Sounds of the Season
Once again it’s time to go through the latest batch of holiday music releases. It seems each year a handful of new offerings add to this ever-growing musical genre.
My favorite release this year is A Very She & Him Christmas (Merge) from She & Him. The duo is actually producer M. Ward and the multi-talented Zooey Deschanel. This is their third release and it has a sparse, at times retro feel. While their holiday selections are not very unusual, they manage to make music with an authentic feel but with a fresh take.
The other stellar holiday release this year is Christmas (Reprise) from Michael Buble. Buble is an old hand at holiday music with limited-edition, now rare releases worth searching out. The Canadian crooner, who carries on the tradition of the great American popular singers such as Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett, finds just the right balance between tradition and today’s sounds. Buble is one of the most likeable singers in music today and the runaway success of this beautifully produced instant Christmas classic is no surprise.
Speaking of Tony Bennett, his The Classic Christmas Album (RPM/Columbia/Legacy) is reissued again. Bennett’s interpretations of Christmas music rank among the greatest recordings of the genre. Whether the recordings come from the earliest days of his career or more recently, and are backed by a big band or a small jazz group, these are American musical treasures.
A Holiday Carole (Hear Music) is Carole King’s first holiday album in her career that spans 50-years. The opening track, an interpretation of “My Favorite Things,” is given a production treatment much like her Tapestry hit “It’s Too Late.” This is a wonderful holiday release and sure to become a favorite.
Another new holiday entry this year that is destined to be a classic is A Vince Guaraldi Christmas Live at Middletree (Alderman) from The Ornaments. This live recording perfectly captures the spirit of Guaraldi’s score for the animated Peanuts television classic. The group focuses on the simple joy and beauty of Guaraldi’s compositions and also pays homage to one of the great jazz pianists of the cool West Coast era.
An Appalachian Christmas (OMAC) from Marc O’Connor mixes touches of folk, country, classical and jazz in a mostly instrumental album. There are also tracks that feature the vocals of Jane Monheit, Renee Flemming, Steve Wariner, Alison Krauss and James Taylor.
Easily the hippest, most progressive rock take on sounds of the season this year is Winterland (Vibro-Phonic) from the Jigsaw Seen. The band’s pop psychedelic sound is light and fun. What’s really great about this album is the band recorded its unique compositions and made an album one will play long after the egg nog has soured.
Jack Johnson’s label has its second holiday release, This Warm December: A Brushfire Holiday Vol. 2 (Brushfire) featuring Johnson, along with artists such as Rogue Wave, Matt Costa and others. This quirky and cool singer-songwriter compilation, much like the She & Him release, feels like something new to refresh the holiday genre.
There are a few other holiday releases not to miss. They include the original Broadway cast recording of Elf, The Broadway Musical (Ghostlight). Vanessa Carlton’s lovely four-song EP, Hear the Bells (Razor & Tie) includes a cover of John and Yoko’s Happy Xmas and an acoustic version of her smash hit “A Thousand Miles”. Schuyler Fisk, who will appeal to fans of Colbie Caillat, Sara Bareilles and others, delightful new six-song EP, Sounds of the Holiday (Cassidy Barks), comes on the heels of her excellent Blue Ribbon Winner The Album (Cassidy Barks). Billy Burnette’s “Rock N Roll Christmas” single and his Rock N Roll With It (Rock N Roll With It) album are recently released. Check out the trippy Polyphonic Spree on their groovy new holiday single, “It’s Christmas.”
CDs of Christmas Past
If you missed Mandy Barnett’s Winter Wonderland (Rounder) from last year it’s worth seeking out for this season. Barnett is one of the great voices in country music. Unlike the slick, overproduced, image-conscious country hit-makers of today, Barnett’s music recalls a sophisticated country sound happening 50 years ago.
Christmas at the Speed of Sound
To segue into our continuing musical Christmas in England, seek out Winter Guitar (Solid Air) from Laurence Juber. This acoustic collection of holiday favorites from 1999 from the former Wings guitarist is a Master’s class in acoustic music and a beautiful recording. Also on Solid Air, Juber has recorded many excellent solo albums, including a CD of Wings music entitled, One Wing and two collections of interpretations of the music of the Beatles, LJ Plays The Beatles and LJ Plays The Beatles Vol. 2.
McCartney’s Tragical New York City Tour
The Love We Make (Eagle) is a DVD of Paul McCartney’s experiences in New York in the aftermath of 9/11. This heart-wrenching, yet ultimately uplifting film includes performances from the historic 9/11 concerts McCartney produced, as well as behind-the-scenes footage, rehearsals and interviews. A number of filmmakers were involved in the film, including celebrated documentary director Albert Maysles. This is one of the most ambitious and moving visual projects ever from McCartney.
Black and Blue Christmas
In order to be fair and balanced, we must give equal time this holiday season to the Rolling Stones. The group’s Some Girls period has been given special treatment this year. Some Girls is reissued by Universal Republic as a two-CD set, including a full disc of bonus tracks. The album is the group’s best recording after its seminal 60s singles era and classic late 60s/early 70s album period. Like it did with Exile On Main Street, the group went back and fleshed out some unreleased tracks with dazzling results. Of particular interest is the release of the much-bootlegged and controversial “Claudine,” about Claudine Longet, who was married to Andy Willams and allegedly murdered skier Spider Sabich in a lover’s quarrel, but who was convicted of a lesser crime instead.
A concert from the 1978 Miss You tour, The Rolling Stones Some Girls Live In Texas 1978 (Eagle), is also now available on DVD. This excellent concert from one of the group’s most underrated and stripped down tours shows the band at its first full peak with Ron Wood. There are some amazing extras on this disc, including such television appearances as the group’s historic Saturday Night Live spot. This is a must-have concert DVD for Stones fans, as it captures the band at one of its best, yet often overlooked and forgotten peaks.
Speaking of the Rolling Stones on television, 6 Ed Sullivan Shows Starring the Rolling Stones (Sofa Entertainment), on two-discs, not only captures the band in some of its finest television appearances of the 60s Brian Jones period, but offers a rare glimpse at the cultural collision of variety shows, mass entertainment and the pop explosion. Along with 17 performances from the Stones, there are also performances from Dusty Springfield, Petula Clark and my own personal favorite Topo Gigio. These discs contain full episodes and run for more than five hours.
Write It In Black
Three new books on the Rolling Stones not to miss are Jagger: Rebel, Rock Star, Rogue (Gotham) by Marc Spitz; The Lost Rolling Stones Photographs (It) by Larry Marion and The Treasures of the Rolling Stones (Sterling) by Glenn Crouch.
Stones On Film
On December 27th at the Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington, Bill Shelley will present another night of the music of the Rolling Stones, billed as the Mick Taylor years, as part of the Rock Legends Live! series.