Sunday, November 29, 2009

Three Days Late and Several Dollars Out

The 2009 Christmas downloading season is under way. I'm saddened to learn that my friend Ernie (Not Bert) had a computer hard drive crash and burn (I feel your pain - same thing happened to me five years ago.) Don't fret - his collection is so huge that anything he posts is worth a first or second look. In my case, it's the 203rd look.

Two days in and there are new releases all over the place. If you haven't bookmarked it yet, Santas Working Overtime does just that - finding all these new releases and highlighting them faster than any RSS feed can ever hope to do.

During these same two days, I discovered that two albums I was preparing to share... were already shared out! The first is this amazing chestnut:


Recorded in 1954, this 10" was the first full-length Christmas album for Messrs. Ferrante and Teicher. All of the eight songs on this album were later re-released on their "Adventures In Carols" album from 1956 (available to download @ FaLaLaLaLa.com).

Turns out Buster, who runs the great blog entitled Big Ten Inch Record, posted this album last Christmas and I just discovered it this Christmas. Disappointed? Yeah, a little. But his cover of this album looks way better than mine. And I'm sure his copy sounds better too.

But... I got him trumped. He didn't include a BACK cover. And I have one, yes I do! I sure do... well, I have SORTA a back cover... okay, I'll fess up. I have a damaged back cover... honest. You sure you want me to continue with this?

I found my copy at the bottom of an immense stack of vinyl at a flea market in northwest Indiana. It must have been down there for an eternity because anytime the stack shifted, was moved from a dusty shelf to a moldy carpet, the back cover bore the brunt of the friction.

You have been warned:


Well worth the $2.00 I paid for it, no?

As for the second album, I found this at Beverly Records in Chicago and thought I had won the lottery. Of all the nine or ten albums I'm planning on sharing out this Christmas, this was THE one that would wow the general public. That is until yesterday. A certain someone who's been mentioned here posted it to his blog.

Buster, you did it again! And Dorothy Collins asks that eternal question, "Won't you spend Christmas with me?":


This is a great album - easy on the ears as well as the eyes. For a great listen, go check out Buster's blog entry and get yourself a copy. You won't be disappointed. Hope this didn't cost you as much as it did for me (we're talking Andrew Jackson territory, folks!).

So this leaves me with about nine new Christmas releases that I'm hoping to start sharing just as soon as my schedule permits, including my 2009 edition of the Yuleblog Sampler.

There's plenty of Christmas music to be had... get out there and find it!


Capt

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving 2009!

Doris Day


Marilyn Monroe


Just wanted to sign on quickly to wish all of you a happy and safe Thanksgiving!


Capt

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The FPT Christmas Revue - In Rehearsal

What is today? Saturday... okay. I've lost track of time!

For the past several weeks, a bunch of local Fort Wayne actors (myself included) have been furiously working on an upcoming Christmas production I had previously mentioned back in September.

It's under two weeks now until we are in front of an audience and the whole production is beginning to gel. It's been an amazing process and the cast is having loads of fun getting this on its legs.

I've been meaning to post some pictures that I took at rehearsal the other night... it SEEMS like it was the other night...

Gee, a guy with a white beard and a kid sitting on his lap - I wonder what this could be all about?


The staging of a large group sketch that leads off our show.


Another staging of a musical number. Note another guy with a white beard in the center. Forgive the silhouetted foreground figure - he's the director and I couldn't very yell at him to stay out of the shot.


During a rehearsal break, Joel D. Scribner, the director of the show, gives out notes and information to the attentive actors hanging on his every word.


Psst... Joel... this one's for the blog so look REAL important like...


We just discovered the other night that interest in the show has been strong. So strong that we added TWO extra shows to the schedule. Performances are now December 3rd through December 20th. For more info, check out First Presbyterian Theater's website.

Hope to see you down there - I think you'll love the show!


