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Music Reviews

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December 21, 1994

The Holiday Season

Because Santa is a Scrooge when it comes to Christmas music, this week's column leads off with some holiday reviews penned by my better half, the lovely Mrs. Clause (Gail):

Mixed NutsThe Gift of Music -- One of the better gifts of the holiday season is music. There's a tremendous selection to choose from, and we're all familiar with the classic tunes of the season. Fortunately, many artists have expanded the holiday repertoire to include such tunes as "Run Rudolph Run" and "Rock and Roll Christmas," and we can't forget Cheech & Chong's "Santa Claus and His Old Lady." Or can we! These selections are from Billboard-Rock'N'Roll on Rhino (1994). This CD offers the non-traditional Christmas spirit with style.

Another disc along that same cord is Mixed Nuts on Epic (1994). Fats Domino sings a splendid "I'll be Home For Christmas," followed by Eartha Kitts' seductive "Santa Baby" (eat your heart out Ray Appleton), Eastern Bloc spurs up "Jingle Bells," and the CD ends with a doo-wop version of "White Christmas" by the Drifters. This one should fill many a stocking.

Rick BraunJAZZ LOVERS everywhere should be on the lookout for Rick Braun's Christmas Present (Mesa 1994). This instrumental recording emphasizes Rick's energetic trumpet playing in an eloquent style. His playlist includes "The Little Drummer Boy," "O Tannenbaum," "Jingle Blues" and "Do You Hear What I Hear?" As Rick says, "ENJOY, HO! HO! HO!"

Speaking of Rick, we had a chance to see him a few days ago at the Holiday Inn - Downtown. Rick brought a fine band to town (including his talented drummer, Bud Harner), and wowed the crowd with selections from his three albums (including the stunning "China Blue" at the end of his second set, and the sentimental ode to his wife, "Laura"). The turn-out was strong for this Sunday evening gig, and it turns out that the Holiday Inn (main ballroom) is a good venue for concerts. Be sure to catch the next show!

One of my favorites this year is The Christmas Songs (Scotti Bros. 1994) sung by The Nylons in four-part Philadelphia harmony. This album offers the listener a contemporary style of music for the classics of Christmas. A few of the songs include "The First Noel," "Silent Night," and of course, "The Little Drummer Boy."

Judy CollinsThe true meaning of Christmas is achieved on Judy Collins' Come Rejoice! (Mesa 1994). Her soothing voice calms the spirit and relaxes the heart. She sees Christmas as a holiday of hope; her Irish father "raised us children to greet each new day with hope." "Joy To The World," "Away In A Manager," "Little Road to Bethlehem," and "Amazing Grace" are sung from the soul.

Before the season passes you by, forget about finding that last gift for Uncle Joe, sit down, turn on the CD player and enjoy a festive evening of music.

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Stocking Stuffers -- Compilations and retrospectives have been popular holiday gift items for several years. Multi-disc sets (that is, three or more discs) are usually too much material; either the compilation should be cut down to a more manageable size, or you should buy the original albums. Here are two double-disc sets that hold promise.

The Go-GosReturn to the Valley of the Go-Go's (I.R.S. 1994) and Little River Band, Reminiscing: The 20th Anniversary Collection (Rhino 1994) are contrasting collections. The Go-Go's set is a 36-track collection of hit singles, B-sides, live tracks, and previously unreleased songs that begins with rehearsal tapes from February, 1979, and ends with three new tracks.

Well over half of the Go-Go's collection is material that has not previously been released; these tracks display the development of the band. In 1979, they were a raggedy, loud, all-girl working band. One year later, they were a smooth pop machine churning out chartburners like "We Got the Beat" and "Our Lips are Sealed."

According to the band members, the group was pressured by too much success too early; by the mid-80s, they decided to go their separate ways. Now regrouped (for an uncertain duration), the Go-Go's seem older and wiser (though the three new cuts on this collection don't break new ground). The recordings on Return to the Valley of the Go-Go's run the gamut from their best pop material to rougher punkish material; fans will love the unreleased material it contains.

Little River BandOn the other hand, Reminiscing: The 20th Anniversary Collection, is more of a traditional best-of collection. The 34 tracks span the Little River Band's recording career, beginning with their self-title debut in 1976 and continuing through Get Lucky in 1990, and include such fine singles as "Help Is On Its Way," "Happy Anniversary," and "Reminiscing" (their biggest U.S. hit, which reached Number 3 in 1978), together with one previously unreleased live number ("Lyin' Eyes/Take it Easy," featuring Glenn Frey from 1988).

The Little River Band was a strong, smooth unit, and featured a crack songwriting team consisting of Beeb Birtles, Graham Goble, and Glenn Shorrock (their skilled front man). The band's best material was released early in their career; after the terrific Sleeper Catcher in 1978, the group never regained its finesse.

Backstage PassFor persons who are familiar with the Little River Band, Reminiscing: The 20th Anniversary Collection may come as a bit of a disappointment. Like many repackaged sets, the songs don't work as well when removed from their original album context. Plus, the accompanying booklet (though full of good pictures) is almost fawning; consider this quote regarding the change of the band's lead singers in 1982: "Given the seemingly smooth transition of frontmen, there was every reason to believe that the fortunes of the refurbished Little River Band would continue on an upward swing. To this day, it is a puzzle of cosmic proportions why they did not."

Actually, it's only amazing when a successful band changes singers and then increases its popularity (such as AC-DC following the death of Bon Scott); the usual result from a change of singers is bad luck. Obviously, the success of Little River Band was tied to lead singer Shorrock; his departure caused the band's decline. For fans who want an overview of Little River Band, Reminiscing: The 20th Anniversary Collection is a good addition.

-- Randy Krbechek

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