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In Memoriam Vol. 2

December 27th, 2009 8 comments

Here is the second part of musicians who died in 2009. Part 3 will follow early in the new year. I make no claims of having arrived at a complete and exhaustive list of musicians who left us the past year. Some I didn”t include because their names or output is unfamiliar to me, or just not my scene; and a few I left out because I have no music by them, and could not find any.

Finally, in response to an e-mail, the photo gallery follows the order in which people are listed. So Dave Dee is on the top left, Uriel Jones next to him, MJ (listed third) left second from top and so on.

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Dave Dee, 67, of “60s hit group Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich, on January 9
Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich – The Legend Of Xanadu (1968)

Uriel Jones, 74, drummer of Motown backing band collective The Funk Brothers, who played on songs such as Marvin Gaye”s I Heard It Trough The Grapevine, The Temptations” Cloud Nine, and the song below, on March 24.
Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell – Ain’t No Mountain High Enough (1967)

Michael Jackson, 50, pop singer and former childstar with the Jackson 5 (the b-side of whose 1971 hit I”ll Be There features here), on June 25
Jackson Five – One More Chance (1971)

Bob Bogle, 75, member of surf rock band The Ventures, on June 14
The Ventures – Scat In The Dark (1970)

Billy Powell, 59, Lynyrd Skynyrd keyboardist, on January 28
Lynyrd Skynyrd – Simple Man (1973)

Ron Asheton, 60, guitarist of The Stooges, found dead on January 6
The Stooges – I Wanna Be Your Dog (1969)

Lux Interior, 62, frontman of punk legends The Cramps, on February 4
The Cramps – Human Fly (1978)

Johnny Jones, 73, leader of The King Casuals, alma mater of Jimi Hendrix, on October 14
Johnny Jones & the King Casuals – Purple Haze (1968)

Jim Dickinson, 67, R&B singer with The Jesters, pianist (on songs such as the Rolling Stones’ Wild Horses) and producer, on August 15
The Jesters – Cadillac Man (1966)

Clinton Ford, 77, English skiffle and country singer, on October 21
Clinton Ford – Huggin’ And A Chalkin’ (1962)

Al Alberts, 87, member of the Four Aces, on November 27
Four Aces – Love Is A Many Splendored Thing (1955)

Hank Locklin, 91, country legend, on March 8
Hank Locklin – Send Me The Pillow You Dream On (1960)

Liam Clancy, 74, last surviving member of the hugely influential folk group The Clancy Brothers, on December4.
The Clancy Brothers – The Leaving Of Liverpool (1964)

Mike Seeger, 75, folk singer, brother of Peggy and half-brother of Pete, on August 7
Mike Seeger & Paul Brown – Way Down In North Carolina (1996)

Chris Feinstein, 42, bassist of alt.country band The Cardinals, on December 14
Ryan Adams & The Cardinals – Follow The Lights (2007)

Jeff Hanson, 31, high-voiced singer-songwriter, on June 5
Jeff Hanson – Now We Know (2005)

Rudy Cain, 63, singer and founder of The Delfonics and Blue Magic, on April 9
The Delfonics – Ready Or Not Here I Come (1968)

Fayette Pinkney, 61, member of The Three Degrees, on June 27
Three Degrees – Dirty Old Man (1973)

Eric Woolfson, 64, Alan Parsons” sidekick in the Project who took lead vocals on the group”s biggest hit, Eye In The Sky, on December 2
The Alan Parsons Project – Sirius/Eye In The Sky (1982)

Jack Rose, 38, virtuoso guitarist, on December 5
Jack Rose – Kensington Blues (2005)

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In Memoriam Vol. 2

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In Memoriam 2009 Vol. 1

December 24th, 2009 13 comments

About the only reason why I still bother to watch awards shows is to catch the sequence of people who have died since the last show (and of late successive shows have contrived to fuck that up by going for “artistic” camera angles which don”t hep the TV viewer in identifying dead people). Here is my In Memoriam section, with mix-tapes, for 2009, including only musicians, in three parts. The second will run next week, and the third early in the new year to accommodate late entries. so please don”t shout at me for having failed to pick up that the little singer of the Jackson 5 has died; he”ll feature in the second instalment. Feel free, however, to shout at the Grammys for omitting many of the departed musicians I will highlight.

The order of musicians does not run in the chronology of death, but is dictated randomly by the requirements of mix-tape sequencing “” and the total aptness of leading with the Jim Carroll song as the theme of the mix. The songs featured on the mix should remind us what a debt we owe to those who have gone, and in some cases how much we are going to miss them, or cause us regret that we did not get to know them better.

Rest in Peace, y”all.

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Jim Carroll, 60, post-punk musician and writer of The Basketball Diaries, on September 11.
The Jim Carroll Band – People Who Died (1980)

Willy DeVille, 58, punk musician, on August 6
Mink DeVille – Just To Walk That Little Girl Home (1980)

Al Martino, 82, crooner and actor (Johnny Fontane in The Godfather), on October 13
Al Martino – To The Door Of The Sun (1974)

Ellie Greenwich, 68, Brill Building songwriter and occasional singer, on August 26
Ellie Greenwich – I Can Hear Music (1973)

Rusty Wier, 65, country singer and songwriter, on October 9
Rusty Wier – High Road, Low Road (1976)

John Martyn, 60, singer-songwriter, on January 29
John Martyn – Ways To Cry (1973)

Jay Bennett, 45, multi-instrumentalist, engineer, ex-Wilco member, on May 25
Jay Bennett & Edward Burch – Forgiven (2002)

Taylor Mitchell, 19, Canadian singer-songwriter, killed by coyotes on October 28
Taylor Mitchell – Don’t Know How I Got Here (2009)

Mary Travers, 72, folk singer and a third of Peter, Paul & Mary, on September 16
Mary Travers – Five Hundred Miles (1973)

Gordon Waller, 64, half of “60s duo Peter & Gordon (represented here with a Lennon/McCartney composition), on July 17
Peter & Gordon – I Don’t Want To See You Again (1964)

Estelle Bennett, 67, member of The Ronettes and sister of Ronnie Spector, on February 11
The Ronettes – Silhouettes (1962)