Capt

Friday, November 13, 2009

Vintage Christmas Ads Pt. 21 - Paul Jones Whiskey, 1942

In addition to collecting Christmas music, I have collected nearly 1000 vintage Christmas ads over the years. Many of these include celebrities, radio, television, cigarettes, liquor, modern appliances, and the like.

I will attempt every Friday from here until I run out, I will feature an ad from my collection.

I invite you to add a fun comment, witticism, clever remark, or observation in the comments section provided. Any comments deemed worthy of repeating will be included into this entry where all the world will see it.

In the last installment of this feature (see link above), I selected an ad from the 1920s because of its simple but elegant illustration and its dependence on its text to get its message across.

Earlier this year, I came across a 1942 LIFE magazine and found several different wartime ads, Christmas ads, and Christmas wartime ads. But the one ad that struck me as the cleverest and funniest of the lot was this one from a once-popular whiskey brand.

Between the late 1930s and early 1940s, Paul Jones utilized a camel as its spokeperson in several highly entertaining and understated ads. However, the Christmas ad I found has skyrocketed to one of my favorite Christmas ads in my entire collection.

From its opening line to the reactions of the shoppers in the street and in the shadows, the witty dialogue you follow along below the wonderful illustration, this is just plain strange fun.


(Click on image to enlarge)


I'm hoping there are other Paul Jones Christmas camel ads out there... the search will continue!

What do you think?

Tito says: "Unbeknownst to Camel, 'Effendi' came from a family of Bedouin immigrants who were about to enjoy a marvelous meal of Camel Biryani for Christmas. 'God bless us everyone', exclaimed Little Jimmie."

Jonathan says: "How much PJ can your dromendary store?"

Any other opinions?


Capt

Friday, November 06, 2009

The Hipwaders - A Kindie Christmas


This is the last of four new Christmas releases that I received at my P.O. Box that I'm reviewing this week. Ironically, this was one of the first of those four that arrived. It's been sitting patiently while I reviewed Emmanuel Shall, Kevin Koelbl, and Silvia Fleming, eyeballing me the entire time, tempting me with its artwork.

To quote the press sheet:

"Since 2004, The Hipwaders have performed their own original Christmas songs along with their 'wader-ized' versions of Christmas classics. Finally, the band got around to recording their original compositions for the holidays.

"Christmas music has traditionally always been "family music" and The Hipwaders carry on this tradition with their songs celebrating all aspects of Christmas with a special admiration for Santa Claus and his exploits. Some say The Hipwaders 'exploit' Santa - but that's for you to decide..."

Indeed it is... and I must admit, I'm pretty intrigued already...

TRACK REVIEWS:

1.) Santasploitation
Quick, fun 49 second track that opens the CD. Don't take my word for it:



2.) There's Too Much Good
Not sure if this qualifies as a Christmas song ("Silver Bells" is mentioned) but its sound is great and leads into...

3.) It's Wintertime
Again, not too heavy on Christmas but the winter sounds make up for it. Everybody dance...

4.) Santa's Train
WOW! Great song with a definite country feel to it! Well worth the train trip.

5.) Goodnight
A Christmas lullaby that I wished was sung to me when I was a kid (instead of the usual cries of "SHUDDUP AND GO TO SLEEP!").

6.) Wake Up
Natural follow-up to "Goodnight". I love this track but you decide for yourself:



7.) Yes, It's Christmas
For a brief moment, I thought this was R.E.M. - it has that sound! Standout track.

8.) Tinsel & Lights
There's not many modern songs that detail Christmas decorations, photos, and the small nuances that make up Christmas. Until now... Another standout track.

9.) Wake Up (reprise)
Quick instrumental version of track six (see above) that has a video game feel to it that has me chuckling.

10.) Christmas Vicuna
GREAT JUMPIN' ICEBERGS!!! Latin-flavored tale of a lonely vicuna in Peru who wants to join Santa's sleigh. Amazing, clever, and a whole lotta fun!


