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BILLY MAY/The Billy May Collection 1939-60: There was once a time when arrangers had followings to rival those of the singers they were working behind. Back in the day, the arranger was usually seen as the most critical part of the pop song formula. From pre WWII big band to post Korean War crooners and divas, Billy May was among the front line of those bringing up the rear and this 4 cd set is generously packed with everything from hokum and jive to serious as a heart attack stuff. While the post depression music scene was based on feel good nonsense that sounds square today, "Ida, Sweet as Apple Cider" once was the bees knees. Very much a lost art form in today's world of electronic beats, this was the beat that set the tone. You don't have to be a fossil to get what's going on here. From Sinatra to O'Day to all the rest, May knew what it took and had what it takes. This is quite the grand collection for the musical music lover. Well stocked and stacked.

MYQ KAPLAN-MICAH SHERMAN/Please Be Seated: With pedigrees coming from Second City, late night comedy and studio movies, this duo sets the stage for nu musical comedy in the vein of Tom Lehrer as opposed to 50s theater. And these cats are funny. Lower high brow humor that winks at it's populist edge, ala "30 Rock", these cats provide a wonderful diversion where there's a cerebral edge, but they are nice enough to do the thinking for you so there's nothing to do but sit back and have a good time. Yes, Virginia, there is comedy other than stand up, and this hit's the mark nicely.

PETE SEEGER/Live at Mandel Hall 1957: There was another recent Pete Seeger live twofer from back in the day, but this baby from Mandel Hall at the U. of C. annual folk festival is the one that often gets spoken about in hushed tones. No matter what his politics were, Seeger really wanted to be a pop star as opposed to a game changer. The game he changed was that this was the seeds of the folk music explosion that cats like Kingston Trio were able to ride to glory and get the blame/credit for. Seeger's iconic performance is loaded with iconic songs and the pop music gods were smiling down on the proceeding. If you've never experienced the power of one man, one banjo and one stomping foot, these two discs are sure to be a real revelation. Timeless stuff that's older than your grandpa but somehow seems hipper even today. Check it out.

MARTHA WAINWRIGHT/Come Home to Mama: Wainwright has never been one to shy away form giving us good album covers but this one finds her edging Liz Phair off to the side replacing Phair as one of the top MILFs. Hanging out with Sean Lennon, Wilco, Jim White and more, Wainwright doesn't need to lean on either of her family lineages as she's her own voice throughout. A very personal album that will be easy to hand sell, no matter how deep and moody it gets, due to her undeniable talent and vision. When you can make something as personal as much of this material is into something as universal as much of this material is, it's a grand portrait of a real artist at the top of her game. Killer stuff throughout.

BOOTY GREEN/Pray to Booty: As cool as this on going series of deep, black comedy records has been, this twofer is the coolest because we've never heard of the comics or the records and the supporting set is by a Chicago act that we never came across---and back when this stuff was new, we were trying hard. Green is a gleefully, politically incorrect party comic that will fearlessly go for the laugh no matter what. And he ain't afraid of no dirty talk either. Simply a wonderfully hilarious find from deep in the Laff catalog, this is a great place to jump in and hang out at that black club your white suburban butt was always a little afraid to go to. The supporting set Sonny & Pepper's "Battle of the Sexes Live" is even a deeper trip in the Laff vaults. Certainly salty but not nearly as raucous as Green, this duo tears it up at a different speed and delivers the laughs nonetheless. Back in the 70s, it sounds like ‘down home' could have easily have been a state of mind as an actual geographic location. Hold on to your sides and break out the Depends, this stuff is that funny.

BENNY CARTER-EARL HINES QUARTET/Swingin' the 20s: This is a wild package for a lot of reasons. In the course of this twofer, you get all the sides Carter and Hines made together. Both Hines and Carter were around long enough that they could have handles on songs from the 20s without any problem, but Carter was so timeless, he and Hines sound like they are from different eras. Their trip through the 20s manages not to sound dated despite being over 50 years old featuring songs over 90 years old. The companion album, "Livin' With the Blues" by under recorded folk singer Barbara Dane, captures her lusty, hard living side that kept her bubbling under in the 50s. She might be a folk singer, but she swings right along with the two masters as they set the pace. Killer stuff that is loaded with verve still today.

MACEO PARKER/Soul Classics: We've often said it's hard to compete with your younger self. Parker is one of the exceptions. Revisiting JB classics and more, Parker, with the help of Chris McBride and the WDR Big Band bringing up the rear not only competes successfully with his younger self but probably takes that callow youth to school a few times as well. The jams are righteous, the groove is undeniable and you just can't help but find yourself hollering "Maceo", "hit me", "take it to the bridge". Parker hasn't kicked it this righteously since "Life on Planet Groove". If you ain't been feeling the soul and the funk for a while, this set with chase those blues with the blues of it's own. Hot stuff.

WANDA JACKSON/Unfinished Business: Here's the funny thing. Since Jackson started working on a ‘comeback" about a decade back, she's been working with younger and younger producers that obviously see what Elvis saw back in the day and she not only competes with her younger self successfully, she can take almost everyone else to school as well. Well into her 70s, if you turn down an invitation to have a party with Wanda, you're a bigger mook that you might have realized. Fully a today's gal, Jackson can still spit fire like she did back in the day. Producer Justin Earle makes his bones nicely on this debut production job for him bringing out the best in Jackson in which she never disappoints. Let's all party with Wanda, she's still a gasser, daddio.

Volume 35/Number 349
October 4, 2012
830 W. Route 22 #144
Lake Zurich, IL., 60047
CHRIS SPECTOR, Editor and Publisher
Copyright 2012 Midwest Record

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