Dewey Martin, 68, Buffalo Springfield drummer, on January 31
Buffalo Springfield – Sit Down, I Think I Love You (1966)

Billy Lee Riley, 75, rockabilly singer on Sun Records (sometimes backed by Jerry Lee Lewis on piano, as on this song), on August 2
Billy Riley – Pearly Lee (1957)

Gale Storm, 87, actress and singer born Josephine Owaissa Cottle, on June 27
Gale Storm – Dark Moon (1957)

Huey Long, 105, last surviving member of the Ink Spots (whom he joined in 1944), on June 10
Ink Spots – To Each His Own (1946)

Chris Connor, 81, jazz singer born Mary Coutsenhizer, on August 29
Chris Connor – They All Laughed (1957)

Kenny Rankin, 69, pop and jazz singer, on June 7
Kenny Rankin – Sunday Kind Of Love (1975)

Koko Taylor, 80, blues singer, on June 3
Koko Taylor – I Don’t Care No More (1985)

Johnny Carter, 75, R&B singer with The Flamingos and The Dells, on August 21
The Dells – The Love We Had (Stays On My Mind) (1971)

Leroy Smith, 56, founder and keyboardist of UK soul group Sweet Sensation, on January 15
Sweet Sensation – Sad Sweet Dreamer (1975)

Viola Wills, 69, soul singer who made a comeback as disco diva, on May 6
Viola Wills – Gonna Get Along Without You Now (1979)

Eddie Bo, 79, funky blues legend, on March 18
Eddie Bo – We’re Doing It (The Thang Pt1) (1970)

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\In Memoriam Vol. 1

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Albums of the Year: 2009

December 22nd, 2009 7 comments

You can finally exhale: here are my top 20 albums of 2009. Apart from the two top spots, the order is rather random. Ask me in ten minutes” time, and Grizzly Bear or M. Ward might sit at number 3 and 4. I”ve put sample tracks of each album on a mix; the song titles appear at the end each abstract.

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1. Richard Hawley – Truelove”s Gutter
I didn’t expect Hawley to top his majestic 2005 album Coles Corner. A profoundly soulful pop symphony with accomplished and unusual instrumentation, Truelove”s Gutter may very well be the best album of the decade.
(Open Up Your Door) Homepage

2. Ben Kweller – Changing Horses
Kweller at last finds his sound (changing horses?) with an outstanding country album that provides an antidote to the corporate side of the genre. An absolute joy.
(Gypsy Rose) Homepage

3. Wilco – Wilco (The Album)
Wilco are incapable of releasing a bad album. The eponymous album will probably not go down in the band’s history as a classic, but it’s solid quality.
(You And I) Homepage

4. Brandi Carlile – Give Up The Ghost
It took me a few listens to realise just how good an album this Rick Rubin-produced effort is. Stay-At-Home Indie Pop put it better than I could: “Anthemic, brash, cool”¦ the abc of Brandi, and I could go on to devilish, euphoric, fresh but fragile, and beyond (to gargantuan, hoarse-heavenly, incandescent), but all I want to really do is pathetically declare my love.” But will you still do so when Brandi gets that first clutch of Grammys, Indie-Pop? See if you can guess, without googling, with whom Carlile duets on Caroline.
(Caroline) Homepage

5. Farryl Purkiss – Fruitbats & Crows
The South African singer-songwriter dude returns three years after his excellent full debut with rockier effort. Purkiss draws his influences widely but manages to create his own coherent, late night sound.
(Seraphine) Homepage

6. Elvis Perkins – Elvis Perkins In Dearland
Here”s what I wrote earlier this year: Imagine Dylan as an indie artist, but with an appealing voice. There is a bit of an experimental edge to it, which in the wrong mood can be annoying, but exhilarating in the right mood.
(Doomsday) MySpace

7. Prefab Sprout – Let’s Change The World With Music
Released 17 years after it was actually recorded, this is supposed to be Paddy McAloon”s lost masterpiece. It’s not a masterpiece, but a damn good, and very accessible album, on which McAloon is on a bit of a God trip.
(Last Of The Great Romantics) MySpace

8. Neko Case – Middle Cyclone
Pitchfork calls the New Pornographer “a force of nature”. Hackneyed turns of phrases, even when they intend to pun on an album title, sometimes are just the most appropriate. Case is so much a force of nature that listening to the album can leave the listener exhausted.
(People Got A Lotta Nerve) Homepage

9. Monsters of Folk – Homework
I should love this. Two Bright Eyes guys, M. Ward and the singer of My Morning Jacket, and a batch of very good songs. It”s a fine album, and yet it fills me with a sense of unease, the same vibe I got from the Travelin” Wilburys (and one song here sounds like a Wilburys track!). And yet, I keep returning to Homework
(Man Named Truth) Homepage

10. Peasant – On The Ground
This deserved more of a buzz. Nicely crafted guy-with-guitar stuff that recalls Joshua Radin and, yeah, Elliot Smith, with a bit of Simon & Garfunkel. A lovely cool-down album.
(Fine Is Fine) MySpace

11. Eels – Hombre Lobo
E offers nothing much new here, but, hey, it’s an Eels album, and does everything you want an Eels album to do. That”s enough for me.
(That Look You Give That Guy) Homepage

12. Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest
Beguiling and frequently surprising. It”s an aural extravaganza. Now, which Ben Folds does Two Weeks borrow its riff from?
(Two Weeks) MySpace

13. Mindy Smith – Stupid Love
Indie-Pop may be in love with Brandi Carlile; I declare my (admittedly promiscuous) love for the likewise deceptively named Mindy Smith. Stupid Love, it must be said, is not as breathtaking an album as Mindy”s debut, One Moment More, but it has Mindy”s beautiful voice and pleasant enough songs.
(What Went Wrong) Homepage

14. Bob Evans – Goodnight Bull Creek
I”m a great fan of Evans” 2006 sophomore album, Suburban Songs. Like that set, Goodnight Bull Creek was recorded in Nashville. Creek lacks the immediately catchy songs of the previous album, but has a much richer, textured production.
(Brother, O Brother) Homepage

15. Jason Paul Johnston – Willows Motel
Solid country, recalling Prine rather than Twitty. And just when I think Johnstone has settled into predictable country mode, he pulls something that makes me think, “What the fuck was that?”
(She’s A Friend) MySpace

16. Marissa Nadler – Little Hells
Again, to quote myself: I am not acquainted with Nadler”s previous effort; apparently it is gloomier than Little Hells. Well, this one isn’t a courtjesters” convention of heedless madcappery either. It is, however, a beautiful, hypnotic album which draws much of its inspiration from medieval, cloistered sounds.
(Rosary) Homepage.

