Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Brad Paisley - A Brad Paisley Christmas

This was my final gift from Jeff, the lovely and talented guy behind Jeffco Productions (did I mention he's got FREE album downloads at his site?)

This CD was totally unexpected since I'm a pure, die-hard, in-the-wool, old school country music lover (Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, George Jones, anything pre-1980) and absolutely loathe most contemporary country music.

I didn't know anything about Brad Paisley before receiving this CD (with the exception that he's married to that cutie Kimberly Williams-Paisley from "According To Jim").

Paisley hails from West Virginia and received his first guitar at the age of eight from his maternal grandfather. By the age of 12, Brad had written his first song and began appearing onstage as the opening act for the likes of Ricky Skaggs and George Jones!

After graduating from high school in the early 1990s, he attended Belmont University in Nashville on an ASCAP scholarship no less! Between studies, Paisley took in the music scene around Nashville with college friends Frank Rogers and Kelley Lovelace. Both would become Brad's music producer and songwriting partner respectively.

Before he got his break as a singer, Paisley signed a songwriting contract with EMI Music Publishing and contributed several songs to other up-and-comers like Tracy Byrd and David Hall. This is totally common in Nashville - one of the few places remaining in the recording industry where songwriters still go up and down Music Row touting their songs for sale.

In 1999, Brad recorded his first album for Arista Nashville entitled "Who Needs Pictures". His singles "He Didn't Have To Be" and "We Danced" off the album both reached #1 on the country charts. The following year he received the Country Music Association's Horizon award (awarded to promising newcomers) and the Academy of Country Music awarded him their best new male vocalist trophy.

While making the video of his 2002 single "I'm Gonna Miss Her" (with appearances from ESPN's Dan Patrick, Little Jimmy Dickens, and Jerry Springer), an actress was needed to play Paisley's wife. Can you guess who they cast?

2003 saw the release of "Mud On The Tires"; Brad's 3rd album. The single "Celebrity" is a pretty funny take on instant celebrity and the video spoofs reality shows like "Fear Factor", "The Bachelorette" (with Trista Rehn), and "American Idol" (with William Shatner doing his best Simon Cowell!).



Man, I'm liking this Brad Paisley more and more! Other singles from the album include "Whiskey Lullaby" with Allison Krauss and the title track which reached number #1 again.

Paisley also contributed two songs to the Disney/Pixar movie soundtrack of "Cars" in 2005 and released his 5th album, "Time Well Wasted". This album spawned three number #1 hits ("The World", "She's Everything", and "When I Get Where I'm Going", a duet with Dolly Parton) and received the CMA's Album of the Year award last November. This brings us to his most recent release - this Christmas CD.

TRACK REVIEWS:

1.) Winter Wonderland
A competent country cover of this Christmas classic (what alliteration!)

2.) Santa Looked A Lot Like Daddy
This fine cover of the old Buck Owens tune is long winded but WOW! Nice guitar licks in this!

3.) I'll Be Home For Christmas
One part Tony Bennett, one part Chet Atkins. A very nice version of this song!

4.) Away In A Manger
I liked this but it stretched out way too long. By minute four, I was tuning out.

5.) Penguin, James Penguin
Did you know Santa had a secret agent bird that helps his keep tabs on all of us? A funny new Christmas character has arrived!

6.) 364 Days To Go
Country music still tells great stories. This is a fine example. What do you do when Christmas ends?

7.) Jingle Bells (Instrumental)
This one gives Chet Atkins and Brian Setzer's instrumental versions a run for their money! WoooEEE!

8.) Silent Night
A beautiful country rendition - overlong but it's worth it.

9.) Born On Christmas Day
Written when Brad was a lad of 13, we hear a tape of him playing this live onstage first. Full grown Brad takes over, and both end up singing at the end of this song - a beautiful song about Joseph, Mary, a manger, and baby Jesus.

10.) Silver Bells
More countrified Christmas... I'm not minded as much as I thought I would anymore!

11.) Kung Pao Buckaroo Holiday
A brilliant satire on political correctness - every time the Kung Pao Buckaroos (George Jones, Bill Anderson, Little Jimmy Dickens) say "C-----mas", they get bleeped! "We Three Kings of O-----" can't be sung, substitute Asian instead! PURE GENIUS!

12.) Little Jimmy Dickens outtake
85 years old and still going strong... Bless you Jimmy!


Coming into this review, I knew nothing about Brad Paisley. I'm glad I took the trip.

This guy has his head firmly on his shoulders, respects old school country music while playing and writing some great contemporary country music, is about to become a father soon (good luck you two), and has released a well done Christmas album to boot! If you get a chance, track this one down... you won't be sorry!


UP NEXT: The final Christmas CD from my stash of 22 CDs from under the tree.


Capt

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

James Taylor - At Christmas

Several weeks ago, my friend Mason lent me his DVD of Eric Clapton's Crossroads Guitar Festival to peruse.

This amazing DVD has some of the finest guitar players assembled in one sitting. Name 'em and they were there: Carlos Santana, Steve Vai, Joe Walsh, and B.B. King.

Want more? How about Robert Cray, a young-up-and-comer named Robert Randolph (a mean pedal steel guitarist who I hope and pray will record a Christmas album one day!), ZZ Top, Buddy Guy, David Hidalgo (from Los Lobos), Jimmie Vaughn, and James Taylor.

JAMES TAYLOR? Doesn't quite fit, huh?

Two things you should know about this CD: 1.) this was one of my final purchases of the 2006 holiday season. 2.) I reviewed this at FaLaLaLaLa.com last December.

To quote:

"I've never been a big fan of James Taylor. However, I slipped this into my stack of CDs while checking out at Best Buy the way a man would try to hide a Playboy magazine among Newsweek and Time.

"After listening to this album, I have to say I have a new found respect for Taylor. His mix of traditional Christmas songs done in totally opposite styles (traditional, acoustic, gospel, folk) make you stop and listen.

"With some help from Toots Thieleman and Natalie Cole, Taylor has made an enjoyable album not just for the aging baby boomers but for Christmas music fans as well.

"It's not the first Christmas album I would grab but I'll add it to the mix now and then!"


One detail should be noted: after his long running contract with Columbia/Sony Records wasn't renewed, he released first Christmas CD - "James Taylor: A Christmas Album" - with distribution through Hallmark Cards in 2004. Columbia/Sony reworked and released this album late last year as "James Taylor At Christmas".

So what are the differences? "Deck The Halls" was on the 2004 album and was replaced on the 2006 album with "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" and a cover of Joni Mitchell's "River". Lose one track, gain two others. Hardly even exciting stuff.

There's other stuff I can add in:
  • Taylor was one of the first artists signed to the Beatles' Apple Records in 1968
  • Nearly died from his heroin addiction in the early 1970s
  • His 1976 "Greatest Hits" album has sold around 11 million copies
  • He was married to Carly Simon and could be the person Simon sings about in "You're So Vain"
  • Inducted into the Rock N Roll Hall Of Fame in 2000
  • Ranked #84 in Rolling Stone's Top 100 Rock Artists of All Time in 2004

However, I'll stand on what I said in my FLLLL review. If I stay longer, I might start ranting and it's not really fair to James Taylor - we've never met and he's never said a bad thing about me so...


UP NEXT: Break out the flannel shirts and ten gallon hats - we goin' country next!


