Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Roy Meyer Swingers - Swingers In Season

Here's another forgotten vinyl Christmas album, rescued from the Goodwill bin of obscurity by Pastor McPurvis and the good folks at Vinyl Orphanage.

To quote Pastor McPurvis:

"Up today are the happy holiday sounds of Roy Meyer and his group of Singing Swingers. Hailing from the great state of New Jersey, Mr. Meyer founded this community group as a non-profit agency dedicated to providing music scholarshops to high school students, as well as promoting vocal group singing throughout the New York Metro area.

"Mr. Meyer penned some ambitious arrangements for the group, and though the singers may falter a bit on the more complicated harmonies, they more than make up for it with their enthusiasm and sincere delivery."

Pastor McPurvis hits the nail on the head... At first glance, this album looks like a church group recording but the arrangements more than make up for it.

It seems Roy Meyer is alive and well and still swinging in New Jersey. And if you got vocal talent, here's a way to join up and become an official "Roy Meyer Swinger":

Roy Meyer Swingers - Oakland NJ

On to the next new Christmas CD in my collection...


Friday, May 26, 2006

Arcade Fire - A Very Arcade Xmas EP

Last December, I was so busy downloading stuff left and right that I never got a chance to listen to it all. During the last two weeks, I finally burned the last 40+ albums I downloaded to CD and have finally just begun to listen to the music.

Smack in the middle of full albums by Hugo Winterhalter and Menudo (watch for those reviews soon) was this little Internet gem of a find from a band whose existence is largely due to the Internet itself.

Arcade Fire hails from Montreal and formed in early 2004. Utilizing a massive amount of instruments (including harp, viola, cello, xylophone, even accordian!), they recorded an EP that they sold at their first live gigs (known to fans of Arcade Fire as the "Us Kids Know" EP).

They went on to record their first album Funeral around this time and got a small label to distribute the album. Music critics praised the band, word of mouth amongst their fans was aided by the Internet, and David Bowie was so impressed he asked to record with them! Their album quickly sold half a million copies in both the UK and Canada, getting more radio airplay, and causing them to jump from clubs to stadiums in less than one year!

Around one year ago, Arcade Fire appeared on the Canadian version of Time Magazine, hailing them as "Canada's Most Intriguing Band". They have continued to tour and even made inroads into the United States by appearing on "The Late Show with David Letterman" followed by a Central Park concert in NYC.

This holiday EP was recorded at a Christmas party in 2001 with several members of the band playing Christmas standards "The Christmas Song", "O Holy Night", and "Jingle Bell Rock", parodying the band's unique style of playing and having a lot of fun in the process. The fourth track is entitled "A Very Arcade Xmas" which is nothing more than an eight minute jam of those assembled. It very much reminded me of the Beatles' "What's The New Mary Jane?" in style and sound.

It's been reported that the band is very unhappy that this EP made it to the Internet because 1.) only half of the current band played on the tracks 2.) it doesn't represent their work of the present.

Since I knew nothing about this band before I reviewed this EP, I will definitely give their FULL album a listen and hope in the future they release a FULL Christmas album as well.

On to the next new Christmas CD in my collection...


Thursday, May 25, 2006

Where Will You Be Christmas Day? (Dust-to-Digital)

If you are a Christmas music collector like me, you probably know that most Christmas CD comps are hit or miss - each containing one or two songs that standout in your memory.

Every once in a while, you'll find a Christmas compilation that just breaks new ground - every track a hidden treasure. You are looking at such a CD.

While doing a simple search for another Christmas CD at my local library, I came across this CD from the good folks at Dust-to-Digital in Atlanta, GA.

Lance Ledbetter took over a Georgia State university roots music radio show in the late 1990s and began absorbing all types of roots music. He began corresponding with other 78 collectors, music authorities, and playing all this on his radio show.

By the time Ledbetter left Georgia State, he was a bonafide roots music authority. He proved it in October 2003 when Dust-to-Digital released the mother of all box sets: Goodbye, Babylon. A six CD box set full of 135 Southern country gospel music songs from the pre-WWII era, revently packed inside a 1 lb cedar box with cotton for packing material. The box set made top 10 lists across the country and received two Grammy nominations.