17. M. Ward – Hold Time
Here Ward draws from the heritage of country and soul, from the Beach Boys and from Spector “” the choice of two covers affirm the retro vibe: an excellent cover of Buddy Holly”s Rave On, a less than brilliant rendition of Hank Williams” Oh Lonesome Me (featuring Hank Sr”s namesake Lucinda). The production is polished, the sound a lot more mainstream than previous albums
(Rave On) Homepage

18. Loney, Dear – Dear John
Our Swedish homestudio-bound genius returns with another magical multi-layered chamber-pop epic which is at once orchestral and, largely thanks to the man’s voice, intimate.
(Airport Surroundings) Homepage

19. Micah P Hinson – All Dressed Up And Smelling Of Strangers
I am not a big fan over covers albums. Usually they are self-conscious about doing something “different” with a song, or issue redundant carbon copies. Cover albums work when the performer is idiosyncratic, so unique that he or she need not try to make a song sound differently. Johnny Cash pulled it off; and for the most part Hinson does so here, where he takes on the likes of Sinatra (My Way, the ambitious fucker!), Leadbelly, Holly, Dylan, Beatles and John Denver, armed mostly only with his trusty guitar and croaking voice.
(This Old Guitar) Homepage

20. Laura Gibson – Beasts of Seasons
Pitchfork nailed it when their reviewer called the singer-songwriter  Gibson”s music as “far better suited to a fireplace and a cup of warm apple cider than to your local Starbucks”. Beasts of Seasons is bleak and beautiful.
(Funeral Song) MySpace

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More Albums of the Year

Beatles bizarre

December 18th, 2009 10 comments

There are several blogs that offer any number of Beatles rarities; for Beatles fans like myself suffering under the dictate of arbitrary and cruel bandwidth limits, there is a need to be selective. So I don”t downloaded from them. And yet, I have accumulated a fair bit of Beatles curiosities, some of them actually entertaining. Here are some of them.
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The Beatles ““ Christmas Single 1965.mp3
The Beatles ““ Christmas Single 1968.mp3
The Beatles – Christmas Time (Is Here Again).mp3

Starting in 1963, the Beatles issued annual Christmas flexi discs exclusively to members of their official fan clubs. Besides sincere Christmas greetings, these consisted of a whole lot of free-associating riffing by our four friends, singing a bit in a humorous vein (the group rendition of Yesterday in 1965 is amusingly off-key), Lennon delivering his poetry, and the enactments of gags that showed the influence of The Goons on the Fabs. Some of it, such as the 1966 single, is impenetrable unless one appreciates The Goons (which I don”t).

The 1968 (notable for Tiny Tim doing violence to Nowhere Man) and 1969 singles were recorded separately, unlike all the previous offerings. The 1969 single was issued at a time when the group had virtually split already, even if the dissolution became official only on April 10, 1974. It features a giggly Yoko “interviewing” John (who always seemed to enjoy making these singles the most) and John looking forward to the 1970s (Yoko optimistically predicts that there”ll be “peace and freedom” in the new decade, John evidently takes a more cynical view), Paul is singing This Is To Wish You A Merry, Merry Christmas, George pops up briefly to deliver a quick greeting, and Ringo appears only to promote his movie The Magic Christian.

Christmas Time (Is Here Again) is a Beatles composition “” all four share the writing credit “” released on the 1967 single. There it goes on for more than six minutes. The version here is the shortened version that appeared on the b-side of Free As A Bird.

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Nilsson – You Can”t Do That.mp3
Recorded for his 1967 debut album Pandemonium Shadow Show, Harry Nilsson covered the b-side of Can”t Buy Me Love, and worked in references “” lyrical or musical “” to 20 other Beatles songs (the LP also included a cover of She”s Leaving Home). Indeed, in the beginning it isn”t entirely clear which Beatles song he is actually covering (unless, of course, one knows the title). John Lennon was a particularly big fan of Nilsson”s album. The mutual appreciation developed into one of pop”s most famous friendships.

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Mystery Tour – Ballad Of Paul.mp3
Terry Knight – Saint Paul.mp3

The initial Paul Is Dead rumour preceded the release of Abbey Road by a week. The album”s cover “confirmed” that Macca was indeed dead, but the story began with an error-filled student newspaper article publishd on 18 September 1969 by one Tim Harper for the Drake University”s Times-Delphic. From Harper”s fertile imagination sprang a wild conspiracy theory which caused quite a hysteria. There is an 8-CD series of radio recordings covering in detail the reaction to Paul”s death. The moderately talented Mystery Tour (yes, Mystery Tour) explained why the evidence of Paul” death, with reference to the Abbey Road cover, of course (apparently left-handers are incapable of smoking with their right hand). We also learn that “John Lennon is a holy man”, who “provided lots of clues” as to the conspiracy of Paul”s death and its cover-up. This site has all the answers: it was them Rolling Stones wot dun Paul in, Constable.

Record producer and general music pusher Terry Knight”s single came out before the Paul Is Dead hoax started. He had met the Beatles at a fraught time during the White Album sessions in 1968. Convinced that the Beatles would break up soon, he wrote Saint Paul. His single was released in May 1969, before Harper”s article. Once the rumour had gathered pace, however, Knight”s single was presented as an obituary to Paul, feeding the rumour mill further. Knight himself became the subject of obituaries when he was murdered in 2004 while protecting his daughter from a clearly unsuitable boyfriend.

