Christmas With Patti Page (CD) by Patti Page

December 30, 2013

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The year was 1955; Ike was President, The Dodgers finally beat the Yankees in the World Series, and Patti Page was the most popular singer in the United States. Late in the year she released one of the better selling Christmas albums of the decade. Christmas With Patti Page has now been re-released with bonus tracks by Real Gone Music.

Patti Page charted 110 singles on the Billboard Magazine Pop Charts and sold well over 100 million records during her career. She first charted in 1948 and had her last hit in 1980. She continued to perform and record well into the 2000’s and passed away January 1, 2013, at the age of 85.

Her Christmas album was recorded at the height of her career. It is a traditional release that remains rooted in the 1950s. Many of the she songs that comprise the album have since been recorded hundreds of times. On the very positive side, Page has a wonderful voice and her interpretations of light popish Christmas songs such as “Jingle Bells,” “Where Did My Snowman Go,” “The Mama Doll Sound,” and “I Wanna Go Skating With Willie,” find her at her best.

“Silent Night,” “The First Noel,” “White Christmas,” and “The Christmas Song” travel in a different direction as she employed a mixed choral ensemble to back her lead vocals. I prefer her simpler approach with the focus squarely on her voice without a lot of instrumentation.

The bonus tracks complete her Christmas recordings for the Mercury label. “Boogie Woogie Santa Claus” is a swingin’ song and was recorded in 1950. It was released as a single and quickly disappeared as its B side, “Tennessee Waltz,” went on to become Page’s signature song, topping the Pop Chart for nine weeks. “Little Donkey” was recorded in 1959 and its simple message and passion make it the best track on the album.  Three Christmas performances from The Patti Page Show and the Christmas Greetings From Patti radio spot complete the album.

As with all the Real Gone releases the sound is as clean as the original tapes will allow. The accompanying booklet presents a nice biography of her life and of her Christmas recording sessions.

Christmas With Patti Page is a trip back in time to when she was the queen of American music. It may not be a modern Christmas album but it is music worth visiting.

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Give Me Strength: The 74/75 Recordings (5 CD/1Blu-ray Box Set) by Eric Clapton

December 29, 2013

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Many Eric Clapton fans were not alive in 1974 and 1975, but he was alive, well, and creating come of the best music of his career. The box set, Give Me Strength: ‘74/’75 Recordings, will be released December 10th, and covers the three albums and extra studio and live tracks recorded between April 1974 and June 1975.

This was a prolific era for Clapton as 461 Ocean Boulevard, There’s One In Every Crowd, and E.C. Was Here were all released during this time period. Each album has been remastered, remixed, and expanded with bonus tracks. The 88 tracks are a treasure trove for any Clapton fan or for anyone who does not own these albums.

Disc one contains the 461 Ocean Boulevard recordings and the improvement in the sound quality of what has been previously available is readily apparent. Classic songs such as “Willie And The Hand Jive,” “Mainline Florida,” “Give Me Strength,” and “I Shot The Sheriff” have a pristine sound. Nuances which have not been noticeable are now available to be explored. The eight bonus tracks include four previously unreleased tracks including an acoustic version of “Please Be With Me.”

Disc two is more of the same but with There’s One In Every Crowd as the center piece. It has always had a nice bluesy feel as “Swing Low Sweet Chariot,” “The Sky Is Crying,” “Singin’ The Blues,” and “Pretty Blue Eyes” just wash over you. Also included is the non-album single “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door,” which makes a good album stronger. The two best bonus tracks from the sessions are the previously unreleased “Burial” and “Fools Like Me.”

Clapton’s live album, E.C. Was Here, has been expanded to the point that it now covers two discs and 16 tracks. Four previously unreleased tracks from his July 20, 1974, Long Beach Arena Show have been added to the mix. “Crossroads,” “I Shot The Sheriff,” “Layla,” and “Little Wing” have remained a part of his stage act for decades but here they find him performing these songs near the beginning of his solo career.

Disc Five is the most interesting. It is made up of four tracks from The Freddie King Criteria Studios Sessions. “Sugar Sweet” and “TV Mama” have been available before but the previously unreleased “Boogie Funk” and a spectacular 22 minute performance of “Gambling Woman Blues,” which just keeps on going are highlights of the set.

