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July 2017

Music is all around us - and around here, music is always in the air, no matter the season! Here's a tasty collection of gift ideas for someone you know or just for yourself. From whimsical to total extravagance, we have it all in the latest collection of Mike's Picks!

CLASSICAL

FEATURE ITEM:  RUTTER:  PSALMFEST - Elizabeth Cragg, Soprano; Pascal Charbonneau, Tenor; Mike Allen, Trumpet; Tom Winpenny, Organ; St. Albans Cathedral Choir and Abbey Girls Choir; Royal Philharmonic Orchestra; Andrew Lucas, cond. (Naxos)

The psalms of David have been a source of inspiration to composers for centuries, each text forming a poetic shape the equivalent of a gothic arch, and expressing a broad range of timeless emotions.  John Rutter's 1993 work Psalmfest is recorded here for the first time in its complete form, a collection of nine settings for full orchestra as rich and varied as the original texts.  The remaining psalm settings for full orchestra were written for various special occasions, including most recently the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in 2011.  This brand-new recording on the Naxos label is specially-priced for the summer only at an amazing ten dollars!  Please note, shipping will be extra on this special-promotion item. 10.00

BRITISH LIGHT CLASSICS - Various Artists (EMI Classics) (2 CD)
If you're like me you love the traditional sound of British Light Music, that immediately appealing, instantly-recognizable music from the last century that very much defined a nation.  How do you define British Light Music?  Perhaps Denis Norden's words explain it best:  "not just tuneful round the outside, but tuneful right through."  This two-disc set of some of the best of the genre performed by a host of orchestras primarily from the U.K. includes such standards as Sleepy Lagoon, The Dam Busters March; Knightsbridge March; Jaunting Car and In a Monastery Garden.  A great set at a great price.  25.00

J.S. BACH:  SECULAR CANTATAS, BWV 210, 211 - Carolyn Sampson, soprano; Makoto Sakurada, tenor; Stephen Schreckenber, bass; Bach Collegium Japan; Masaaki Suzuki, cond. (Bis)
The January Primavera Concerts presentation of the St. Catharines Chamber Music Society at St. Barnabas Church presented a rare opportunity to hear one of the two delightful secular cantatas featured on this disc.  The Coffee Cantata, BWV 211, dates from about 1734 and had its premiere performance at Zimmerman's Coffee House in Leipzig.  It is the closest staid old Bach likely ever came to something remotely resembling musical comedy, as it deals with a father's disdain for his winsome young daughter's love of coffee, then a drink taking over Germany and many other parts of Europe.  The disc pairs this lighthearted work with the equally lighthearted Wedding Cantata, BWV 210 for solo soprano and ensemble, dating from about 1741.  25.00

GUSTAV MAHLER:  DAS LIED VON DER ERDE (THE SONG OF THE EARTH) - Jane Henschel, mezzo-soprano; Gregory Kunde, tenor; Houston Symphony; Hans Graf, cond. (Naxos)
Here's a brand-new recording of the heart-wrenching music of Mahler dating from the summer of 1908.  Described as a 'symphony for two vocal soloists and orchestra', this deeply-felt music followed a number of severe losses by Mahler the previous year.  Following pressure, he resigned his position as Director of the Court Opera in Vienna; this was followed by his elder daughter Maria passing away and his own diagnosis of a severe heart condition.  The texts, taken from Hans Bethge's "The Chinese Flute", are concerned with the themes of transience and loss, culminating in the overwhelming Farewell.  12.00

BEETHOVEN INVENTS JAZZ - Various Artists (Virgin Classics)

Beethoven didn't really invent jazz, of course, but this interesting disc puts forth a strong argument his influence was felt long after musicians would leave the traditional concert hall.  It can be argued a passage in his final piano sonata suggests Beethoven created the first example of pure swing in the history of music.  From that idea grew the inspiration for this disc, which also features music by Brahms, Mussorgsky, Debussy, Stravinsky, Bartok, Milhaud, Weill, Gershwin, Arnold, Bernstein and Billy Mayerl.  Now, with some of those composers you can see a logical progression in music, but Brahms and Mussorgsky?  Can Brahms open a sonata movement with a walking bass blues that suggests the Mississippi Delta, or Mussorgsky have a musical kinship with Quincy Jones?  Hmm, this is a very interesting disc indeed.  25.00