Capt

Monday, January 29, 2007

Sleigh Me: A Collection Of Retro Holiday Classics (Atomic Magazine)



If you haven't visited FaLaLaLaLa.com, you're missing out on a great community of Christmas music lovers who offer their picks on great holiday music, web links you have to see to believe, and new and unusual albums or CDs.

This CD was first brought to my attention in the Forums at FLLLL (be warned: once you enter the Forums, you may not come out!). KCMike first told us of this CD back on November 21 of last year (thank you sir!).

I quickly ordered a copy the same day and waited for my copy to show. And waited. And waited. And waited. Two weeks had passed. This might be normal if I had sent in a check or money order but I paid with PayPal!

I dashed off a quick e-mail asking where my copy was. One quicker reply later I got my answer: "Sorry for the delay. Your order slipped through the cracks. The disc was sent today." Lesson learned? Never order anything online before the long Thanksgiving day weekend.

About ten years ago, the retro lounge culture was reaching its peak in popularity. Swing dancing was in vogue as new swing bands popped up everywhere. Lounge clubs began appearing where smoking jackets and martinis were welcome. 

Capitol Records released their endless volume collection of "Ultra-Lounge" music (of which I personally own 18 of the 25 volumes released). The Vince Vaughn - Jon Favreau movie "Swingers" perfectly captures this time in our culture.



In 1999, Atomic Magazine published its first issue with dynamic articles on the lounge scene, music and book reviews of retro icons past and lounge swingers present, places on where to buy those leopard print jackets and bowling shirts, tips on how to host the perfect cocktail party in your bachelor pad, and fantastic glamour shots.

Shortly before Christmas 2000, Atomic released this beaut of a Christmas CD featuring new bands doing their new lounge takes on your Christmas favorites:

TRACK REVIEWS:

1.) Lavay Smith - Winter Wonderland
Cha-cha-cha! Sultry singing by Ms. Smith, the orchestra swings, making this totally hip!

2.) The Bill Elliott Swing Orchestra - Jingle Bells
Nails the great Glenn Miller arrangement to a T. When are these guys and gals in town?

3.) Big Bad Voodoo Daddy - Christmas Time In Tinseltown (again)
I've yet to hear these guys but I'm told they rock... and if you believe that, you wanna buy a bridge?

4.) George Gee & The Jump Jive and Wailers (with Nick Palumbo) - Run Run Rudolph
Move over Brian Setzer... these guys have Chuck Berry's tune well in hand!

5.) The Jive Aces - Santa Is Back In Town
The UK's number one swing band de-Elvises this tune, swinging it out in the process!

6.) Los Straightjackets - Sleigh Ride
Misspelled on the CD, there's no mistaking that great instrumental sound of these guys!

7.) Dave's True Story - Let It Snow
A jazz combo whose sound is completely off the charts! You'd swear this was an orchestra! WOW!

8.) Michael Andrew and Swingerhead - Mistletoe Mambo
The title say it all... excuse me while I have a whiskey and soda and hit the dance floor!

9.) Casey MacGill - Egg Nog
A lounge track homage to a seasonal drink favorite? This one might make my Christmas comp!

10.) Michael Andrew and Swingerhead (featuring "Broccoli Rob" and Eddie Nichols) - We Three Kings
Starts off slow, they pop the clutch, and off we go! Frrrrrrrrankencense!

11.) The Ray Gelato Giants - Winter Wonderland
Bouncy, gritty, and totally swingable - a great rendition of this song!

12.) Atomic Magazine - Christmas Greetings
The record noise and pops makes this charming...


A fantastic addition to any Christmas music collection. Now I have to check out all those artist links to see if any of them (other than the Big Bad Voodoo Daddies and Los Straitjackets) have any full Christmas CDs to their name.

Like with any popular culture trend, the lounge scene died down in popularity and by 2001, it was practically off the radar screen. Atomic Magazine stayed in print for another two years, suspending publication in 2003.

Thanks to the Internet, the magazine is still alive online. You can visit their website to get back issues, read articles, shop for some retro gear, and experience the whole lounge scene once more. Be sure to visit the new online companion sites: The Retro Radar and The Fedora Lounge to keep in touch with all the be-boppers and hipsters around the world!

Oh... you can STILL get this Christmas CD by ordering it here online ($10 - a STEAL!).


UP NEXT: My most embarrassing purchase of the 2006 holiday season.


Capt

Friday, January 26, 2007

The Fabulous Fay McKay - Winter Favorites

In early December of 2006, I was searching April Winchell's delectable selection of Seasonal Favorites and came across an MP3 of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" by someone named Fay McKay.

I downloaded it and took a listen. It turned out to be the famous "drunk lady" version that has floated around cyberspace for years. I was grateful that this always hilarious tune finally had a proper credit (Thanks April!).

From there I went to FaLaLaLaLa.com where I typed the following post on December 7, 2006:

"'The Crazy Drunk Lady - The 12 Days Of Christmas'.

"If you've ever surfed a file-sharing program and entered 'Christmas', there's a good chance this song popped up. I'm guessing about 1/2 of the people reading this know about this Internet favorite (or downloaded it like me).

"If you don't, this song begins with indeed a lady who begins to sing 'The Twelve Days Of Christmas' while getting progressively drunker and drunker. By the end of the song, she's reduced to grunts and slurs while you're laughing your head off and feeling intoxicated yourself.

"Guess what? That 'crazy drunk lady' is Fay McKay and she has her own website!

"Ms. McKay is selling her very own 11-track Christmas album with that version of "12 Daze" on it. Plus, each CD comes autographed!

"I was excited to have found her website because yes, I did download this song back in the pre-legal days of Napster. It's payback time... I ordered her album as my way of thanks. Drop in and take a look!"

When I ordered my CD, I sent several questions along in hopes she would answer them. While I waited for the disc to arrive, two new rays of info came to light about Ms. McKay.

The first came on December 21, 2006 from another member of FaLaLaLaLa.com who alerted me to this fantastic film clip found on YouTube:





The film clip was taken from a documentary entitled "LOST VEGAS: The Lounge Era". I did another Google which brought me to a post (also on December 21) at Boing Boing that quoted the creator of the documentary Tim Onosko:

"Our film profiles a group of these guys, and a woman named Fay McKay, a talented jazz singer who became known for her boozy comic parody of 'The Twelve Days of Christmas.' ... She is still alive and living in the desert, in obscurity. It would sure be nice for lots of people to see her do her famous comedy bit. Since it's the season, we've uploaded Fay's bit to YouTube."

On cue, my CD arrived and Fay took the time to answer my questions:

Fay got her start in show business at the tender age of three and half. She went on to perform in 26 countries around the world, every single one of the 50 United States of America, and was the headliner at nine different Las Vegas casinos along the strip in her lifetime (those are Sinatra numbers!).

Her biggest highlight came when she appeared as Liberace's co-star (and 155 other top name stars) at the London Palladium back in the 1960s.

During one night in a smoky piano bar in the late 1960s, she first performed her now classic "Twelve Daze of Christmas". She credits some fans with the inspiration and she ran with it all the way to the bank! It has charmed hundreds of thousands of people since then.

I asked her if she knew how popular this song was. "Of course!" She has heard stories of people pulling over in traffic due to uncontrollable laughter and people who have suffered the loss of bladder control while listening.

