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Archive for the ‘Sara Levine’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: THE HARRY SIMEONE CHORALE-The Little Drummer Boy: A Christmas Festival (1973 or 1959).

This is a simply beautiful chorale.  The vocalists are top-notch and the instrumentation is subtle and apt.  S. grew up listening to it and was delighted that we could find it online.  I had never heard of Harry Simeone, and had no idea he was from New Jersey (in fact the 1973 recording of the album was done in Linden, NJ).  But here’s a Wikipedia summary of the guy who co-wrote The Little Drummer Boy!

Simeone was born in Newark, New Jersey. He grew up listening to stars performing at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, not far from his native Newark. Initiated and inspired by this childhood passion, he sought a career as a concert pianist. To this end, he enrolled in the Juilliard School of Music, which he attended for three years, but when he was offered work at CBS as an arranger for bandleader Fred Waring, he dropped out of Juilliard to accept it.

When the Twentieth-Century Fox Records label contracted Simeone to make a Christmas album in 1958, he assembled a group he called “The Harry Simeone Chorale” and searched for recording material. After being introduced to an obscure song by friend and credited song co-author Henry Onorati, titled “Carol of the Drum,” Simeone changed the title to “The Little Drummer Boy” and recorded it under that title for his album Sing We Now of Christmas. He received joint authorship-and-composition credit for the album, although he did not actually write or compose the song. The single “The Little Drummer Boy” quickly became extremely popular and scored on the U.S. music charts from 1958 to 1962.

Turns out this recording The Little Drummer Boy: A Christmas Festival is a repackaging of Sing We Now of Christmas but renamed to tie in The Little Drummer Boy’s success.

The music is great with a broad range of voices and often minimal orchestration (lots of French horns and sousaphone)

“Sing we now of Christmas/Angels we have heard on high/Away in a manger/What Child is This?/Joy to the World”  Lots of bells, with the women singing alternately in rounds.  It’s a great opening.  Almost threatening music comes in with the intro of “And this shall be a sign to you” spoken/sung to introduce “Away in a Manger.”  “What Child” is done with a harp–lovely.  I tend to forget that “Joy to the World” is a Christmas song.  It’s so upbeat and happy and could be much longer.

“Go Tell It On the Mountain”  a very deep voice sings this one, and it swings a bit.

“It Came Upon A Midnight Clear/Good King Wenceslas/We Three Kings/Villancico/Hark, The Hearld Angels Sing” is quieter again.  A gentle vocal turn is followed by a spoken word introduction to “We Three Kings.”  Before “Villancico” there’s some “do de doo doo” bass singing from the men while the women sing.  “Hark” is wonderful with bells and horns.

The segues between sections aren’t really clean or anything and its unclear why some things are a medley and others not.  Maybe it was easier than making a ton of short tracks?  It matters not.

“Bring A Torch, Isabella / Lo, How A Rose E’er Blooming”  I’ve never heard of either of these and they are delightful.  A kind of folk song, I guess with Isabelle bringing a torch to see the baby.  Rose is a lot bigger and more olde-movie-chorus-sounding

“Deck The Halls/ Christian Men Rejoice /Master’s In The Hall /O’ Tannenbaum”
“Deck” is quite fast, but the voices are great and then after the first verse it turns really jazzy with a hi-hat jazz and a swinging style.  The rest of the tracks feel more formal, concluding with a lovely “Tannenbaum.”

“O Holy Night” starts out in a way I’ve never heard with a kind of introductory verse.  The deep-voiced man singing “blessed are you among women and blessed if the fruit of your womb” makes me uncomfortable.  But the lead soloist is fabulous.

“The Little Drummer Boy” is really great with the deep “rumm”-ing from the men and the high female voices.

“Coventry Carol / Rise Up Shepherds / God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen O’ Little Town Of Bethlehem / O’ Come Little Children
Carol” sounds a bit like a European spy movie with the xylophones and the accordion.  It’s very cool.  The deep voiced guy comes back for “Rise Up.” But its the impressive big horns and the repeated rounds that come in for “God Rest” which sound great.  “Town” is beautiful and quiet and it’s possible that children sing “Children.”

“Ding Dong / While Shepherds Watched Their Flock By Night / The First Noel / The Friendly Beasts”
This begins with the spoken word about the angels said unto them… which leads to a spritely “Ding dong.”  I don’t know Shepeherds” but the vocal is lovely and operatic.  “Noel” is similarly lovely with a very high note and some nice horn accompaniment at the end.   “Beasts” brings in a nice change with harpsichord and chorus.