RICHARD WAGNER:  OPERATIC SCENES AND ARIAS - Kirsten Flagstad, soprano; Lauritz Melchoir, tenor; Gordon Dilworth, baritone; San Francisco Opera Orchestra; Edwin McArthur, cond; Philadelphia Orchestra; Eugene Ormandy, cond; Victor Symphony Orchestra (Newton Classics)
These recordings were made when the great Norwegian soprano was in her vocal prime, between 1935 and 1940.  Included is the Act 2 duet from Parsifal, which became a calling-card of sorts for both Flagstad and her partner on this recording, Lauritz Melchoir, as well as arias and scenes from Tristan und Isolde, Lohengrin, Die Walkure and Gotterdammerung.  The great Rudolf Bing called her "the greatest soprano of the century," and many would agree.  Listen and hear the voice that defined an era of great operatic singers.  15.00

CLAUDE DEBUSSY:  CHILDREN'S CORNER - Orchestre symphonique de Quebec; Yoav Talmi, cond. (Atma Classique)

Conductor Yoav Talmi leads Canada's oldest symphony orchestra in a new recording of music by Debussy originally composed for piano and orchestrated by Ravel, Caplet, Busser, Stokowski and Ansermet.  Delightful in its original form, these orchestral miniatures are even more evocative as many great conductors and composers have been inspired to arrange them here to employ the full palette available to a symphony orchestra.  Included is Debussy's Children's Corner; Six Epigraphes antiques; Clair de lune; Sarabande; Danse; Le Soiree dans Grenade and the Petite Suite.  25.00

SIBELIUS:  FINLANDIA - The Philadelphia Orchestra; The Mormon Tabernacle Choir; Eugene Ormandy, cond. (Sony Classical Originals)

These classic recordings, made in 1959 through 1963 still sound amazing today; truly a testament to the celebrated 60s-era "360 Sound" moniker Columbia Records used back then.  Cranking up the stereo produces no distortion whatsoever, and the sound is crystal clear.  The performances are first-rate as well, especially with the inclusion of The Mormon Tabernacle Choir on Sibelius' celebrated tone poem Finlandia.  Other Sibelius tracks featured include Valse Triste, The Swan of Tuonela and En Saga, as well as the Peer Gynt Suite No. 1 by Grieg, and my favourite track, the Swedish Rhapsody No. 1 by Hugo Alfven.  That's the one Percy Faith used for his 50s-era hit, by the way.  15.00

BEETHOVEN:  MISSA SOLEMNIS/MASS IN C - New Philharmonia Orchestra & Chorus; London Philharmonic Orchestra; Carlo Maria Giulini, cond. (2 CD) (EMI Classics Gemini Series)
This powerful choral music by Beethoven includes his two great masses, the Mass in C, Op. 86, performed by Chorus Niagara in March, which dates from 1807, and the Mass in D (Missa Solemnis), Op. 123, a much later work dating from 1818 to 1823.  These two classic recordings from the EMI Classics catalogue both feature the venerable conductor Carlo Maria Giulini, and represent great value.  Beethoven was more than just great symphonies; listen to this divine music and be moved this season.  20.00

BIBER & BIBER:  SONATAS FOR TRUMPETS, STRINGS AND CONTINUO - Gabriele Cassone & Roberto Falcone, natural trumpet; Antonio Frige, continuo; Ensemble "Pian & Forte" (Dynamic Delizie Musicali)

No, we're not talking about Canada's darling boy wonder, Justin Bieber here.  Rather, composers Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber, who lived from 1644 to 1704, and Carl Heinrich Biber, who lived from 1681 to 1749.  These sonatas for trumpet, strings and continuo are graceful examples of the sonata form from that era, and receive clean, expressive performances here.  I love the graphics on this new budget reissue line from Dynamic, known as "Delizie Musicali".  Other composers featured in the series include Caspar Furstenau, Giuseppe Sammartini and Michel Pignolet de Monteclair, among others.  15.00

