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Special Holiday Edition (12/18/98) Write to CD Shakedown

Chuck LeavellChuck Leavell, What's In That Bag? (Capricorn 1998) - Esteemed keyboardist Chuck Leavell releases his first seasonal album, What's In That Bag? Having recorded and toured with such famed artists as the Allman Brothers Band and Rolling Stones, Leavell is an accomplished musician, whose talents come through on this holiday collection.

Leavell has appeared on a host of esteemed recordings, including the famed Unplugged album by Eric Clapton. When not recording or touring, Leavell can be found at his 1900-acre tree farm located in Georgia. (Leavell has twice been named "Georgia Tree Farmer of the Year").

Chuck Leavell photoLeavell brings his extensive recording skills to such tracks as "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" and "We Three Kings," as well as such pop-oriented holiday numbers as "Merry Christmas Baby" and "Even Santa Gets the Blues."

With his mix of studio smarts and down home values, Chuck Leavell is a rare find. Enjoy his What's In That Bag?

Cyndi LauperCyndi Lauper, Merry Christmas...Have a Nice Life (Epic 1998) - 80's pop star Cyndi Lauper delivers her holiday sleighful with Merry Christmas...Have A Nice Day. Featuring a mix of original and traditional numbers, the new album is an enjoyable holiday serving.

Cyndi Lauper photoMoving away from her pop ditz persona, Lauper delivers such original numbers as "Minnie and Santa" and "Home on Christmas Day." Also included is "Feels Like Christmas," which was originally released on the album, Hat Full of Stars.

Lauper's band includes William Wittman (keyboard, and bass) Rob Hyman (accordion and keyboards), and Jan Pulsford (programming, loops, and synths). Also included are traditional numbers, including "Silent Night" and "In the Bleak Midwinter."

While Lauper retains a bit of her pop squeak and provocateur stylings, Merry Christmas shows that her heart is in the right place. Try this stocking stuffer.

Beach Boys Ultimate ChristmasBeach Boys, Ultimate Christmas (Capitol 1998) - For the holiday season, Capitol has released the complete Christmas recordings by the Beach Boys, built around the Beach Boys' original 1964, Christmas Album. The album's 27-minute playing time has been expanded to nearly an hour, with the addition of more than a dozen bonus tracks, including those drawn from a second Beach Boys Christmas album recorded in 1977 and never-before released.

Also included is the original single release of "Little Saint Nick," which includes the glockenspiel, celeste, and sleigh bells that were removed when the single was placed on the 1964 LP.

Beach Boys photoThe lost Christmas album was recorded in the fall of 1977, when the Beach Boys and their families took up residence for two months at the Maharishi International University in Fairfield, Iowa, which included time for recording in the basement studio below the group's temporary living quarters.

While at MIU, the band intended to record two entire albums of new material - one an album of upbeat rock songs, the other a Christmas album. According to Al Jardine, "the idea was to cut a second album really fast so we'd fulfill our contract and get out of our record deal with Warner Bros. So we did things like use the music for 'Peggy Sue' and rewrite the lyrics." (The ploy didn't work, as Warner Bros. rejected the Christmas Album, and demanded another album of new recordings.)

Because the Beach Boys were working on both albums at the same times, a number of tracks were recorded in both Christmas and non-Christmas versions, the latter appearing on the M.I.U. album. Thus, "Peggy Sue" became "Christmas Time is Here Again," "Kona Coast" became "Mele Kaliki Maka" (Hawaiian for Merry Christmas) and "Belles of Paris" became "Belles of Christmas."

Also included is "Santa's Got an Aeroplane," an alternate version of the long unreleased "Loop de Loop" track, and the somber "Morning Christmas," recorded by Dennis Wilson (who did not participate in the M.I.U. retreat) in the style of his terrific solo release, Pacific Ocean Blue.

The album concludes with a toy drive public service announcement recorded in November 1977 when the Beach Boys resumed touring, and a brief interview with Brian Wilson taped in connection with the original 1964 Christmas album. The Brian Wilson interview was recorded with syndicated radio show host Jack Wagner, and was distributed only to radio stations as part of the "Silver Platter Service" promotional album.

Explains Al Jardine, "Maybe it's the tempo and those harmonies. I think in the end it's that Christmas songs need to deliver a feeling of joy and, as Carl Wilson always said, the Beach boys are all about expressing joy." Put the Ultimate Christmas collection in the stocking of your Beach Boys' lover.

- Randy Krbechek © 1998

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