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May West – Day Tripper.mp3
We”ve had Mae West warbling Twist And Shout (HERE). So how might the septegenarian top that? Why, by doing Day Tripper, of course. Her interpretation, as it turned out, was unnecessary, because time has shown the Beatles” original to be quite adequate, even without the sub-Jimi Hendrix antics at 1:13, which morph into a Chuck Berry-lite solo, and Ms West”s seductive moanings. Still, if Liza Minelli as Lucille 2 planned to record an album of Beatles covers, she”ll have a perfect reference point.

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Mrs Miller ““ A Hard Day”s Night.mp3
Peter Sellers ““ A Hard Day”s Night.mp3
Goldie Hawn – A Hard Day”s Night.mp3

Bless Mrs Miller. She was serious and entirely unironic about her singing, but also possessed the self-awareness to know that she was a bit of a joke. She did her limited best, and was aware that there was no consensual admiration of her singing chops. Though she never intended to create comedy”” she was motivated to disseminate her art widely as a way of inspiring others “” she knew that her cult status was based on listeners deriving amusement from her stylings. Her version of Hard Day”s Night is notable for her lapses in timing and the aggressive licence she takes with reaching the right notes.

Peter Sellers “” a Goon Show alumni, of course “” released a series of comedy versions of Beatles songs, some funnier than others. His Dr Strangelove take on She Loves You is inspired (and will feature at a later point with more Beatles curiosities). Sellers performs A Hard Day”s Night in the manner of Laurence Olivier as Shakespeare”s Richard III. Released as a single in late 1965 (backed with his take on Help, which will also feature at some point), it reached #14 in the British charts in early 1966.

In 1998, Beatles producer George Martin recorded reimagined versions of songs by his former charges, with a roster of guest vocalists taking turns to perform singing duties. Some of these invitees were not terrible good ideas, least of the insufferable Robin Williams (who admirably managed to go a few minutes without turning into a gay hairdresser). Another of these questionable ideas was to ask a giggly Goldie Hawn to sing A Hard Day”s Night, to a smoothy swinging backing track, on which she plays the piano. She feels “okey dokey”. The listener, when hearing Goldie”s vocals, probably less so.

Albums of the Year: 2007

December 15th, 2009 No comments

This is the final part of the series of my favourite top ten albums of every year through the “00s. And to celebrate it, I accidentally wrote 11 reviews. So these are a top 11 then. There is still a link up to my top 20 albums of 2008, which covers that year, and I”ll post a similar mix of my top 20 for 2009 once I have decided which they are. As before, I”m sad to leave out some fine albums from “07, including efforts by Josh Ritter, Kate Walsh, Laura Gibson, Rilo Kiley, Jens Lekman, Maria Taylor, Rickie Lee Jones, Feist, Billie the Vision & the Dancers, A Fine Frenzy, The National, Brooke Fraser, Foo Fighters, Over The Rhine, Andrew Bird, Josh Rouse, Iron & Wine, Miranda Lambert, Sarah Borges & the Broken Singles, Common, Tim McGraw, The Shins, Abra Moore”¦

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Wilco – Sky Blue Sky

The Wilco cognoscenti are rather too ready to dismiss the unpretentious Sky Blue Sky, measuring it against the experimentations of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost Is Born. This is an uncomplicated album, and does what its creators set out to do admirably. Here, Jeff Tweedy and chums eschew cacophonic innovations for a straight-forward, mellow rock album that channels the “60s (Dylan, Grateful Dead, Abbey Road-era Beatles) and “70s (Van Morrison, Pink Floyd, the Eagles, Thin Lizzy) without losing its identity as a Wilco album. Sky Blue Sky is immediate and intimate. Nels Cline”s guitar work is an utter joy. The highlight here is Impossible Germany, with Jeff Tweedy and Nels Cline duelling on a magnificent guitar solo, an integral part of the song”s lyrics, that borrows from Gary Moore (check out Thin Lizzy”s Sarah) and Carlos Santana.
Wilco – Either Way.mp3
Wilco ““ Impossible Germany.mp3

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Brandi Carlile – The Story

The name Brandi Carlile suggests a fake-breasted airhead straight outta the Playboy Mansion. As the reader may have guessed by dint of her inclusion on this list, that notion is way of the mark. Carlile is a hugely talented writer and singer of solid rock and country-rock songs. I liked her eponymous 2005 debut, which was rather more rootsy than this set. Here Carlile straddles genres, veering from rock (My Song) to folk-pop (Turpentine) to country (“Have You Ever”). Her distinctive voice can whisper softly and soar ferociously (hear the climactic Joplinesque roar on the title track). The lyrics booklet reveals that Carlile wrote some of the songs as a teenager in 2000 or earlier, hinting at a precocious talent.
Brandi Carlile ““ The Story.mp3

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Loney, Dear – Loney Noir

The bizzarely named Loney, Dear (real name Emil Svanängen) is something of a genius working in his Stockholm bedroom studio, in which he conducts an orchestra consisting of himself. Operating mostly under the cover of earphones so as not to wake the rest of the household, his songs tend to start softly before building up to a multi-layered, orgasmic crescendo. The melodies are pretty “” even twee, in the way Belle & Sebastian are twee “” and Svanängen”s high and slight voice is appealing enough, within the context of his music. But I have no idea whether the lyrics are any good; I”ve never really listened to them; I rather have the bedroom symphonies wash over me.
Loney, Dear – Saturday Waits.mp3
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Nicole Atkins – Neptune City

Neptune City came out at a time when Amy Winehouse, another artists borrowing from pop”s rich legacy, was absolutely everywhere. I prefer Atkins” eclectic references over Winehouse”s mannered soul pastiche. Neptune City is, in places, like Petula Clark covering Blondie through an ABBA filter “” glorious pop. On other tracks, Atkins does torchsong soul (“The Way It Is”), or goes into “80s throwback mode, sounding like the B-52s as sung by Sandie Shaw on Broadway (“Love Surreal” or the rousing “Brooklyn On Fire”, which featured here). Elsewhere there are hints of Phil Spector”s production and Edith Piaf and Joni Mitchell. It should be a total retro mess, but it isn”t. It sounds entirely modern. Neptune City may not be an entirely cohesive album, but it is rather fabulous.
Nicole Atkins – Love Surreal.mp3