TCHAIKOVSKY:  PIANO CONCERTO NO. 1; RACHMANINOFF:  PIANO CONCERTO NO. 2 - Van Cliburn, piano; Orchestra cond. by Kirill Kondrashin & Fritz Reiner (RCA Victor Living Stereo( (Super Audio CD)

In April, 1958, twenty-three-year-old Van Cliburn of Kilgore, Texas, won the Tchaikovsky International Piano Contest in the Soviet Union.  He knocked the judges' collective socks off with his electrifying performance of the Piano Concerto No. 1 by Tchaikovsky.  Not long afterwards, RCA Victor capitalized on the hoopla surrounding the win by recording Cliburn performing the concerto, paired with the ultra-romantic Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 2 in their popular "Living Stereo" series.  This recording has always been available in one form or another ever since, with the latest release in the Super Audio format adding yet another aurel dimension to the celebrated "Living Stereo" series.  Yes, these performances still sound great today!  20.00

LEROY ANDERSON:  ORCHESTRAL MUSIC, VOL. 1 - Jeffrey Biegel, piano; BBC Concert Orchestra; Leonard Slatkin, cond. (Naxos)
At the February Pops! concert with the Niagara Symphony, one of the highlights was the debut performance by young pianist who just happened to know the Piano Concerto in C major, which was almost totally forgotten before being revived back in 1989.  Now there are a couple of good recordings available of the work, including this fine performance in the Leroy Anderson series from Naxos, surveying the complete orchestral music of this much-underrated composer.  Along with the Piano Concerto, the disc also features a number of Anderson's famous short works, including Bugler's Holiday, Blue Tango, Chicken Reel and many others.  Superb performances and sound make the entire series worth collecting! 12.00

L'ACCORDEONISTE - Kimberly Barber, mezzo-soprano; Peter Tiefenbach, piano; Mary-Lou Vetere, accordion; featuring the New Berlin Ensemble (L'Accordeoniste)
Here is one of the most interesting independent releases of 2009, featuring all-Canadian talent, including Niagara's own Mary-Lou Vetere.  A cross between lieder, cabaret songs and tango, this delectable recording features tracks such as There's Nothing Quite Like Money; Berlin im Licht-Song; The Sailor's Tango and La Vie en Rose.  The production values are exceptional and the performances equally so.  And to hear our own Mary-Lou play the accordion on this disc, well, that's just icing on the cake...enjoy!  20.00

MICHAEL DAUGHERTY:  ROUTE 66/TIME MACHINE/GHOST RANCH/SUNSET STRIP - Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra; Marin Alsop, cond. (Naxos)

We featured last year Daugherty's recording of the Metropolis Symphony, also on Naxos with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra, and that disc won a Grammy award this past February.  This new disc, described as a musical road-trip from the creative mind of Daugherty, is conducted by Marin Alsop, who has championed his music for over 20 years.  Route 66 is a high-octane nostalgic drive from Illinois to California, through "Main Street America" as seen by composer Daugherty.  The musical stops along the way include, of course, a Ghost Ranch and a trip down Sunset Strip.  The disc concludes with Time Machine, a wild exploration of sound for three conductors and orchestra!  12.00

JAZZ

C'EST SI BON - Le Trio Parisien, featuring Juliet Dunn (Independent)
One of the true vocal treasures in the Niagara area these days has to be jazz chanteuse Juliet Dunn, who performs throughout the world yet still makes her home here in Niagara.  In the past year locally, she performed with the Niagara Symphony last spring and in November provided the French chansons at a swank wine & dinner pairing at the Paris Crepes Bistro in downtown Niagara Falls, among other gigs.  I finally met Juliet and her husband Peter Shea at Chapters just before Christmas, where they were performing and selling their two discs.  The music on this and their "Christmas in Niagara" disc present a fresh, youthful approach to familiar classics.  On "C'est Si Bon" for example, material ranges from "La Vie En Rose", "Padam" and my personal favourite, "La Petite Tonkinoise".  This music will bring you back to the gallic charm of Paris Crepes Bistro without leaving the comfort of your living room!  20.00

20th CENTURY MASTERS - MILLENIUM COLLECTION:  THE BEST OF MEL TORME - Mel Torme (Hip-O)

