Music from Mr. Booze

Mr. Booze’s Christmas Album Picks

You can’t, you just can’t, I tell you, play modern Christmas music with your cocktail or while hosting a party this December.   The soul just isn’t there with these modern pop princesses and boy singers.   Let your kids enjoy that stuff in the car; give ‘em that … but never in the home and especially never when the retro-glasses are out and the home bar overflows with your Christmas themed barware.   Guests might never say anything, but believe me when I tell you just how much they appreciate that you’ve gone to the trouble of digging up the bygone era sounds of the holidays.   These retro sounds with their rich accompaniment and lush production values are like sound-sweaters cloaked around your guests or yourself this season – as important as a perfect Manhattan the night of your festivities.   Just one or two of the records presented here will more than make the evening fun and memorable.

Christmas With Patti PageChristmas With Patti Page – I’m guessing that after she lost her darlin’ during The Tennessee Waltz but before she bought her little doggie from the pet store window, Patti cut this wonderful Christmas album. I picked this one up on vinyl recently and was very impressed at just how well Ms. Page imparts a fun and fanciful Christmas vibe with her music. Released by Real Gone Music just a few months ago, this CD carries more than a few extra tunes not available on my LP’s release. Like most of our holiday suggestions here at Mr. Booze, you’ll find that strong sense of nostalgia and warmth on this pick impossible to find in today’s modern releases. Her voice is a true American one. Sadly, we lost Patti Page in January of 2013, but what we didn’t lose was her way with a song. She sings with gusto and a soft elegance forgotten by modern singers. Patti seems to be welcoming you to a Christmas party on the front cover, and that’s just what this album is – a 1950’s Christmas shing-ding that you and your guests will very much enjoy. Poodle skirts optional for the ladies while listening to this one. Songs include Boogie Woogie Santa Clause, Home for the Holidays (from her Xmas show), and Pretty Snowflakes. There’s even an old spot from her Xmas radio show that’s fun.

David Ian, Vintage ChristmasDavid Ian, Vintage Christmas – I purchased this one on a complete whim. Had no idea what I was buying when I carried this one home from a local record shop, but boy am I glad I took a chance. Just a small jazz group, a trio I believe, imparts that very soft jazz sound that many search for late at night when sipping an eggnog and staring at the lit tree are all you want to do. The jazz riffs presented here are all soft ones, none blast for attention nor will they ever dominate your experience. I’m not talking muzak-like soft jazz, I’m talking more lounge themed jazz. Sophisticated yet mindful of the season and in no way diminishing. Piano, bass, soft skins and a really lovely accompanying vocal on some tracks all make for one very mellow holiday album. I’d play this during a dinner party or after 9 with some great friends and the lights dimmed … except on the tree, of course. Songs include Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, Silent Night, and Christmas Time with You.

Christmas, Glen CampbellChristmas, Glen Campbell – Originally released in 1967 as That Christmas Feeling, this CD was apparently really asked for by fans of both Campbell and lovers of great Christmas music. I’m a huge Glen Campbell fan; he’s probably my very favorite country singer, and this record did not disappoint. Glen has always seemed to feel every word he sings, and he does that with this salute to the holidays even though some of the songs here are more than tried-and-true. Glen’s versions of Little Alter Boy, Pretty Paper, and There’s No Place Like Home, ring as true and heartfelt as any of his classic broken heart ballads. Old Toy Trains will leave a Christmas lump in your throat, I tell you that. This is another one of our record picks that may be best played during the more quiet times of the holidays. Play it with your family gathered around or maybe when the gang’s all out doing the shopping. The price is more than right.

 Al Hirt, The Sounds Of Christmas (Deluxe Anniversary Edition) Al Hirt, The Sounds Of Christmas (Deluxe Anniversary Edition) – You can’t get more retro than with this one. That grand ole’ New Orleans trumpet player really rings the Christmas bells on this record. Recorded during the height of Al’s popularity during the 60’s in the RCA Studios in Nashville, Al Hirt pulled out all the stops. Fourteen toe-tappin’ renditions of all your Christmas favorites, plus a few Al Hirt obscure picks of his own, make this just one heck of a fun choice for your upcoming holiday party. We all know his Green Hornet trumpet playing, but just wait till you hear his version of the weird theme and title song to Santa Clause Conquers the Martians. No one else will be playing that diddy in your neighborhood over December. There are sixteen trumpet-thumping songs on this just re-issued recording. What a mood you will set with good old Al playing his horn of classics like Rudolph, Sleigh Bells, Jingle Bells and more than a few songs that combine Christmas classics. This guy was a big player on Carson and his own show. Discover Al Hirt all over again on this Christmas card to yourself. The record’s “deluxe” on account of the included art and bonus tracks.

A Personal Christmas Collection, Robert GouletA Personal Christmas Collection, Robert Goulet – If you’re here for the first time, please pause to take a look down the list just so you know what you’re in for. I love the old stuff, even more so during the holidays. Not many artists invoke the pure feeling of a 60’s Christmas like Bob Goulet. His old-school, Broadway bravado not only makes its mark on this record, but, when combined with pure Christmas schmaltz … well, let’s just say it’s dazzling. Goulet, sure enough tackles the standard chestnuts, but he also takes some bizarre Christmas risks on this record with rare and downright “what-the-hell” choices like Panis Angelicus, This Christmas I Spend With You, and the almost unsettling – because it attempts to tie every Christmas cliché into one song – Christmas Day. This one song is worth the price of the record. It’s like an ancient song-writer whiling away in a nursing home attempted one more classic before he passed on. The words “hilarious” and “exhausting” come to mind while listening to it, but somehow Bob manages to pull it off. Goulet’s Christmas album is the one you break out when you’re truly looking for that lost era of December music. It will so take you back, and I promise you this … Bob Goulet at your Christmas party might be, if we’re like-minded, the perfect touch.

The 4 Seasons Christmas AlbumThe 4 Seasons Christmas Album – Haven’t seen Jersey Boys, doubt I ever will, but I do appreciate the band and understand their resurgence and their popular longevity. When I stumbled upon this CD at a second hand shop, I knew I’d have to give it a whirl. Frankie Valli belts out one heck of a version of What Child Is This in that, at times, off-putting falsetto of his, a version well worth listening to. The boys also sing fantastic harmonies on Christmas Tears, Little Drummer Boy and The Christmas Song. The 1966 release date insures that you’ll be catching the lads at the top of their game. If you’re at all going retro this holiday, or are simply looking for an album that steps back in time, the finger snapping charm of the 4 Seasons and their catchy way with a ditty might just be the shot in the arm your party is looking for.

Christmas Joy, The Ventures Christmas Joy, The Ventures – Gotta admit I was duped when I picked up this one. I do tend to buy books by their covers, and when I saw this beautiful, 60’s, glammed out gal on the cover of a Ventures Christmas CD I bit quickly. Then…I discovered too late that the darned thing was only recorded back in 2002. A 2002 Ventures Christmas album may be a far cry from a 1960’s Ventures Christmas album, but that’s all right. This one still pulls off what I was looking for – straight-up, tight Ventures guitar riffs on Christmas classics like Oh Come All Ye Faithful and Winter Wonderland. I tend to mix things up musically at Christmas, and this twangy, rhythmic holiday surf outing takes me where I want to go. Very rarely the sound drifts up into modern, but that’s cool. These guys have every right to grow and change with the times. I very much enjoy this California beach trip into the December vibe. I’m still going to keep my eyes peeled for an earlier Christmas piece by the Ventures, but this Christmas Joy album surfs along with all my retro albums this time of year.