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Holmes Brothers – State Of Grace

Some time ago I posted the Holmes” Brothers gospel-blues style cover of Cheap Trick”s I Want You To Want Me (HERE) from this album. That track was my introduction to the Holmes Brothers, who had released nine albums before this one, starting in 1991 “” more than three decades after the two Holmes brothers, Sherman and Wendell, started in the music business. The third member, drummer Popsy Dixon, hooked up with them in the mid-“60s. But they did not become the Holmes Brothers until 1979, having spent the interim as a covers bar-band. Covering blues, soul, gospel, country and even a spot of bluegrass, State Of Grace is warm and often surprising, especially in the Virginian group”s interpretation of other people”s songs, which include tracks by Lyle Lovett (twice), Credence Clearwater Revival, Nick Lowe, Hank Williams Sr and Johnny Mathis. Guesting here with the three brothers are Joan Osborne (who championed the Holmes Brothers in the 1990s), The Band”s Levon Helms and Rosanne Cash. Featured here is the Hank Williams song, featuring Cash.
The Holmes Brothers (with Rosanne Cash) – I Can”t Help It If I’m Still In Love With You.mp3

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Panda Bear ““ Person Pitch

I can”t claim to be much of an Animal Collective fan. I”m sure I would be if I had the patience to get into them. I was not going to have patience either with this solo album by Collective”s drummer Noah Lennox. But I was attracted to it by the cover art and a glowing Pitchfork review. For some reason I ended up playing Person Pitch on loop, and was entranced by it. The critics in their reviews invariably referenced Brian Wilson, and coming a couple of years after SmiLE (another album I got into by playing it on loop) was released, that is neither surprising nor inaccurate. Person Pitch is a glorious psychedelic trip, especially the epic Bros, that owes a tip of the hat also to the Beatles.

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Richard Hawley ““ Lady”s Bridge

It is this album”s misfortune to be chronologically sandwiched between Hawley”s two masterpieces, 2005″s Coles Corner and this year”s Truelove”s Gutter, two of the decades finest albums. Lady”s Bridge may not quite reach the heights of those masterpieces, but it gets damn close. It is a very, very good album, with no weak point. It is mostly a sad collection. The gorgeous opener, Valentine, will move the vulnerable listener to tears, or close to it, especially when the strings swell and the drums emphasise the anguish. A couple of rockabilly songs and the upbeat Tonight The Streets Are Ours lighten the mood before suitably gloomy (and very lovely) songs called Our Darkness and The Sun Refused To Shine close the set.

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Missy Higgins – On A Clear Night

Where Missy Higgins full debut album The Sound Of White (with its astonishing title track) was mostly plaintive in sound; On A Clear Night is more accessible and upbeat. Higgins invests her intelligent lyrics with evocative vocals. The Sound Of White dealt much with trauma and depression; On A Clear Night is frequently life affirming, talking of escape, healing and self-assertion. Thankfully Higgins” toned down her distinctive Australian accent which previously came perilously close to making her sound like an Aussie wicketkeeper. This is the kind of album that may at first seem slight, but its depth reveals itself after repeated listens. Crowded House”s Neil Finn makes an appearance on the album, contributing guitar to Peachy and backing vocals to the lovely Going North. That”s what it says on the booklet; I can barely hear the guy.
Missy Higgins ““ Going North.mp3

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Bright Eyes ““ Cassadaga

In 2005, Bright Eyes” I”m Wide Awake, It”s Morning was by far my album of the year. It was an immediately accessible album in ways its predecessors were not. Cassadaga is not as easy to fall in love with as I”m Wide Awake. It is a grower which requires a few spins before its full beauty reveals itself. Songs that at first do not seem much creep into the ear slowly, and then take root. It is a richly textured, and cohesive album. Connor Oberst”s poetic lyrics are delivered here with greater self-assurance and less of a quiver than on preceding albums. At times, the album overreaches in its ambitions, and another spoken intro on the first track is simply pretentious. For this album Oberst roped in guests such as the marvellous Maria Taylor, Gillian Welch and Rilo Kiley”s Jason Boesel (whose backing vocals on the excellent “If The Brakeman Turns My Way” provide an album highlight).
Bright Eyes – If The Brakeman Turns My Way.mp3

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Rosie Thomas – These Friends Of Mine

Rosie Thomas’ fourth album is her most consistent. It”s for albums like these that the hackneyed phrase “achingly beautiful” was invented for. On These Friends Of Mine, she is supported by her friends Damien Jurado, Denison Witmer and Sufjan Stevens. The lyrical thread running through the album is love and New York, sometimes both together. Recorded as live, the album is engagingly intimate. The sparse, moving “Why Waste More Time?” is preceded by an appealingly giggly count-in. The cover version of R.E.M.”s “The One I Love”, nice though it is, seems redundant, but Tomas” interpretation of Fleetwood Mac”s “Songbird” captures the intense delicacy of the original. The highlight, however, is “Much Farther To Go”, a love song in which the arrangement, harmonies and lyrics coalesce to create an evocative hymn to deep yearning (like Nicole Atkins” Brooklyn”s On Fire, it featured here).
Rosie Thomas – If This City Never Sleeps.mp3

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Colbie Caillat ““ Coco

Like Lily Allen and Kate Nash before her, Colbie Caillat launched herself into the pop charts on the strength of Internet buzz. Releasing her music first on MySpace, she was soon picked up by the music blog community. Her debut album, titled rather cornily after her childhood nickname, is breezy folk-pop of the sort usually associated, by way of deceptive shorthand, with the rather more boring Jack Johnson. In sound Caillat is much closer to Tristan Prettyman, her fellow Californian who burst on to the scene equally unexpectedly in 2005. This is summer music, agreeably laid-back yet effervescent, and, crucially, not banal.
Colbie Caillat – Battle.mp3

