The Complete Christmas Recordings by Andy Williams

December 3, 2013

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Andy Williams, 1927-2012, enjoyed a career that lasted over six decades. Early on he was part of a vocal group with his brothers and then as a solo artist, he sold tens-of-millions of records and had a popular television variety series, 1962-1971. He was an easy listening crooner, whose smooth style allowed him to remain commercially successful during the rock and roll era.

Real Gone music has now raided the Williams’ vaults and released The Complete Christmas Recordings. They should have put Columbia in the title as he released two albums of Christmas music after he left his long-time label and they are not included. Still, there is a lot of Christmas music here. His three Columbia Label albums, The Andy Williams Christmas Album (1963), Merry Christmas (1965), and Christmas Present (1974), are combined with three non-album Christmas singles and previously unreleased Spanish and Italian versions of “White Christmas.” The sound is clean and a booklet of his life and music is included. It all forms the definitive release of his Christmas material.

He was a pure pop singer from the beginning to the end of his career. His big hits, “(Where Do I Begin) Love Story,” “I Like Your Kind Of Love,” “Can’t Get Used To Loving You,” “Days Of Wine And Roses,” “The Village Of Saint Bernadette,” and the number one “Butterfly” are all far from a rock and roll sound.

The three original studio albums, when combined, form one long Christmas release. The songs are interchangeable as his style was always the same. The music is a combination of traditional Christmas Carols such as “O Holy Night,” “Silent Night Holy Night,” “O Little Town Of Bethlehem,” and “O Come All Ye Faithful,” and pop Christmas songs including “Silver Bells,” “Jingle Bells,”  “A Song And A Christmas Tree (The Twelve Days Of Christmas),” and “Sleigh Ride.”

The music of Andy Williams is what it is. If you are a fan or appreciate an easy listening vocal sound, and are in a Christmas mood, then this is an album for you.


Living By The Days by Don Nix

May 15, 2013

Don Nix, born 1941 in Memphis, Tennessee, is one of those people who has spent nearly all of his adult life in the music industry yet is not a household name. This is due to the fact that his time as a producer, arranger, session musician, and songwriter has overshadowed his releases as a recording artist.

Nix began his career as a member of the studio band, The Mar-Keys, along with Steve Cropper and Duck Dunn. He played the sax parts on their 1961 top three hit single, “Last Night.”

His career has had an eclectic nature to it. The Mar-Keys were hired as a house band for the Stax label in the 1960s. He has worked with such artists as Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Delaney & Bonnie, Leon Russell, Jeff Beck, Freddie King, and Albert King. He coordinated and sang in the choir for Ravi Shankar and George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh in 1971, and the next year released a version of an oft-covered blues standard that he first produced and wrote for the band Moloch in the late ’60s, “Goin’ Down.”.

Also during 1971, he signed with the Elektra label and recorded his second solo album, Living by the Days. That album has now been reissued by Real Gone Music.

It was an album that did not change the course of American music but one that fused blues, gospel, and soul into one creative mix. It was very close to the sound Delaney and Bonnie were producing at the time.

Nix was an accomplished songwriter and here he penned eight of the nine tracks. “Olena” is a demonstration of his soulful approach. “Going Back to Iuka” is a straight electric blues tune with a nice solo to connect the parts. “Three Angels” is New Orleans barrel roll blues-meets-southern gospel. He even manages a bluesy take on the Hank Williams tune, “I Saw the Light.”

The accompanying booklet contains the lyrics and a nice overview of his career. The sound has been remastered and comes across as clean and clear.

Living by the Days is a nice trip back to the early 1970s as Don Nix’s mix of musical styles and sounds is finally resurrected. It contains some good music from the era and is definitely worth a listen.a2

 

Article first published as <a href=’http://blogcritics.org/music/article/music-review-don-nix-living-by/’>Music Review: Don Nix – <i>Living by the Days</i> [Remastered]</a> on Blogcritics.


The Complete Atlantic Singles By Barbara Lewis

January 4, 2013

Barbara Lewis, born 1943, had one of the unique voices of the 1960s. Her tone and phrasing made it instantly recognizable at the time.

Her first single, “My Heart Went Do Dat Da” was released on the small Karen label during 1962 and became popular in her native Michigan. The distribution rights were acquired by the large label Atlantic Records and released nationally but had little commercial success. Still, her vocal style and songwriting ability were enough for her to be signed by the label. She would release 17 singles for the label, 1962-1968. All of the A and B-sides of those releases have been reissued by Real Gone Music as The Complete Atlantic Singles.

Today she is remembered primarily for her two signature songs, “Hello Stranger” and “Baby I’m Yours.” Both tread the line between classic rhythm & blues and mainstream pop. “Hello Stranger” was her own composition and featured a subtle bossa nova beat, which was driven by the organ play of John Young and the background vocals of The Dells. “Baby I’m Yours” focused more on her smooth vocals with backing by The Sweet Inspirations.

Despite the brilliance of her two big hits, the quality of her music ran deep as much of her lesser known material, especially the B-sides, had a brilliance all their own. “Make Me your Baby” was a free-flowing performance with full orchestration, which made it a somewhat unique rhythm & blues song at the time. “Don’t Forget about Me” was a bluesy interpretation of a Goffin-King song. Her final release for the label, “You’re A Dream Maker” contained one of her best vocal performances.

She took some chances on the B-sides of her singles and as such they are a more eclectic mix. She reached back into the Great American Songbook for a soulful interpretation of the Sammy Cahn/Jule Styne song, “It’s Magic.” She brought a female perspective to the Deon Jackson hit, “Love Makes The World Go Round.” Her own compositions, the sassy “Think A Little Sugar,” the passionate “On Bended Knees,” and the strutting “Thankful for What I Got,” deserved better than being buried on the B-sides of singles.

After leaving Atlantic, she signed with Enterprise, which was a subsidiary of Stax. Her attempt at a more funky sound was not commercially successful and her recording became intermittent.

The heart of her career remains her series of singles for Atlantic and it’s nice to have them all in one place and in chronological order as they present the legacy of one of the 1960s superior soul singers. Most of her singles were a little slice of music bliss. My only complaint about the release is the booklet. There could have been more information about each song, such as who played on the tracks, plus a more comprehensive biography would have been nice.

Barbara Lewis is not an artist who should be overlooked. The Complete Atlantic Singles is a fine introduction to the best of her music.

Article first published as Music Review: Barbara Lewis – The Complete Atlantic Singles on Blogcritics.