The final medley is “Silent Night / Adeste Fideles / A Christmas Greeting”
“Silent Bight is beautiful, with a lovely solo.  “Adeste” is quiet, sung gently by men.  And the “Greeting” is like a card from the chorale wishing everyone a Merry Christmas.

It’s a wonderful record and I see that many other people grew up with it.  I wish I had too.

[READ: December 14, 2018] “Will Evans Save the World”    

Once again, I have ordered The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my third time reading the Calendar (thanks S.).  I never knew about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh).  Here’s what they say this year

Fourth time’s the charm.

After a restful spring, rowdy summer, and pretty reasonable fall, we are officially back at it again with another deluxe box set of 24 individually bound short stories to get you into the yuletide spirit.

The fourth annual Short Story Advent Calendar might be our most ambitious yet, with a range of stories hailing from eight different countries and three different originating languages (don’t worry, we got the English versions). This year’s edition features a special diecut lid and textured case. We also set a new personal best for material that has never before appeared in print.

Want a copy?  Order one here.

Like last year I’m pairing each story with a holiday disc from our personal collection.

I haven’t read much Ben Greenman lately, so it was nice to see his name again.  Greenman writes such a variety of things that you never know what kind of story you’re going to get.  And you don’t know exactly what kind of story this is until the end, either. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JINGLE BELL SWING (1999).

I grew up listening to swing music so I love all the greats–Duke, Benny, Glenn.  Anyone else.  This collection fits right in that comfort zone, although they liberally sprinkle the disc with some more beat than swing pieces, which is pretty amusing, too.

Duke Ellington And His Orchestra-“Jingle Bells”
A fun instrumental swing version of the classic song.

Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea-“Deck The Halls”
Obviously, Herbie and Chick were not around during the swing era.  But this song does in fact swing.  It’s a fast zippy number with some decidedly 1970s era horn blasts and percussion.  The song is nearly 5 minutes, which is long for  Christmas song, but it’s good jazzy fun.

Tony Bennett-“Winter Wonderland”
Tony Bennett is not one of my favorites, but this is a decent version.  Even if it’s not really swing.

Duke Ellington-“Sugar Rum Cherry (Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy)”
The Duke Ellington Nutcracker Suite is awesome.  This is one section in which he make a cool, jazzy version out of the Sugar Plum Fairy’s Dance.  I love this so much.

The Glenn Miller Orchestra, Tex Beneke-“Snowfall”
A pretty, slow instrumentalist that invokes snowfall for sure.

Benny Goodman And His Orchestra-“Winter Weather”
Peggy Lee sings the female vocals and Art Lund sings the male vocals and every one dances to Benny’s clarinet.

Louis Prima-“What Will Santa Say (When He Finds Everyone Swinging?)”
Louis Prima is always a hoot, and this song is no exception.  Everyone is swinging when Santa comes to his house.

Pony Poindexter-“Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer”
I’ve never heard of Pony Poindexter before.  This version is quite dissonant.  The orchestra hits are loud and sharp and the two horns playing together don’t always meld.  But the middle section is jazzy fun.

Russell Malone-“O Christmas Tree”
This is a pretty standard jazzy version–sounds a lot like the one in A Charlie Brown Christmas.  Delightful.

Lambert, Hendricks & Ross-“Deck Us All With Boston Charlie”
The first part is a hilarious rewording of Deck the Halls, and the second part is just an insane couple of minutes of scatting.

Deck us all with Boston Charlie,
Walla walla, Wash., an’ Kalamazoo!
Nora’s freezin’ on the trolley,
Swaller dollar cauliflower alley’garoo!
Don’t we know archaic barrel,
Lullaby lilla boy, Louisville Lou?
Trolley Molly don’t love Harold,
Boola boola Pensacoola hullabaloo!

Bark us all bow-wows of folly,
Polly welly cracker n’ too-da-loo!
Donkey Bonny brays a carol,
Antelope Cantaloup, ‘lope with you!

Hunky Dory’s pop is lolly gaggin’ on the wagon,
Willy, folly go through!
Chollie’s collie barks at Barrow,
Harum scarum five alarum bung-a-loo!

Duck us all in bowls of barley,
Ninky dinky dink an’ polly voo!
Chilly Filly’s name is Chollie,
Chollie Filly’s jolly chilly view halloo!

Bark us all bow-wows of folly,
Double-bubble, toyland trouble! Woof, Woof, Woof!
Tizzy seas on melon collie!
Dibble-dabble, scribble-scrabble! Goof, Goof, Goof!

