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Holiday Gift Guide Review: Buck Owens, “Buck ‘Em! The Music of Buck Owens”

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Buck Owens - Buck EmNo less an eminent personage than American author William Faulkner once said that “a writer needs three things – experience, observation, and imagination – any two of which, at times any one of which, can supply the lack of the others.”  Country music legend and Bakersfield Sound pioneer Buck Owens, however, utilized all three of those key elements in his songs, which may help explain their timeless stature.  Fifty of those recordings are anthologized on Omnivore’s new Buck ‘Em! The Music of Buck Owens (1955-1967) (OVCD-75), a two-CD alternative history of the singer-songwriter-bandleader Owens.  If there was ever a time that Owens the musician took a backseat to Owens the cornpone cut-up of television show Hee-Haw, Omnivore has done its best to make sure those days are long gone.

Though Owens’ music has been compiled numerous times in the past, Omnivore’s release produced by Patrick Milligan eschews the predictable approach in favor of a more idiosyncratic one.  Buck ‘Em!, named after Owens’ new, posthumously-released autobiography, takes in the key singles and album tracks one might expect, but endeavors to present these songs in new ways.  All told, eleven chart-topping hits by Owens are featured, a number of which are presented in their original mono single versions (“I’ve Got a Tiger by the Tail,” “Love’s Gonna Live Here,” “I Don’t Care (Just As Long As You Love Me),” “Sam’s Place,” and “Before You Go”).  A total of fifteen mono 45 versions of Owens staples are included, such as the holiday perennial “Santa Looked a Lot Like Daddy.”  Live tracks – from New York’s Carnegie Hall, Bakersfield, and even Japan – have earned a spot on the collection, too, including renditions of favorites like “Act Naturally,” “Buckaroo” and “Together Again.”  Alternate versions of “My Heart Skips A Beat,” “Where Do The Good Times Go,” and “How Long Will My Baby Be Gone” make their U.S. CD debut, alongside a previously unissued version of “Under The Influence Of Love” and the first CD appearance of Omnivore’s sold-out Record Store Day single “Close Up The Honky Tonks.”  The tracks are arranged chronologically by recording date.

After the jump: a closer look at Buck ‘Em! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

December 17, 2013 at 12:54

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 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

Holiday Gift Guide Review: Bobby Darin, “The 25th Day of December” and Various Artists, “Funky Christmas”

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Bobby Darin - 25th Day of DecemberReal Gone Music is ensuring that it’s going to be a merry Christmas, indeed, with a number of holiday-themed releases that practically beg to be enjoyed alongside a glass of egg nog and a warm fireplace.

Bobby Darin’s The 25th Day of December, the late singer’s only holiday LP, arrived on the Atco label in 1960.  However, the album wasn’t the work of Bobby Darin, the splish-splashin’ rock-and-roller, or Bobby Darin, the finger-snapping, tuxedoed crooner.  It’s not even the work of Bob Darin, the folk troubadour.  Instead, it displays another side of the versatile Darin: a reverent, spiritual artist determined to avoid the traditional trappings and Tin Pan Alley Christmas songs that would likely have dominated his contemporaries’ holiday records in 1960.

On Real Gone’s first-ever CD release of the original stereo album mix, The 25th Day of December still retains the power to surprise and enthrall.  It came in a busy year for the singer in which every project seemed different than the one that preceded it – an original studio album, a live set at the Copa, a duet project with Johnny Mercer (the latter recorded in 1960 and released the following year).  Darin turned to Bobby Scott, who had accompanied him in live performances and in the studio, to craft the album’s arrangements and lead the choir dubbed The Bobby Scott Chorale.  Though the album emphasized the sacred over the secular – there’s no “Silver Bells” or “Sleigh Ride” here – Scott and Darin clearly desired to take listeners not just to a staid, solemn congregation, but to a foot-stompin’, soul-savin’ revival.

Darin seemingly reached to the depths of his soul for the up-tempo gospel of “Child of God,” “Baby Born Today” and “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” growling and wailing his call-and-response vocals with Scott’s choir.  “Poor Little Jesus” is as deeply bluesy as “Jehovah Hallelujah” is utterly rousing.  The  straightforward hymn “Holy Holy Holy” shows off Scott’s choral arrangements for male and female voices, and “Ave Maria” (the Bach-Gounod setting, not the Schubert) features some of Darin’s most sensitive, impassioned and subtle singing.  It’s a far cry from the brash upstart persona Darin cultivated with songs like “Mack the Knife.”  So is the stately take on “Silent Night.”  Darin even sang in Latin on the album’s de facto finale, “Dona Nobis Pacem.”  (A brief a cappella “Amen” follows the track.)