Christmas With The Lennon Sisters – Sherman, set the Way-Way-Back Machine to 1968, and put on a hideous Christmas sweater ’cause we’re going back to the land of coasters on the table, no cussing whatsoever, and bed by nine. Far from a toe-tapper or even a Christmas party blast-off, this record should be listened to as more of a nostalgic and humbling cocktail experiment. I semi-recall the Lennon Sisters from time spent at my grandmother’s feet, sipping Pepsi and eating old gumdrops while she watched Lawrence Welk Christmas specials on the ole’ B&W. I poured a couple Brandy Crustas, lit a smelly candle, and gave this one a listen to a while back and quite enjoyed it. Perfect for the home bar on a late December night when you want to lose yourself in simpler times after reading the front page of the paper, Dee Dee, Peggy, Kathy & Janet will sing you someplace kind of special. No surprises here, you’ll know every song on the record, but so the hell what? Sometimes, the really old-fashioned sounding records have their place, too. Look at the cover again…that’s what this record sounds like.

>Stan Kenton, A Merry ChristmasStan Kenton, A Merry Christmas – For me, it’s all about the horns with Stan Kenton’s Big Band, and believe you me, the horns soar in this Christmas album. Known as more of a 60’s Big Band leader, Stan Kenton’s sound was sort of the swan song to the whole Big Band era, and Stan’s unique, almost ethereal sound was a perfect close. Stan Kenton called his style of music “progressive jazz,” yet this 1964 album doesn’t sound that progressive any more. However, it does carry that optimistic West Coast jazz sound through the record. The sound is big, and like I mentioned at the start, the horn section practically plays a hundred feet over the heads of the rest of the band, soaring and swinging through each upbeat song. The surreal What Is Santa Clause?, a song over which Mr. Kenton narrates, Stan refers to Santa as a “magical, mysterious creature.” LOL! Put your kids to bed with that one in their heads. Another throw-back album, but a thick and beautiful holiday sound which should fill your home and party with fun seasonal cheer. Songs include Christmas For Moderns, Silent Night and Once In Royal David’s City.

The Definitive American Songbook, A Vintage ChristmasThe Definitive American Songbook, A Vintage Christmas – Nothing really here that you haven’t heard lots before, but it is a grand collection of 40’s and 50’s Christmas music that sets the tone in the living room faster than you can say “scotch & soda.” Pretty much all the chestnuts you know roasting on the same fire, but…they’re good chestnuts and ones that, through the test of time, are guaranteed to fill the heart and warm the spirit. If you don’t have a lot of Christmas music and want a good collection to jump on board with, this is a dandy record to begin with. Songs include Peggy Lee’s I Like a Sleigh Ride, Les Paul’s Jingle Bells, and Ella’s The First Noel.

Ed Ames, Christmas Is The Warmest Time Of The Year/Christmas With Ed AmeEd Ames, Christmas Is The Warmest Time Of The Year/Christmas With Ed Ame – I received an advanced copy of this double-record CD and was quickly reminded of why I like Ed Ames’ voice so much. Like I mentioned on our regular album page, with his record My Cup Runneth Over, Ed has this singing quality that’s now completely lost. We don’t have singers like this anymore and definitely not one like this Ames Brother. These are Christmas albums recorded back when they really meant something. Your mom or dad might have popped into a real record store and returned home one snowy December night with one of these wrapped in brown paper tucked under their arm. This is a great example of the old stuff with the sounds so rich that you could listen to it with Aunt Lucy’s fruit cake while Dad spent the hour getting the tree to stand straight in the stand. Deep, smoky, optimistic and jazzy, both these albums combined will saturate your holiday get-together with a sophisticated nostalgia as perfect as your whiskey punch. Songs include O Bambino, I Wonder As I Wander, and Let It Snow.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, Performed by Jonathan WintersA Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, Performed by Jonathan Winter – Do you ever have those late afternoons or evenings during the holidays where you feel like doing something Christmassy, yet you’re all alone, or the person you’re with is feeling all Bah-Humbug? Boy, do I have a treat for you! This recording, when teamed up with a cocktail, an empty house and a lit tree or fireplace, will absolutely enchant you for the next hour. Recorded for NPR just a few years ago, our fathers’ comedian, Jonathan Winters, reigns himself in a bit when tackling this abridged version of Dickens’ most famous winter tale. I don’t need to tell those in the know what an absolute master of storytelling and characterization Jonathan Winters is, but for those born a little too late to know of Winters, this man is just a living legend. This isn’t a comedy album; Winters actually voice-acts his way through the story here and gives a very credible and joyous performance. I know we know A Christmas Carol. But…tradition during Christmas is a good thing; you just gotta mix it up. Buy this recording, mix a nice drink, throw a log on the fire and say bye-bye to the humbugs for a little while.

A Merry Mancini Christmas, Henry Mancini, His Orchestra & ChorusA Merry Mancini Christmas, Henry Mancini, His Orchestra & Chorus – Mancini was such a craftsman, honestly, I compare him to a master woodworker — every line straight as it can be, every corner perfect, every small component exactly where it should be. This man, who scored the 60’s in terms of film and pop-culture, leaves, yet again, his craftsman’s mark on his Christmas album. Recorded in 1966, this one is absolutely smothered in 60’s sound. The first half of the album sounds as if the North Pole elves from the Rankin Bass Rudolph classic television specials just continued on with their Christmas party for a while after the show ended. The chorus drips with that schmaltzy sound that permeated the specials of the decade. The second half of this relatively short and to-the-point record carries the 60’s vibe onward with the arrangements and instrumentations of the turtleneck richness of the era. I still dig this type of music and realize it still has its place. Cocktail party music? Nah, but Christmas Eve with a saucy cocktail? Most definitely. An ode to time lost but still pertinent and valid to those who remember … or wish to simplify in a hectic season. Songs include Drummer Boy, Carol for Another Christmas and The Christmas Song.

The Ramsey Lewis Trio, Sound of ChristmasThe Ramsey Lewis Trio, Sound of Christmas – I purchased this disc just a few days after submitting last year’s picks, and I couldn’t believe my timing was so off. This has to be one of the best Christmas records I own. I adore it. It is just so elegant, hep, and seasonal that it will elevate your gathering to the next level. The title song, The Sound of Christmas, is one of the most perfect cocktail Christmas songs I’ve ever heard. Ramsey Lewis plays piano on these tracks in such a manner that they often transcend into almost just pure jazz. If they weren’t so celebratory in that December kinda way, you could play ‘em in July as a jazz fan. Subtle yet delightfully intrusive, these sophisticated odes to joy and the season will bounce to the top of your holiday play list. One of the few holiday records I own that I’ll turn right around and play again. Recorded back in 1961, this is a Christmas cocktail party in record form that’s an ode to that forgotten party. Songs include Sleigh Ride, Merry Christmas Baby, The Sound of Christmas.

Matt Belsante, White ChristmasMatt Belsante, White Christmas – I mentioned this kid over at our regular music page, and for many of the same reasons, I’m pointing out his Christmas record here. Bottom line is he’s pretty damn good. I’m leaning heavy on the jazz instrumentals this year and feel you’ll still need some vocals to round it all out on the moonlit December nights. I, for one, am just so happy that there are still young singers out there with the wherewithal to tackle the old songs, that I’ll pay attention. Belsante just happens to really know what he’s doing, and proves it once again with his Christmas album. The voice is rich and peppered with the arcs and changes that prove to me that he has a strong future. If you’re at all a fan of the new styles and the old songs, like a few are tackling now, pick this recording up. Songs include Home For The Holidays, Let It Snow, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.

Johnny Mathis, HeavenlyJimmy Smith, Christmas ’64 – “Cool” and I’m using the word as it was used in 1964 by no cat over the age of 40. This record is as cool as a pair of sunglasses sported while driving along a Pacific highway in December with the top down. Jazz of this era flirted and played with the Hammond organ, heck, some artists built albums around it, but Jimmy Smith laid an entire Christmas album around it with such success that this listener was lost in West Coast bliss. I won’t stop there…add to the mix Kenny Burrell on jazz guitar and a band of musicians so accomplished, that the album matters more than a lot of straight jazz records I have from the time. If you’re at all a jazz fan, then buy this. If you happen to love Christmas music too, then you will thank me every December. From the bass drum opening on God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen to the guitar solos on We Three Kings, all of course wrapped by Mr. Smith’s rich Hammond, you will play this album during your holiday parties, on your car stereo, while cutting your turkey and while stirring your peppermint martinis. Chistmas ’64 is just that, with all the “cool” that it implies. Songs include The Christmas Song, Santa Claus is Coming to Town and Jingle Bells; all played with such style, you’ll be listening to these standards for the 1st time.

