And the Beat Goes On: Music columnist Paul Nixon shares his take on eighteen November new releases and remastered collections, some with a Christmas twist
Paul Nixon is a Suffolk-born photographer with a lifelong passion for music. He has worked as a producer or consultant on over fifty albums and met many of his 60's soul and Motown idols. In this monthly column, Paul will delve into a rich stream of back catalogue material and remastered tracks, as well as new releases and music news. Today, Paul explores the hits and misses of the month, as well as some festive favourites. Check back in to read his next column in December.
1. Michael Buble – Christmas 10th anniversary Super de Luxe Box Set
Having amassed a phenomenal 16 million sales and 4 billion streams, Michael Bublé’s evergreen Christmas album is already the biggest selling festive album of the 21st century and an essential part of the celebrations.
Now celebrating its tenth anniversary, the album gets a makeover with a lavish new Deluxe Limited Edition Box Set which includes a wealth of extra items and a 7-track CD which features songs personally selected by Bublé.
The box set also includes a 48-page hardbound book with a personal letter from Michael to his fans, an individually numbered 12 x 12 lithograph, an exclusive green vinyl version of the original album and a The Making of Christmas DVD, a behind-the-scenes and in the studio compilation of special moments filmed during the recording of the album with frequent commentary from Michael.
If you want to really push the boat out you can get a signed copy of it here: https://michaelbuble.warnerartists.net/uk/christmas-10th-anniversary-super-deluxe-box-set-signed-limited-edition.html.
CD two of this new set features the new track Christmas Sweater from the forthcoming movie Silent Night, a duet with Rod Stewart on Winter Wonderland, a new recording of Let It Snow, Let It Snow, a previously digital download only of White Christmas, The More You Give (The More You'll Have) and a pair of tracks from the original extended de luxe.
Strangely The Christmas Song and the solo Winter Wonderland both from the original extended deluxe are nowhere to be seen or indeed heard. At £180 this really is for the super fan but if you are a completest you will be disappointed with those two missing tracks.
2. Various – Winter Wonderland (Crimson/Demon)
Not really a part of their no frills Gold series but assembled in a similar way, this cardboard slip cased three-CD set brings together 60 iconic festive recordings from an age when Christmas really meant Christmas and Chestnuts really did get roasted by an open fire.
From an age when Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Bing Crosby and Dean Martin were turning out real festive albums you’ll find here tracks such as Sleigh Ride, White Christmas, Deck The Halls, O Holy Night and Blue Christmas. With many, many others from such diverse artists as Bobby Vee, Judy Garland, Jackie Wilson, Dinah Washington and Louis Armstrong and at around a fiver you can’t go wrong.
3. Various Artists – Merry Christmas Baby (Real Gone Music)
There is some debate as to whether this 1956 release from Hollywood Records was the first LP to ever compile Christmas music singles, a very early Now That’s What I Call Christmas. However there’s no disputing that it remains one of the best.
Subtitled Intimate Christmas Music for Young Lovers, its headliners were the original versions of two of the biggest R&B holiday hits of all time, Charles Brown’s Merry Christmas, Baby and Lowell Fulson’s Lonesome Christmas (Parts 1 & 2).
Other standouts such as Mabel Scott’s Boogie Woogie Santa Claus (also a chart maker), Jimmy Witherspoon’s Christmas Blues (previously titled How I Hate to See Xmas Come Around ), and a quartet of tunes from Johnny Moore’s Blazers, there is all killer and no filler.
Bill Dahl's detailed notes and artist photos round out this first-ever CD reissue which is on import but available from Amazon.
4. Diana Ross – Thank You (Decca)
It seems the album charts and radio are currently awash with heritage artists of a certain age and at 77 years young the divine Miss Ross is well on her way to achieving reasonable chart success with her 25th solo studio album Thank You.
Conceived and recorded in her home studio this collection is her first since the disastrous 2006 outing I Love You an ill-advised collection of cover versions that included a big band desecration of Queen’s, Crazy Little Thing Called Love and a monotonous take on Berlin’s, Take My Breath Away.
For this new set the former Supreme (and only surviving original group member) has in part gone back to her former glories with the opening title track harking back to the hay days of Detroit and a piano line borrowed from the glorious Motown anthem, You’re All I Need To Get By.
If you can discount the lyrics of the majority of this set that seem to continually allude to better days, if we all just stand together and somewhere over the rainbow the collection really isn’t that bad and after just a few plays becomes as addictive as the singers last really successful albums, Every Day Is A New Day.