After the jump: more on Bobby Darin, plus a look at Funky Christmas! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

December 9, 2013 at 11:27

Holiday Gift Guide Review: Frank Sinatra, “Duets: Twentieth Anniversary”

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Frank Sinatra - Duets SDE

“May you live to be one hundred and may the last voice you hear be mine.”  The image of Frank Sinatra, glass in hand, delivering that favorite toast is an indelible one.  His wasn’t just a voice, after all.  Before he was Ol’ Blue Eyes or The Chairman of the Board, he was simply The Voice.  And through all its many changes, The Voice endured.  The pure, romantically-charged timbre that set the hearts of bobbysoxers pounding in the forties transformed into the ultimate instrument of ultimate cool during the fifties and sixties.  Cigarettes, whiskey and experience deepened the once-crystalline tone as the decades rolled on, but in any year, Frank Sinatra exuded an air somehow both untouchable and intimate…and always unflaggingly honest.  Yet until now, none of the roughly 60 studio albums recorded by the artist had ever been expanded into box set format.  Capitol Records has finally made that move with 1993’s triple-platinum Duets, now combined with its 1994 platinum follow-up Duets II.  The Duets – Twentieth Anniversary campaign includes a 2-CD/1-DVD Super Deluxe Edition box set (Capitol B0019342-00), 2-CD Deluxe Edition (with both audio discs from the box set, including bonus tracks), 2-LP vinyl set (with just the original albums) and single-CD Best of Duets highlights disc.

Duets, originally released on November 2, 1993 and included as the first disc of the Super Deluxe box, marked Sinatra’s return to Capitol Records after a more than thirty-year absence. His first studio album for the label since 1962’s Point of No Return, Duets teamed the celebrated icon with producer Phil Ramone, co-producer Hank Cattaneo, and a host of performers from various musical genres and eras.  It took a good deal of coaxing to get the 77-year old superstar into the studio to bring Duets to life, and a good deal of Ramone’s studio wizardry, too.  Duets, for good or ill, helped popularize the now rather commonplace concept of the virtual duet, as Ramone recorded Sinatra in the famous Studio A with Bill Miller at the piano and a full orchestra conducted by Patrick Williams…and nary a duet partner in sight.  (Wasn’t Sinatra always a trendsetter?)  All of the famous personnel would be added later, with Ramone using a fiber-optics system developed in part by George Lucas’ Skywalker Sound to record Sinatra’s guests.  Twenty years on, divorced from any controversy about the recording techniques, Duets holds up surprisingly well.  For all the illustrious talent on display on the LP, the reason why boils down to three words: Francis Albert Sinatra (with a little help from his friends).

Hit the jump to join us as we dive into Duets: Twentieth Anniversary! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

December 6, 2013 at 13:13

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 »

‘Tis the Season: The 2013 HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE Is Here!

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Holiday Gift Guide 2013

It’s that time of year again!  Click above to visit The Second Disc’s annual Holiday Gift Guide, featuring over 25 of our favorite gift picks for 2013!

Written by Joe Marchese

December 2, 2013 at 11:21

Posted in Box Sets, News, Reissues

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It’s a Scream! “Rhumba” Takes Latin-Jewish Musical Journey with Carole King, Herb Alpert, Celia Cruz, Tito Puente, More

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It's a Scream How LevineLast year, The Idelsohn Society for Musical Preservation regaled listeners with ‘Twas the Night Before Hanukkah, an eclectic and offbeat anthology that breathed life into the concept of a holiday-themed compilation.  With its mission “to look at Jewish history and the Jewish experience through recorded sound” firmly in mind, the organization this year has released another two-disc set that lives up to the much-overused word unique.  Whereas last year’s release focused on the relationship in song between Christmas and Hanukkah, the colorfully-titled It’s a Scream How Levine Does the Rhumba (RSR 021) explores an even less familiar topic: the shared history of Latin and Jewish music.  The ties between the two cultures run quite deep, as this set shows over the course of its 41 tracks recorded between 1947 and 1983 and arranged in chronological fashion.

