hi.

Founded in Nashville in the early 1960s, the Minaret label was purchased in 1966 by Finley Duncan.  Three years later, the producer-entrepreneur founded Playground, where he specialized in smokin’ R&B grooves.   Though none of Minaret’s artists broke through to the top echelon of soul music, The South Side of Soul Street still shows off some of the best southern soul you’ve never heard – with the genre’s trademark smoldering vocals, taut guitars, dirty brass, funky bass, tinkling piano or churchy organ.Why didn’t Minaret break through to the big time?  It’s hard to say, based on these forty mini-treasures.  Most likely, the vocalists’ styles weren’t distinctive enough, while most of the songs simply don’t stack up to the greatest works of Willie Mitchell, Isaac Hayes and David Porter, or Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham (who is actually represented on this disc).  But there’s still the real joy of discovery in finding just how good these lesser-known artists with names like Big John Hamilton, Genie Brooks, Doris Allen and Leroy Lloyd actually were.

After the jump, we’ll trek to Soul Street with the Minaret gang! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

December 23, 2013 at 14:11

Holiday Gift Guide Review: “Here’s Edie: The Edie Adams Television Collection”

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Here's EdieIn one of the many testimonials that enhance the booklet to the first-ever DVD release of Here’s Edie: The Edie Adams Television Collection, Carl Reiner may have put it best and most succinctly: “Edie Adams…a combination of beauty, brains and talent…what else do you need?”  Based on the evidence in this thoroughly delightful 4-DVD, 12-hour, 21-episode set now available from MVD Visual (MVD 59200), you don’t need anything else.  Adams just about had it all, and showed it off for the 1962-1964 television variety show.  Here’s Edie aired on Thursday nights, alternating weeks with Sid Caesar’s program on ABC.  It was good company, indeed.

“Variety” was the emphasis of Adams’ sophisticated, unorthodox program.  Though entertainment was the primary objective, the trailblazing Adams also hoped that Here’s Edie would inform its audience.  Nobody stood in her way, not even from the network.  Rare for a female at the time who wasn’t Lucille Ball, Adams was given creative control of her show.  She produced it, owned it, and even designed her own wardrobe!  Jazz, classical and opera artists all got equal time alongside the expected pop stars.  A cursory glance at the guest stars featured on these DVDs reveals appearances by the illustrious likes of Duke Ellington, Andre Previn, Stan Getz, Laurindo Almeida, Charlie Byrd, Lionel Hampton, Nancy Wilson, and Lauritz Melchior, plus Sammy Davis, Jr., Bobby Darin, Johnny Mathis and John Raitt.

The singer-actress-comedienne was as much at home on television as she was on stage and on film.  She had appeared with her husband Ernie Kovacs on a variety of programs since the early days of television, and when Kovacs tragically perished in a car accident in 1962, Adams had no choice but to press forward.  Kovacs’ series Take a Good Look and ABC specials had been sponsored by Dutch Masters cigars; the brand’s parent, Consolidated Cigar, turned to Edie to become the spokeswoman for their Muriel brand.  Muriel sponsored Here’s Edie (renamed The Edie Adams Show in fall 1963) and the star’s association with Muriel would, remarkably, last till the 1990s.  The entertaining, musical Muriel spots are among the highlights of these discs.

We’ll look further after the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

December 23, 2013 at 11:21

Holiday Gift Guide Review: The Who, “Tommy: Super Deluxe Edition”

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Tommy SDE

The opening chords of The Who’s Tommy may be among the most famous in all of rock.  By the time the horns kicked in, around the forty-second mark, it was already clear that this double-album wasn’t business as usual for the heavy mod-rockers.  In fact, the melodic, thunderous, commanding piece of music that opened the 1969 album sounded a bit like the overture to a Broadway musical, weaving together themes that would follow.  Thirty-four years later, it would become one.  By the time The Who’s Tommy opened at New York’s St. James Theatre, the deaf, dumb and blind boy created by Pete Townshend had already been reborn in various stage productions, a controversial film, all-star record albums, and of course, on the concert stage as embodied by Roger Daltrey.  What’s left to discover, then, about Tommy?