There is no shortage of very good Mel Torme collections currently available, but for the price this one really can't be beat.  Concentrating on the 50s and early 60s recordings Torme made for Coral and Verve recordings, you'll hear fine renditions of some classic examples of the Great American Songbook, all infused with that swing factor only Torme could bring to the music.  From the unbelievable opener, It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing) where Torme pretty well becomes the band, to classics such as Blues in the Night, Blue Moon and Moonlight in Vermont, this is a wonderful budget collection.  Adding his famous composition, The Christmas Song, is just icing on the cake.  15.00

NIGHT TRAIN - Oscar Peterson Trio (Verve Master Edition)

A classic Peterson recording with the classic trio of Peterson on piano, Ray Brown on bass and Ed Thigpen on drums, recorded in December, 1962.  This has always been in print in one form or another, but this new, lower-priced digi-pak edition from Verve sounds even better than before, and includes previously unissued tracks and alternate takes.  All the classic Peterson performances are here, including the title track, of course, and C-Jam Blues, Moten Swing, and especially Peterson's timeless Hymn to Freedom.  Traditional small-group jazz just doesn't get any better than this!  15.00

JAZZ SEBASTIAN BACH, VOL. 1 - The Swingle Singers (Philips)

The newest iteration of the venerable Swingle Singers is on the summer festival tour circuit, making stops in both Elora and Ottawa this summer.  They still maintain that trademark sound established way back in the early 60s when Ward Swingle founded the group in France with Christiane Legrand.  Legend has it they initially began with a desire to improve their overall musicianship and sight-reading skills, and as they made their way through Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier they decided to "swing" the piece and basically have some fun with it.  Everyone loved the end result, with the Swingle Singers soon recording and touring for many years, doing their own jazz-influenced spin on the classics.  Initially they concentrated on Bach, but later sang the music of Mozart and many others as well.  This classic disc is all-Bach, however, and includes some pretty inventive takes on the master's many preludes and fugues, as well as the Sinfonia from the Partita No. 2 and the Bouree from the English Suite No. 2.  Fun music for a summer evening on the patio!  15.00

SCOTT HAMILTON WITH STRINGS - Scott Hamilton, tenor saxophone; Bob Maize, bass; Roy McCurdy, drums; String Orchestra arranged and conducted by Alan Broadbent. (Concord Jazz)
If Scott Hamilton's Late Night Christmas Eve is the definitive Christmas curl-up-in-front-of-the-fire-with-someone-special disc, Scott Hamilton with Strings is the definitive any-other-time-of-the-year-same-effect disc.  It is simply ravishingly beautiful, with Hamilton's restrained yet expressive tenor sax solos, set in front of a lush but never overbearing string orchestra lead by Alan Broadbent, who also supplies piano solos.  All the tracks are key on this disc, from My Foolish Heart (Track One) to Tonight I Shall Sleep With a Smile on My Face (final track).  This will quickly become one of your favourite CDs!  15.00

NORM AMADIO AND FRIENDS - Norm Amadio, piano; Rosemary Galloway, bass; Terry Clarke, drums; Guido Basso, trumpet & flugelhorn; Phil Dwyer, saxophone; Reg Schwager, electric & acoustic guitars; Mat Pataki, percussion; Marc Jordan, Jackie Richardson & Tommy Ambrose, vocals; Pandamonium Strings. (Panda Digital)
Veteran jazz pianist Norm Amadio is back and sounding better than ever!  I still have an old RCA 45 rpm record of Tommy Ambrose and Norm Amadio doing their early 70s tribute to Toronto, titled "People City"; he's done lots more since then, but frankly, I wasn't noticing for some reason.  That is rectified on this lively, upbeat-sounding disc from Panda Digital, recorded in September, 2009.  The artists joining Amadio really need no introduction; they are all great artists in their own right, and each contributes in their own special way to the overall sound of this disc.  Also included are three bonus tracks from the Norm Amadio Trio recorded in 1966, and still sounding great today.  What a pleasure to hear these great artists all together, obviously having great fun performing with Norm.  20.00

'ROUND MIDNIGHT - Linda Ronstadt, with Nelson Riddle & his Orchestra (Asylum) (2 CD)

