Monday, January 14, 2008

Lena Horne - Merry With Lena

Last January, I reviewed "Christmas With Peggy Lee" which was a gift from my oldest daughter Maggie who fell in love with the "snow princess" on the cover. So can you guess who gave me this CD as a Christmas gift?

I had a copy of this CD in my collection - the 1995 Razor & Tie version from a fellow collector. It also had a lousy scan of the cover and pre-2000 CD-R that was falling apart. I always kept my eye out for a used copy whenever I went Christmas CD hunting but no one was willing to part with them (can't say that I blame anyone for that).

Thankfully, some bright record executive at DRG Records decided a reissue was in order. After a twelve year hiatus, Lena Horne was officially back in the Christmas bins last year. When I discovered this had been reissued, it immediately shot to the top of my wish list.

If you don't know who Lena Horne is, you owe it to yourself to take about 10 minutes out of your time and learn. Start with her Wikipedia entry (featuring a Carl Van Vechten photo that made me melt when I saw it), seek out some Lena Horne movies (watch her in "Cabin In The Sky" and you'll dream of no one else), and end it with a gross of her albums for that amazing voice.

As for the reissue, DRG wisely kept the original cover and liner notes intact. They also added a Will Friedwald foreword that is informative and insightful but ends strangely. Friedwald states many of the classic pop stars were covering each others hits (no new songs with the classic pop sound were readily available in the late 1960s) and dubs this "the Andy Williams syndrome": "Although an excellent singer, Andy Williams gradually came to represent an utter lack of originality."

I can understand Friedwald's point but liner notes for a Lena Horne Christmas CD is not the best place to make this argument.

As for this album, it was recorded in 1966 for United Artists Records (UAS 6546), catching Lena at her prime and doing what she does best. From the first pulsing beats of "Jingle All The Way" to her swinging, brassy bonus track of "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town", this is pure gold.

If you're looking for softer, Horne gets oh-so-sultry on "The Christmas Song" and the epitome of elegant on "White Christmas". And you probably won't find a better version of "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?" anywhere.

Sadly, neither the DRG or Razor & Tie's liner notes mentions who arranged the album. Special mention must go to Jack Parnell, the conductor of the amazing orchestra. Parnell's skill can be heard throughout backing up Lena but never getting in the way.

Upon first playing of this album in my house, my daughter Maggie listened and executed perfect dance moves on several tracks. Watching my 6-year old dance to Lena Horne - a great new addition to the Christmas memory scrapbook!



PDMan said...

This is one of my all-time faves. My wife, for some reason, is not a fan...but I think Lena does a bang-up job on this.

CaptainOT said...

PDMan - Sorry you're wife isn't a fan... she's missing out on some bold, brassy, and sultry Christmas tunes!


john said...

both peggy lee xmas and merry from lena are two of my favorite xmas cds!!! your daughter has gr8 taste, if i do say so myself ;) happy holidays. john

CaptainOT said...

John - We'll see what she picks for me this Christmas... Best of the season to you!