Following the 2011 Super Deluxe box set dedicated to The Who’s Quadrophenia, the band has turned its attention to the album that put “rock opera” squarely in the lexicon, remastering the original work and adding 20 demos (most previously unissued), a new 5.1 album mix on Blu-ray and a 21-track live disc primarily culled The Who’s 1969 performances.  Just as essential to the package is an 80-page hardcover book that explores the phenomenon of Tommy.  This is the most immersive edition of Tommy yet, inviting listeners to revisit The Who’s amazing journey.  It’s also a more daunting project than even Quadrophenia.  That album has always existed in the shadow of big brother Tommy, and the Super Deluxe Edition revealed – particularly with Townshend’s demos – a fascinating world of might-have-beens and alternate roads not taken.  The material on Tommy is so much more familiar, and the revelations aren’t nearly as plentiful.  But that’s not to say that it’s not a journey worth taking.

Read on after the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

December 20, 2013 at 14:13

Holiday Gift Guide Review: Matt Monro, “The Rarities Collection” and “Alternate Monro”

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Matt Monro - Rarities CollectionHow lovely to sit here in the shade, with none of the woes of man and maid/I’m glad I’m not young anymore!  The rivals that don’t exist at all, the feeling you’re only two feet tall/I’m glad I’m not young anymore! 

Matt Monro recorded those Alan Jay Lerner lyrics in January 1973 at just 42 years of age.  But by that point, the golden-voiced singer had already acquired enough experience to interpret them with supreme confidence and natural charm.  Monro’s reassuring, crisply impeccable tone earned him early comparisons to Frank Sinatra, but it wasn’t long before others would be compared to Matt Monro.  When, in 2012, the assets of the beleaguered EMI music empire were broken up, Capitol Records went to Universal Music Enterprises (UMe) and Parlophone Records to Warner Music Group (WMG).  As Monro recorded for both onetime EMI labels, it became clear that his entire catalogue – along with that of other artists like Shirley Bassey – would no longer reside under one roof.  What would become of the top-drawer Matt Monro catalogue program spearheaded by Monro’s daughter Michele Monro and audio engineer Richard Moore through projects including The Singer’s Singer, The Man Behind the Voice, Words and Music, and the Rare Monro series?

Luckily, Monro and Moore have already introduced two projects on the “new” Parlophone, drawing on his recordings now controlled by that new-old label.  Alternate Monro presents 27 never-before-released versions of hits and album tracks, as well as versions of songs that first appeared on The Rare Monro and Matt Uncovered: The Rarer Monro. (Both of these essential titles are soon to disappear as a result of the EMI upheaval, so those interested in owning these should snap them up now.)  It’s been joined by The Rarities Collection, a 3-CD box set that’s “budget” in price only.  This deluxe set brings together the Parlophone-controlled material from The Rare Monro and The Rarer Monro, with numerous sonic upgrades and even a couple of previously unissued tracks.

Hit the jump to dive in to both releases! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

December 20, 2013 at 09:49

Holiday Gift Guide Review: Donny Hathaway, “Never My Love: The Anthology”

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Hathaway Never My LoveThis time of year, it’s nearly impossible to spend much time on a holiday music station without hearing the familiar, resonant voice persuasively imploring, “Hang all the mistletoe/I’m gonna get to know you better/This Christmas!”  Donny Hathaway’s 1970 single “This Christmas” has become one of the most frequently-sung latter-day Christmas standards, recorded in recent years by everybody from Carole King to Mary J. Blige.  In a too-short life that was tragically curbed at 33 in January 1979, the soul singer proved himself a gifted interpreter of the songs of others, as well as a songwriter of no small skill (see: “This Christmas,” for one).  He didn’t reinvent the wheel of R&B, but took his place in a line of soul men with the power to deliver messages of hope, love, loss, and empowerment.  Rhino has recently surveyed Hathaway’s short but vibrant career in a new four-disc box set entitled Never My Love: The Anthology.

Never My Love follows Someday We’ll All Be Free, a similarly-designed box from Rhino Music France which was released in 2010.  That career-spanning, 61-song retrospective premiered seven previously unissued tracks across its four discs; live material occupied half of the third disc and all of the fourth.  Never My Love, named for The Addrisi Brothers’ hit for The Association which Hathaway made his own, takes a different approach via its 58 songs.  The first CD is a straightforward “best of,” with mono single versions sprinkled into the mix.  A second disc introduces another thirteen previously unissued studio recordings, and the third presents an entire unreleased live performance from 1971 at the Bitter End.  The fourth and final disc brings together Hathaway’s duets with Roberta Flack including the all-time classics “Where is the Love” and “The Closer I Get to You.”  When all is said in done, the box contains a substantial portion of Hathaway’s core solo ouevre, which consists of just three studio solo albums, a duets set with Roberta Flack, three live albums (two released posthumously) and one soundtrack…plus “This Christmas,” of course.

After the jump, we’ll take a closer look at Never My Love: The Anthology! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

December 18, 2013 at 10:17