For the environmentally conscious hippy or ‘60s soul head, UMe offers up four new entries in their Number 1’s series. These CDs are 100% paper-recyclable, a nice change of pace from the plastic-hungry standard jewelbox. They also look sharp and colorful with their classy duotone covers and #1 cut-outs with solid bright colors. Inaugurating this green series are red-hot Motown classics like The Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross & the Supremes, and Motown Number 1’s Vol. 2, the CDs are packed to the gills with one standard after another.
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Featuring 15 tracks gathered from three earlier volumes of the venerable Ultra Lounge series, this compilation presents a nice sampling of Christmas music that ranges from the kitschy to the classic. Unlike many of the other albums in the Ultra Lounge series, however, the Christmas Cocktails discs don’t just feature quirky, odd, and occasionally cringe-inducing musical oddities, but also include some wonderful old chestnuts, including a number of lesser known jazz classics from the ‘50s and ‘60s. For example, when’s the last time you heard “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer Mambo” by Billy May? Other highlights include Dean Martin’s terminally cool version of “Winter Wonderland”, Kay Starr’s “(Everybody’s Waiting For) The Man With the Bag”, “Happy Holidays” by Peggy Lee, and “The Merriest” by June Christy. For kitsch, you can’t beat “Jing-A-Ling” by The Starlighters, the easy listening medley of “Sleigh Ride/Santa Claus’ Party” by Ferrante & Teicher with Les Baxter (unfortunately appearing without his “Band of Reknown”), or “Christmas Island” by Bob Atcher & the Dinning Sisters (though I prefer the laidback version of the latter by Leon Redbone). Finally, the album wraps up with a previously unreleased instrumental version of “My Favorite Things” by Martin Denny, substituting an accordion for the more traditional vocal melody. Forty minutes of Christmas coolness—definitely worth picking up.
Mostly instrumental and brimming with unique holiday confections cooked up, Shawn Lee’s Ping Pong Orchestra drops some flavor in your ear and some soul in your stocking with A Very Ping Pong Christmas: Funky Treats From Santa’s Bag. No ping pong balls were hurt, much less used during the making of this album, relying upon Shawn Lee’s unexpected instrumentation and kicky configurations to carry out this trippy holiday fantasy. Along the way, Lee acts as Parson Brown, marrying an inspired twist of Screaming Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You” to the holiday classic “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”. Not the only fresh take on traditional favorites, A Very Ping Pong Christmas also features a scratch n’ sitar-laden take on “The Little Drummer Boy”, sprinkling it with baritone sax, the sonic equivalent of colored sugar on Christmas-shaped cookies. Squealing horns interwoven with guitar-wonk psychadelia gives Lee’s version of “Do You Hear What I Hear” enough street cred to sound like the soundtrack to some long lost, ‘70s Christmas-themed blaxploitation flick. Fun and funked-out to the gills, Lee’s Yuletide effort merits year round replay value, not just during the holidays. While still recognizable as the usual arsenal of Christmas classics, Lee’s reworkings aren’t overtly identifiable as something strictly seasonal. Offering up something for fans of funk, jazz, and jam-session styles, these genres are expertly blended into a category-defying sound. Each piece is head-bobbingly good, invoking a holiday feel without overflowing that proverbial cup of cheer and saturating each track with an overdose of seasonal sentiment.
Vee-Jay: The Definitive Collection launches an upcoming reissue campaign of compilations and original albums from Vee-Jay’s vast catalog (here’s hoping they reach into the label’s considerable stores of unreleased material). To say it’s an education—not only into the label’s history, but also into the growth of American popular music—is an understatement, as the roughly-chronological set reveals how the label played a part in the development of multiple genres. It’s especially interesting to hear the smooth sounds of doo-wop glide into equally smooth R&B and Southern soul.
Liberian drums, soca and dancehall rhythms from Jamaica, Bollywood disco, and even Baltimore club beats: it’s a new sonic world. M.I.A. boasts repping the “World Town”, which mainly stems from her time spent in Liberia, and Diplo’s work with the Australian Aboriginal kids for his Heaps Decent project. By combing the world for material but staying true to what interests her of its own accord, M.I.A. has managed to create another LP full of innovative, endlessly pleasurable songs.
M.I.A. - Jimmy