Steve Lawrence & Eydie Gorme, That Holiday FeelingSteve Lawrence & Eydie Gorme, That Holiday Feeling – I have this on vinyl and happen upon it at practically every estate sale I hit. It must have been a big album in the 60’s. Having said that, I’ll warn you that the cd version is oddly expensive, as are all Steve & Eydie cd’s. I’m at a loss as to why. The couple has the chops but justifying $5 or $10 more over a standard cd of the same type of music leaves me bewildered. Still, this album is worth it. It does stand apart if you’re at all a fan of the era and the sound. Hurry Home For Christmas as sung by this team is just fantastic and will set the mood to a candle-lit holiday party perfectly. Soft, flirty, musically gifted, the husband and wife team impart a charm found nowhere else. It swings more than it whispers, which is a good thing if your entertaining…but then it gets romantic and just a tad schmaltzy, which is a splendid thing if you and your significant other are snuggling by a fireplace. Steve & Eydie were/are an important team, and their music was/is from a bygone era that I truly appreciate. Songs include Hurry Home For Christmas, What Are You Doing New Years Eve and Let Me Be The First To Wish You A Merry Christmas. If you just buy one or two Christmas records a year, this would be a great addition.

Kenny Burrell, Have Yourself A Soulful Little ChristmasKenny Burrell, Have Yourself A Soulful Little Christmas – Here’s the soft one. This is the record to put on this season when you’re either alone with a bourbon, with your spouse enjoying a bottle of wine, or just with a few friends gathered ‘round the basement bar. This album is as great a Christmas jazz album as I have, but it’s quite reflective and introspective. Kenny Burrell, who played jazz guitar with Oscar Peterson and other greats, along with leading his own groups off and on for the past half century, plays with such style on this record he stands alone & special. When I was a kid, my parents would play Wes Montgomery records on their stereo, and with this record I’m reminded of them in a cool nostalgic way. Jazz guitar is not the guitar most of today’s & even yesterday’s rock listeners should expect. Burrell uses his instrument as any beyond-accomplished jazz musician or singer does. He challenges the listener while wrapping the music around them as if a blanket. Don’t get me wrong, this is a Christmas album and a superb one at that, it’s just a tad more demanding than the usual fare, but the challenge is soft and warm and will compliment your evening perfectly. Songs include Little Drummer Boy, My Favorite Things, and Children Go Where I Send Thee.

Walter Schumann, The Voices Of ChristmasWalter Schumann, The Voices Of Christmas – If you’re of a certain age…say, you grew up during the 60’s or 70’s, chances are your dad put on a few of the choral records during the holidays. I’m not talking religious choir music; I’m talking about these rather over the top men’s and women’s choruses who belted out Christmas standards in layers, with jingle bells and horse clip-clops in the background — The Ray Conniff Singers, The New Christy Minstrels, The King Family, to name a few. These types of records were as part of a 60’s & 70’s Christmas as were Rankin-Bass TV specials and department store Christmas windows. Well, composer Walter Schumann, who was the bee’s knees of radio and early television themes and composition, gathered twenty of the best vocalists working in film and television, and created his “Voices of Walter Schumann”. His Christmas record is the Cadillac of this genre — the “A game” of holiday sing-a-longs, the top of the heap. It will remind you of innocence lost and will certainly put a smile on your face. This record would be perfect for a holiday open house, when friends, family and neighbors come a calling in the late afternoon and you’ve put out a punch bowl of rum or bourbon spiked eggnog. You need one of these in your collection, and this is the best. Songs include What Child Is This, Lully, Lully, Lu and Christmas In Killarney.

–The Andrew Sisters, ChristmasThe Andrew Sisters, Christmas – For six bucks on Amazon, this is a pretty great buy. It’s nothing more than a trip back in time, but it sure is a nice trip. I like the old stuff; the production seems richer, the backing bands & orchestras more lush, and, in this case, the harmonies more honest. With two Danny Kaye duets and five Bing Crosby duets, this record keeps you pretty interested. Crosby and the Andrew Sisters teamed-up on numerous occasions, but these Christmas pairings seem especially nice. I realize that there are more complete and expensive Andrew Sisters Christmas records out there, but for a trip back to the 1940’s, while the turkey’s browning and the wrapping paper’s being cleaned up, this one’s fine and dandy. Songs include Jingle Bells, Winter Wonderland and Poppa Santa Claus.

Gene Autry, The Complete Columbia Christmas RecordingsGene Autry, The Complete Columbia Christmas Recordings – Sometimes during the holidays, and this happens more than I’ll admit, I just want to put on something silly, something that reminds me of being a kid, something that I can just enjoy myself listening to. People may come over, people may not, but gosh-darned if I’m not going to celebrate the season and just smile. The Singing Cowboy wrote the book on Christmas songs, and his cheerful voice is as infectious as it is nostalgic. You’ve all heard his Rudolph and his Up On The House Top, and his Frosty is played too much this time of year. But…with this record, you’ll hear more than a few contagious songs you’ve probably never experienced. Finish your shopping, come home, put this one on and just relax. Songs include Where Did My Snowman Go, He’s a Chubby Little Fellow, and An Old Fashioned Tree.

Christmas Cocktails V 1, 2 & 3 – I’ll be quick and to the point with these. You want to have a 85 proof Christmas party, you’ve planned the menu, the drinks to pour and what kitschy decorations to hang. All you need are party appropriate X-Mas songs to play. Throw these disks in with your regular Christmas album rotation. You’ve heard a lot of them, Deano’s Rudolph, Nat Cole’s The Christmas Song, Peggy Lee’s Winter Wonderland, but there are plenty of rum soaked selections you may not have heard.

Warm December by Julie London, Wayne Newton’s version of Jingle Bell Rock, Exotic Night by Martin Denny all add up to a cool Christmas play list. You have enough to worry about throwing a X-Mas bash, don’t let the music be one of your worries.

June Christy, This Time of Year – Readers of the regular Mr. Booze album review page should recognize this name. June Christy was herself, a jazz instrument. She sang unlike any other female singer of her era. The misty Miss Christy just had a remarkably personal way of interpreting a song, and this Christmas album is an absolute jewel in her crown. Shame we have such a short block of time to play this one. Her choices have always been a bit avant-garde and off the beaten path, and this album is the same way. Personally, I like a Christmas album with more than a few songs I don’t hear played to death come the season. Songs include The Merriest, Sorry To See You Go, Seven Shades Of Snow and Christmas Heart. This one works quite well with a cold Manhattan, a dim room, and a bright tree.

Jack Jones, Christmas – This would be a great team-up album with June Christy’s This Time of Year mentioned here. Jack Jones is another one of those soft singing, jazz-balladeers of a bygone era. Fortunately for us, he still occasionally tours and is sounding better than ever. This Christmas album is a quiet one. I wouldn’t lean on this one during a big party; this record is better for a night ‘round the tree or in the basement bar with another couple or just a few friends. This is an intimate holiday album that never fails to eventually hush the room in a good way. Songs include Little Alter Boy, Silver Bells, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas and Oh, Happy Day. A great cocktail album when you’re just having a few friends over for drinks and snacks.

Snowfall, The Tony Bennett Christmas Album – He may look silver haired and older on the cover, but this record was actually released back in 1968. I have the original vinyl and you can really feel, while listening, that this was recorded at the height of the singer-standard period in popular American music. This album is one of my favorites for a reason — it swings when it wants to, goes soft and silky at times, plays wonderfully in a crowd or with just a few, and always entertains. Tony’s arranger uses jazzy brass on some songs, and yet on others it’s just Bennett’s soft-as-silk voice. You’ll recognize most of the chestnuts on this record yet there are a few surprises. Songs include Snowfall, White Christmas, and Santa Clause Is Coming to Town. This one goes well with something festive to drink. A Brandy Alexander would be perfect.

