Merry Christmas Baby (New Vinyl Release) By Elvis Presley

February 28, 2017


Many people are unaware that Elvis Presley’s biggest selling studio album was his late 1950’s Christmas release. It also expanded his commercial appeal beyond his rock and roll teenage base as millions of adults bought the album which veered from his rock roots toward a more traditional pop sound.

Lately, there has been an increasing vinyl resurgence and while Elvis’ Christmas material has been released dozens of times and it many formats; Merry Christmas Baby is a vinyl-only release issued on red and green vinyl. So crack up those record players because Elvis is coming to town.

The music was remastered from the original tapes and modern technology gives it a clarity of sound missing from many of the previous releases. When played on the proper equipment, it provides a superior listening experience.

As Elvis’ career progressed, his albums became more haphazard and inconsistent but he never issued a poor or even an average Christmas, gospel, or sacred album. He always seemed more connected and invested with this type of material.

The 17 tracks travel from hymns such as “O Come All Ye Faithful” and “Silent Night” to the light hearted “Santa Claus Is Back In Town” and “Here Comes Santa Claus” to such classics as “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” and “White Christmas.”

“Blue Christmas” has a bit of a kick to it as it pays homage to his rock and roll roots. He captures the wistful and nostalgic nature of “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” just right. He even manages to turn light-weight material such as “If Everyday Was Like Christmas” and “Holly Leaves and Christmas Trees” into acceptable holiday fare.

There is still a vast Elvis fan base that will purchase just about any new release. However, if you have never been exposed to his holiday material or want to listen to some Elvis the way it was originally intended, then Merry Christmas Baby is an album for you.

Lone Star Songs And Stories Straight From The Heart Of Texas By Glenna Bell

February 28, 2017



There is a sticker on the front of the CD jacket that says “File Under Texas Music,” and to that I say AMEN.

Glenna Bell is a singer/songwriter who uses the blues as a foundation as she moves effortless to fuse rock, pop, and country into her sound.

She has a knack of choosing cover songs that can be transferred to her Texas orientation. Don Henley’s “Heart Of The Matter” re-emerges with a steel guitar and understated vocals.

At the heart of her music are personal songs about her life and Texas. “Poor Girl (In Blue)” and “Shiner Bock & ZZ Top” carry on her tradition of story-songs. “Tonight’s The Night” is a wonderful reflection of life’s transitions that works better with the video.

Perhaps the best song is “Christmas Is Coming,” which is a nostalgic and wistful approach to the season and received several hundred-thousand plays online las year.

Glenna Bell’s music always has a personal approach and her latest release is no exception. Music for the heart and mind-Texas style.

The Happiest Man In The World By Eric Bibb

February 28, 2017


I don’t know if Eric Bibb is the hardest working person in show business but he has to be one of the most prolific, Whether alone or with a wide assortment of friends, he releases albums with regularity.

The Happiest Man In The World finds Bibb combining his talents with the Finnnish group North Country Far and English jazz/folk bassist Danny Thompson. His music tends to tread the line between blues and folk. While most of his albums tend to be more blues oriented, this times he comes down more on the folk side of the equation.

Bibb wrote of co-wrote 11 of the 14 tracks. My only criticism is the set could have used a little bite in places but his wonderfully soulful voice carries the day. His acoustical approach to such songs as “Tell Ol’ Bill,” “Prison Of Time,” “Toolin’ Down The Road,” “Wish I Could Hold You,” and “Creole Café” are smooth and laid back. His cover of the Kinks classic rocker “You Really Got Me” is unique as it opens up new textures as he re-invents the song.

One thing that remains consistent in most of Bibb’s work is the positive nature of his music. In a world that is many time bleak, he tends to explore the sunny side of life.

The Happiest Man In The World is a consistent album that will mke you smile and relax and sometimes that is enough

Full Circle By Rev. Billy C. Wirtz

February 28, 2017


And now…from the Church of the Polyester, the Reverend Billy C. Wirtz has assumed the pulpit and called the congregation to order. Can you say amen? Amen!

Wirtz is basically a musical comedian who is now almost 40 years into his career. He has just released his 12th album titled Full Circle. He has assumed many persona’s during the course of his career but his Reverend moniker and his First Church Of Polyester And Horizontal Throbbing Teenage Desire is his most controversial.