Vocal and instrumental performances sit side by side on It’s a Scream, which takes its title from the 1952 novelty by the saucy Ruth Wallis.  It’s one of many such novelties here, but they transcend that label in the context of Idelsohn’s presentation.  The oldest tracks fall into this category, such as Irving Kaufman’s “Moe the Schmo Takes a Rhumba Lesson,” sung in character as Kaufman’s favorite schmo (or schmoe) and transferred from a crackly 78.  Another is The Barry Sisters’ “Channah from Havanna” dating to the mid-fifties.  The punchline of this comic story-song still can bring a smile.  Mickey Katz, Yiddish comedian, klezmer clarinetist and father of Joel Grey, is represented with the lively and goofy “My Yiddishe Mambo” (not “My Yiddishe Mama,” for sure!) in which he uses his arsenal of exaggerated voices and pulls out all of the showbiz stops.

Fans of the big-band sound will find plenty to delight in here, from leaders including Xavier Cugat (“Miami Beach Rhumba,” a rhumba spin on “Autumn Leaves”), Pupi Campo (“Joe and Paul,” a Yiddish radio jingle performed by a Cuban bandleader with an arrangement by Tito Puente!), Al Gomez (“Sheyn Vi Di Levone,” a Yiddish love song in Spanish), Puente himself (“Pan, Amor Y Cha Cha Cha” with Cugat’s wife, singer Abbe Lane) and many more.

There’s also room for salsa, on tracks like “Marvelous Jew” Larry Harlow’s “Yo Soy Latino,” Eddie Palmieri’s 1963 “El Molestoso,” Willie Colon’s “Junio ‘73,” or “Hava Nageela” from salsa queen Celia Cruz.  Cruz’s exciting take, from 1964, isn’t the only spin on the traditional “Hava Nagila” here, either.  The Hebrew folk song went merengue in 1972 by Dominican pianist Damiron, and got a rock-and-roll makeover when it was crossed with a dance sensation by bandleader Perez Prado to become “The Twist of Hava Nageela” in 1962!  Early doo-wopping rock-and-rollers The Crows (“Gee”) even got into Latin/Jewish fusion with 1954’s punning “Mambo Shevitz (Man Oh Man).”

We have plenty more on this musical exchange of cultures after the jump! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

November 25, 2013 at 14:23

Holiday Gift Guide Review: R.E.M., “Document: 25th Anniversary Edition”/Various Artists, “Athens, GA. – Inside/Out”

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Document 25Even a year after R.E.M.’s sudden dissolution last fall, it’s hard not to be enthralled by their music and their message. Even before they said goodbye, their discography was a considerable sacred text of modern rock and roll – sustained success on both a strong independent and major label, songs that provided a fresh take on a classic musical formula and a singular, uncompromising vision as to how they were going to follow their art – a vision that happily rewarded them as one of America’s most popular ensembles.

This year, 25 years after R.E.M.’s ascension into the big leagues with the Top 10 hit “The One I Love,” two new catalogue titles offer intriguing looks into how they got there. The first, and more obvious, would be the expected 25th anniversary edition of Document (Capitol 50999 972306 2 8), newly remastered and expanded with a concert recorded on the band’s Work Tour of 1987.

“The time has come/to be engaged,” lead singer Michael Stipe sings at the start of opening track “Finest Worksong” (arguably one of the band’s most underrated tunes). And while it’s not a stretch for the always-aware R.E.M. to think that way, it certainly is something to hear them wear that declaration so clearly on an album. Indeed, Document is in some ways bolder than its predecessors; Murmur and Reckoning established the band’s trademarks – bright pop/rock with jangling guitars and propulsive if simple rhythms combined with Stipe’s oblique, stream of consciousness poetry – while Fables of the Reconstruction and Lifes Rich Pageant added further flourishes, beefing up the production value (Fairport Convention producer Joe Boyd John Mellencamp producer Don Gehman produced each of those albums, respectively) and focusing the sometimes confounding lyrics into richly metaphoric tales of anything from the American South to adverse environmental conditions.

Document’s clean production by Scott Litt, who’d oversee the band’s next five LPs, is complemented by some of the most striking R.E.M. songs on record. A growing sense of Reagan-era discomfort is implicit on tunes like “Exhuming McCarthy” (which samples Joseph Nye Welch’s famous “have you no sense of decency?” quote during the Army-McCarthy hearings) and even the kinetic, almost intentionally discombobulating “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (and I Feel Fine).” As upbeat as the album is, Stipe betrays a sense of weariness throughout, most famously the bait-and-switch of “The One I Love,” in which he sings not of a real lover, but “a simple prop to occupy my time.”