The 25th Day of December With Bobby Darin – Back when Darin sang, you’d put on a sport-jacket and tie when you headed out to a neighbor’s holiday party. This album feels like that; it feels like 1960, the year it was first released. I confess that when I purchased this CD, I was expecting the Darin I knew and loved, the swinging, finger-snapping Bobby Darin. I was wrong. This album doesn’t swing too much. What it does do is celebrate the true season with songs leaning surprisingly towards the holiday’s true meaning — the birth of Christ. Darin sings beautifully spiritual carols on this record but in a sophisticated manner that carries quite easily into the land of cocktails around the tree. Sometimes, and especially during the holidays, it’s nice to be reminded of the important things. Go figure…. Bobby Darin pulls it off splendidly with this record. Songs include Go Tell It On The Mountain, Baby Born Today and Silent Night. This one will profoundly and pleasantly surprise you.

Doris Day, The Complete Christmas Collection – If you only remember Ms. Day from her older television programs, I’ll remind you that she started as a big-band singer. Sure, she’s a bit sweet and sugary, but she’s also a bit sophisticated and smoky. There are 22 songs on this Christmas album which makes it perfect for a gathering where you know you’ll be busy. I just throw this one on in a mix and relax and concentrate on mixing drinks. This is fun, old-school 60’s, Martinis and Manhattans x-mas music. Songs include Silver Bells, I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm, Winter Wonderland and White Christmas. Doris could sing, people.

The Sinatra Christmas Album – There are a ton of Sinatra holiday records available and I’m pretty certain I’ve heard them all. I have a few but … I always go back to this one. This is a fantastic Sinatra album period. It just happens to have a short shelf life. He recorded the lion’s share of these songs in the mid 60’s when I feel he was at the top of his game. Granted, there’s the almost unbearable 12 Days of Christmas sung by the whole Sinatra clan to slog through, but the rest of this album is pure Christmas gold. One song, Whatever Happened To Christmas, is just an amazingly beautiful song of regret and remorse, and who does that better than Frank? I tell ya, a couple Bourbon on the rocks and this song, and you may very well have to hit the bathroom to dry your eyes. I play the hell out of this record starting Thanksgiving night. Songs include We Wish You The Merriest (w/ Bing), Little Drummer Boy and Whatever Happened to Christmas.

Dean Martin, Making Spirits Bright – Can’t mention Frank without bringing Dean Martin to the party. If you’re planning a holiday bash this season, this record is a must. Probably one of the most 80 proof Christmas records I own, this Deano’ album positively rings with the spirit of the season. He just couldn’t sing any cooler, with any more sparkle than he does here. This album pairs wonderfully with the sounds of tinkling ice, boozy laughter and doorbells chiming. Retro-Christmas squared. Songs include Blue Christmas, A Marshmallow World, and Rudolph The Red Beaked Reindeer. Stir up a glass pitcher of Peppermint Martinis and put this record on.

The Don Ho Christmas Album – Well, welcome to the Christmas party Mr. Ho, and thanks for bringing your A game. Don was just so damn cool. He got it … life is tough; you gotta chill sometimes with palm trees, white chino pants, tiki drinks and canvas shoes. I knew I was going to like this record even before I put it on. Hawaii and Christmas, what a groovy combination, and it positively shines through on this album. If you’re like me and get a little tired of the same old x-mas sounds, let Don Ho mix it up for you. This album mixes wonderfully with other singers of the 60’s era. Songs include Silver Bells, Mele Kalikimaka (better than Bing’s version) and It’s Christmas Time Again. This guy sang like he didn’t have a care in the world … and it’s infectious. Whip up a Harvey Wallbanger, fire up the outside Christmas lights, and mellow out with Don Ho around the tree.

Jo Stafford, Happy Holidays – Former big-band Singer Jo Stafford really hit one out of the park with her Christmas album entry. She chose quite an eclectic group of winter-themed songs here. Sure, you have your 40’s/50’s Christmas favorites like Baby It’s Cold Outside and Jingle Bells, but she also throws harder-to-find tunes like By The Fireside and I Wonder As I Wander. This is a very nostalgic record that probably wouldn’t go over too well in a large gathering. However, if it’s going to be just you, maybe the kids or a few close friends, this album is very toasty. Put on your cardigan, spike a batch of eggnog, and loose yourself in some snowy woods with Jo Stafford.

Christmas With Buck Owens and His Buckaroos – I’ve been thinking it might be high-time I started introducing fans of Mr. Booze and his music picks to the wonders of 1960’s Country Music. I know, I know…I love my jazz, I love my standards, I love my pianos and saxophones … but, I’ll tell you drinking and 60’s country often walked hand in hand. I’ll hold off a bit before I begin pouring the occasional whisky soaked, 60’s Country album reviews on the regular music page, but I’ll be damned if I won’t mention Buck Owens and his Christmas entry here. This album is pure twangy, California toe-tap fun. You put this one on during a holiday party and I’ll guarantee you’ll have a good time. This is just uncomplicated, unfiltered Christmas Spirit. I promise I won’t go all Barbara Mandrell on you in the future, but a little country, and especially this caliber, deserves a mention and a spot on your player. Songs include Santa Looked A Lot Like Daddy, Blue Christmas Lights and Because It’s Christmas Time. C’mon, why not take a chance with this one.

An Oscar Peterson Christmas – Man, this is just the best. My favorite Jazz pianist of all time laying down some of the softest, most beautiful, cocktail party Christmas music you’ll ever hear. You have 14 songs on this album and all are gems. Just five musicians on top of their game playing unbelievable Christmas music. This record is perfect for so many holiday situations: you can enjoy it by yourself with a drink; it’s great for a dinner party; and even works with a house full of boozers. Oscar Peterson demands a listener’s attention while at the same time contributes to the soft celebration. I just can’t recommend this one enough. Songs include God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, Away In A Manger, I’ll Be Home For Christmas and Silent Night. No vocals here, just great interpretations by a master.

Croon and Swoon, A Classic Christmas – This is one of those little gems I stumbled upon perusing the Christmas music bins at the old Tower Records. I like the old stuff and figured I’d give this one a shot. It’s a great little collection that covers most of the standards 40’s & 50’s bases. Perfect for a party, you really can’t go wrong, and yet still make a retro Christmas statement. Goes great with stiff drinks and loud-mouths. You get most of the big singers of the day on this one: Doris Day, Perry Como, Gene Autry, Judy Garland, Rosemary Clooney and more. Songs include Silver Bells, Frosty the Snowman, We Need a Little Christmas.

A Big Band Christmas – Cheap on Amazon and really a fun Christmas album, I love this hodge-podge collection of 1940’s tunes. One can easily imagine folks gathered ‘round the big living room radio, sipping beer and listening to these forgotten gems. I listen to this one late at night with just the tree lights on and with a fat bourbon. It truly is a big band throwback to a simpler time. Songs include Little Jack Frost Get Lost, There’s Frost On The Moon, Christmas Night In Harlem and Sleigh Ride. This collection sets the mood perfectly and like I said, it’s great to listen to, alone or during a big fun party.

Jim Nabors’ Christmas – Made you look! I won’t even say he’s an acquired taste; this is just a fun record to have around the house at Christmas time. There’s a schmaltzy elegance I find here that, after a few drinks, I simply must share with my guests (a few of whom have been known to leave). This is a throw back album, plain and simple. Originally played in living rooms filled with pipe smoke, cardigan sweaters, and plastic covered furniture, Jim Nabor’s Christmas record just plain old works. Jim believes in his Christmas album, you can tell by listening; so, so do I. I’m not going to apologize. I sometimes like to go back in time with a record. Jim and I, a tasty cocktail and our white shoes will be just fine. Join us, if you dare. Songs include O Come, All Ye Faithful, Little Drummer Boy, and Jingle Bells.

Michael Buble, Let It Snow – Short and sweet with just six songs, this album plays wonderfully. Let’s face it, during the holidays, you’re rushing. Here’s just the record to throw on before you serve dinner or when you’re celebrating for a short while before stepping out. I love this kid’s voice, and feel he’s done wonders to re-popularize crooning. With a voice as smooth as silk, Buble sings the heck out of Let It Snow, White Christmas and The Christmas Song.