Miles Davis “Blue Xmas (To Whom It May Concern)”
This might be the most anti-commercial Christmas song in the history of music.  In addition to Miles’ gorgeous horns, you get a scathing attack on commercialism by Bob Dorough, who you will know from Schoolhouse Rock.  His beat-style delivery of these words is brutal.

Merry Christmas
I hope you have a white one, but for me it’s blue

Blue Christmas, that’s the way you see it when you’re feeling blue
Blue Xmas, when you’re blue at Christmastime
You see right through,
All the waste, all the sham, all the haste
And plain old bad taste

Sidewalk Santy Clauses are much, much, much too thin
They’re wearing fancy rented costumes, false beards, and big fat phony grins
And nearly everybody’s standing round holding out their empty hand or tin cup
Gimme gimme gimme gimme, gimme gimme gimme
Fill my stocking up
All the way up
It’s a time when the greedy give a dime to the needy

Blue Christmas, all the paper, tinsel and the fal-de-ral
Blue Xmas, people trading gifts that matter not at all
What I call
Fal-de-ral
Bitter gall . . . Fal-de-ral.

Lots of hungry, homeless children in your own backyards
While you’re very, very busy addressing
Twenty zillion Christmas cards
Now, Yuletide is the season to receive and oh, to give and ahh, to share
But all you December do-gooders rush around and rant and rave and loudly blare
Merry Christmas
I hope yours is a bright one, but for me it’s blue…

Louis Prima-“Shake Hands With Santa Claus”
More fun from Prima.  He even alludes to bananas (Yes We Have No Bananas) in the zippy lyrics.

Art Carney-“‘Twas The Night Before Christmas”
Art Carney in his mid 30’s reads a beat-style delivery of the titular song set to a simple hi-hat rhythm.  It is so much fun.

Carmen McRae-“The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire)”
This is a slow, rather long version of this song set mostly to a bass and twinkling vibes.

[READ: December 12, 2018] “A Clean Break”

Once again, I have ordered The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my third time reading the Calendar (thanks S.).  I never knew about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh).  Here’s what they say this year

Fourth time’s the charm.

After a restful spring, rowdy summer, and pretty reasonable fall, we are officially back at it again with another deluxe box set of 24 individually bound short stories to get you into the yuletide spirit.

The fourth annual Short Story Advent Calendar might be our most ambitious yet, with a range of stories hailing from eight different countries and three different originating languages (don’t worry, we got the English versions). This year’s edition features a special diecut lid and textured case. We also set a new personal best for material that has never before appeared in print.

Want a copy?  Order one here.

Like last year I’m pairing each story with a holiday disc from our personal collection.

Is this “The most Jewish story ever written for an advent calendar?”

Possibly.

It also has footnotes! (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: VERVE-Remixed Christmas (2008).

One of my favorite Christmas CDs is the Christmas Remixed discS (1 and 2) which adds some fun beats and loops to some old standards.  Generally speaking I don’t love remixes.  They are usually just longer with louder, danceable drums.  Although remixing old songs does tend to modernize them, which I do like.

I was pretty excited to see that Verve records has made one as well, using their back catalog.  I assumed it would be just as wild and fun.  But it turns out either Verve has very few Christmas songs in its back catalog or the remixers are kind of low on ideas.

I’m also fairly surprised at just how few actual Christmas songs are here.