At their official blog this past Tuesday (official release date of this album), head Hipwader Tito Uquillas writes "It's the day that's been over 20 years in the making. Really. A couple of tracks from "A Kindie Christmas" date from the late '80's and, like a good fruitcake, have been properly aged to perfection. OK, I can't believe I just wrote that either."

I can't believe I cut and pasted that, either.

The album is a genuine gem of Christmas tunes - all original, some more Christmas than others, fantastic sounds throughout. It was worth the 20 year wait. Well done, 'Waders, one and all!

XM Satellite has been playing The Hipwaders' kiddie CDs for some time now and I suspect their seasonal Christmas stations will be cranking out their holiday fare. I only wish several of the tracks make it onto terrestrial Christmas radio to give us a break from the same 20 - 30 Christmas songs on shuffle mode.


Capt

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Emmanuel shall come to thee - Noël


This was the third new Christmas release to arrive at my P.O. Box. Unfortunately, no press sheet or additional material accompanied the CD. So it was off to their Facebook page to find some threads of info off their wall. A post on October 25th states "this album is currently the top-selling holiday album at CD Baby!"

I clicked on the CDBaby link and found the answer to several of my questions:

"Emmanuel Shall Come to Thee is a Chicagoland collective of musicians led by composer Matthew Prins. The group incorporates classical, folk, new-age, orchestral, jazz, and minimalist influences into their progressive interpretations of familiar works.

"Featuring 19 new holiday arrangements and compositions by composer Matthew Prins, Noël fuses a myriad of influences into a Christmas album quite unlike any heard before. Performed primarily by Prins and multi-instrumentalist A.J. Nelson, Noël features a harmonious blend of hand bells, hand chimes, carillon, strings, woodwinds, and brass, as well as the talents of vocalist Amy Yassinger."

While there, I found yet another review from the good folks at ChristmasReviews.com:

"With just a hint of new age drama and a gentle heart, Nöel is touching in its understated brilliance....[T]he most striking fact about Nöel is its integral construction and execution. The tracks flow seamlessly, one into the next, and remind one of butter being stirred into hot fudge, swirling and glistening, warm and sweet."

Well... this could be interesting...

TRACK REVIEWS:

1.) Verbum supernum, prodiens.
Played on the carillon and lasting 39 seconds... understated intros are sometimes the best!

2.) O come, all ye faithful.
The different arrangements sound amazing but as it moved past the four minute mark, I was done.

3.) The holly and the ivy.
This instrumental is beautifully constructed and executed with all elements firing on all cylinders.

4.) Good Christian men, rejoice.
A 21st century take on a 14th century carol - excellente!

5.) Who mourns in lowly exile here.
Take the first few measures of "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" and repeat. Different.

6.) Infant holy, infant lowly.
Another well-constructed carol - very good work all around.

7.) Carol of the bells.
Harp, hand bells, chimes, carillon, soft piano all meld together into a great instrumental version of this song. Skipping back to hear it again...

8.) God bless ye merry, gentlemen.
Right as I was thinking "it's stretching a bit" around the 2:30 mark, Yassinger's sweet vocals arrive. Good save!

9.) And ransom captive Israel.
The woodwinds on this track make the song - a definite change of sound! I like the way they keep playing with the arrangements...

10.) Let all mortal flesh be silence.
The steady cannon drumbeat and church bells with snatches of "The First Noel" coming through gives this one ambiance deluxe!

11.) 'Twas in the moon of wintertime.
I thought I had switched on Mike Oldfield for a moment... another well done, well arranged carol!

12.) O come, o come, Emmanuel.
This one lasts just around 1:30... why so short?

13.) What child is this?
Shades of Philip Glass! This one's going to need several re-listens as well... Amazing track from start to finish!

14.) Bring a torch, Jeanette, Isabella.
At 36 seconds long, this is the shortest track on the CD.