Bonanza: Christmas On The Ponderosa – Here’s a weird, fun, absolutely hypnotizing Christmas album that goes perfectly with lots and lots of cocktails (consumed, not choices). If you’re of a certain age and remember Bonanza on TV, or are just an extremely experimental, kitschy, open-minded fan of the holiday, I feel that it’s my duty to point this album out to you. The whole thing is like a weird 1960’s Bonanza episode where the Cartwrights are semi-forced to celebrate Christmas with a bunch of booze-soaked, prairie neighbors. At various points Little Joe, Hoss, Adam and even Ben are all talked into singing cowboy carols. We’re even treated to an uncomfortable scene where a tipsy widow suggestively hits on the Ponderosa’s patriarch. When I’ve had too much mulled cider or too much rum-spiked eggnog, I hit this album. On a weird drunk level, it works splendidly.

Nat King Cole, The Christmas Song – I almost didn’t mention this one, it’s just so obvious. Nat Cole’s Christmas album simply covers all the bases. If a Christmas passes where I don’t play this record, well, I just can’t see that ever happening. We all grew up with this one; we’ve heard it our whole lives, yet it still works on an almost archetypal level. I play this one on Thanksgiving night as the official kick-off to the season. An Apple Ginger Sangaree, spicy Bourbon & Ginger, a Brandy Alexander — all drink exceptionally well with this classic. Celebrate with a crowd or with just a few with this record, just celebrate. Songs include I Saw Three Ships, Deck The Halls, and of course, The Christmas Song.

Harry Connick, Jr., What A Night – Before there was Michael Buble, there was Harry Connick, and I really feel remiss for taking so long to mention him on this page and on our regular Album Reviews Page (I’ll fix that mistake soon enough). Connick has three Christmas albums out, but I really feel that this one, his latest, is the best. He’s a modern day, 1950’s singer plain and simple. His love of music and showmanship shine through on all his records. You just can’t help catching his contagious way with a standard. I play this one whenever we’re Christmas socializing because everyone always loves it. Guests are familiar with Connick; he’s modern enough to still be party relevant yet old school enough to fit right on in with your Sinatra, Jack Jones and Dean Martin Christmas albums. This album’s huge, and brassy and fun. Songs include Zat You Santa Claus, Deck The Halls, It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year and lot’s more.

Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass Christmas Album – Recently, BMG re-issued most of Herb Alpert’s records, and I was happy as Santa on his sleigh to see this one included. Herb Alpert, in so many ways, is the 60’s for me. His music permeated popular American culture when I was a kid. Tijuana Brass is just so optimistic, cool and instrumental without being jazz. This record demands a holiday party built around it, or at the very least, a few friends over for a liquor-laden punch or silver shaker. Brassy, toe-tappers include My Favorite Things, Sleigh Ride and Jingle Bells … all played, of course, the Herb Alpert way.

Jackie Gleason Merry Christmas – I see that this is out of print and quite expensive if you’re buying new, but I also see that used copies are going for under twenty bucks on Amazon, so it’s worth mentioning. I really like Gleason’s Christmas Album. It’s soft and retro-romantic, so it won’t be the one to go to at a party. That being said, this is the record to put on when it’s you, your significant other, a pitcher of peppermint martinis and a couch lit only by the Christmas tree. The whole album sounds like it was recorded under cold gin. There’s a boozy, rich, unique quality that no other instrumental album has. It feels like Jackie Gleason took his love of the booze and stirred it directly into this recording. It’s a tipsy Christmas album and well worth a track down. Buy, mix a batch, and enjoy. Songs include I’ll Be Home For Christmas, Snowfall, By The Fireside and The Christmas Song. This record is like a soft snow, best enjoyed at home and in quiet.

Ella Wishes You A Swinging Christmas – I was hesitant to mention this one too, seeing as how you can’t walk into a Pottery Barn department store or Target without having a few songs from this album shoved down your throat. Alas, seems that a few tunes from Ella Fitzgerald’s Holiday Songbook have become exceptionally mainstream. Stores for grown-ups, trying to go for that cinnamon scented sophistication, begin playing a little Ella right after October. Still, there’s a lot of this album that never makes the stores. Songs like Good Morning Blues, What Are You Doing New Years Eve, and Winter Wonderland often get sidelined for the more popular. Bottom line, this is a truly great Christmas album that works so well at holiday gatherings you owe it to yourself to pick it up. She’s just an amazing singer on so many levels, the record’s crazy popular for a reason.

A Dave Brubeck Christmas – Those of you expecting to hear a finger-snapping, jazzy Christmas album may be pleasantly surprised. Sure there are up-tempo, jazzy piano versions of Jingle Bells and Santa Claus Is Coming To Town, but there are also deep, lavish interpretations of Silent Night and What Child Is This. This is a sophisticated Christmas album, no doubt about it, and one that calls for a bit more attention than the average holiday fare. But trust me, if you or a few of your guests truly appreciate the challenging jazz I feel Brubeck delivers, then I know you’ll like this album. It’s another soft one, but I kind of like that. Any reason, during the holidays, where I can relax at night with a drink, do a little soul searching and be musically challenged and entertained, I’ll take it! Just dig the vibe…light a fire in the fireplace and dig the whole Christmas vibe.

Merry Christmas Baby, Romance and Reindeer From Capitol Records – Yet another great Christmas record out of print. I’ve included the Amazon link, which leads to affordable, used copies. This is a showstopper of a collection. It has a bizarre, 1951, Guy Lombardo recording of Auld Lang Syne which must be heard to be believed. The whole song takes place in the city apartment of a 1950’s newly married couple and just sort of time trips through the holidays with both husband and wife talking to each other about celebrating. You won’t be able to tear yourself away. The album has two Lou Rawls bombs which don’t really get in the way. Also included are Ring a Merry Bell by June Christy, The Christmas Spell by Peggy Lee, You’re All I Want For Christmas by Al Martino and more. This is a cool album to own, chuck full of swank Christmas music you won’t find anywhere else.

This should provide you with some food for thought. Here’s hoping your Holiday and Christmas celebrating includes some great music.

Cheers & Merry Christmas from Mr. Booze.

Bing Crosby, The Crosby Christmas Collection

Opened one Christmas present a little early this year and boy, am I glad I did. It’s too late to get this in our regular Holiday Music Guide, but I figured this one was special enough for me not to wait ‘til next year. Bing Crosby, The Crosby Christmas Collection was just released by Collector’s Choice Music, and they, as usual, did an outstanding job assembling choice forgotten gems onto a record. Primarily gathered from four decades of Bing’s Christmas radio programs, I was surprised to find how many chestnuts were on this disk that I’d never heard before or, different versions of Bing’s Christmas songs that I had heard. Some stand-outs include Bing & Ella Fitzgerald’s version of Rudolph, complete with a few funny new verses; Here Comes Santa Clause with Peggy Lee; the rare White World of Winter on which Crosby tickles my booze-bone by mentioning a “Hot buttered cup”; and the appropriately lavish It’s Christmas Time Again which I was very impressed with. All in all, this new edition to my old school Christmas music collection stands apart. Bing Crosby may be an acquired taste for many, but if you’re at all on the fence, this one is a nice place to start. Bing Crosby, over the years, has become very associated with the Holiday and, after playing this album a few times, I understand why. Gather ‘round the friends you know who love nostalgia and days gone past, play this wonderful recording and spike up some eggnog. It doesn’t get much better.

Buy it here.