She released this album of "Winter Favorites" back in 1968 (I would love to see an actual LP). The first song is, of course, "'12 Daze' of Christmas" which reattaches the long lost intro that many of the online MP3s cut off. I've heard this song countless times and it always never fails to make me laugh - a rare feat for any song.

McKay then covers the basic Christmas songs and her rich voice really comes across, especially her versions of "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" and "White Christmas. There are some hilarious surprises on two of the tracks ("Frosty The Snowman", "Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow") that must be heard to be believed!

My favorite track is her final one - a medley of "It Came Upon A Midnight Clear / Silent Night". You can hear the warmth and solemnity in McKay's voice as she switches from song to song. It's a wonderful medley and a very haunting rendition.

Fay McKay is indeed retired and has experienced some serious health problems in recent days. She still lives in the town she loves the most - Las Vegas. McKay sent me a copy of her "Live In Las Vegas" CD as well, capturing what it's like at 2:30 in the morning in a typical Vegas lounge - fabulous stuff!

My last question I asked Fay: Any special messages you'd like to give to your fans?

"Yes!!! Please buy my CDs! (Hahaha!) I'm thankful for all your support!"

If you loved her version of "12 Daze of Christmas", you'll love her Christmas CD. If you ever laughed out loud over her song, please visit her website to get a CD or simply send her a card or letter.



McKay's CD didn't come with an actual cover (see above) so
I recreated the cover from the small picture on Fay's website.



UP NEXT: We're gonna drop a retro Christmas bomb on you...


Capt

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Dean Martin - Christmas With Dino

It seems like every three or four years, there is a brand new Dean Martin Christmas album.

The last release came two years ago when Collectors Choice released "A Winter Romance". I grant you that this is not a full Christmas album but this was Dean's only holiday release during his entire time at Capitol Records in the 1950s.

Three years ago, we got ANOTHER Christmas album entitled "Christmas With Dino" strangely enough! That CD takes the best tracks from "A Winter Romance" and "The Dean Martin Christmas Album" from 1966.

I never purchased that version because I already owned the 1998 Capitol release "Making Spirits Bright" and thought I owned it all - how wrong I was!

This is why I broke down and purchased this new release from last Christmas (it didn't hurt Wal-Mart lowered its prices on holiday music about two weeks before Christmas). I then learned that this "new" CD has pretty much the same lineup from the first "Christmas With Dino" album (with a few exceptions).

First, a quick history lesson: Dino Paul Crocetti was born in Steubenville, Ohio. Most of his juvenile life was one step ahead of the law. Worked as a blackjack dealer in his teens. Went to New York to become a singer.

Was under contract to many different people (including Lou Costello) in his early singing career. Met a kid named Jerry Lewis. For ten years, Martin & Lewis reigned supreme as the Kings of Comedy on radio, television, and movies. 




Dean's solo singing career gets some boosts late in the partnership ("Memories Are Made Of This" and "That's Amore"). Dean gets tired of playing organ grinder to Jerry's monkey. End of duet.

Dean gets several good movie roles ("The Young Lions", "Rio Bravo", "Some Came Running"). Teams up with Sinatra, Davis, Bishop, and Lawford to form the Rat Pack. In 1964, at the height of Beatlemania, Martin knocks the Beatles off the top of the charts with "Everybody Loves Somebody".

NBC offers Dean his own TV variety series. "Only if I can work one day a week," Dean counters. His show debuts in 1965 and is an immediate hit. Two years later, Martin makes the Guinness Book Of World Records by signing the richest TV contract in history - 3 years, $34 million.

Dean's magic touch begins to wear down in the early 1970s. His movies and records slowly die off while he transforms his variety show into his "celebrity roasts". He limits himself to club dates, mainly in Las Vegas. In 1976, Dean reunites with Jerry on his Labor Day Telethon.



In the 1980s, Dean acts in the two "Cannonball Run" movies (why, Dean, why?) and loses his beloved son Dino Jr. to a plane crash. Sinatra tries to shake Dean out of the doldrums by reuniting with Sammy for a 1988 Rat Pack tour. Dean is bored and leaves the tour early.

In 1989, Jerry appears on stage with Dean for the final time to present him a birthday cake (around 3:50 YouTube). Martin's health begins to go south, gives his final appearance on stage in 1991, and he becomes a virtual recluse. On Christmas Day, 1995, Dean dies in his sleep at his home.

On the day of the funeral, the entire Las Vegas strip dims its lights for 10 minutes in his memory.

So what gives? Why the over saturation with the Dean Christmas? It seems late last year, EMI Music entered into a worldwide exclusive partnership with the Dean Martin Trust to act as agent for licensing Martin’s name, image, and likeness. EMI will continue to market Martin’s expansive Capitol Records and Reprise Records recording catalogs on a worldwide basis.

This was their first big release under this new arrangement - Corporate Dino. We might see more of the obscure Dean Martin stuff be reissued... but there's that chance we'll see Dino in a computer morphed TV commercial for some stupid product - the thought makes me nauseous.

What I want to know is what's the difference between the two "Christmas With Dino" albums? Can someone help me with a comparison?

As for the Christmas album pictured above... it's Dean singing Christmas classics. Need I say more?


UP NEXT: Four old fitzgeralds, three rob roys, two cutty sarks, and a surrey with the fringe on top.


Capt

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Everly Brothers - Christmas With

This is the second of two CDs that I chose in place of one Billy Idol Christmas CD (see yesterday's post for more details).

I was quite astonished when I found this among the bargain bin racks at the Virgin Megastore - $7.00!

I was also surprised like crazy - I never knew the Everly Brothers recorded a Christmas album (I know... I know...). It's little surprises like this that rev up my adrenaline at Christmas.

Phil and Don Everly hailed from Kentucky and were excellent musicians even before getting into the music business. When they began moving through the ranks in the late 1950s, rock-n-roll acts like Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Chuck Berry were the top draws.

The duo signed with Cadence Records in 1956. Their first single ("Keep A' Lovin' Me") was produced by Chet Atkins and was immediately flopped. They returned to the studio and found a song that had been kicked around Nashville many times. 30 artists passed on the tune, including Elvis.



"Bye Bye Love" was an absolute smash, reaching #1 on the country chart, #2 on the pop chart, and #5 on the R&B chart! The tight harmonies of the brothers backed by their own guitar playing made everyone sit up and take notice.

What followed next was a string of hits that hold up even today: "Wake Up Little Susie", "All I Have To Do Is Dream", "Devoted To You", "Bird Dog", "Problems", and "'Til I Kissed You".

Around this time (1957-1959), rock-n-roll was going through some early growing pains. Elvis went into the army, Little Richard gave up rock for religion, Chuck Berry went to prison, Jerry Lee Lewis married his 13-yr old cousin, Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens took a fateful plane ride.

Enter the teen idol years. With the likes of Frankie Avalon, Fabian, and Pat Boone now leading the way (most of which couldn't sing or play instruments on their own), The Everly Brothers were one of the few acts to emerge from this period intact.

That is until Uncle Sam called. In 1960, they switched from Cadence to Warner Brothers and had their last huge #1 hit - "Cathy's Clown". At the end of 1961, Phil and Don couldn't put off their military commitment. Both joined the U.S. Marines and served until 1962.