Awash with sentimental ballads which lyrically would have had Disney sending them back to be unsweetened in part she reverts to her disco diva on floor-fillers such as I Still Believe and If The World Just Danced.
For a septuagenarian who hasn’t had a hit in a decade or two this truly is a great comeback and with Glastonbury next year just around the corner (Coronavirus permitting) there could well be another or just maybe they may finally release the Diana Ross with the Royal Symphony Orchestra set.
5. Abba – Voyage (Polar)
You’d have to have been living on Mars not to have seen the news items that this ‘comeback’ CD has generated and was all the fuss created justifiable?
You bet your bottom dollar – stuffed to the gills with instantly familiar tracks, Voyage will have you singing along with Abba anthems such as I Still Have Faith In You, When You Danced With Me, Bumblebee and Don’t Shut Me Down all of which showcase an obviously more mature Abba and not a single sign of auto tune to disguise the ageing process.
The shame is this is all we’re getting. I’m told there will be no more – it’s not like they need the money is it?
For a group who’s collective ages are heading towards 300 years this is truly something else. I’ll even forgive the mortal sin of a Christmas song halfway through the running order (why do planners do this?).
I’d far rather they close out the LP and so easily stopped in high summer at that point – talking of closers, Ode To Freedom a very clever classically based album ender is one of my favourites on the set. Mamma Mia, they’re back.
6. Rod Stewart – The Tears Of Hercules (Warner)
Rod the mod at 77 is back and fighting fit on this his latest CD and if anyone has doubts over the term fighting fit they cannot have seen the video from the lead single, One More Time on which the super fit Rod skips down the Mall at Buckingham Palace.
With no sign of taking himself seriously as he heads for the ripe old age of 80, Rod looks back at a lifetime through his music.
A nod to Marc Bolan via Born To Boogie, the Latin tinged All Of My Days (with serious echoes of Robbie Williams, Candy), the bagpipe infused cover of Johnny Cash’s These Are My People, the seriously rocking Some Kind Of Wonderful and the tear jerking tribute his dad, Touchline, this is proof that pipe and tartan slipper time is a long way off.
Rod in his sleeve noted declares this to be his best album yet – I tend to agree with him.
7. Brian Wilson – At My Piano (Decca)
Heading for his 80th year, Beach Boy veteran, Wilson, sits at his piano knocking out versions of his and his 60’s band mates biggest hits.
We’ve heard them re-imagined with lush new orchestration and now we find them stripped back to the bare bones and it takes some getting used to.
Doing just what it says on the cover it’s Wilson and just Wilson only at the ivories delivering gentle background music versions of hits such as God Only Knows, Don’t Worry baby, Wouldn’t It Be Nice and Good Vibrations.
Boomers are unlikely to choose these stark and atmospheric takes over the lush grandiose of their original form and it’s easy to close your eyes and imagine you are in some stately hotel over afternoon tea with Wilson ensconced in a nearby corner.
There’s no doubting Wilson’s talents at the Joanna as he plays with a sincerity and musical dexterity illustrated by his love of the piano since childhood but it still leaves me reaching out to my well-played Beach Boys Greatest Hits compilation.
8. Gregory Porter – Still Rising (Blue Note/Universal)
Love, love, love me a chunk of Gregory Porter and have followed his albums since day one. This newest and arguably best value set comes on two CD’s featuring 34 tracks hand-picked by Porter of his favourites, covers and four new tracks accompanied by a second CD of duets.
Fans will recognize the classic Porter tunes such as Hey Laura, Liquid Spirit, and Revival which kick off the first disc, with If Love Is Overrated, Holding On, and No Love Dying popping up later in the playlist on CD One.
Porter’s special blend of jazz, soul, pop and gospel shine through on the new tracks, I Will and Dry Bones, Love Runs Deeper especially recorded for Disney has a definite commercial feel and Bag Girl is a perfect showcase for the singer’s unique talents.
CD Two features a plethora of current and posthumous duets with the likes of Buddy Holly on the surprisingly infectious, Raining In My Heart, the beautiful collaboration with the late Ella Fitzgerald on People Will Say We’re In Love and two Christmas offerings with Paloma Faith (Christmas Prayer) and Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas with Renee Fleming.
Earning itself its place on my current rotation of albums the aptly titled Still Rising is very special indeed.