1. Count Basie “Good Morning Blues” (Real Tuesday Weld Clerkenwell Remix)
This is probably my favorite track on the disc.  It’s got a fun looping piano melody which is added to by a trumpet and some strange sound effects. This is in fact a Christmas song, I wonder why it’s not sung more.
2. Louis Armstrong-“Zat You, Santa Claus?” (The Heavy Remix).
There’s heavy winds blowing which may be in the original.  Overall it feels like there’s not that much remixing going on.  Still a fun song.
3. Ella Fitzgerald-“What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve” (Magini Vs. Pallin Mix).
It starts distant and muffled then bursts through via harps.  The music is definitely different, but not crazy or anything. I’m assuming the only remixed element is the bigger drums that come in.  It’s a fine version, but nothing especially fun.
4. Billie Holiday-“I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm” (Yesking Remix).
There’s a Jamaican element to this song, including a guy with a heavy accent shouting.  That whole reggae element is an interesting twist.
5. Louis Armstrong-“What A Wonderful World” (The Orb Remix) 
The intro is looped.  After several loops complete with shushing sounds, an electronic bass comes in with loud drums in a regular loop.  But the vocals are  pretty much the same.  This is of course not a Christmas song by any stretch of the definition.
6. Shirley Horn “Winter Wonderland” (Christian Prommer Remix)
This is made bouncy with a slightly funky bass line and kind of sultry drums. Slowed down with a funky slightly bass line. Vocals are slow and trippy.  The vocals sort of don;t work either–they feel like more of an afterthought.
7. Jimmy Smith “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” (Oh No Remix)
This is the most radical song on the disc.  The bass is crazy, the tone is crazy.  The whole thing has a kind of sinister feel.  I love the whole thing.  There’s some keyboard soloing, some menacing horns riffs and no vocals.  It’s wonderful how much this doesn’t sound like the song and yet you can tell that what it originally was.
8. Nina Simone “I Am Blessed” (Wax Tailor Remix) 
This opens with vinyl crackling.  A funky drum is added, but otherwise I don’t think much has been modified.  It’s a pretty song and the drums add to it, but it is not a Christmas song.
9. Dinah Washington “Silent Night” (Brazilian Girls Remix)
This is a full on dance song with a kind of conga rhythm.  Dinah is mostly just repeating “silent night, holy night” with no other vocals.  Normally I don’t like messing with this song, because it is so beautiful.  But Brazilian Girls has deconstructed the song so much that I now rather like it,
10 Mel Tormé “The Christmas Song” (Sonny J Remix)
The Velvet Fog is accompanied by some electronic and techno beats.  His voice is reduced to a loop of “know how to fly” for much of the song although his other verses do come through from time to time.  They manipulate his voice in interesting ways too.  I rather like this one.
11. Nina Simone “Chilly Winds” (Fink Remix) 
Quiet looping of piano and repeats of “chilly winds don’t blow.”   This is also not a Christmas song and seems the largest stretch, except that the winds are cold.

So there are certainly some fun songs here, but overall, it’s far less successful than the other remixes.

= Not a Christmas song.

[READ: December 11, 2018] “Mister Elephant”

Once again, I have ordered The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my third time reading the Calendar (thanks S.).  I never knew about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh).  Here’s what they say this year

Fourth time’s the charm.

After a restful spring, rowdy summer, and pretty reasonable fall, we are officially back at it again with another deluxe box set of 24 individually bound short stories to get you into the yuletide spirit.

The fourth annual Short Story Advent Calendar might be our most ambitious yet, with a range of stories hailing from eight different countries and three different originating languages (don’t worry, we got the English versions). This year’s edition features a special diecut lid and textured case. We also set a new personal best for material that has never before appeared in print.

Want a copy?  Order one here.

Like last year I’m pairing each story with a holiday disc from our personal collection.

I enjoyed this story for a number of reasons.  Primarily, I think because the narrator is so inadvertently unreliable (which in the interview, Jessica doesn’t really mention).

It begins with this line: “My former friend is an elephant trainer.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CHRISTMAS All-Time Greatest Records (1990).

This is one of those Christmas compilations that S. or I buy every year.  This one came from S.’s stockpile.

This one is meant to be on the traditional side, with a few surprises thrown in.  Amazingly there are songs on this compilation that we don;t have on other ones.  I mean, how many different versions of these songs are there (Answer: quite a lot).  This collection is almost entirely unique in that there are about ten songs that don’t appear on any of our other collections.  Cool.

BING CROSBY-“White Christmas” is a classic, but man, it’s kind of a downer.  It’s not nearly as much of a downer as…

“I’ll be Home for Christmas” which is a truly lovely song and everyone loves singing it.  And yet, lyrically, wow, it’s a bummer.  “I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams.”  It was written for soldiers overseas during WWII.  This version is by GLEN CAMPBELL it’s quite slow and somber.  His voice is quite nice too.  When I listened to it I had no idea it was him.

NAT “KING” COLE-The Christmas Song is one of my favorites.  It’s great to hear it every year.

LENA HORNE-“Winter Wonderland”  I have a bunch of Christmas songs by Lena Horne, but again, not this one.  This collection really is rather unique.  Lena puts a fun zing in most of her Christmas songs.  Maybe its time to get a collection of just her.

THE BEACH BOYS-“Little Saint Nick” is much more fun now that I’ve seen it live.

LOU RAWLS-“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” this has a swinging side (even if the tempo is slow).  Rawls’ voice is pretty great I must say.

ELLA FITZGERALD-“Silent Night” I love this song and I love Ella, but I don’t love this version of this song for some reason.

TENNESSEE ERNIE FORD-“The Star Carol”  One of these things is not like the others. I actually never heard of this song before.  And Ford’s voice is crazy operatic.  I hadn’t realized the slight country angle on this disc until this song which sounds not-country, but with that name.  It’s a weird song to have amid these others for sure.