This Christmas album was released by Warner Brothers back in 1962 (both in mono & stereo). According to the liner notes, Phil and Don travelled to Boys Town, Nebraska where The Boys Town Choir helped contribute to the album.

They share the spotlight alone on two songs ("Away In A Manger", "Angels From The Realm Of Glory"). The liner notes also mention Don sings solo on "What Child Is This?" while Phil solos on "O Little Town Of Bethlehem".

In many of the songs here, both the brothers sings their trademark close harmonies to a T. It's a treat to hear those familiar voices sings "Silent Night" and "We Wish You A Merry Christmas" but the album as a whole is a disappointment.

Nowhere on the album can their wonderful guitar sound be heard (the organ and boys choir really weighs them down at points) and the song selection is strictly traditional Christmas carols.

I would give anything to hear what Phil and Don would have done with "White Christmas", "Jingle Bell Rock", or even better an original Everly Brothers song or songs. I was hoping at some point, any point they would cut loose and let her fly. No such luck.

Despite the fact their time on the popular music scene had passed, for the next ten years (1963-1973) the brothers would continue to record albums and release singles. Unlike many of their contemporaries, they continued to expand their musical horizons and experiement with new songs and sounds. Their 1966 album "Two Yanks In England" is an underrated, underappreciated album that really deserves more attention than it gets.

In 1972, they released the album "Stories We Can Tell", featuring many revealing songs including "Green River", "I'm Tired Of Singing My Song In Las Vegas" (how personal can you get?), and a Christmas song that's long flew under the radar screen: "Christmas Eve Can Kill You". You can still get this album to hear this song (or find Rhino Records "Bummed Out Christmas" compilation) - it's a great song.

On July 14, 1973, Phil and Don took the stage at a show in California, just another oldies show. However, a long-simmering feud was just below the surface. At mid-set, a somewhat tipsy Don insulted his brother Phil, who smashed his guitar in front of a shocked audience and walked off the stage. Don is taken aback for a moment, then cooly announces to the audience "The Everly Brothers died 10 years ago" and finished off the set as a solo.

For the next ten years, both brothers recorded solo albums and faced the inevitable question "When are you reuniting with your brother?" That reunion came in September of 1983 when Phil and Don took the stage at the Royal Albert Hall in London.



The resulting reunion album and home video of the concert sets off a mini-renaissance for the Everlys. The following year, they reached #4 on the UK charts with a Paul McCartney song written especially for them: "On The Wings Of A Nightingale". The Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame inducted the Everly Brothers in its very first year of existence (1986), cementing their rich legacy of music forever.

According to the official Everly Brothers Fan Club web site, as of 2005 they were continuing to tour (mainly in England) and were just as surprised when Rhino Records licensed all of the Warner Brothers releases to Collectors Choice Music for re-release (including this Christmas album) that same year.


UP NEXT: More, eh? Another Christmas CD from this guy? What does this make, four? Five?


Capt

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Ramsey Lewis Trio - Sound Of Christmas

Last month, my family and I made the trek from Fort Wayne to Chicago for our annual Christmas weekend getaway.

We stayed at the Chicago Marriott - Magnificent Mile, located right on Michigan Avenue. We've stayed at this hotel many times thanks in large part to its proximity to the landmarks, shopping, and location to the Virgin Megastore (in the same building - sweet!).

Over the past three years, some of the titles I have purchased during these trips have been Jo Stafford, Barenaked Ladies, Happy Holidays V4, and the Ultimate Christmas Cocktails box set.

During my most recent trip, I was determined to find a copy of "Happy Holidays: A Very Special Christmas Album" by Billy Idol. Virgin had many copies in stock; all imported copies from Germany. Their asking price was a whopping $25.

I debated, put it back, picked it up, debated some more, and finally decided that was too much to pay for any CD. I figured I could buy two CDs for that price and that's exactly what I did. This is find number one (check back tomorrow for find number two).

It's fitting that I found this CD in Chicago - it's where Ramsey Lewis was born and received his first piano lesson at the impressionable age of four. Lewis continued to study piano under a teacher named Dorothy Mendelson that helped him to peak his interest in music. By 15, Lewis was a whiz on the keys and was asked by a friend to play in his jazz band. Ramsey had found his calling.

Forming a small trio (Ramsey on piano, Eldee Young on bass, Red Holt on drums), they began performing in Chicago where they caught the ear of Danny O'Dailey, a local Chicago DJ. O'Dailey helped the trio secure their first recording contract with Argo Records, the jazz subsidiary of the legendary Chess Records, and stayed for the next fifteen years. Between 1956 and 1961, they released their nine albums - three alone in 1961, including their Christmas album.


This is a great jazz Christmas album. The average length of the ten tracks are around three minutes in length which will appeal to the non-jazz ear. The first five tracks (Side 1), Lewis' piano changes from light and bouncy to hard and jazzy then to soft and bluesy from song to song, sometimes in the same song all with the slightest of ease. Every track is a lesson in jazz 101.

The second five tracks (Side 2) utilize an orchestra along with the trio. For many jazz purists, bringing an orchestra in to help out is one step short of sacrilege. On this album, it's a perfect match.

TRACK REVIEWS (Use the track listing above):

1.) Features some jaw dropping piano work by Ramsey - a GREAT version of this song!
2.) Starts off light, then settles into some fine jazz.
3.) A slow jazz version of "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town"? Be still, my heart!
4.) Ramsey's own composition - it deserves to be heard at Christmas! MMMmmM!
5.) Has a great Latin feel to it... "Here Comes Santa Claus" cha cha cha!
6.) Another Ramsey composition - the strings are a bolt out of left field but WOW! By far, the standout track!
7.) A perfect version of this song (no offense Nat!).
8.) A symphony in strings and jazz which takes "God Rest Ye" from carol to classic.
9.) More Latin feel - and with the orchestra along for the ride, it's worth the trip.
10.) Lush, jazzy, romantic. An outstanding track that concludes an outstanding effort.


The Ramsey Lewis Trio continued to break new ground in later years. In 1965, their instrumental "The In Crowd" reached #4 on the pop charts - at the very height of the British Invasion! Three other singles between 1965 and 1966 ("Hang On Sloopy", "A Hard Day's Night", and "Wade In The Water") were also Top 40 hits.

Ramsey has continued to record (averages about one album a year) and perform with his trio. He produced a successful PBS series entitled "Legends Of Jazz" and has hosted his own morning radio program for WNUA-FM in Chicago since 1997. Broadcast Architecture began syndicating Ramsey's program last month over its "Smooth Jazz Network".

I think I made the right choice putting down Billy Idol in favor of this one.


UP NEXT: Those guys recorded a Christmas album back in the day?


Capt

Monday, January 22, 2007

The Muppets - A Green And Red Christmas

I was first alerted to the existence of this album by my good friend Jeff at Jeffco Productions (psst... Jeff's posted a NEW Christmas album to download at his site!).

Thankfully, I was able to beat Jeff to the punch this time and this was one of the CDs I sent him for Christmas.

This was one of the first Christmas CDs that I reviewed at FaLaLaLaLa.com last year. To quote:

"All the usual suspects are back for their first Christmas CD since 1992's soundtrack to 'The Muppet Christmas Carol'. Featuring five original Christmas songs, this one has something for everyone.