A year later, this CD was released, featuring 24 rare, obscure recordings from 1917-1959 that leap from the speakers, grab your attention, and won't let you go. I was all set to offer a track-by-track review, but that simply will not do the music justice.

If you are a Christmas music enthusiast, you MUST own this CD.

Check out the amazing web site Dust-to-Digital has set up for this disc. While you're there, order up a copy so Lance can keep searching out this lost music so it won't be lost anymore!

On to the next new Christmas CD in my collection...


Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Yuletide Soirée (Rhino Records)

Rhino Records - how do I love thee? Let me count the ways...

Richard Foos started his own record shop in 1973 called Rhino Records. His enterprising store manager, Harold Bronson, convinced Foos to start their own music label and in 1978, Rhino began releasing music.

Since most of the big record companies passed on distribution deals with Rhino, most of their first ten years in business was done out of their shop and by mail-order catalog. However, their eclectic mix of music and strange video (soon to become a specialty for Rhino) kept building a loyal fan base. In 1986, they finally got a six-year distribution deal with Capitol Records and Rhino was on the map for good.

Two years later, I discovered Rhino Records after purchasing some Dr. Demento cassette tapes. I sent my $2.00 to Rhino for a catalog and they sent me their 10 year anniversary catalog - an artifact I treasured until the Toledo apartment fire of 1996 claimed its life. They had great compilations of surf music, acid rock, early works of Todd Rundgren and Jonathan Richman, more Dr. Demento stuff, the Three Stooges albums, and "Sleazemania" - video compilations of stripper movies and Z-rated drive-in movies.

I kept purchasing stuff from Rhino as often as I could and couldn't wait for their mailing to come to my home. One of my prized purchases from those early days was a cassette tape of "The Best Of Louie, Louie". Featuring 10 different versions of the song "Louie, Louie" (girl group / easy listening / garage band). One of the versions was done by a punk band called Black Flag featuring a then unknown Henry Rollins on lead vocals! In later years, the Black Flag rendition would not be included on the CD or cassette, making my copy $$$$$.

Capitol decided six years was good enough and walked away from Rhino in 1992. It seemed the magic ride was over... but wait! The giant music conglomerate WEA (Warner / Elektra / Atlantic) was waiting in the wings not only with a distribution deal but an offer to purchase 50% of Rhino! It was a deal too good to refuse. Several years later, Time Warner swallowed the other 50%, making it yet another wholly-owned subsidiary.

Many long time Rhino fans thought going totally corporate would stop Rhino being Rhino. Not so... They began Rhino Handmade, a place where limited editions (individually numbered) are released, allowing older forgotten material of WEA to hit the marketplace. In addition, Turner Classic Movies has issued hundreds of classic movie soundtracks (Casablanca, Singin' In The Rain) all released on the Rhino label. And don't get me started on all the old TV shows and forgotten movies Rhino Video has released...

Rhino's done a good share of Christmas music as well... they were the one who released "The Star Wars Christmas Album" several years ago (now out of print) as well as Ray Charles' lone Christmas album ("The Spirit Of Christmas") and the "Billboard Greatest Christmas Hits". They've also released great Christmas compilations such as "Bummed Out Christmas", "Cool Yule", "Blue Yule", and Dr. Demento's holiday releases.

This 2-CD set comes with a cookbook sized booklet, chock full of recipes for cocktails / hor d'overes and tips for planning out the best Christmas party. The music is nothing new... "White Christmas" by Bing, "Little Drummer Boy" by Harry Simone Chorale, "Chipmunk Song" by the Chipmunks - your standard Christmas department store / holiday radio fare.

This is mostly stuff I already own (in some cases seven or eight times over) but I received this as a gift from a friend who saw it at a garage sale... used copies of this sell on Amazon.com for $100 and up! Looking through my collection, I own over 15 Rhino Christmas releases. This makes 16...

On to the next new Christmas CD in my collection...