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My top 10 albums for 2008 (not a vintage year) were:
Jay Brannan ““ Goddamned
Ron Sexsmith ““ Exit Strategy Of The Soul
Tift Merritt ““ Another Country
The Weepies ““ Hideaway
Jenny Lewis ““ Acid Tongue
Kathleen Edwards ““ Asking For Flowers
Conor Oberst ““ Conor Oberst
Ben Folds ““ Way To Normal
Hello Saferide ““ More Modern Short Stories”¦
Neil Diamond ““ Home Before Dark

Full post here

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X-Mas In Black & White Vol. 2

December 11th, 2009 13 comments

The first Christmas in Black & White retro mix was quite popular (if not so much in numbers of comments than in numbers of downloads). So here is a second volume, as promised. The oldest song here is Paul Whiteman’s Christmas Night In Harlem from 1934 (more of which shortly), followed closely by Tommy Dorsey’s early cover of Santa Claus Is Coming To Town, from 1935. The youngest track on the mix is Dean Martin’s A Marshmallow World, which even in 1966 must have sounded a little dated. The best song must be Art Carney’s Santa And The Doodle-li-boop.

Whiteman”s Christmas Night In Harlem is a bit dodgy. It includes some racial stereotyping we would rightly object to today. Louis Armstrong in the “50s recorded a cleaned-up version of it later, as did Ramsey Lewis. So let it be clearly noted that I do not endorse racial stereotyping, even if it was unremarkable in the 1930s. Even so, it is a song of historical value. Whiteman was one of the big bandleaders of the time, but is rather forgotten now. And yet, Duke Ellington described Whiteman as “The king of Jazz”, a title Ellington has some claim to himself (provided we crown Armstrng the emperor). Singing with Whiteman”s band here are Johnny Mercer, the great Tin Pan Alley alumnus, and trombonist and singer Jack Teagarden. It includes an early usage of the word “dog” (today spelled “dawg”, I believe) as a form of address.

Another remarkable jazz record is Slam Stewart’s take on Jingle Bells; the annoying old chestnut becomes a rather good tune in Stewart’s bass-playing hands.

Fans of originals will appreciate Spike Jones’ 1948 recording of All I Want for Christmas (Is My Two Front Teeth), with the vocals by his band’s trumpeter, George Rock, then 29. The song had been written in 1944 by second-grade music teacher Donald Yetter Gardner after surveying the dental state of his pupils.

The collection ends on a note of bah humbug, with Paddy Roberts voicing some misgivings in 1962 which give lie to the notion that the crass commercialism of Christmas is a recent phenomenon. Of course it isn’t. As we saw on the first mix, Red Foley demanded already in 1953 that Christ be put back into Christmas.

As always, the mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R, and I have banged together another front and back cover, with Norman Rockwell art, for those who have use for them (does anybody though?).

TRACKLISTING:
1. Andy Williams – Happy Holiday/The Holiday Season (1963)
2. Frank Sinatra – The Christmas Waltz (1957)
3. Dean Martin – A Marshmallow World (1966)
4. Gene Autry – Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer (1949)
5. Art Carney – Santa And The Doodle-li-boop (1954)
6. Nat ‘King’ Cole – Caroling, Caroling (1963)
7. Margaret Whiting & Jimmy Wakely – Silver Bells (1950)
8. Doris Day – I’ll Be Home For Christmas (1964)
9. Bing Crosby – God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen (1942)
10. Slam Stewart Quartet – Jingle Bells (1945)
11. Frankie Laine – You’re All I Want For Christmas (1948)
12. Eddie Cantor – The Only Thing I Want For Christmas (1939)
13. Louis Prima & his New Orleans Gang – What Will Santa Claus Say (1936)
14. Tommy Dorsey & his Orchestra – Santa Claus Is Coming To Town (1935)
15. Andrews Sisters with Guy Lombardo – Christmas Island (1948)
16. Louis Armstrong – Christmas In New Orleans (1955)
17. Leadbelly – Christmas Is A-Comin’ (Chicken Crows At Midnight) (1941)
18. Elvis Presley – Blue Christmas (1957)
19. Hank Snow – Reindeer Boogie (1953)
20. The Youngsters – Christmas In Jail (1955)
21. Paul Whiteman & his Orchestra – Christmas Night In Harlem (1934)
22. Michel Warlop with Django Reinhardt – Christmas Swing (1937)
23. The Paris Sisters – Christmas In My Hometown (1954)
24. Gayla Peevey – I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas (1958)
25. Spike Jones – All I Want for Christmas (Is My Two Front Teeth) (1948)
26. Art Mooney – Santa Claus Looks Just Like Daddy (1955)
27. Red Foley and the Little Foleys – Frosty The Snowman (1951)
28. Vince Guaraldi Trio – Christmas Time Is Here (1965)
29. Paddy Roberts – Merry X-Mas You Suckers (And A Happy New Year) (1962)

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Albums of the Year: 2006

December 9th, 2009 4 comments

And here are my top 10 albums of 2006. I”m sad to omit albums by Jenny Lewis & the Watson Twins, Mindy Smith, Josh Ritter, Donavon Frankenreiter, Ben Kweller, Roddy Frame, Dévics, Belle & Sebastian, Josh Rouse, Phoenix, Harris Tweed, Counting Crows, Regina Spektor, I’m From Barcelona, Snow Patrol”¦ As always, I emphasise that these are my personal favourites, albums I still dig out; it certainly is not a list of the year”s “best” albums, never mind the critics” favourites.