New Album Reviews

 Tommy Sands, Dream With Me Tommy Sands, Dream With Me
– Who knew? Created as Capitol Records’ answer to Elvis Presley, this former child-hillbilly-singer grew on up to become second to only the King in terms of popularity for a short while. This double album containing both Tommy’s Dream With Me and his Thinking Of You is very good. Born in Chicago but raised by mom in Shreveport, LA, one would expect to hear at least a bit of his former twang sneak through on his later vocals, but you don’t. Tommy Sands voice is pure honey on all twenty-three tracks presented here. Both albums were recorded after his mid-to-late 50’s dip into a country-esque ‘ rock ‘n roll pool. These are cocktail albums, no doubt about it. I believe that Tommy was attempting to reinvent himself into a more night-clubby, sophisticated package and he very much succeeds here. This is soft, sentimental singing best listened to on rainy evenings with more intimate company. Not as schmaltzy as early Mathis or Debbie Reynolds, Tommy Sands has a true smoky lounge sensibility that deserves a spot on your turntable. He was married for a short while to Nancy Sinatra and rumor has it that her Father took it very personally when they divorced and made it a point to get Tommy black-balled in the industry. Just a rumor, mind you, but Tommy went nowhere fast after the split, which blows for us. I for one, would love a thick stack of Tommy Sands’ records to play during my cocktail hour. No finger-snappers on this disk, just heavy-orchestrated by Nelson Riddle, beautifully sung songs which will so take you back. Songs include Far Away Places, Dream, Fools Rush In, and more.

 Tex Beneke and His Orchestra, 'S Wonderful, Rare Recordings of the 1950's Tex Beneke and His Orchestra, ‘S Wonderful, Rare Recordings of the 1950’s – I love Tex Beneke’s voice on Glenn Millar albums. I know, I know, he blew a mean sax, but even more so, I adore his huckleberry way with a vocal. He’s a darn time-machine when you hear him sing on Chattanooga Choo-Choo so much that he easily transfers my mind-s eye to a 40’s train station and how it must have been. Tex sang with an "awww-shucks’ demeanor that really warms the heart. He was also a masterful bandleader and saxophonist. With this collection, you get all three hats. With Twenty-Seven Tracks, you really get your money’s worth with this disk. Eleven Beneke’ vocals are included, plus plenty of Big-Band stylized arrangements & sax. Vocalists Ray Eberle, Bill Raymond & Betsy Gay round out the singing on a few other tunes. If you like Big-Band and Glenn Millar albums, and are interested in seeing where Tex "went with it" before diving more into production. This is a wonderful musical trip. Songs include Blue Moon, You Blew Out The Flame, Danny’s Hideaway, and more.

Steve and Eydie, CozySteve and Eydie, Cozy – They have their place, no doubt about it. On their solo albums, both Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme more than hold their own in terms of semi-sophisticated, cocktail party background … but when famously teamed-up, the couple often caught lightening in a bottle as this album clearly demonstrates. Cocktail music collectors should be more than reminded of their place with Cozy. This double album CD combines both their Cozy and Two on the Aisle records and, for me, it’s plenty of Steve & Eydie for a night’s entertainment. With this one you get both a nice, snappy collection of American Songbook tunes plus the best of Broadway showstoppers from the late 50’s, early 60’s era. They play off of each other throughout, capturing that free and easy style that a husband & wife team, with a few years under their belts only can. Eydie Gorme had a beautiful, up-beat voice that perfectly teams with the choice in material. Steve Lawrence has the perfect pop-pipes that accented her modern mood perfectly. Fun!. Songs include Make Someone Happy, A Fine Romance, and A Lot Of Livin’ To Do.

Connie Francis, Do The TwistConnie Francis, Do The Twist – Connie’s something of an odd duck, in my opinion. She almost sells a song too strongly for me, yet she does have her place and, at one time, was a huge recording star with tons of fans and loads of radio play. This is a 1962 collection of dance songs intentionally recorded to get young adults off the sofa, away from the soda-pop and canapés and onto the living room floor for some swinging. She gives 110% with this try and while riding a wave of popularity at the time, almost tries to prove herself all over again with her rock ‘n roll interpretations. You’ll giggle at the over-the-top nostalgia of it all, but you’ll definitely have some fun too. Connie can more than carry a tune and this wacky collection will turn your patio cocktail gathering into quite an experience. With thirty diddies on this one, your guests will have more than enough time to digest the vibe and grow to "get it". I blast my copy just to freak out the neighbors. Songs include Telephone Lover, Teach Me How To Twist, & the classic Hey Ring-A-Ding and more.

Al Martino, Makin' Whoopee!Al Martino, Makin’ Whoopee! – And he does just that on this collection of Al’s early 20th Century Fox recordings. Al 1950’s gets down on this one and you’ll be right there with him when you put this one on your hi-fi. Like slow love itself, Al Martino wines, dines then takes us up to his 16th floor apartment with his song-bird attention to detail and nuance. His voice is intentional, Italian and cool as blue smoke on this ode to late nights out on the town. You have to buy it at Collectors Choice Music but the albums more than worth a stroll on over. A shank-o-the-evening record if ever there was one, I’ll put Al Martino on when the coffee & liqueurs are broken out and you’re an hour away from looking at your watch a lot. Songs include I Can’t Get You Out Of My Heart, That Old Feeling, and It Had To Be You.

2013 Autumn Cocktail Album Reviews

pulpPulp And Culture Box Set, VI – Not the cheapest collection I’ve reviewed, but worth every penny, this is an excellent exploration into themed music of the 50’s & 60’s. Four discs broken into four far-fetched categories that collectively are perfect for a themed gathering be it Halloween, retro-rockabilly, retro, or just plain fun. Rock & roll invasion, voodoo dolls, teenage rebels, and wild, wild guitar instrumentals are the four themes, and I promise you’ll never find such an eclectic collection of solid odd songs anywhere. It can’t always be The Rat Pack or strong jazz with that cocktail, so why not, on occasion, stir the party pot with some classic counter-culture sounds. Each themed disc plays exactly what’s promised with songs like Blood Beast From Outer Space, Voodoo Kiss, Betty Lou’s Got A New Tattoo, and Little Betty Twist. A weird collection, yes … but a fun one which will compliment your next weird party.

hawkinsThe Best of Screaming Jay Hawkins, Voodoo Jive – Pretty darned difficult to find now, I urge you to dig around in second-hand shops or ebay and try to score a copy while it’s still possible. To sound a bit like every other reviewer, Screaming Jay was crazy, or at least he sang that way. This album is a wonderful one to play during your Halloween party. Spanish moss dripping from tall trees standing tall alongside lamp lit back alleys beckoning you into dimly lit bars where this record plays on the jukebox would be the perfect scenario … but, that’s a tall-order. Still, if you’re looking for a serious jazzy-voodoo vibe & want to create a similar scene in your candlelit kitchen late in October, here’s what you need. Try and find some Screaming Jay, you’ll thank me. With songs like I Put A Spell On You, Alligator Wine, and Do You Really Love Me?, this album is simply unforgettable and has its place at any autumnal gathering. –

brubeckBennett & Brubeck: The White House Sessions, Live 1962 – This sure is a cool, new addition to the Bennett library. No duets with Cindy Laupner, no takes on modern country, this is just two jazz giants meeting under a starry DC skyback when both were at the top of their game. I bought this disc the day it was released and have never looked back. I love when these old gems are unearthed and presented to fans who so appreciate the older stuff. With this record, one can actually hear nervousness on Bennett’s part, after all Bennett was just a decade into his popularity, and Brubeck was just three years out from Time Out. The disc is basically broken down into three parts – kicks off with a Brubeck set which leads into a Bennett one, both doing recognizable and classic hits, concluding with a team-up on a few songs which are cool enough to re-chill the martini you’re sipping. Recorded in the White House Rose Garden as a concert intended to thank government interns, both President and First Lady Kennedy were there. You know darned well, with that kind of audience, all three sessions were played at the top of their game. –

May & June 2013 Album Reviews

Lucky Luck, The Best of Lucky LuckLucky Luck, The Best of Lucky Luck
Lucky Luck, The Best of Lucky Luck – If you’re looking for an obscure, hardcore tiki type album to play at your next tiki party, one with a strong old-school vibe yet fun, interesting, and thematically island-centric, Luky Luck may be your guy. I have a lot of Hawaii themed music on vinyl (Ed “Kamanaloha” Kenney & The Hilo Hawaiians, for example), but unlike that older stylized sound which blends in with a party, Lucky Luck is more of a guest. Let’s face it, tiki drink themed parties are never quiet affairs and rum drinks, torches, grilled pork, and tiki mugs require a musical vibe that this Waco, Texas to Hawaii transplant provides. Learning the Samoan language well enough to score a gig as a translator during WWII & being buddies with the Gov. of Hawaii led to a strong career in aloha culture. He’s kind of an Island-themed balladeer & folk artist combo, who sing/talks his way through such chestnuts, or should I say coconuts, like Mynah Bird, Hapa Hapa Hula Girl, & Kanaka Nui Hotel. He’s straight out of the fifties with his jokes, and “hey, brudda,” and rowdy background singers & crowds. A Hawaiian Phil Harris would be a good comparison. Get this while you can.