15.) Sleep, holy babe.
Very pretty - I will need to look for this carol in my church hymnal and show it to the music director there.

16.) Until the Son of God appears.
Some of these tracks have a transition feel to it (see tracks 5, 12, and 14 above) and I'm guessing this is one of them.

17.) Holy night.
A re-working of "Silent Night" that I didn't warm up to at first. After another listen, it clicked - nicely done.

18.) Rejoice, rejoice... o Israel.
The transitions culminate with this loop track that repeats over and over and over...

19.) Benedictus Agnus Dei (hundredfold).
Which leads into this loop track (6:45 !!) that's a disappointing way to end the CD.


When I first got this CD, I had my doubts - the track list looked very public domain. The fact that really scared me was CDBaby's recommendation that if you like Mannheim Steamroller, you'd like this album. After listening to this, I'm glad to report it's nothing like Steamroller's synthesized purile pop.

Producer/arranger/musician Matthew Prins really deserves a congratulatory pat on the back. There are some tracks on this album that are sheer artistry and deserve to be heard. He chose some wonderful carols forgotten by the passing of time (when was the last time you heard "Good Christian men, rejoice" on the radio at Christmas time?) and given them new life.

Yes, there were some tracks that rambled but I'm willing to overlook them. Emmanuel Shall could have made a Christmas CD with the usual mix of safe carols and Christmas pop standards. Instead, they made a unique album that mixes new age, jazz, orchestra, and even minimalism with Christmas. Listen for yourself - click on the link!

Kudos to Prins, A.J. Nelson, and Amy Yassinger for top notch work!


Capt

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Kevin Koelbl - This Is Christmas Time


This is the second of four new Christmas releases that I recently received at my P.O. Box. Thanks to the good people at Phil Putnam Public Relations for sending me the CD and cover sheet.

Kevin Koelbl (pronounced "cable") has had a long and varied career in music. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin with a Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance, Kevin went on to leading roles at various regional theatres across the country.

Some of the shows Kevin's appeared in include "Carnival", "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat", "The Fantasticks", "A Little Night Music", "Beauty and the Beast", "Oklahoma", "Anything Goes" and "Show Boat" with legendary MGM star Van Johnson in the early 1990s.

This led to his co-starring role with Michael Crawford ("Phantom of the Opera" no less) in the Las Vegas megashow "EFX", once the most elaborate and expensive show ever to play in Vegas. After Crawford left the role, Koelbl took over the role and held it down until the producers brought in ex-Partridge Family heartthrob David Cassidy.

Several years later, Koelbl recorded his first album. "Somewhere In Time" was released in 2000 to good reviews and opened more doors in the music industry for Kevin. Along the way, he never lost his love for live performances and his time was split between the studio and the stage.

Earlier this year, Kevin went into the recording studio and recorded the album you are looking at. Working in L.A. with some master professionals (John Bisharat, Matt Harris, Ray Brinker), he wanted an album of lush collection of Christmas classics re-imagined with a modern twist. Drawing on his deep love of jazz, cabaret, and Christmas, this is the end result.

TRACK REVIEWS:

1.) The Most Wonderful Time of the Year
Smooth, jazzy, upbeat version of this song - Kevin's voice reminds me a little of John Davidson. Fine rendition.

2.) Snowfall / White Christmas
The two songs are perfect counterparts. Koelbl sandwiches "White Christmas" with "Snowfall" It works!

3.) This Is Christmas Time
Original title track written by Steven Santoro. Lyrical walk through the Christmas season that meanders but stays on the path.

4.) Snow (duet with Heidi Godt)
Move over Bing, Danny, Rosemary & Vera-Ellen... Kevin and Heidi have a trainload of fun with this rendition!

5.) Welcome Christmas / Christmas Time Is Here
Dr. Seuss meets Charles M. Schulz, at last. Another teaming of Christmas songs complemented by Kevin's fine singing.