"Who better to record 'Zat You, Santa Claus?' than the Electric Mayhem Band? The title track belongs to Kermit and Miss Piggy and is quite charming. And every time I hear Animal in the background on 'The Man With The Bag' ("JINGLE! JINGLE!"), I break out in laughter!

"Want more? How about 'North Pole Comedy Club' with Fozzie Bear, Statler & Waldorf? Miss Piggy singing the song the song she was born to sing - 'Santa Baby'?

"If that doesn't convince you, here's the coup de grace: 'Christmas Smorgasbord' by the Swedish Chef! Enough said!"


There probably isn't a person alive on the planet Earth under the age of 45 who doesn't know what a Muppet is. A whole generation grew up watching them on Sesame Street, then The Muppet Show, then all the Muppet movies.

What's your favorite Muppet memory? "Mahna-Mahna"? A classic Ernie & Bert segment from "Sesame Street"? "Pigs In Space"? Who was your favorite guest star on "The Muppet Show"?

Post them in the comments section and I'll post them here in the yuleblog entry.

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Jeff -
John Denver and The Muppets - A Christmas Together is one of my all-time favourite Christmas albums. Every few years we get teased that a DVD reissue of the Christmas special is coming, but nothing yet. (We did get Rocky Mountain Holiday which is great too, but nothing to do with Christmas). A lesser known hidden treasure from the muppets at Christmas is Emmet Otter's Jug Band Christmas, for those who might not know. Look it up, it's quite charming really.

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Stephen -
I used to love watching the Muppet Show. I realize now that it was not specifically targeted towards the same audience as "Sesame Street", but I didn't care. It was great to see actors I knew appearing in goofy skits with the characters. My favorite, of course, was when Mark Hamill in Luke Skywalker garb showed up with R2-D2. They don't make them like that anymore.

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Capt -
Statler & Waldorf always cracked me up, then and now. Some of my favorite hosts were Victor Borge, John Cleese, Steve Martin, and the Star Wars gang (with Gonzo as Darth Vader).

However, the episode/segment that sticks out in my mind was when Peter Sellers hosted. Link Hogthrob goes to a sanitarium for rest & rehab. Enter Sellers wearing John Lennon glasses, a John Waters mustache, and speaking reminiscently like Dr. Strangelove to help poor Link through stretching exercises!

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The King of Jingaling (via e-mail) -
I have to say that I listened to this album via Yahoo Music Unlimited and it made me entirely depressed. It is completely devoid of the unique magic that typified the Muppets under the genius (and I mean that word in all that it implies) of Jim Henson. I would avoid it like the plague.

As for Muppet memories I have two vivid ones.

The very first Muppet Show (which was a special before they had a regular series) included what I believe was the first appearance of The Swedish Chef. He did his usual schtick but they were kind enough to provide subtitles--in Japanese! I remember laughing uncontrollably at the time.

The guest on the Muppet Show was the great jazz trumpeter, Dizzie Gillespie (what a great guest!!!). He was talking with Kermit and said something like, "What I love about you frogs is that you can do this" and he puffed out his cheeks like only he can. And Kermit replied "I can't do that!"

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Capt

Friday, January 19, 2007

Vince Guaraldi - A Charlie Brown Christmas (REMASTERED)

It's my personal belief that the greatest Christmas album of all time is "A Charlie Brown Christmas" by Vince Guaraldi.

Even if this wasn't recorded for the Peanuts gang in 1965 and released as a soundtrack to a one-off TV special, the music would still hold up on its own. It's that good.

However, the strains of the Vince Guaraldi trio are forever linked with Linus, Lucy, Snoopy, and a boy named Charlie Brown. The music was a perfect marriage for the Peanuts characters and all its subsequent movies and TV specials.

When this newly remastered version of "A Charlie Brown Christmas" was released last year, many of us were elated, ecstatic, and excited all wrapped into one.

It's no secret that the original pressings of the soundtracks on CD (1988, 2000) were not the greatest quality and fans worldwide awaited a true remastered work of art.

When it comes to high fidelity, noise reduction, and the like, I am totally clueless. I wouldn't know (and still don't know) what the wrong compression or equalization can do to a music track. I just heard the familiar tunes of my childhood cleaned up for the first time ever and I was thrilled.

However, many musicologists, critics, and longtime fans yelled "Good Grief!" Amazon.com customer reviews were either full of praise or damnation for the new release. Alternate takes and mixes were used or replaced on the new soundtrack and people wanted blood.

So what do you think of the album? Was it a moral sin for Concord Music to rearrange the music? Did they overcompensate the noise reduction button? Will future generations of kids even notice or care about these mistakes? Did Concord Music mess with not just the music but the memories as well?

For the entire weekend of January 19 - 21, I am throwing the yuleblog open for discussion on this album. Don't be shy - any opinion is welcome.

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Jeff -
People can get pretty peaved when you mess with their cherished memories, but it doesn't mean that it's not nice to have such a clear and pristine recording for anyone who didn't wear out their original recording and wants to discover the beautiful tones for the first time, fresh as can be.

I do find it weird that Track 16 just sort of ends, cut off in it's prime. That could have been a lot more subtle, but that's nit-picking...

Great album, both versions.

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Stubbyfears -
I haven't purchased the Remastered version. However, the resulting controversy reminds me very much of "New Coke." At the time "New Coke" was introduced, Coke had fallen far below Pepsi in market share. The new, much sweeter (sickeningly so) brew was, at the time, tagged as "the greatest marketing blunder of all time." Coke was "forced" to continue to sell "old Coke," as well as "New Coke." To be honest, I don't even know if they still sell "New Coke."

Yet, as the years passed, it came to light that the "blunder" was intentional and, actually, a stroke of marketing genius. Coke garnered tons of free publicity. Everybody was talking about Coke. And Coke's market share skyrocketed. And it was all intentional.

By remastering "A Charlie Brown Christmas" as they did, the record company ensured that there would be controversy, that people would be talking at length about a 40 year old album that virtually everyone already owned. Lots of the "New Chuck" would sell, but so would many copies of "Old Chuck." If the hue and cry leads to being forced to produce even more "Old Chuck," so much the better. Then will come the inevitable secondary market reprecussions..."Is 'New Chuck' more scarce than 'Old Chuck?'" (And the record companies do pay close attention to the secondary market and use that info to help determine marketing strategies.)

Its WIN-WIN for the record company. And, I imagine, very much deliberate. The ultimate goal, of course, is to make a lot of people think they must own both versions. And they probably will.

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Jeff -
I totally understand cynicism in the face of record companies regularly releasing remastered versions six months after we bought the 'regular' version, and I also think given that so many years had passed since the original version was released, plus the fact that we the audience are asking for higher and higher quality, that this version is indeed justified and welcomed. I'll give people credit to know if they want to spend money again for an enhanced version. At Christmastime, we (if I may speak for regular visitors to this site) have to become quite discerning or face the poorhouse, and think people who are old enough to shop for themselves can figure that one out pretty quickly. Just my 2 cents.

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Ernie -
I'm afraid I don't have much of an opinion. I've never been a huge fan of that music. I love the special, though.

But whatever the record company does, it just means more sales for them. I perfect reissue wouldn't have generated more sales than this issue, and certainly the controversy hasn't hurt sales one lick.

