Sunday, December 18, 2016

RECORD REVIEW: Loretta Lynn "White Christmas Blue"

RECORD REVIEW
Loretta Lynn
White Christmas Blue
________________________

Like your favorite fuzzy sweater
on a cold winter's day, the latest
from Loretta Lynn is a holiday
treasure — one that's guaranteed
to warm your heart and your soul!
________________________

Her professional recording career spans nearly 60 years. And at 84, Loretta Lynn continues to produce impeccable work. In March, she released Full Circle — my personal pick for 2016's Album of the Year. Just seven months later, in October, Miss Lo-rett-ee returned to deliver a bona fide yuletide gem  White Christmas Blue.

Culled from the same Tennessee Mountain sessions as Full Circle, this down-home 12-song collection features newly recorded versions of several favorites featured originally on Lynn's only other holiday release, Country Christmas, back in 1966 — as well as a fistful of soon-to-be classics.

Check out Loretta Lynn's new
video for "Country Christmas."

Penned by Lynn and acclaimed Nashville songwriter, Shawn Camp, the title track kicks off the record with engaging authenticity. And while such lighthearted "seasonal" favorites as "Winter Wonderland," "Frosty the Snowman," "Jingle Bells" and  "White Christmas" certainly enhance the record's fun factor, it's Lynn's signature-style renditions of "traditional" standards, including "Away in a Manger," "Oh, Come All Ye Faithful" and "Silent Night" that provide the greatest payoff.

In sum, White Christmas Blue is a must-have addition to your holiday collection — a Five-Star winner, to be sure!

-Christopher Long
(December 2016)

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Thursday, December 15, 2016

RECORD REVIEW: The Partridge Family "A Partridge Family Christmas Card"

RECORD REVIEW
The Partridge Family
A Partridge Family
Christmas Card
_________________________

Released 45 years ago,
this Christmas treasure
remains as fresh as ever.
_________________________

It was the #1 best-selling holiday album of the year — and for good reason. A Partridge Family Christmas Card was riding a tsunami of success generated by the band's highly-rated weekly sitcom when it first stormed into record stores during the fall of 1971. Overseen by legendary pop producer, Wes Farrell, this collection also is packed with many of the season's all-time most-loved standards. And it (still) zings with yuletide cheer.

Despite being a fictional, made-for-TV combo, The Partridge Family actually was legit in that the "family" matriarch and co-lead vocalist, Shirley Jones, already was an acclaimed singer and award-winning actress at the time the show debuted in September 1970. David Cassidy, the "family's" eldest sibling and frontman, had been anointed in short order as pop's latest and greatest singer / songwriter / musician / heartthrob — performing sold-out solo concerts worldwide by 1971. The Partridge Family's chart-busting records were equally legit — with Farrell at the helm, reeling in the best pop songsmiths of the day and such top-name session players as guitarist Louie Shelton and drummer Hal Blaine. And this was the exact template implemented in the production of A Partridge Family Christmas Card.

The sole new track (at the time), the Tony Romeo-penned "My Christmas Card to You," kicks off the festive celebration with a bang. Enhanced by Cassidy's warm and engaging vocal performance, this one shines brightest of the 11-gem, aural treasure chest.

With Cassidy's passionate vocals soldered sonically to the group's signature choral back-ups, string arrangements and crisp acoustic guitar picking, the Partridge Family version of "White Christmas".is (in my mind) undeniably the best ever.

Other noteworthy tracks include the high-energy, yet predictable "Jingle Bells," the late 60s-sounding soft pop remake of "Winter Wonderland" and the heartfelt ballad rendition of "Frosty the Snowman." But I'd be remiss in neglecting to offer Jones mad props for her superb job on the record-closing, hiss-glossed standard, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."

Simply put, I am a super-fan!
As an admitted lifelong Partridge Family super-fan, I'm rather embarrassed to confess that I only recently scored a copy of this nearly forgotten classic — lurking in the back of the budget-priced CD section at my local Walmart — for just $5. But fear not, fellow die hards, A Partridge Family Christmas Card is available digitally from iTunes, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. So — c'mon, get happy this holiday season!