Sven A. Kirsten Presents The Sound Of Tiki Sven A. Kirsten Presents The Sound Of Tiki
When I recently heard that the pop-tiki-writer-guru of Polynesian culture had created a collection on disk of what, he considers, absolute tiki classics, I didn’t just bite, I dove in and ordered it. It’s just a killer tiki-themed album, definitely the best I own and so chock full of themed classics that you could, if necessary, just play this one over and over again at your next tiki-drink party, or while you’re just having a couple at home. Gold, I tells ya, gold. Don Ho singing the Hawaii 5-0 theme, original tiki restaurant commercial themes, Martin Denny & Les Baxter classics & even the seldom-heard yet important first hippy turned Island beat poet & crooner, Eden Ahbez. Throw in a few more Hawaiian themed detective show themes and a few more equally entertaining gems, and man, do you have a record on your hands. The filler pages or classic tiki & Hawaii themed pop-art & album covers will more than entertain you should you be sipping alone. Sven wrote The Book of Tiki, Modern Tiki, & Tiki Style, all considered classics, so he more than knows what he’s talking about. I honestly hope he follows this CD up with another volume ’cause it’s so darned good. If you ever mix juice with your rum, buy this record.

Dick Dale, Dick Dale At The DragsDick Dale, Dick Dale At The Drags
This is a cold beer album if there ever was one. An entire rockabilly styled record built entirely around the theme of fast, souped-up cars. Dick’s a Fender guitar genius and he plays like his fingers are on fire, leaving most other California style guitarists & guitar bands behind in his exhaust trail. Far from the traditional lounge. swing, jazz and crooner sounds I review here, I still feel that this guitar & rhythm jacked sound has its place in your home bar or garage bench. It’s fast, fun, retro-chilly and, like I said, will go great with a couple cold beers on a late Saturday afternoon. If you dig the old cars like I do, and an old Rock ‘n Roll sound, Dick will certainly take you there. Songs include Wild, Wild Mustang, 50 Miles To Go, Big Black Cad, & more.

Toni Arden, This Is Toni ArdenToni Arden, This Is Toni Arden
Slowin’ things way, way down with this next pick. Tony Arden was a singer from back in the day who can best be compared to Margaret Whiting, Jerry Southern and Dinah Shore. She has that 40’s living room quality which I enjoy on rainy evenings with a classic drink of the same era. We lost her last year at 88, and really, I believe she was one of the last surviving songbird, Big Band singers which America cherished some sixty years ago. I refuse to let this style of singing and innocence through song vanish from our homes. Optimistic, heavily stylized, lilting and beautiful, this type of singer, and Toni’s a fantastic one, reminds the listener of our jazz singers’ beginnings. Everything, as long as love was involved, was put into the lyrics and interpretation by these women. I thank them every time my needle hits the vinyl. Songs include Too Late Now, Wonder Why, Rain, & more.

Cocktail Music Reviews March / April 2013

Debbie, Debbie ReynoldsDebbie, Debbie Reynolds
You know, she really did/does have a classic cocktail kind of voice. I’ve always enjoyed a Debbie song in the movies she sings in. It’s a real American sweetheart set of pipes she sings with. This, her first studio album, works very well at night as background music. Innocent? Very much so, but her musicality dominates in an oddly sophisticated manner which I was quite surprised by. Soft, but never meek, like one would expect, Debbie’s choice of twelve songs was obviously aimed at the 1950’s, adult, living-room listener. The very tone that made a soft Reynold’s ballad captivating in her movies comes through on this debut, with a lounge singer’s confidence. The fun thing about this record is that you can actually hear her attempt to step it up for the cocktail set. I don’t know if I’ll ever need to go back to the Reynolds’ well in terms of albums, but that doesn’t mean for a minute that I won’t continue to play this one on chilly evenings with a nice martini and a few friends over. Songs include Moonglow, Time After Time, and Mean to Me

The Swingin's Mutual!, The George Shearing Quintet With Nancy Wilson The Swingin’s Mutual!, The George Shearing Quintet With Nancy Wilson
– Here’s a pretty cool little pairing that I picked up on a whim at a local second-hand record shop. Recorded in 1960 and 1961, there are 17 tracks on this cd, all guaranteed to send the mood of your next cocktail party to classic. Shearing’s Quintet was known for having a very mellow jazz vibe and one that was very tight. They didn’t fool around much, focusing on a specific sound that was elegant. Now, add a very young and stylistically clean and pronounced singer to the mix, one whose voice was created for jazz, and you have a tempo and mood on a record you couldn’t find long after the early 60’s. This is a strong, strong jazz vocal album, but it’s very inclusive of the listener. I play it now all the time at my home bar and people love it … but they don’t have to talk over it. I would definitely classify this one as a jazz over vocal album, with Nancy just being an ultimate instrument. Songs include Don’t Call Me, Lullaby of Birdland, On Green Dolphin Street, and more.

Tea for Two Cha Chas, Warren Covington & The Tommy Dorsey OrchestraTea for Two Cha Chas, Warren Covington & The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra – Do not buy this album to play quietly while at home sipping a drink. This is a party background album and a darned good one at that … but … it’s a cha-cha record, and after a few songs of straight-up-alone cha-cha, you’ll be pulling your hair out. I believe that band leader, Warren Covington, picked up Dorsey’s baton soon after his demise and led the remaining band down the road to cha-cha heaven. Apparently hugely popular in the late 50’s, cha-cha certainly has its place in a retro collection or when trying to set a retro vibe at your shing-ding. This album certainly has its place in your collection. With 24 cha-chas, this record is fantastic as background music. Warren’s trombone blasts through loud and clear over the steady 1-2, 1-2-3 beat that steadily carries the entire recording. Fun, bright, perfect with cocktails and friends, this is indeed a great cocktail album. Played over a car stereo for its hour+ running time … & you may wanna crash into something. Songs include Trumpet Cha-Cha-Cha, The Sheik of Araby Cha-Cha, and I Still Get Jealous Cha-Cha

Buddy Greco, The Best Of Buddy Greco, The Best Of – I’d heard of Buddy Greco, of that much I’m sure. "The Grec" or “Grecooooo" … a name whispered at poker games and drunken evenings at bars as Darin and Sinatra played and fingers snapped. "If you like this, you gotta hear Greco," I was slurred. So, this winter I took the Grec-plunge and picked up his greatest hits. Did I dig it? Well, YES and no. I like his voice and his almost scat-like way with his picks, even though I’m not a fan of scat. I kind of liked his free-for-all way with classic jazz vocal lyrics, inventing and throwing in his own sentences to some of the classics I’d grown up with. I enjoyed the bravado and confidence he punches a song with. But then … there were these little bizarre choices like throwing a party-stopping piano version of the world’s oddest song, MacArthur Park, into the middle of the collection. It makes no sense. The over-sentimentality in a few of the ballads can potentially shut the whole vibe down. I do enjoy this record and feel it’s well worth a point-out, but, I feel, you should be a big fan of "The Boy’s Club" in terms of 50’s & 60’s music to search this one out. I happen to be, so it works for me! Songs include The Lady Is A Tramp, Girl Talk, and L.O.V.E.

Retro Tech for your Bar

A few repro/retro suggestions for your bar sounds.