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THIS JUST IN: Concord Music posted a very interesting message at their web site on December 20, 2006 concerning this CD. Seems they've admitted their mistakes and are willing to make amends (until March 1, 2007 at least!).


Capt

Ira Ironstrings - Plays Santa Claus (Christmas Music For Those Who Have Heard Everything)

I have been a collector of Christmas music and CDs for nearly 22 years. I have close to nearly 800 CDs in my collection (with another 125+ awaiting review here throughout 2007).

I'm not the brightest bulb in the box (I readily admit that).

When I heard about this Christmas album for the first time two years ago (you've NEVER heard about this one?) at Ernie (not Bert)'s blog, I put it on my list and never actively searched for it (I know, I know...).

Last year as the Christmas season wound down, I remembered I had about $15 left in my PayPal account and used that to purchase this on eBay.

This album was released in 1959. Rock-n-roll had pushed conventional pop music off the charts for good and if it didn't have the Elvis sound, it didn't sell. Along came Ira Ironstrings.

With titles like "Ira Ironstrings Plays for People with $3.98", "Ira Ironstrings Destroys the Great Bands", and "Ira Ironstrings Plays with Matches" (that's too funny!) and the right mix of light comedy, amazing performances from studio musicians, and offered by Warner Brothers as an antidote to doo-wop and rockabilly, the darn albums sold en masse!

Music industry people marvelled at the popularity of the albums and began to wonder: Who is Ira Ironstrings


(Click on the link, read the "SpaceAgePop.com" entry on Ironstrings, and come back. I'll wait.)

To quote from the liner notes of this CD:

"It can now be told that Ira Ironstrings was really Alvino Rey. You see, at the time when Warner Brothers released the Ira Ironstrings albums, Rey was signed to Capitol Records. Hence, Warner Brothers couldn't announce who Ironstrings really was.

"You might remember Alvino Rey as the musical director from the 1960s TV show "The King Family Variety Show" with the King Sisters (to whom Rey was married to sister Louise!). He was also known mostly for his "talking" pedal steel guitar playing in everything from big bands to small combos."

Speaking of liner notes, the original liner notes were reprinted as well:


Collector's Choice Music re-released this album in 2003 after being out of print for many years. My hope is they continue to re-release the Ira Ironstrings albums.

This Christmas album is a veritable house on fire from beginning to end, new musical surprises at every turn, and completely vibrant in every which way. Bassoons, vibraharp, ragtime piano, duck calls, brass sections afire, banjos that leap out of your speakers, Dixieland jazz, sections of songs that remind you of Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass, chimes, hot drum playing throughout.

Give me what they were drinking in the studio when they recorded this! If you think I'm exaggerating, you need to listen to this for yourself. After one or two listenings, you'll be gushing about this album a la Niagara Falls!

Quite simply, this is one of the greatest Christmas albums of all time. If you can listen to this one without cracking a smile or tapping your foot in rhythm, you need to consult a doctor. Rapidly.


UP NEXT: The most controversial Christmas release of 2006. And you get to put your two cents in!


Capt

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Aimee Mann - One More Drifter In The Snow



I first learned of this album over at FaLaLaLaLa.com where The King of Jingaling posted a very nice review. To quote:

"This is probably like no other Christmas album I've heard (and suffice it to say I've heard quite a few). That's because it is a 'rock' Christmas album that has the spirit and tone of a classic vocal Christmas LP of the fifties or sixties.

"Mann avoids the temptation of so many modern artists to put out a Christmas album with big band arrangements that ape the classics. Instead she sticks with sounds that she knows well (provided by some of her old friends, including Patrick Warren). And the results are warm and sublime."

Based on the King's recommendations, I put this one on my list of CDs to search for. On Christmas morning, it was under my tree courtesy of my beautiful wife who eagerly wanted to listen as well, being a child of the 1980s.

However, I've kept the CD in its shrink wrap... until now.

I tend to shy away from reviews in general (ironic, huh?) because I'd rather read, listen, or watch something on my own to form my own opinion. Only then I would go back and read the reviews to see if our opinions were the same or different.

My dilemma is I read the King's review first, it's from someone whose music my wife have always enjoyed, and it's a Christmas CD. Add to this that about 97 percent of the reviews on this yuleblog have been favorable, bordering on gushing.

That's the main reason why it's stayed sealed. I will listen to the first notes for the first time since I received it while I review it. Will this change my opinion? Probably not... but it's my way of trying to keep my objectivity on an even keel.

Several things you may or may not know about Aimee Mann:

  • Aimee Mann was born in Raleigh, North Carolina.
  • Attended the Berklee College Of Music and later dropped out to sing with The Young Snakes in the early 1980s.
  • Teamed with classmate & then-boyfriend Michael Hausman to form 'Til Tuesday in 1983.
  • 'Til Tuesday's 1985 album "Voices Carry" was their breakthrough album, reaching #8 with the title song (rumored to be about Mann & Hausman's break-up).
  • The "Voices Carry" video became a MTV staple and won them "Best New Artist" at the MTV Video Awards.
  • Aimee sang backup vocals on the Rush song "Time Stand Still" and appears in their video.
  • By 1986, Mann wrote most of the songs for their second album - "Welcome Home".
  • Their lead single "What About Love" only reached #26 on the charts.
  • In 1987, Epic Records released Mann's first Christmas related track.
  • 'Til Tuesday's final album was 1988's "Everything's Different Now", peaking at #124 on the album chart, and breaking up shortly thereafter.
  • In 1988, Epic Records released Mann's second Christmas related track.
  • After the breakup, Hausman became Aimee's personal manager.
  • She met future husband Michael Penn around the time of the breakup as well.
  • Mann's first solo release (1993's "Whatever") failed due to the collapse of its record label.
  • Geffen Records released her 1995 critically acclaimed album "I'm With Stupid".
  • Mann & Penn teamed in 1996 to record "Christmastime" for the "Just Say Noël" compilation.
  • Aimee & Michael married in 1997.
  • Mann's 3rd album was "Bachelor #2" which Interscope Records (who swallowed Geffen) refused to release.
  • Penn, Hausman, and Mann formed United Musicians, which allows an artist freedom and control over what they record, and self released "Bachelor #2" on Aimee's own label (SuperEgo Records).
  • Aimee contributed several songs to the 1999 film "Magnolia"
  • In 2002, Aimee released her 4th solo record "Lost In Space" and released a "Lost In Space Special Edition" the following year at her website.
  • Aimee & Michael contributed a Beatle cover ("Two Of Us") to the movie soundtrack of "I Am Sam".
  • Aimee contributed a Beatle cover ("Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds") to the European movie soundtrack of "I Am Sam".
  • Mann's 5th solo release was "Live at St. Ann's Warehouse", a live album/DVD in 2004.
  • Mann's 6th solo release was "The Forgotten Arm", a concept album set in the 1970s about two lovers on the run.
  • In 2005, Aimee released an EP of Christmas songs at her website and on iTunes (adding this to my list). Last year, she released the album you see before you.

TRACK REVIEWS:

1.) Whatever Happened To Christmas?
This version of this great Christmas song far outdistances the original recording by Frank Sinatra no less!

2.) The Christmas Song
Mann's voice is still haunting. Need proof? Listen to this one!

3.) Christmastime
This stripped down version is nice but I still like the "Just Say Noël" comp version better.