6.) Happy Holiday
This one's so closely associated with Bing Crosby that many artists don't even attempt it. Kevin's jazzy version will open some ears.

7.) O Holy Night
This one's a little too Manilow for me (arrangement wise).

8.) The Little Drummer Boy
WOW! The drums, percussion, and bass give this a Caribbean feel throughout. A standout track.

9.) The Christmas Song
As in yesterday's post, any version that adds the intro gets extra points. Nicely done.

10.) Count Your Blessings (duet with Tami Tappan Damiano)
What was a small intimate duet in "White Christmas" is a full blown Broadway love ballad on this album - disappointing.

11.) Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
Add an acoustic guitar accompaniment, the long lost intro to the song, and you get an excellent rendition.

12.) Sleigh Ride
Starts with bass and Kevin's voice - then they crack the jazz whip and off on a great sleigh ride. Nice trip!

13.) Silent Night
The press sheet states "and an arrangement of 'Silent Night' like you've never heard before". Yep. You can hear every production dollar in every note. And inbetween, the intimacy and power of the song gets drowned out by Michael Bolton-type swelling and singing. Ouch indeed. The song is called "Silent Night" for a reason.

14.) Merry Christmas
In 2006, Bette Midler led off her Christmas album with this long-forgotten song written by Fred Spielman and Janice Torre. Here, Kevin ends his album with it, very stylishly and elegantly.


Koelbl writes on his liner notes: "Every year there always seems to be the usual hustle and bustle leading up to Christmas." To which I agree. During this journey, there are always a thousand and one things to do and process while preparing for December 25th.

And in a sense, that's what this album is. There are some fine moments on this drive with some occasional jolts that assault your attention. Like any good driver, you don't take your eyes off the road and the drive continues one smoothly.

Koelbl is a very talented singer and some of the arrangements left my head scratching. But never once does his voice fail to deliver and his time behind the wheel was pretty good.

If you live in the Los Angeles area, he will be performing a special concert on November 20th to celebrate the release of this CD. For more info on the concert and where to order of copy of this CD if your local music store doesn't have it, visit Kevin's website.


Capt

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Silvia Fleming - Love For Christmas



Silvia Fleming has been surrounded by music all her life. That's not surprising considering she had a mother who was a professional singer and a father who was an electronics engineer and a music manager for his wife.

Needless to say, her mother's influence instilled a deep love of Big Band tunes, jazz, and all of the great American standards by George Gershwin, Richard Rodgers, Harold Arlen, and Irving Berlin. Fleming combined her love of singing with the study of classical piano and received a B.A. in Music Education from California State University, Fullerton.

Last November, Fleming released this album which got a tremendous review from our friends at Christmasreviews.com:

"Silvia Fleming has one of those honey-sweet voices that are just made for singing jazzy, romantic easy listening pop tunes. And with occasional support from the great Sam Levine on alto sax, she is able to deliver a sound that supports the romantic aspirations of 'Love for Christmas'.

"Although Ms. Fleming is primarily striking a romantic pose, she delves more into sacred music here than one might expect. I particularly enjoyed her sweet and reverent More Than A Child. The Joy of Christmas was also quite quite lovely. Though her voice is a bit more sultry, these renditions are reminiscent of Karen Carpenter, and fans of Carpenter will most likely enjoy Silvia Fleming's 'Love For Christmas'."

A voice of reminiscent of Karen Carpenter? Oooooo...

TRACK REVIEWS:

1.) Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
Silvia's voice is rich and mellow (like Karen's) and the longing in her voice suits the song's mood perfectly.

2.) Christmas Time is Here
With a great arrangement by Tim Hayden and another dose of Fleming gives this Vince Guaraldi chestnut a new spin that I enjoyed.

3.) Love for Christmas
The title track was written in 1998 by two Caroles (King & Bayer Sager) and recorded for King's 2007 deluxe album. The message is timely in this economically depressed season.