9. Jive Bunny – Gold (Crimson/Demon)
There was a time when studio group, Jive Bunny were hardly out of the charts and wedding disco’s and parties relied upon their seemingly never ending supply of back to back hits medleys to get dancers up on the floor.
In point of fact that’s still happens when Swing The Mood, Swing The Sixites or That Sounds Good To Me comes courtesy of your local wedding DJ.
This new no frills CD set from demon examines that phenomena and features no less than 30 medleys featuring 200 songs.
Perfect for the festive season and for anywhere you can’t rely on a cheesy DJ – slap it on a relive the good times for less that the cost of a couple of posh coffees.
10. The Drifters – We Gotta Sing – The Soul Years 1962-1971 (Strawberry –Cherry Red)
Perfectly timed for the opening of the new West End show, the Drifters Girl starring Beverley Knight, this stunning three-CD set also stands as a testament to its compiler, the late Bob Fisher who recently passed away.
Bob an expert in the soul field who had worked at a myriad of UK labels including Motown was also a huge fan and you can tell by the selection of tracks included her just how deep that love truly was.
Massive hits and well-known tracks amongst the fans of this long running goup (who I believe can count around 60 singers as members of the group during their tenure) include the fantastic, Up On The Roof, Under The Boardwalk, On Broadway, Come On Over To My Place, I’ll Take You Where The Music’s Playing and the delicious, Let The Music Play.
One of Bob’s greatest thrills was, I know, getting hold of two previously unreleased sides, I Dig Your Act and You And Me Together Forever, that have earned their place in the history of one of soul’s most enduring vocal groups.
Two topical Christmas songs, The Christmas Song and I Remember Christmas, help out this year’s festive playlist.
11. Various – Dreamboats & Petticoats – Bringing On Back The Good Times (Decca)
One of the longest running compilation series rejigs content again to compile this 4 CD 100 track homage to the 60’s and despite never being able to contain Beatles or Stones tracks these sets are a wonderful way of getting together a playlist of swinging 60’s music in one easy step.
Where to start? Love Affair, Monkees, Lou Christie Beach Boys, 4 Seasons, The Kinks and Small Faces all turn up for this party on a platter with a plethora of Motown artists such as 4 Tops, Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Temptations, Miracles and the Isley Brothers chipping in the Sound Of Detroit.
Picking out a few rarely compiled tracks that make this set so essential is pretty easy; take the atmospheric Days Of Pearly Spencer from David McWilliams and the monumental Jackie from Scott Walker both worth the price of entry alone.
12. Booker T & The MG’s – The Complete Stax Single Volume 2 (Real Gone Music)
Doing just what it says on the tin this newly released import CD brings together the complete singles from one of R&B and soul’s most famous instrumentalists from the years 1968 -1974 to form a welcome volume two.
Evoking memories of the late 60 and 70;’s this set features tracks that are still being played today, Soul-Limbi, Hang ‘Em High, Soul Clap 69 and the excellent Melting Pot were all storming 45’s and sound as fresh today as they did an unbelievable 50 years ago.
13. Eddie Holland – From Mercury To Motown 1958-1962 (Jasmine)
Eddie, primarily known as one third of the Motown super song writing production team of Holland Dozier Holland, had a somewhat bright recording career before discovering the money was to be made more from writing than performing.
Starting off on the Mercury label, Berry Gordy leased a number of records out such as Merry Go Round, Magic Mirror and Little Miss Ruby before moving him to the Tamla label for Take A Chance On me, Jamie and If Cleopatra Took A Chance, none of which really made a dent on the UK charts and made the move away from singing somewhat easier for the young Detroiter.
Taking advantage of the pre 1962 copyright law Jasmine have dubbed all 20 odd tracks from this set from vinyl but have as usual done an excellent job.
14. Jools Holland – Piano & Friends (Warners)
I love a new Jools Holland CD for like a new box of chocolates there are always fresh flavours to discover and devour.
Piano & Friends is no exception and sees Jools partnering his boogeywoogy piano with some of his long time heroes such as Rick Wakeman on Rocking’ The Boogie and the aforementioned Booker T on Rockin’ Lock- In.
Currently loving the polar opposites Gregory Porter on the Nat King Cole classic, Mona Lisa and the surprise coupling of Jools and dance master Mousse T on the stupendous, Do The Boogie where it just shouldn’t work but most certainly does.
Jamie Cullum, Herbie Hancock, and Jools personal favourite Ruby Turner all make an appearance on this not to be missed compilation.