4.) I'll Be Home For Christmas
Slight strings, longing in the guitars, the voice of Aimee drifting across the speakers. Magnificent.

5.) You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch
Take some dramatic recitations of Dr. Seuss from Grant-Lee Phillips, add Aimee's sultry voice, and you've got a great new take on this Christmas classic!

6.) Winter Wonderland
Aimee cleverly rearranges this song (the intro comes in the middle of the song!), giving us a brilliant new version of this song.

7.) Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
Well done version of this song... however, it's starting to sound all the same.

8.) God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen
WOW! Forget what I just said. This one sounds more like "The Little Drummer Boy"! What a track!

9.) White Christmas
Soft and lovely... Irving Berlin would have been proud of this version.

10.) Calling On Mary
Aimee's own composition... Christmas anxiety meets Holy Mary, Mother of God. Mind blowing! What a great song to end the CD.



Some reviews of this album at Amazon.com claim "it's downbeat", "it's BORING", and "it lacks originality" while others wholeheartedly enjoyed the CD.

I'm happy to say that I thoroughly enjoyed this album. Mann has produced a simple, introspective Christmas album, light on the tinsel. For longtime fans of Aimee and fans of Christmas who are tired of the same old releases, this one will make you sit up and take notice. I hope I did this album justice.


UP NEXT: I finally got one of the greatest Christmas CDs of all time for Christmas!


Capt

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Twisted Sister - A Twisted Christmas

Chalk another surprise up to my buddy Jeff at Jeffco Productions! He told me about this release way before it hit the shelves and then dropped my own copy in my lap... what love that man has for me!

What I wrote about this album when I reviewed it last year at FaLaLaLaLa.com:

"Wayne Parry of the Associated Press claims 'this is, quite simply, the best hard rock Christmas album ever made, and one of the best rock’n'roll Christmas albums period since Elvis made his. It’s THAT good.'

"Maybe.

"Dee Snider and the boys have cleverly taken their old songs (along with some AC/DC, Judas Priest, and Black Sabbath songs) and wrapped Christmas songs around them. Who knew that 'We’re Not Gonna Take It' and 'O Come All Ye Faithful' sounded so familiar?

"Lita Ford, the fantasy gal rocker for many of my generation, duets on "I’ll Be Home For Christmas" - one of the highlights of the CD.

"If you’re a fan of metal, this one’s for you! If you’re not (like me), you’re still going to enjoy this album - Twisted Sister’s final album before calling it quits next year. What a way to go out on!"

I spoke too soon. According to Snider on his syndicated radio program "The House of Hair", thanks in large part to the success of this album and its related tours to promote the album, TS is "discussing what the bands future should be" and may NOT retire after all. We'll wait and see.

The only thing else I can add is this little tidbit: we've received close to 40 compilations via our P.O. Box for review next month. Many of the compilations from Christmas home enthusiasts included tracks from Twisted Sister. Apparently, this was the CD to buy last Christmas for that person who's heard every Christmas CD on the planet.

Sorry for the short review... I winged my left index finger on a table saw last Friday and it's been stinging me ever since. I head to the doctor's office today to go "under the blade" as Twisted Sister would say. Appropriate.


UP NEXT: Another 80s blast from the past records a Christmas album.


Capt

Monday, January 15, 2007

Bette Midler - Cool Yule

While I was picking up Halloween candy in mid-October of last year at Target, this CD (with its exclusive bonus track) called my name until I picked it up and nestled it between some Nestle's Crunch bars and Tony Bennett's Duets CD.

My first reaction was: "She finally did it. It was bound to happen!" I always had a hunch that one day Bette Midler would record a Christmas album.

Born in Honolulu, Hawaii, Midler grew up wanting to be a star and clearly stood out thanks to her Jewish Hawaiian descent. Midler stated later that "if she had known her differentness would have been an asset", her early life would have been more easier.

She graduated Radford High School in 1963, went to the University of Hawaii to study drama but dropped out early. Bette knew that New York City was the place to go to get noticed. Before she left, she made her film debut - she was an extra on a ship in an adaptation of James Michener's "Hawaii" in 1966.

Midler began acting on stage, winning the lead in the off-Broadway play "Miss Nefertiti Regrets" in 1966. The following year, she appeared in another play "Cinderella Revisited" where she caught the eye of the casting director of the long running Broadway musical "Fiddler On The Roof". Bette became the new Tzietel and stayed with the show from 1967 - 1969.

Thanks in large part to the films "Bonnie & Clyde" and "Thoroughly Modern Millie", America was having a nostalgia craze with the decades of the 1920s throught the 1940s. Midler knew this and began incorporating older songs into her song sets when she appeared in cabarets around New York City.

In 1970, Bette got a gig at The Continental Baths, the popular gay nightclub in the basement of the Ansonia Hotel. Midler and her new pianist (a chap named Barry Manilow - whatever happened to him?) appeared at the club frequently, earning her the nickname "Bathhouse Betty".

"The Divine Miss M" was born in this basement - campy, vulgar, and extremely sultry. Her entrance to the stage was memorable: Manilow would begin to play "SH-Boom" by the Crew Cuts ("SH-Boom, SH-Boom... la la la la la la la la la la la la"), Bette would walk to the stage through the audience singing "SH-Boom" while shaking her ample bosom wildly during the "la la la la la" part.

During the "Bathhouse" days, Midler began making the rounds of television shows, getting her some national attention. She made four visits in a three month span on "The David Frost Show" in 1970. This got her noticed by Johnny Carson, whose shows was in the last days of taping in New York City. Midler made her first appearance on the "Tonight Show" the same year and Carson saw her star potential.

At a nightclub performance in Chicago, she read got a glowing review from a local Chicago Tribune reporter who called her and suggested more jokes in her act. Midler asked for some on the spot and the writer - a chubby guy named Bruce Vilanch - took some jokes her remembered from Sophie Tucker's old act and made them new on the spot. It was the beginning of the Midler/Vilanch partnership that exists to this day.

1973 was the year Midler exploded onto the national scene with a trio of Top 40 hits ("Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy", "Do You Want To Dance?", "Friends"), all released from her first two albums ("The Divine Miss M", "Bette Midler"). She won the Best New Artist Grammy for 1973, continued to tour, record, and make appearances on television.

However, in the back of Bette's mind was the vision of her becoming a movie star. She got her chance in 1979 when she appeared in "The Rose", playing a Janis Joplin-type rock singer. Her next movie was a concert film - the amazing "Divine Madness" in 1980 that captures Bette at the height of her 1970s popularity and at the top of her game onstage.

The early 1980s were a lost period for Bette as people began to push themselves away from anything that was too 1970s. Her 1982 film "Jinxed" laid an egg, her 1985 album "Mud Will Be Flung Tonight" reached its peak on the charts at #183, and it seemed like her only success would lay in concerts. Not quite.

In 1986, Bette signed a movie contract with Touchstone Pictures and rattled off a string of hit movies ("Down In Out In Beverly Hills", "Ruthless People", "Hocus Pocus", "The First Wives Club") over the next 10 years. Her 1989 film "Beaches" gave her the memorable (and highly annoying) song "Wind Beneath My Wings", her first and only #1 hit of her career. Midler's appearance as the final guest on Johnny Carson's next-to-last show singing "One For My Baby" is the stuff of legend.