When setting up your home bar, Mr. Booze feels it necessary to point out that your music has to be played on something that compliments your cocktail vibe. Like I’ve mentioned before, classic drinks demand music born in bygone eras. Mel Torme’, Dean Martin, Johnny Hartman, Chet Baker, Nat Cole and more all sound better coming out of electronics that compliment their eras. I’m not anti modern electronics. I-pods, MP3 players, modern set-ups … all have their place. I just believe that if a flea’s gone to the trouble of setting up a home-bar, an intimate more personal expression of sharing the music is called for. Retro and classic mixed drinks, in my opinion, call for retro and classic looking reproductions. Alas, the originals are hard to come by and are just not wired for compact disks or downloaded music.

What Mr. Booze has in his bar can still be found pretty easily if you devote an afternoon on the Internet. What I have is a Classic Reproduction Grundig 960. This is just a beautiful, 1940’s-50’s, wood-cabinet radio, which I’m able to easily hook up to my CD player. The radio acts as a receiver so I’ve just stashed my multi-disk CD player under the bar and display this gorgeous radio up on top. The sound quality is excellent and the built-in speakers are felt covered which soften and wrap the sound in warmth not found in today’s electronics. The volume potential more than covers my needs. I can have a room full of guests and this bar set-up provides all the sound I need. Blasting music is not what you want with a night of old school imbibing. Reproduction radio/CD players are an elegant way of honoring and celebrating simpler times.

The Grundig Classic 960 is no longer in production but I see ‘em all the time on ebay. You should easily find one for under $200. Worth every penny.

Crosley Radios and Record Players are also affordable options for display and the playing of your cocktail party music. I have the below mentioned turntable and I love it.

With it, I’m able to take full advantage of all the classic vinyl I find at Saturday Estate and Yard Sales. Trust me, a Tom Collins and some 1960’s Jack Jones records on a Friday night with a the wife and another couple or two, just adds up to a great evening to press in a memory book. This player also player CD’s and tapes. I buy old radio shows and enjoy them even more through the fabric-covered speakers. The all-wood cabinet looks nice as all get-out and the old sounds just sound better spilling out of one. I’ve posted a link below, but you can find ‘em on sale in Department and box stores like Target and Bed, Bath and beyond. Check it out here.

Crosley also puts out a little 1950’s style repro. Radio. It’s called the CR612 Corsair and it looks like a little streamlined piece of retro heaven. Chrome and black plastic, this baby would just be dynamite tucked back on the corner of your bar or on your liquor shelf. Slap some John Coltrane in it, mix up a shaker of Manhattans, invite some buddies over for poker and you’d be all set.
Here’s a link. Check it out here.

Deep Winter Music Reviews

In Like Flint & Our Man Flint Soundtrack Album, Jerry GoldsmithDean Martin Sings
It’s been a while since I dusted off a Dean Martin record here in the reviews’ section. Dean Martin Sings is just a swell dip into the pool of a singer everybody knows about, but still may be limited to a Christmas album, or a couple hits on a Rat Pack collection or a greatest hits package. This record is a bit more than just a smattering of Martin hits; this one is a great one to own if you don’t have any Dean Martin records, or just want a classic in your Saturday night arsenal to switch on as solid background for your martinis and manhattan cocktails. More than just a couple of classic Martin hits, Martin Sings carries a jewel-box full of Deano diamonds along with it. I have more than a few tried-n-true classic crooner offerings on our music picks because, let’s face it, they’re “classic” for a reason. You’ll find Martin songs on here that are actually quite rare in terms of what most folks have in their collection, and that will come in rather handy when hosting a few folks over for cocktails, bridge, or just chili & cornbread. If you ever come close to forgetting just how darned important Dean Martin once was to listen to with cocktails, let this one remind you.

Boss Guitar, Wes Montgomery Boss Guitar, Wes Montgomery – Wes is really what I love in cocktail jazz – upbeat, challenging, grown-up in its optimism, and old-school cool. Montgomery’s guitar-jazz was never meant for everyone, like so much of today’s pop music. I find his Hammond organ, heavy snare, guitar-rich odes to cool, dark bars just that – a complex reason for pouring something tall and cold, inviting a few lads & lassies on over, and having a little fun post 9 p.m. His version of The Days of Wine and Roses is as nocturnal as a jazz ballad gets. Never would you listen to this song before deep dark and candlelit. It drips with the type of innovation and pacing that calls for a sport jacket and more than just a cold beer. I reviewed a lot of horn-based and piano-based jazz, but this, my first foray into guitar-jazz, is an obvious and smoky choice. Wes Montgomery influenced so many guitarists to come after, one can really hear his groundbreaking instrumental choices with this one. Soft is an adjective I’ll use in my description. There’s a hip, 60’s softness found here that will truly compliment your next night in. A version of Canadian Sunset that is so night-and-day different than vocal renditions, it’ll be like hearing it for the very first time for many listeners. Mel Rhyne’s Hammond organ- accompanied licks and leads will carry you in and out of Wes’ guitar melodies on songs both familiar and not. This is 1960’s jazz in all its glory. Songs like The Breeze & I, For Heaven’s Sake, and others should really compliment a nice evening.

In Like Flint & Our Man Flint Soundtrack Album, Jerry GoldsmithIn Like Flint & Our Man Flint Soundtrack Album, Jerry Goldsmith – Where to start with this two-fer? How ’bout “ode to coolness.” That semi-sums it up. Composer and conductor, Jerry Goldsmith, knew what he was doing when scoring the American answer to Britain’s James Bond film series. The composer of Planet of the Apes, The Sand Pebbles, Twilight Zone episodes and countless other classic scores, infused a tongue-in-cheek American 60’s mentality right along with a brilliantly themed cloak-and-dagger swagger that Actor, James Coburn, carried so coolly in the two films. Sure, it’s a soundtrack, so you do, on occasion, get bogged down with filler, but that’s easily overlooked with this one, especially if you’re playing it during cocktails. The main theme, and the one you’re probably most familiar with, is called Your Zowie Face, and is only actually called that on a 60’s-dripping, vocal rendition which comes eleven tracks into the record’s twenty-eight. An investment in time, sure, but I tell ya, when that brilliant Flint-theme sneaks its way into the lion’s share of most cuts, you will feel like a spy just listening to it. They just don’t write them like this anymore, and you will be reminded of that fact while enjoying this soundtrack(s). As sexist, sexy, suave, silly, and intentionally self-important as this film is … so is the music, and I love it for that! White shoes, belts, short skirts and tucked-in tees, right along with the Harvey Wallbanger bar are practically musts. Find the theme on YouTube, and, if you at all like it, dive into this soundtrack. Fun is what this one’s about.

Love Is Blue, Paul Mauriat Love Is Blue, Paul Mauriat – I have the impossible-to-find Blooming Hits of Paul Mauriat on vinyl and do actually play this incredibly dated, 1968 French ode to sex, love and affairs when cocktail appropriate. The Blooming CD, which came out just 7 years ago, is impossible to find and costs over a hundred bucks if you can afford it. This is why the more affordable Love Is Blue collection is the one to add to your cocktail music stable. With The Pink Panther movies and others like Two For The Road, and Doctor Zhivago providing swinging Americans with a taste for swank European spiced music, Paul Mauriat waltzed into our stereos, sportin’ a beret, and lit up our sunken living rooms with soothing sounds dripping with exotic flare. Love Is Blue is the most popular hit here. You’ve heard it, and will most likely groove to its slow 60’s organ build up which ends in an almost harpsichordy hep finish. The song even reached number one here in 1968. Other groovy hits on the album are Summer Knows and Love Story. There are a fair share of clunkers on this one – Ebony & Ivory, Feel Like Making Love and Don’t Cry For Me Argentina could sink the party ship … but, if you are quick with a forward-button or have guests with a sense of humor and a little patience, this Mauriat album really sets a strong 60’s mood and leisure-and-pants suit statement. I dig this one on occasion and feel it’s list worthy. Check out Love Is Blue on a mp3 download. If you like and get it, dive deeper into the sophisticated, French stylings of Monsieur Mauriat.