Way back in the early 80s, Linda Ronstadt wanted to record some of the classic pop songs her parents would have listened to, and had a vision to record them with not just any arranger/conductor, but with THE arranger/conductor who had guided the careers of so many great voices of the past, ranging from Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald to even Kiri Te Kanewa, Nelson Riddle.  As a kid, I idolized Riddle for his classic arrangements for Sinatra back in the 50s, including of course, the penultimate arranement of Cole Porter's I've Got You Under My Skin.  In the early 80s when Nelson was making the odd trip to Toronto to perform, I caught his show at the Imperial Room at the Royal York Hotel, and afterwards came within inches of actually meeting the man; I should have stepped up to say hello, but I held him in such awe I chickened out and I have always regretted it.  Linda knew the musical measure of the man as well, and over four years until his untimely death, they recorded three lovely albums together:  What's New?, Lush Life, and For Sentimental Reasons.  The singing is exceptional, as Riddle knew just how to bring out the best in Ronstadt, especially on the final album together.  Now all three are available on a two-disc set, and they sound grand!  40.00
 
NINA - Kellylee Evans (Plus Loin Records)
Kellylee Evans is a young Canadian woman of Jamaican heritage who is based in Ottawa who won a Juno award this year, and was a successful candidate in 2004 at the prestigious "Thelonius Monk International Jazz Vocals" competition, with a jury made up of Quincy Jones, Al Jarreau and Dee Dee Bridgewater.  Kellylee has recorded a couple of earlier CDs, but this late-2009 release takes her back to her jazz roots with a heartfelt tribute to one of the artists who influenced her career greatly, the great Nina Simone.  Key tracks include "Mood Indigo", "I Loves You, Porgy" and "Love Me or Leave Me."  This is a lovely, sultry voice we'll hopefully hear much more from in the years to come.  25.00

OTHER VOICES - Erroll Garner, piano; Orchestra under the direction of Mitch Miller (Essential Jazz Classics)
First released in 1957 and now available for the first time on CD, this ravishing disc is easily the most 'pop' sounding Erroll Garner, but that takes nothing away from the beauty of this disc.  I'm actually listening to it while I write these words, and I am marvelling at the clean, distortion-free sound on this Essential Jazz Classics reissue, as well as the wonderful orchestral arrangements Erroll worked out in collaboration with Nat Pierce, famous for his work with Woody Herman.  Sincer Garner couldn't read music, Erroll basically described what he wanted and Pierce came up with the arrangements.  Released on Columbia, I have had two LP copies in my collection for years, both the original mono and the later stereo transfer, but neither approaches this new disc, which includes solo and trio versions of much of the same material, which ranges from his classic Misty to The Very Thought of You to my personal favourite, Dreamy.  22.00

MEMORIES OF MY TRIP - Chris Barber's Jazz Band (2CD) (Proper)

Chris Barber's Jazz Band, which can trace its lineage back to 1949, became a beacon of traditional styles of jazz in the U.K.  This new two-disc set from Proper Records in England includes some of the early high points, as the band welcomes some of its American heroes to the line-up, including ex-Louis Armstrong clarinettists Ed Hall and Joe Darensbourg, and trombonists Trummy Young and Eddie Durham.  Also heard on some tracks are Mark Knopfler, Jools Holland, Sammy Price, Sandy Bowen and even Keith Emerson and the T-Bones.  Quite an eclectic collection of jazz for those who remember the great sound of Chris Barber!  20.00

SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY - The Singers Unlimited; The Robert Farnon Orchestra (MPS/Jazz Club)
When this album first came out in 1976, I was already a huge Singers Unlimited fan, thanks in no small part to their celebrated Christmas album.  But this recording pairs the Singers with the Robert Farnon Orchestra, quite simply one of the finest-sounding light-music orchestras of all time.  I had the pleasure of meeting Farnon not long after this recording was made, and he was very shy yet genial, not all all as you would expect from an orchestral arranger & conductor who has worked with some of the greatest artists in the world from Tony Bennett on down.  The Singers Unlimited, with vocal arrangements by Gene Puerling, simply shine in front of that lush, gently swinging Farnon orchestral backdrop, singing everything from The More I See You to Sleepy Time Gal; from Angel Eyes to of course, the title track.  This reiussue CD sounds great, and you'll return to it time and time again!  20.00