While expanded editions of Fables and Pageant featured lengthy bonus discs of demos, the expanded Document adds a live set from the 5,000-capacity Muziekcentrum Vredenburg in Holland. Despite the decent sound quality, owing to a decent radio broadcast feed, this bonus disc is arguably the most disappointing of the R.E.M. 25th anniversary edition sets thus far. For one, the show doesn’t stray too far from the band’s typical fare (although much of Document is played). Far worse, however, is the deletion of several songs from the set list – mostly covers (including Wire’s “Strange,” as recorded on Document), which is a pretty weak way of saving on publishing royalties, but also the full, previously-released “Time After Time (AnnElise)/Red Rain/So. Central Rain (I’m Sorry)” which closed the set. (The arresting vocal-and-guitar closer of “So. Central Rain (I’m Sorry)” remains; the other half is available only on the original “Finest Worksong” vinyl single.) Packaging enthusiasts, however, will enjoy the EMI-standard lidded box, sturdy photo inserts of Stipe, Peter Buck, Mike Mills and Bill Berry and the large, fold-out poster inside the set as well.

After the jump, take a fascinating trip to Athens, Georgia – the birthplace of R.E.M. as well as the home of a truly unique local scene that’s expertly captured in a rediscovered documentary!

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Mike Duquette

December 19, 2012 at 17:48

Holiday Gift Guide Review: Various Artists, “‘Twas the Night Before Hanukkah”

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'Twas the Night Before HanukkahThe story behind The Idelsohn Society for Music Preservation’s fascinating new 2-CD set ‘Twas the Night Before Hanukkah is a simple one.  The label, dedicated to telling Jewish history through music, set out to chronicle the music of Hanukkah before discovering that the most famous Christmas songs – “White Christmas,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “The Christmas Song,” just to name three – were all written by members of the Jewish faith!  So the Hanukkah compilation doubled in size, and gained the cheeky subtitle The Musical Battle Between Christmas and the Festival of Lights.  Those celebrating either holiday will find plenty of cheer and a bit of food for thought on these two discs.  One is dedicated to Hanukkah and another to Christmas, with plenty of cross-pollination between the two.  This set makes a worthy companion to the Idelsohn Society’s previous Black Sabbath, a look at another relationship in song: in that case, between African-Americans and Jews.

Disc One, or Happy Hanukkah, takes in songs referring to the holiday (Gerald Marks’ “Hanukah,” Woody Guthrie’s “Hanukkah Dance,” The Klezmatics’ “Hanukah Tree”) and songs central to it (Cantor David Putterman’s “Rock of Ages”).  Other songs here celebrate aspects of Jewish culture that make them seasonally appropriate, like Debbie Friedman’s “The Latke Song” or a number of odes to the dreidel.  In the latter category comes Ella Jenkins’ rendition of the 1920 folk standard known to children everywhere, “Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel,” plus “Grandma’s Dreidel” from comedian (and father of Joel Grey) Mickey Katz and “Dreidel,” from folk-rock troubadour Don McLean in which the singer compares turbulent modern life to the spinning of the dreidel.  There are more light-hearted tracks here, too, including the collection’s title song, Stanley Adams and Sid Wayne’s “’Twas The Night Before Chanukah.”  (You’ll note the multiple spellings of the holiday; it’s noted in the booklet that there are at least sixteen acceptable ways to spell the holiday that only has five letters in its original Hebrew!)  Perhaps ironically, Mickey Katz’s contribution is one of his more “straight” recordings, with Katz earnestly singing and playing clarinet.  As collections of Hanukkah songs are far and few between, this disc makes an entertaining and valuable release in its own right. Alas, Tom Lehrer’s “(I’m Spending) Hanukkah in Santa Monica” didn’t make the cut!  Neither did Adam Sandler’s “The Chanukah Song,” as the compilers explained in the notes that it was too “well-trodden.”  Ah, well, maybe next time!  There’s always the recording of Sandler’s song by Neil Diamond, one of the most famous Jewish purveyors of holiday music to be absent from these proceedings!

Hit the jump for much more, including the complete track listing and order link! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

December 17, 2012 at 10:27