-Christopher Long
(December 2016)

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Tuesday, December 6, 2016

RECORD REVIEW: Night Ranger "35 Years and a Night In Chicago"

RECORD REVIEW
Night Ranger
35 Years and a
Night in Chicago
Frontiers Music
________________________

Simply put, the latest from
San Fran's platinum-selling
powerhouse sells itself.
________________________

The secret to Night Ranger's success during the '80s was a no-brainer. Touting poster boy cuteness, the combo created consistent catchy arena rock anthems, punctuated by razor-sharp riffs and glossed with soaring vocals. Hence, the appeal of their newly-released "Best Of" live record is equally palpable — a superb recording of a superb performance, captured onstage in front of an turbo-charged crowd.

Released December 2, 2016 on CD, DVD and Blu-ray via Frontiers Music, 35 Years and a Night In Chicago delivers exactly what die hard Night Ranger enthusiasts would expect — hit after chart-busting hit, all performed to perfection, PLUS generous amounts of engaging, in-between-song chitter-chatter, resulting in a career-spanning, must-have, double-slab set.

Perennial members, bassist/vocalist Jack Blades, guitarist Brad Gillis, and drummer/vocalist Kelly Keagy lay it all out nicely with signature style, along with the assist from newer recruits, keyboardist Eric Levy and go-to guitar ace Keri Kelly — leading their energized House of Blues flock through a cavalcade of classics (and a fistful of more recent faves), including "Sing Me Away," "Sentimental Street," "When You Close Your Eyes," "Don't Tell Me You Love Me" and "Sister Christian." Apparently, you can still rock in America.

-Christopher Long
(December 2016)

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Saturday, December 3, 2016

RECORD REVIEW: Enuff Z'nuff "Clowns Lounge"

RECORD REVIEW
Enuff Z'nuff
Clowns Lounge
Frontiers Music 
_________________________

The music of Enuff Z'nuff beams
joy and happiness into my soul.
It always has. Argh! It's times like
this, when really regret posting
my year-end "Top Ten Records"
feature too early in the season. 
_________________________

Contrary to (possible) widespread speculation, Enuff Z'nuff is not an '80s band although they did arrive on the international music scene during that era. They've never been a "hair band" either despite being packaged and marketed as one early on. Nor are they an "arena" band — yet their songs have always possessed a signature-style hypnotic hookiness. Actually, I believe the band can best be described stylistically as Cheap Trick-meets-Elvis Costello at a midnight showing of Magical Mystery Tour. And for longtime die-hards such as myself, the latest release from this crunchy Chicago-based power / pop / rock combo is a particular treat.

Released on December 2, 2016 via Frontiers Music, Clowns Lounge is a treasure trove of vintage Enuff Z'nuff material written and demoed during the band's early unsigned days  culled from "the vaults," re-worked, produced properly and served up hot & fresh as a fantastic "new" record. 

Given the time frame in which the songs were first created, the band's four original members bassist and patriarch Chip Z'Nuff, guitarist Derek Frigo, drummer Vik Foxx and frontman / vocalist Donnie Vie all make appearances on the record — and you can hear it in the grooves. But with the tracks having all been re-tweaked recently, Z'nuff's current line-up of guitarists Tony Fennell and Tory Stoffregen and drummer Erik Donner are also squarely in the mix.

The infectious, guitar-driven collection opens with one of the record's newly-created tunes — the psychedelic-sounding and seemingly "(I'm not Your) Steppin' Stone"-inspired, "Dog on a Bone." With Z'nuff at the helm, providing lead vocals, this one makes for quite a snappy kick-off. Another satisfying surprise is "Devil of Shakespeare." Recorded originally around 2004, it features Warrant's late frontman, Jani Lane on vocals, as well as Styx co-founder, James Young on lead guitar.

But make no mistake, Clowns Lounge IS a bona fide, authentic Enuff Z'nuff record. And in that regard, "Runaway," "Back in Time," "Good Luv" and "Backstreet Kids" stand out as the brightest treasures of this 12-gem chest  capturing EZ in all their classic era glory.

In sum, Clowns Lounge is far and away one of the year's most appealing offerings — one that I can't recommend highly enuff. A+

-Christopher Long
(December 2016)

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