The Blue-Ray disc is for the Clapton aficionado who wants everything. Both 461 Ocean Boulevard and There’s One In Every Crowd come with 5:1 surround sound and a quadrophonic mix.

Give Me Strength: ‘74/’75 Recordings is an interesting release by one of rock music’s enduring superstars. It not only presents his legacy but expands it as well. One of the better box sets of the year.

 

 


Classic Album Selections: Six Albums 1977-1984 by The Boomtown Rats

December 29, 2013

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Today Bob Geldof is known for his many humanitarian efforts and causes. His first claim to fame was as the leader of one of the seminal punk groups of the mid-1970s and early 1980s. The Boomtown Rats were formed in Dublin, Ireland in 1975 and for a decade played their own defiant brand of rock and roll. Now their six original studio albums have been re-released as a six-CD box set titled Classic Album Selection: Six Albums 1977-1984. Also included are a number of bonus tracks including outtakes and live performances.

The Boomtown Rats (1977), A Tonic For The Troops, (1978), The Fine Art Of Surfacing (1979), Mondo Bongo (1980). V Deep (1982), and In The Long Grass (1984) take the listener through the career of one of the more important rock bands of their era.

The best way to approach the set is to play the albums in chronological order. Their self-titled debut and A Tonic For The Troops find the band in the forefront of the punk movement. They rage, rant, and rock their way through two albums of frenetic music. If you want to know what the punk music is all about, these albums are a fine introduction as their take no prisoner’s type of rock and roll helped change the perceptions of rock music.

The Fine Art Of Surfacing finds the group veering more toward the mainstream yet retaining some of their anger and fire. Their ability to make their punk sound acceptable to a broader audience enabled them to become huge stars, especially in their home country and the U.K.

Mondo Bongo is an album of dark thoughts and topics, yet the music is explosive and melodic. V Deep is much the same yet a little lighter in its textures and context. By the time they released In The Long Grass, their sound had matured and while elements of their past were still apparent, they were now moving away from their anti-establishment days toward more mainstream rock and roll.

The box set is basic with each disc having its own fold-out sleeve with archival photos. The lack of liner notes is missed. The sound is fine and presents the message and energy of the band well.

Classic Album Selection: Six Albums 1977-1984 is probably the best overview of the Boomtown Rats career available and a must for anyone interested in their career or the development of rock music circa 1980.

 


Merry Christmas: The Complete Columbia Christmas Singles 1963-1966 by The New Christy Minstrels

December 23, 2013

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The New Christy Minstrels were the brainchild of Randy Sparks who formed the group in 1961. It was unique as it was a rare folk group consisting of ten members. During its early existence a number of well-known artists passed through its ranks including Kenny Rogers, Barry McGuire, Gene Clark, Larry Ramos, and Kim Carnes. They represented the light pop side of the 1960s folk revival and were not received well by the anti-war and counterculture movements of the day. They did find an easy listening type audience as during the 1960s their albums sold tens-of-millions of copies.

The career of The New Christy Minstrels has now spanned over five decades. Real Gone Music has just re-released the two Christmas albums they recorded for the Columbia label complete with five bonus tracks. The included booklet gives a fine history of the band and recording sessions.

Merry Christmas, released during 1963, is the superior of the two albums. The original group was mostly intact and they had created a tight sound due to nearly three years of constant touring and recording.

It was a folk approach that relied on more obscure tunes than the normal Christmas release at the time. Randy Sparks composition, “Parson Brown (Our Christmas Dinner)” may sound a little dated today but it captured the Christmas innocence of the early 1960s well. “Sing Hosanna Hallelujah, a reworking of the folksong “Greenland Whale Fisheries,” and “Beautiful City” are inspiring up-tempo pieces that present the strongest side of the group.

The best of the bonus tracks is a medley of three European carols that was originally released on a Goodyear compilation album. “Joseph Dear Joseph Mine,” “Snow In The Streets,” and “Wassail Wassail All Over The Town” have all the voices combining to bring the album to a fitting conclusion.

Christmas With The Christies is not nearly as strong. All ten members of the 1963 group were gone and their replacements were not as tight vocally. They try to move from their folk roots in a folk/rock, light jazz, and pop direction with mixed results. The group at this point in their career had become more of a variety show act and this was a handicap in the studio.