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Crowded House – Farewell To The World

This is a strange choice for the top album of 2006, because it was recorded ten years earlier, at Crowded House”s final concert in Sydney in 1996. I may be drawing the wrath of all serious Crowded House fans when I declare that the version of almost every song here is superior to the studio recording. One highlight, of course, is Don”t Dream It”s Over, the sheer brilliance of which is not diminished by its ubiquity. It is the final song of the set, and Neil Finn graciously allows the crowd to sing the final line. On the DVD, there is a touching shot of a tearful drummer Paul Hester, all the more poignant now, since his suicide in 2005. The live versions of When You Come, Distant Sun, World Where You Live, Something So Strong, Private Universe and even Better be Home Soon in particular eclipse their original recordings.
Crowded House ““ Better Be Home Soon.mp3
Crowded House ““ Don”t Dream It”s Over.mp3

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Alexi Murdoch ““ Time Without Consequence

In the review of 2003, I included Murdoch”s debut EP, Four Songs. It took the London-born singer a while to finish his full debut. It was worth the wait. Murdoch is often compared to Nick Drake “” the default measure to which all acoustic musicians with a soft voice are liable to be held. The comparison does stick on at least one point: the music of both Drake and Murdoch sounds much simpler than it really is. Love You More, for example, mesmerises on strength of minimalist lyrics and the absence of a chorus that might relieve the ardency of Murdoch”s declaration. Murdoch”s gentle intensity is quite compelling throughout. Musical scouts for TV series certainly seem to think so: Murdoch”s music has featured in several hit shows, including Grey”s Anatomy, House, Ugly Betty, The O.C. and Dirty Sexy Money (and that”s just the shows that featured the majestic Orange Sky). The song Home was used to great effect in the second season of Prison Break, when Mahone persuades Haywire to commit suicide.
Alexi Murdoch ““ Home.mp3

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The Weepies – Say I Am You

Do not be misled by the frankly unappealing name which Deb Talan and Steve Tannen adopted, for The Weepies” folk-pop is not mawkish. And don”t be deceived by the cute cover, for The Weepies are not unrelentingly cute. Of course, Gotta Have You is cute, in the best possible way, as is Take It From Me. But there are poignant moments, such as World Spins Madly On, Riga Girls, Love Doesn”t Last Too Long, and Suicide Blonde (all Tannen songs). Talan is the counterweight to Tannen”s melancholy, especially with the lovely Not Your Year, which argues the case for optimism in adversity.
The Weepies – Take It From Me.mp3

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James Hunter – People Are Gonna Talk

James Hunter, a white soulboy from Colchester, England, sounds a lot like Sam Cooke. On People Are Gonna Talk, that provides us with the benefit of imaging what Cooke might have sounded like had he dabbled in ska occasionally. That”s the sound here: “60s soul with a generous hint of “60s reggae. Hunter made his influences apparent from the start: in the 1980s he fronted a group called Howlin’ Wilf and the Vee-Jays, at which point fellow soul afficionado Van Morrison discovered Hunter (apparently at the prompting of his local newsagent), and even appeared on his debut album, 1996″s Believe What I Say. A decade and another album later, People Are Gonna Talk was a breakthrough for Hunter, who earned a Grammy nomination “” in the Blues category, just where an album entirely lacking in Blues belongs. The sound of People Are Gonna Talk may be solidly “60s, but it is not in any way a derivative pastiche, never mind a tribute. Hunter lives in the genre, and doesn”t need to try hard to persuade us of his authenticity. It”s not even “blue eyed soul”; Hunter is a true soul singer. Cooke, Wilson and Redding would have approved.
James Hunter – I”ll Walk Away.mp3

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Bob Evans – Suburban Songbook

Kevin Mitchell left Aussie indie rockers Jebediah, changed his name to Bob Evans and became a country rocker. Recorded in Nashville and produced by Brad Jones (who has also produced Josh Rouse, Jill Sobule and Yo La Tengo), Suburban Songbook“s cheerful sound deflects the melancholy of many of Evans” lyrics. Which is just as well, because Evans is an uneven lyricist, writing a brilliant line one minute, and a trite song the next. Suburban Songbook won the Australian equivalent of the Grammys (the ARIA Music Award), but, alas, that hasn”t helped break him big internationally.
Bob Evans ““ Sadness & Whiskey.mp3

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Joshua Radin – We Were Here

Alexi Murdoch gets the Drake comparisons, and Joshua Radin even more so, even though a nod to Elliot Smith seems more pertinent. On his full debut, Radin whispers more than he sings. Apparently the hushed voice, which works so well with his affecting lyrics and gentle melodies, was imposed by the circumstance of Radin recording his songs in a New York apartment. A considerate man, he obviously didn”t want to annoy the neighours. And like Murdoch, Radin has had several of his songs featured on the TV series circuit. Indeed, that”s how he made his breakthrough. The story goes that Radin gave a copy of his song Winter (which appeared on the enjoyable First Between 3rd And 4th EP, released in 2004) to Zach Braff of the show Scrubs, who included it on the show. Radin re-recorded Winter for the full debut.
Joshua Radin – Someone Else’s Life.mp3

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Eels – With Strings (Live At Town Hall)

As my list of omissions in the instalment for 2005 shows, one of my favourite albums of that year was Blinking Lights and Other Revelations, a double album that almost justified its length. With Strings incorporates much of Blinking Lights. As the title promises, on this live set E”s vocals are backed with strings. Setting rock to clsassical arrangement is an overused gimmick, and can create utter disasters (Meat Loaf”s philharmonic re-recording of Bat Out Of Hell!), though this is a rather unexpected combination. Happily, strings aren”t intrusive; the idea here clearly was not to go symphonic but to introduce something different into the live versions while maintaining the integrity of the studio versions. It works well, though not necessarily so well that these new versions eclipse the originals. The strings do add to the creepiness of Novocaine For The Soul, however, and emphasise the lonely sadness in It”s A Motherfucker.
Eels ““ It”s A Motherfucker.mp3

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Farryl Purkiss – Farryl Purkiss

I”ve bigged up the South African singer-songwriter before, most recently HERE. Purkiss” mellow, melodic sound, filled with memorable hooks, invites misleading comparisons with Jack Johnson, with whom he has collaborated. This is an introspective album, telling of relationships (with a woman, himself, the world) breaking down and then healing, of despair, and of having hope. South African artists rarely break big internationally. Purkiss deserves to reach a wide audience far beyond South Africa. Maybe he”ll get some attention after one of the songs from this set, Sticks And Stones, featured in an episode of Private Practice (a rather horrible TV show, populated by constantly smirking, deeply disagreeable characters).