BING CROSBY-“Do You Hear What I Hear” Bing is back.  I love this song, it’s a lot of fun to sing, and Bing makes everything better.

MERLE HAGGARD-“Silver Bells”  This country addition is also weird.  It doesn’t sound like a country song, but Merle still has that accent.

DEAN MARTIN-“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” Eight years ago I said this was one of my most-hated Christmas song versions.  I don’t really feel that way now, although the things that bugged me then are still weird to me:

I guess it’s supposed to be funny or cute, but I don’t understand why he starts messing around with the song and sings: “Rudy, the red beaked reindeer” or why he suddenly busts out the pseudo-German: “Rudolph mit your nose so bright/Won’t you guide mein sleigh tonight?”  It’s just weird.

Was it cool to make Santa German in 1959?  Were we over the war by then?

And I hate the way the backing guys all chant “Rudolph” like it’s some kind of threat.

Of all the classic crooners, Dean is my least favorite, but maybe I just need to embrace the possibility that all Dean Martin songs are Drunk Dean Martin songs.

BING CROSBY & THE ANDREWS SISTERS-“Jingle Bells”  Bing is a little over-represented in this collection, but The Andrews Sisters are always under-represented.  This has a manic piano opening and some over the top horns, but the Andrews Sisters are always a hoot.  This is a marvelous ending to the collection and again, one more song that I don’t have anywhere else.

[READ: December 6, 2018] “The Glamour of the Snow”

Once again, I have ordered The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my third time reading the Calendar (thanks S.).  I never knew about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh).  Here’s what they say this year

Fourth time’s the charm.

After a restful spring, rowdy summer, and pretty reasonable fall, we are officially back at it again with another deluxe box set of 24 individually bound short stories to get you into the yuletide spirit.

The fourth annual Short Story Advent Calendar might be our most ambitious yet, with a range of stories hailing from eight different countries and three different originating languages (don’t worry, we got the English versions). This year’s edition features a special diecut lid and textured case. We also set a new personal best for material that has never before appeared in print.

Want a copy?  Order one here.

Like last year I’m pairing each story with a holiday disc from our personal collection.

This is the story of Hibbert who was normally conscious of two worlds but who, while visiting a mountain town in the Alps became conscious of a third.  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964).

Back in the early days of CDs (1996), it was exciting when things that you never expected to see available were right there for the asking.

Who knew anybody wanted a CD of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer?

Unlike the Grinch CD, this CD contains only the songs from the TV special.  It’s all about Burl Ives.

The first half of the disc contains songs from the movie as sung by Burl Ives (and others).  None of the songs are longer than two and a half minutes (except for a medley that’s over three minutes).  Anyone who loves the music (even if you are irritated by how mean everyone is to Rudolph) will love having these songs in rotation:

Jingle Jingle Jingle (Stan Francis);  We Are Santa’s Elves Vocals (Videocraft Chorus); There’s Always Tomorrow (Janet Orenstein); We’re A Couple Of Misfits (Billie Richards, Paul Soles); Silver And Gold (Burl Ives); The Most Wonderful Day Of The Year (Videocraft Chorus); A Holly Jolly Christmas (Burl Ives, Videocraft Chorus).

And a special shout out to the singers listed above who aren’t Burl Ives and who apparently never got acknowledged for their work (including the mysterious Videocraft Chorus),

The second half of the disc contains the instrumental versions of the above songs, whether interstitial or just stripped of vocals, I’m not sure.  There’s not as interesting, honestly, but you know the disc couldn’t be only fifteen minutes, right?.

[READ: December 2, 2018] “Slower”

Once again, I have ordered The Short Story Advent Calendar.  This is my third time reading the Calendar (thanks S.).  I never knew about the first one until it was long out of print (sigh).  Here’s what they say this year

Fourth time’s the charm.

After a restful spring, rowdy summer, and pretty reasonable fall, we are officially back at it again with another deluxe box set of 24 individually bound short stories to get you into the yuletide spirit.

The fourth annual Short Story Advent Calendar might be our most ambitious yet, with a range of stories hailing from eight different countries and three different originating languages (don’t worry, we got the English versions). This year’s edition features a special diecut lid and textured case. We also set a new personal best for material that has never before appeared in print.

Want a copy?  Order one here.

Like last year I’m pairing each story with a holiday disc from our personal collection.

This second story in the advent calendar is quite a downer.  It starts dark and gets even darker as it moves along.  Except that the main character (whether protagonist or antagonist is not always clear) has a positive outlook that never seems to fade. (more…)

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