4.) Santa Baby
Silvia won't make you forget Eartha Kitt but she'll definitely hold your attention with this Christmas classic.

5.) The Other Side of Christmas
Unique original Christmas song (written by Tim Hayden) that reminds us about the secular side of Christmas intruding on the real meaning of Christmas. Enjoyed this one quite a bit.

6.) In a Lowly Manger Sleeping
Lovely reworking of this standard Christmas carol. Her voice gets more rich and mellow as I continue to listen.

7.) I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
If only more artists would make standard Christmas carols like this more accessible... wonderful rendition.

8.) More Than a Child
Different arrangement showcases Fleming's vocal attributes to a "T".

9.) My Grown Up Christmas List
CONFESSION: I've never been a fan of this song (too adult contemporary for me). Silvia does a great job but I couldn't warm up to it.

10.) The Joy of Christmas
WOW! We need more original songs like this - the Christmas songbook needs new blood! Very, very nice!

11.) What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?
Any version of any Christmas song that adds the intro gets an extra star from me. This is exquisite - my favorite track on the album.


I must admit, the review from Christmasreviews.com made me think of Karen Carpenter quite a bit when I listened. However, if I hadn't read that first before listening, I would have declared the second coming of Karen Carpenter.

Fleming has a wonderful Christmas album here and should you want a copy for yourself, CD Baby has it for sale or you can head over to Silvia's website to listen to samples from this album and learn more about her.

Thanks for the CD!


Capt

Monday, November 02, 2009

OFFICIAL DISCLOSURE - (Thanks, FTC!)

On September 21, 2009, I typed a blog entry that dropped a hint that I would be interested in reviewing new Christmas releases BEFORE December 25th. Indeed, I received four new Christmas releases that were sent to my P.O. Box by members of the music industry.

Then the other shoe dropped.

On October 5, 2009, the Federal Trade Commission issued new guidelines regarding the blogging community: "The long standing principle that "material connections" (sometimes payments or free products) between advertisers and endorsers – connections that consumers would not expect – must be disclosed."

Failure to do so could mean fines up to $11,000 per post.

I quickly called my lawyer (a genial fellow whose name I can't use - otherwise he'd sue me) and asked what I needed to do. He informed me these new FTC guidelines take effect December 1st of this year. All posts after this date will need a quick disclosure clause - no statement is needed on any prior posts.

After driving home from his office (a shabby place), I began to think about all of the CDs I've received and reviewed here. Only one came to mind that caused an ethical dilemma.

Back in 2006 - the first year of this blog - I received at my P.O. Box a package from an unknown person. Inside was a Christmas CD (with some tantalizing artwork), a cover letter, and a business card. Paper-clipped to the business card was a neatly folded $10 bill.

I placed the entire package into a US Mail priority mail envelope and sent it back to the return address listed with a note: "Sorry, I do not review anything by or with a dead president".


OFFICIAL STATEMENT OF FACTS:

1.) I swear or affirm all of the following statements are true.

2.) Many of the albums or CDs I have reviewed at this blog since January of 2006 have been my own purchases, gifts given to me by friends or family, or have been downloaded online.

3.) In each blog entry since January of 2006, I have always disclosed the origins from which the albums or CDs came from - usually in the first sentence or paragraph of the entry.

4.) There have been 14 specific past blog entries in which I have received a promotional CD - either from the artist themselves or from a member of the music industry who had the authority to send the CD to me.

In each of these cases, I received a FREE promo CD and occasionally various press materials (cover letters, business cards) to review the CD. Nothing else additional was included in any of this packages.

5.) I have added a new label entitled "Promotional CD" below - you may click on this link to read all of the entries in which I have received nothing other than a free CD in exchange for a review. All future posts in which I receive a CD via the P.O. Box will have this label as well.


Having said all that, the four new reviews will be posted starting tomorrow.


Capt