I”ve mentioned the inclusion of artist”s music on TV shows a few times, so obviously I welcome it when artists I like are featured on soundtracks, or even commercials. Music blogs are one means by which the music researchers for TV shows and trendy soundtracks dig up artists who aren”t very well known. The licensing fees the artists receive for being featured on TV serials and commercials helps keep their heads above water, and having their music score a scene in a TV show or movie gives them the publicity they need to attract audiences to their concerts (who then, hopefully, buy CDs and merchandise at the gigs). It”s a new business model which allows performers maintain greater artistic control than they”d enjoy in the service of Corporate Music. So, researcher for Grey”s Anatomy, check out this song:
Farryl Purkiss – Escalator.mp3

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Catherine Feeny – Hurricane Glass

This was a folk-pop album I discovered quite by chance, on strength of its appealing cover, I think. Born in Philadelphia, Feeny lived in rural England when she recorded Hurricane Glass, an intimate album with intelligent lyrics telling of struggles with regret, disillusionment, insecurity, and melancholy. Frequently these struggles are mitigated by a sense of hope. Mr Blue, with its cute flugelhorn interlude, is probably the album”s best known song. It has featured on a few soundtracks, notably in Running With Scissors (the song featured in the Songbirds mix I posted last year).

On the song Unsteady Grounds, Feeny takes issue with the people who swallowed the barefaced lies propagated by Bush and Blair before the invasion of Iraq. Feeny does well to cast the net of blame for the unprovoked invasion of Iraq wider than the warmongers. Bush and Blair are representatives of a profession whose practitioners we are conditioned not to trust. The large and articulate opposition to the proposed war set out a compelling case that Bush and Blair were predicating their invasion on an audacious lie. Yet people believed them. More astonishingly, so many people swallowed their even more audacious lie: that they were “misinformed” by “faulty” “intelligence” (and then some). So many people believed patent bullshit that Bush and Cheney “”and indeed Tony Blair “” were re-elected.
Catherine Feeny – Touch Back Down.mp3

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Foo Fighters ““ Skin And Bones

Watching the DVD of this live set, I am always struck by the irony that former Nirvana drummer Grohl is the Foo Fighters” frontman and the Foo”s drummer, Taylor Hawkins, is a spitting image of Kurt Cobain. Did Grohl plan it that way? Here Grohl and pals strip the old alt.rock songs down to something approaching acoustic (hence the album”s title, which is also a fairly rare Foo Fighters song). For the most part, it works well. Most of these songs have substance even when they are not amplified by loud guitars. On the closing track, a superb version of Everlong, the band shows that they can make a hell of a noise even acoustic style.
Foo Fighters – Everlong.mp3

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Foo Fighters ““ Everlong.mp3

Intros Quiz – X-Mas edition

December 7th, 2009 2 comments

The eagle-eyed reader will have observed, if only by their extraordinary powers of deduction, that soon the feast of the Nativity of Our Lord and Saviour is due to be celebrated, with modesty, discretion and subtlety. To mark the event with the due solemnity, here is a special Christmas edition of the monthly intros quiz.

As always, each of the 20 intros is 5-7 seconds in length “” but I had to cheat a little with one song, which kicks off really long after five seconds. I will post the answers in the comments section by Thursday, so please don”t post your answers. If you can”t wait till then to find out what the blasted number 17 is, please feel free to e-mail me or, better, message me on Facebook. If you”re not my FB friend, click here and become one.

Intros Quiz – X-Mas edition

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Step back to 1974 – Part 2

December 4th, 2009 6 comments

And here is the second part of my recollections of 1974, the year I turned 8. As always, I”m at pains to emphasise that I am not endorsing all songs featured “” they are here by virtue of their power to transport me back to the year, like a smell or a taste or the shade of a particular colour might. Read more…

Any Major Christmas in Black & White

December 1st, 2009 17 comments

After offering a “Christmas mix, not for Mother“ last year, I feel obliged to make amends to your Mom by creating a mix she might like. Yes, it’s all gloriously retro this year. The youngest of the songs, as far as I can tell, is Jim Nabor’s version of Sleigh Ride from 1968; the oldest, Eddie Duchin’s (Don’t Wait Till) The Night Before Christmas, is 30 years older. Most of the songs here come from the 1940s and ’50s. A hurriedly put-together front and back CD cover is included, and as always the mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R, which might sort out the Christmas prezzie for some relatives. If this mix is popular enough, I’ll do a second volume. Let me know what you think in the comments section (you do know that bloggers really like to receive comments, so don”t be shy).

Fans of The Originals series will appreciate the first version of I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus by Jimmy Boyd, then 13, which was released in 1952. Boyd died in Mach this year at the age of 70.

TRACKLISTING
1. Sammy Davis, Jr – Christmas Time All Over The World
2. Burl Ives – A Holly Jolly Christmas
3. Billy May – Do You Believe In Santa Claus
4. Dean Martin – Rudolph, The Red-nosed Reindeer
5. Lena Horne – Santa Claus Is Comin To Town
6. Nat “˜King” Cole – Mrs. Santa Claus
7. Gene Autry – Here Comes Santa Claus
8. Andrews Sisters – Winter Wonderland
9. Connee Boswell – Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!
10. Dinah Washington – Ole Santa
11. Fontane Sisters – Nuttin’ For Christmas
12. Frank Sinatra – Jingle Bells
13. Brenda Lee – Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree
14. Ernest Tubb – Blue Christmas
15. Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys – Santa’s On His Way
16. Jogi Jorgensen – I Yust Go Nuts At Christmas
17. DeCastro Sisters – Snowbound For Christmas
18. Jim Nabors – Sleigh Ride
19. Perry Como – Silver Bells
20. Bing Crosby – Frosty The Snowman
21. Jimmy Boyd – I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus
22. Louis Armstrong – Zat You, Santa Claus?
23. Lionel Hampton & his Orchestra – Boogie Woogie Santa Claus
24. Judy Garland – Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
25. Ella Fitzgerald – The Secret Of Christmas
26. Eddy Duchin Orchestra – (Don’t Wait Till) The Night Before Christmas
27. Gordon Jenkins Orchestra – White Christmas
28. Les Brown Orchestra feat Doris Day – The Christmas Song
29. Red Foley – Put Christ Back Into Christmas
30. Rosemary Clooney – Happy Christmas, Little Friend

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