They relied more on classic Christmas songs and tunes such as “White Christmas,” “Silver Bells,” “The Little Drummer Boy,” and “Silent Night” paled next to many orher versions of the day. They tried to be creative but the bongos on “Do You Hear What I Hear” are quite a stretch.

Merry Christmas: The Complete Columbia Christmas Recordings 1963-1966 is an album from a different era. The New Christy Minstrels were little dated even at the height of their career. Their material still has an attractive quality to it even if it is not essential.


To All The Girls by Willie Nelson

December 23, 2013

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Like Old Man River, Willie Nelson just keeps rolling along at the age of 80. During his nearly six-decade career, he has released over 100 albums, which have sold tens-of-millions of copies. He has now returned with his third album of new material released during the past 16 months.

To All The Girls is an album of newly recorded duets with female singers. While the 18 women who participated in the project are mostly country performers, there are some who cross over into different styles; Norah Jones, Mavis Staples, and Sheryl Crow.

His voice is still a fine instrument and sounds a little stronger than on his past couple of releases. It has acquired a nice patina and he has always been an excellent partner when participating on duets. He has the ability to mold his style and sounds with voices that are very different from his own.

A wonderfully interesting track is “Always On My Mind” with Carrie Underwood. The subtlety of his own voice runs counterpoint to her booming pop vocals. Their approaches may be dissimilar but it works well.

There are a number of highlights on the album. “No Mas Amour” with Alison Krauss has a Latin American feel as it just meanders along. “Grandma’s Hands” travels in a different direction with the unique voice of Mavis Staples and some creative interaction between Nelson’s guitar picking and Mickey Raphael’s harmonica work. Emmylou Harris helps to transform Bruce Springsteen’s “Dry Lightning” into a song of poignant beauty. He joins together with his daughter Paula to rework the Creedence Clearwater classic. “Have You Ever Seen The Rain.” It emerges as a sad presentation.

Some of the other participants include the ever-present Dolly Parton, Rosanne Cash, Shelby Lynne, Wynonna Judd, Miranda Lambert, and Loretta Lynn where Nelson takes the place of Conway Twitty on “Somewhere Between.”

To All The Girls takes its place as one of Willie Nelson’s better releases. It was thoughtfully constructed as the songs and guest artists match well. Like a fine wine. Willie Nelson seems to be aging well.


Poor Little Fool by Ricky Nelson

December 23, 2013

 

Ricky Nelson placed 54 songs on the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Singles Charts but only two made it to number one. The first of the two became the first single to top the newly created BILLBOARD Hot 100 Chart.

Billboard had just discontinued their Most Played By DJ’s Chart leaving only their Top 100 and Best Sellers In Stores Chart. The Top 100 became the Hot 100, which would be their major pop singles chart for decades. “Poor Little Fool” became the initial number one song on the Hot 100, August 4, 1958, and it remained in that position for two weeks. It also topped the Best Sellers In Stores Chart for the same two weeks.

Ricky Nelson had a big advantage over most other recording artists of the 1950s as he was able to sing his songs at the end of the popular OZZIE AND HARRIET television, which had made him a star and one of the original teen idols. He came into millions of homes via television each week, which enabled him to sell tens of millions of albums and singles during the late 1950s and early 1960s.


Playing To Win by J.T. Lauritsen

December 20, 2013

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It’s good to know that the blues are alive and well in Norway. J.T. Lauritsen and his Buckshot Hunters have been playing American Blues, Norwegian style, for the past 20 years.

Late last spring, Lauritsen and his regular drummer Jon Grimsby traveled to Memphis, Tennessee. They hired some of Memphis’ leading musicians including Billy Gibbons, Anson Funderburgh, Willie Campbell, and Victor Wainwright. He returned to Norway with five tracks in hand and proceeded to record another seven with his regular band. The results of these two sessions have been released as Play By The Rules.

Lauritsen (vocals, harp, accordion, Hammond B3) has a booming and soulful voice that fits a blues style well.

William Bell’s “Everyday Will Be Like A Holiday” is transferred from a soul classic to a nice blues piece. Big Walter’s blues standard, “Need My Babe,” is brought to life with the dueling harps of Lauritsen and Billy Gibbons. He travels a different journey by moving Gillian Welch’s “Valley Of Tears” in a gospel direction.

Lauritsen is a music veteran who has produced a credible blues album. He may have learned his chops several thousand miles away from the original home of the blues but he does this distinctly American musical form proud.