His musical approach is right out of the Jerry Lee Lewis school of music, complete with pumping piano. He makes a wise decision to use the classic roots group, The Nighthawks, as his backing band. They tend to suppress his wildest tendencies and keep at least his music somewhat under control. Still, it is a wild ride through the 15 tracks.

It is the lyrics and stories that set him apart. They tread the line between bad taste and humorous. Songs such as “Mennonite Surf Party,” “Mama Was A Deadhead,” “Daddy Was A Sensitive Guy,” “Rockin’ Up To Gloryland,” and “Daddy Passed Away” are examples of his brand of humor. Many comedians would use this material in a stand-up act but Wirtz is different as he presents them is a rock and roll format.

The re-action to his music depends on a person’s sense of humor and ethical code. It is not an album for the faint of heart but if you have a propensity for the odd, ribald, and unique encased in a retro rock and roll style, than the Rev. Billy Wirtz wailing away in his First Church Of The Polyester may be an album for you.

Can you say Amen!

The Intimate Keely Smith (Expanded CD Reissue) By Keely Smith

February 28, 2017


Keely Smith was a star during the 1950’s as the vocalist of a band led by her husband Louis Prima. After their divorce in 1961, she embarked on a solo career that has extended into her late 80’s.

During the mid-1960’s, she produced four albums for Frank Sinatra’s Reprise label. That material has been out of print for decades. Now, The Intimate Keely Smith, probably the best solo album of her career, has finally been re-released in an expanded form.

Smith had just released her most commercially successful album with Sings The Songs Of Lennon And McCartney. A year later she went in an entirely different direction with a very simple album of music backed by guitar, piano, and drums. The word intimate is the key as it seems she is in the room with you presenting the songs in a very laid back fashion. It is an approach that treads the line between jazz and moody pop.

It is mostly a laid back collection of songs from The Great American Songbook. Gershwin’s “Somebody Loves Me,” Gus Kahn’s “It Had To Be You,” the Khan/Styne “Time After Time,” and the classic “God Bless The Child” are like butter in her hands as they are given gentle treatments.  The best performance may be “The Whippoorwill.” She revisits the song for the third time in her career but this simple and stark performance is the best.

The two bonus tracks may be a little out of place but taken individually they are both interesting. “No One Ever Tells You” is a Goffin/King/Spector song originally sung by The Crystals. Her take is very adult with a lot more emotion than the original. It was originally released as a single and never appeared on an album. The other bonus track is a duet with Frank Sinatra. “Twin Soliloquies” was originally recorded as a part of a Reprise label all-star salute to South Pacific. The give and take of the song is a perfect vehicle for the two masters of easy listening pop.

The Intimate Keely Smith is an album that may have been out of style 25 years ago but with the expansion of musical tastes today, it is an album with a time feel.

(You’re My) Soul And Inspiration By The Righteous Brothers

February 27, 2017

After The Righteous Brothers hits stopped for the Phillies label; owner and producer Phil Specter sold their contract to MGM for one-million dollars. Spector’s loss was MGM’s gain.

Their first hit for the label was a Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann composition “(You’re My) Soul And Inspiration. It was a song they had abandoned once as being second-rate. It would become the biggest hit of the duo’s career.

“(You’re My) Soul And Inspiration” became the number one song in the United States, April 9, 1966, and there it remained for three weeks.

Drive Til’ U Die By Hymn For Her

February 22, 2017


If you are ever driving down the highway and pass a 1961 Bambi Airstream being towed by a Ford van that looks like it has traveled a half-million miles, you have probably seen the home of Hymn For Her.

Lucy Tight and Wayne Waxing (and their daughter) have been traveling the highways and by-ways of America producing and playing their music, while living their life on the road. They are a self-contained band who have released their latest album titled Drive Til U Die.

Musicians Lucy and Wayne play what can best be labeled as hillbilly rock. There are some up-tempo songs such as the album opening rocker “Devil’s Train,” the twang of “Hi Ho Silver,” and the honky tonk vibe of “The Road Song.”  The best track, however, may be the gentle “Seas Of Croatia,” which places the emphasis on Lucy’s voice.

They produce music at its basic best. There is some shouting, hollering, and picking, which fits in with a bygone era. They are in touch with a modern sound as the production is rustic but impeccable and the lyrics convey their stories.