Looking back on all of her career, Bette clearly loves the songs and the comedy of the past, making it brand new for newer generations of fans. This is probably why I had a hunch she would record a Christmas album at some point.

TRACK REVIEWS:

1.) Merry Christmas
A long lost Christmas song from the songwriting team of Fred Spielman and Janice Torre (who co-wrote "The Stingiest Man In Town"). It's a lovely surprise to start off the album.

2.) Cool Yule
The title track - Bette sings fine but the arrangement is too variety show for my tastes.

3.) Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
Nicely done that includes the seldom sung intro! Nice recovery.

4.) Winter Wonderland / Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow! (Duet with Johnny Mathis)
Campy at first but the vocal stylings of both "The King Of Christmas" (in Bette's words) and the Divine One make up for it.

5.) I'll Be Home For Christmas
Another long lost intro sung! Wistful and haunting, this is a great version of this song.

6.) What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?
I have a soft spot for this song and Bette does it justice. I'll play this one next New Year's at 12 midnight!

7.) I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm
A very good take of this old winter standard... Bette's ad-libs of "Baby It's Cold Outside" are charming!

8.) I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day
I thought this would be horrible but the bonus track turns out to be quite good! Well done Bette!

9.) O Come O Come Emmanuel
She's stretching a bit here... but pulls it off. Not the first song on the CD I'd choose.

10.) Mele Kalikimaka
Getting back to her roots... and it's the BEST track on the whole album.

11.) From A Distance (Christmas version)
This reworking of her 1991 hit is better with a Christmas arrangement - the war message remains the same.

12.) White Christmas
Any version of this song with the intro included will always get a positive vote from me. Add Bette's incredible voice = perfect!


I would have loved to hear what this album would have sounded like in her earlier "Bathhouse Betty" days with Manilow or Marc Shaiman at the producer's helm. However, Midler gives us a great Christmas album all around.


UP NEXT: O Come All Ye Faithful... no, we ain't gonna take it!


Capt

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Bootsy Collins - Christmas Is 4 Ever

Yo yo yo... ho ho ho!

This album came to me from my good friend Jeff over at Jeffco Productions. Every year we manage to surprise each other with Christmas music and this was just the first of many this year!

(BTW, Jeff tells me that most of the traffic to his site came from this little yuleblog here so click on the link above and keep that going, k?)

Looking over my master list, my supply of Christmas funk is dangerously low. Other funk Christmas albums I own are James Brown's "Funky Christmas", the various artists album "Funky Christmas", and the New Kids On The Block CD "Merry Merry Christmas".

Just seeing if you were paying attention... and don't remind me about that horrific "Funky Funky Christmas" track from NKOTB!

How to remedy the funk shortage? Paging Mr. Collins, Mr. Bootsy Collins...

Cincinnati - home to King Records (the legendary R&B record label). It was here that Collins was born and was influenced by all the R&B stars on King, especially Soul Brother #1 - James Brown. This influence led 17-yr. old Bootsy to form his own band with his brother Phelps (nicknamed Catfish) called the Pacesetters in 1968.

After playing for two years, they got the break of a lifetime. In 1970, James Brown's original lineup of the JB's was going through some changes and Brown heard the Pacesetters play. Papa Brown got a brand new band as he invited the group to become the new JBs. They immediately began working with the Hardest Working Man In Show Business but Bootsy would soon find out why the original lineup left.

Bootsy was barely 20 years old, experiencing big time success on Brown's coattails, and he naturally rebelled against the Godfather of Soul. Brown was a relentless task master, disciplining the band for even the slightest step out of line, and it all came to a head at one concert in 1971.

As the show progressed, Brown noticed something odd about Bootsy. This is because Collins was going through several LSD flashbacks on stage, upstaging everyone and everything. James told Bootsy and Catfish to "get up, get on up" out of here.

Looking for work, the brothers Collins headed to Detroit where they were introduced to the soon to be King of Interplanetary Funk - George Clinton. They joined Funkadelic in 1972 and Bootsy & Catfish became the driving forces behind the band with their songwriting skills, hard rhythms they played, and a stable of alter egos (Casper The Funky Ghost, Bootzilla) that took on lives of their own.

After four years under Clinton, Bootsy decided it was time to go out on his own. He formed the Bootsy Rubber Band, reemerged into yet another alter ego, and adopted his signature bass guitar:


A funk star was born. His first three albums ("Stretching Out In Bootsy's Rubber Band", "Ahh... The Name Is Bootsy Baby", and "Bootsy? Player Of The Year") are considered by some as essential funk recordings - a perfect antidote to the disco era of the late 1970s.

The beginning of the 1980s saw more albums by Bootsy (some with the Rubber Band, some solo, and even one entitled "Sweat Band") but funk was a product of the 1970s and along with disco was slowly dying out in popularity. By 1982, the handwriting was on the wall and Bootsy released his final album for Warner Brothers. It seemed like the end of an era.

Two years later, Bootsy was one of the main forces behind an extremely popular dance single that had sampled President Ronald Reagan's mike gaffe ("We begin bombing in five minutes..."). Several years after that, he signed with CBS Records, released three albums between 1988-1991, and even joined forces with Deee-Lite on their one-hit wonder "Groove Is In The Heart" - that's him playing his space bass in the video!

The Bootsy renaissance continued as he joined up with Rykodisc in the mid-90s and released three more albums. He then joined forces with Del McCoury, Doc Watson, and Mac Wiseman (all established bluegrass artists) to fuse together funk and bluegrass. The GrooveGrass Boyz released two albums between 1996 and 1998 and their music was either loved or hated, depending on who you talked to.

Around this time, Bootsy began to help other artists in the ever widening field of rap and hip-hop, working with artists like Fatboy Slim and TobyMac. However, Bootsy recorded no albums of his own until a 2002 album entitled "Play With Bootsy". He continued to contribute to other artists' works - Nicole C. Mullens, Buckethead, Praxis, and Victor Wooten during this time.

Then late last year, Bootsy released this album. But how would Christmas and funk play together? The first thing you hear on this album is a sample from the song "N-Yo-City": "I'm sure there is going to be more than one unpleasant surprise before we're done." Bootsy talks about Christmas and gives you a small funk preview of what you're about to hear on the rest of the album.

After that, anything is fair game. Bootsy shakes up the whole landscape like an Etch-A-Sketch to create his own funktastic versions of your favorite Christmas songs: "Jingle Belz", "Chestnutz (AKA The Christmas Song)", "WinterFunkyLand (AKA Winter Wonderland)", "Silent Night", "Sleigh Ride", "Boot-Off (AKA Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer)", and "Santa's Coming (AKA Santa Claus Is Coming To Town)".

The four original songs are so good they could stand alone. "N-Yo-City", "Be-With You", the title track "Christmas Is 4 Ever", and "Happy Holidaze" featuring an appearance by Snoop Dog take the best elements of funk, mixes it up with rap and hip-hop, and sprinkles just the right amount of Christmas on them.

This album easily gets my vote for the best new Christmas release of 2006. Surprises at every turn, great new twists on Christmas songs, and with Bootsy as your tour guide, this was a incredible ride that I want to get in line for again and again.


UP NEXT: What famous Hawaiian finally recorded "Mele Kalikimaka"?


Capt