15. Various – Dance Masters Shep Pettibone The Classic Master Mixes (Edsel/Demon)
If you lived through the 80’s and weren’t aware of Shep Pettibone then you were either not a pop fan or you were asleep. For the 80’s was THE decade of the remix and Shep was one of the most favoured of the remix crew.
A myriad of performers from all aspects of pop music found their singles remixed my the master mixer from, George Michael (Hard Day) to Paul Abdul (Knocked Out) and from Erasure (Chains Of Love) to Gloria Gaynor (I Am What I Am) owe a lot of their chart success to 12 inch mixes that in some cases vastly improved upon originals.
Compilers Wayne and Arthur Dickson have brought together almost 4 dozen stunning examples of Pettibone’s finest on this very attractive and superbly annotated and illustrated box set.
Five Star, Lionel Richie and Whitney Houston (So Emotional) all feature heavily with my picks coming from George Benson (Twice The Love), Lisa Stansfield (This Is The Right Time) and Level 42 (Lessons In Love).
16. Katie Melua – Acoustic Album No.8 (BMG)
If you’re a Katie fan, and lots of us have been since the Closest Thing To Crazy, then you’ll have followed her career right up to the recent Album No.8.
Repeating that LP completely in acoustic form could be seen as a risky move but the Georgian songstress perfectly fits the acoustic mould and so we see her at her most pure.
Released during the pandemic, Katie would share with fans on line acoustic tracks from the album giving them a new lease of life and while some of the tracks have not changed that much others like A Love Like That are drastically different.
Remind Me To Forget now featuring double Grammy award winning violinist, Simon Goff is deservedly the first single, benefitting from the subtle warmth of the violin it takes on a whole new life much different from the tracks original outing.
Recorded with the aim of recreating an intimate live concert Acoustic No.8 is certainly worth a visit.
17. Donna Summer – I’m A Rainbow Recovered and Recoloured (Crimson/Demon)
Continuing their excellent work with the Donna Summer back catalogue they now turn to the iconic LP, I’m A Rainbow reimagined and remixed by Junior Vasquez, Figo Sound, Ladies On Mars and Oliver Nelson.
Available both on CD as a beautiful hardback book style edition or on 12 inch vinyl the album (on CD) comes along with bonus extended mixes of, Highway Runner, Brooklyn and Romeo and radio edits of I Believe (In You) and Brooklyn). Particularly loving the new 5 minute plus treatment on the Ladies On Mars remix of Don’t Cry For Me Argentina.
Breathing new life into the back catalogue of the darling of the disco has been the aim of Crimson for some time now and this set is one of the best so far.
18. Pointer Sisters – The Pointer Sisters/That’s A Plenty (BGO)
Continuing their sterling work with a really diverse set of catalogue material, Bury St Edmunds based re-issue label Beat Goes On turns their attention to the early work of the legendary Pointer Sisters.
Having achieved double Grammy success in the 80’s for Jump (For My Love) and Automatic it would be easy to jump to the conclusion that the sisters were new kids on the block.
Nothing could be further from the truth for June, Bonnie and Anita had been recording for Atlantic Records since 1969 albeit unsuccessfully. It would a take move to Blue Thumb Records in 1972 and the addition of further sister Ruth to achieve their very fist Grammy with Fairytale included on the second LP, That’s A Plenty.
The group's self-titled first album, featuring the backing of Bay Area stalwarts the Hoodoo Rhythm Devils, was released in 1973 and received strong reviews, with the group being lauded for their versatility and originality.
Its first single Yes We Can Can, penned by Allen Toussaint, which had been a minor R&B hit for Lee Dorsey in 1970, afforded the Pointer Sisters the first chart hit reaching No. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100, while both Yes We Can Can and the follow-up single, the Willie Dixon cover Wang Dang Doodle, were major R&B hits.
The 1974 release That's a Plenty, continued in the jazz and be-bop style of its predecessor but provided one exception that caused a great deal of interest.
Fairytale, written by Anita and Bonnie Pointer, was a country song that reached No. 13 on the pop charts, and No. 37 on the country charting the US. Based on this success, the group was invited to Nashville, Tennessee where they achieved the distinction of becoming the first Afro-American group to perform at the Grand Ole Opry, winning a Grammy Award for Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group for Fairytale.
The song also had the distinction of being recorded by Elvis Presley. Charles waring of MOJO fame provides the informative essay in the packages beautifully illustrated booklet.