Monday, May 22, 2006

John Klein - A Christmas Sound Spectacular

In a previous post, I mentioned that Christmas carillon music was beginning to become a subgenre in my Christmas collection. I also mentioned in the same post about the origins of this album:

"Last December, I've began searching my local Goodwill, Salvation Army, antique stores, vinyl resale shops, and garage sales for unique Christmas music that I can digitally transfer over.

"I found a RCA Victor "Living Stereo" album cover entitled 'A Christmas Sound Spectacular' by John Klein at a local Goodwill (no record enclosed unfortunately) that piqued my interest. Thankfully, I found a site that sells this very CD and ordered up a copy."

The site mentioned above is Schulmerich Bells of Sellersville, PA. Not only was this album recorded at their factory back in 1959, they used the 1,453-bell Carillon Americana, the largest carillon in the world at the time, for the recording with two manual keyboards on the carillon and a pedal clavier controlling all the bells (and at different pitches!).

John Klein was an organist, pianist, and musical director for radio dramas and documentary movies. His talents took him to Europe where he played many music festivals and the Brussels World Fair (where he played the carillon twice a day) in 1958. Klein owned a nearby antique store in Rahns, PA when he was asked to participate in this project.

In the previous album of Christmas carillon music I reviewed, it was simply a sound engineer standing in a garden, recording the carillonneur playing Christmas music.

This album is completely night and day from the other album. It adds an orchestra, chorus, and arrangements that keeps you guessing. Don't be surprised if you actually get this album and hear elements of Jackie Gleason, Henry Mancini, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Esquivel, and Billy May. All these elements greatly add to this album and can make for a definite change of pace.

Two standout tracks are "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" and "Frosty The Snowman" thanks in large part to their fun, fast arrangements. The other standout track, "Winter Wonderland", benefits from its big band feel and the carillons themselves which add a snowy touch to the song. If there was an instrument more perfectly suited for "Winter Wonderland", it's the carillon... I checked the window several times to see if snow was falling!

I'm glad I found the cover back in the Goodwill months ago... you can't go wrong with this album!

On to the next new Christmas CD in my collection...


"The stack is back!"

If you think I was exaggerating, here's actual proof!

All these CDs will be reviewed and posted here at the ol'
yuleblog... look for the first review later today!

And yes, if you look closely at the stack, there is a lot
of alternating black & white slim jewel cases... all of those
are from the Ernie (Not Bert) collection of Christmas LPs
that Ernie offered late last year... I finally burned them
off the hard drive and onto CD!

I'll be busy for sure!


Monday, May 15, 2006

Any mail for me while I was gone?

Dear Christmas music lovers everywhere...

About three months ago, I decided that it would be good for me to break the wintertime blues and audition for a play for a local theater group in Fort Wayne. The play is called "Lend Me A Tenor" and I got cast as the world famous Italian tenor Tito Merelli, known to his fans as "Il Stupendo".

As March turned into April, I had to buckle down and learn a bunch of lines and master deliberate and delicate movements on the stage in order to get the role properly. I also was the only member of the cast who had free time to help build sets, paint floors & walls, etc., etc.. Needless to say, this took up much of my free time (thereby robbing me of the time I used to devote to this blog).

When April turned into May (quite the operation she had), everything came together. Each cast member trusted their lines and movements, the light and sound cues were on the money. I added one final touch to my physical transformation into an Italian tenor: the proper haircut and beard.

I was lucky to meet and get to know Frank Ferrante, the premier Groucho Marx impersonator of our time, when he toured through Indiana with his various plays on Groucho. Frank imparted onto me how to cut & shape the Groucho Marx haircut and it served the role extremely well. So much in fact that several audience members have asked the director of the play "he was wearing a wig for Act 2... but was that a wig he was wearing in Act 1?"

If you're in the neighborhood of Fort Wayne and want to see this impressive haircut (and not a bad play to boot), you've got only one more weekend to see it (and me underneath it).

As for this blog... four words: "The stack is back." Next to my computer monitor is yet another stack of Christmas CDs waiting to be catalogued and reviewed here.

And the secret can finally be revealed: I've been transferring some rare and extremely deserving Christmas LPs (about 15 so far) into CDs that I will hopefully share with all of you at some point.

It's beginning to look and sound a lot like Christmas...