Ultimately Hymn For Her produces music about their lives on the road. Their thoughts and dreams merge with the realism of their life choices, which makes their sound have a unique quality.

Drive Til You Die is an album worth exploring whether you are just relaxing or more appropriately driving down the highway.

Live In Concert At The Capital Theatre By Justin Hayward

February 22, 2017


I recently reviewed Justin Hayward’s new compilation album All The Way. It contained some good music but an odd song selection and only included half the tracks of the MP3 version.  A companion release by Hayward is much more fulfilling. Live In Concert At The Capital Theatre is a 117 minute performance that presents Justin Hayward at his best.

Unlike his last release, the song selection makes sense. He moves effortlessly between some classic Moody Blues songs to exploring all periods of his solo career. Simple Versions of “Tuesday Afternoon,” “Question,” “Your Wildest Dreams,” and the eternal “Nights In White Satin” provide nice nostalgic interludes.

When Hayward digs into his solo catalogue; there are a number of treats to be enjoyed. “December Snow,” “I Dreamed Last Night,” “The Eastern Sun,” and “Forever Autumn” benefit from being performed live without any studio tracks. Guitarist Mike Dawes and keyboardist/backing vocalist Julie Ragins provide a good foundation for Hayward’s music.

Hayward’s voice has lost little with the passage of time as it remains a smooth instrument. The sound and video quality are up to modern standards and the fact that it is a complete concert provides a nice flow to the release.

Two bonus tracks, “Blue Guitar” and “Who Are You Now” are enjoyable but not essential to the concert experience. The bonus music video of “The Wind Of Heaven” introduces one of the better songs of Hayward’s solo career.

Justin Hayward has just turned 70 and Live In Concert At The Capital Theatre is a nice look at an artist celebrating a career at the half-century mark. A must release for any fan of Hayward or the Moody Blues.


Long Black Train By Ray Fuller & The Bluesrockers

February 22, 2017


If you like your blues basic and a little raucous, then Ray Fuller and His Bluesrockers have got an album for you.

Fuller received his first guitar at the age of eight and formed his first band in 1978. Ray Fuller and the Bluesrockers were born four years later. They quickly established themselves as an Ohio blues force and opened for such artists as Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, and Albert Collins.

Fuller is now over four decades into his career. He has developed into one of the best blues slide guitarists in the world. He reaches back to a traditional blues foundation but builds modern rhythms into a unique sound.

He writes most of his own material and “Devil’s Den,” “Voodoo Mama,” “Pipeline Blues,” “New Tatoo,” and “Evil On Your Mind” have titles that ooze the blues. Backed by his basic band of bassist Myke Rock, drummer Darrell Jumper, and harmonica player Doc Malone; he not only plays the blues but bludgeon’s them into submission.

So, back to the opening question; if you like your blues high energy and in your face; then grab a copy of Long Black Train and hold on.

All The Way By Justin Hayward

February 22, 2017


Just Hayward has been the heart, soul, and principal vocalist for the Moody Blues for 50 years. In his spare time, he has issued close to a dozen solo albums. His new release, All The Way, provides a 15 song taste of his solo career. Be advised that the MP3 edition of the album contains 30 tracks including his collaboration with John Lodge “I Dreamed last Night” and his Simon & Garfunkel cover of “Scarborough Fair,” which are essential Justin Hayward listening.  It all adds up to the MP3 being a superior release.

The CD tends to be more oriented toward his newer material but all periods of his career are represented. The opening “Blue Guitar” with John Lodge and “Forever Autumn” represents a fertile period of his early solo career and hover on the edge of the Moody Blues sound.

He revisits two Moody Blues classics. His live version of “Nights In White Satin” features a smooth vocal. There is also a somewhat sparse acoustic rendition of “The Story In Your Eyes,” which changes the style of the original.

The inclusion of “The Best Is Yet To Come” presents one of his better solo ballads. The album ending “The Wind Of Heaven” is the equal of most of his best work.

The sound, especially on the older tracks sounds better that I remember. Counter-acting the sound quality is a lack of liner notes and information.

After All presents some of the best of Justin Hayward. There is no particular reason or order for the selected tracks but what is there are fine listening but there is a lot missing.  It is a CD that should have been more inclusive and in the final analysis much better.  If you have not explored the solo music of Hayward, this is a good introduction, but there is a lot more out there.