THE VERY BEST OF ARTURO SANDOVAL - Arturo Sandoval, trumpet (Verve)

The Cuban-born jazz trumpeter brings his musical tribute to Dizzy Gillespie on Brock's Centre for the Arts in March, and although this Best Of collection does not contain any of Gillespie's memorable material on it, it does feature 11 well-chosen tracks mainly from his GRP recordings in the 90s.  Each and every one of them show his technical brilliance without fail, and many in fact are Sandoval originals, such as Be-Bop and Swingin'  A nice set at an even nicer price.  15.00

AFTER HOURS - Sarah Vaughan (Blue Note)
This recording dates from 1961, with all 11 tracks showing off the more intimate-sounding Sarah, accompanied here only by guitar and string bass.  Recorded live in New York, Vaughan's voice is both radiant and sensual in these sides, including tracks such as Il Wind, Sophisticated Lady and even My Favourite Things.  This is a great disc and should be in the library of any serious jazz vocal fan.  20.00

POPULAR/CROSSOVER

THE WIND THAT SHAKES THE BARLEY - Loreena McKennitt (Quinlan Road)
For the first time in at least 20 years, Canadian singer/songwriter Loreena McKennitt returns to her musical roots, quite literally, with a new collection of ballads, including material from England, Scotland and Ireland, as well as one original piece.  There are nine tracks in total, ranging from "On a Bright Day Morning" to "Brian Boru's March" to "The Parting Glass."  A recipient of multiple platinum and double platinum awards over the years, McKennitt has sold 14-million records worldwide and about 400,000 in Canada.  If ever there were a bankable artist making music in Canada these days, Loreena McKennitt would have to be it.  20.00

SOMEWHERE OVER THE RAINBOW:  THE BEST OF ISRAEL KAMAKAWIWO'OLE (UMGI Records)

When beloved Hawaiian ukulele player Isreal Kamakawiwo'ole passed away about fourteen years ago, he left behind a small catalogue of recordings and a very loyal following of fans.  His vocal interpretation of the classic Somewhere Over the Rainbow made waves the world over at the time; it is featured on this new Best Of collection, along with a dozen of his other recordings made over his musical career.  You might have heard his rendition of the title track on any number of occasions before but never realized just who the artist was.  This package will serve to introduce this most unusual artist to a wider audience.  22.00

ETERNEL - Gilbert Becaud (2 CD Best Of/12 CD Essentiel Box Set)
It has been about ten years since French singer Gilbert Becaud passed away, but the legacy of one of the top international singers for decades is ensured through his many great recordings, both as singer and songwriter.  This new tribute to Becaud's immense talent is available either as a well-priced two-disc Best Of collection, or the full-blown 12-disc "Essentiel" collection containing no less than 267 of his classic recordings:  Nine original studio albums remastered and enhanced with bonus tracks from vintage 7-inch discs, as wel as his Best of Olympia recordings and many other rarities.  The deluxe box-set includes a 64-page booklet containing rare pictures and texts and more.  From Et Maintenant and L'Important C'est La Rose to his later material, either set will bring back memories of a singer who sported a familiar polka-dot tie during performances, such as the memorable concert I attended in the 70s at Toronto's Massey Hall.  He, as always, held the audience in the palms of his hands for hours!  25.00/170.00

THE CONCERT SINATRA - Frank Sinatra; Orchestra arranged & conducted by Nelson Riddle (Concord Records)
Sinatra's Reprise years in the 60s were full of musical ups and downs, but he did produce some real gems during that era, including this disc from the early 60s that successfully reinterprets a selection of familiar show-tunes, primarily those composed by Richard Rodgers, for the concert stage.  Nelson Riddle arranges and conducts one of the largest orchestras to ever back up Sinatra in the studio, but despite the size the support work here is still very light and supple.  This is a very grand-sounding disc, with key tracks including Lost in the Stars, Ol' Man River and You'll Never Walk Alone, and a show-stopping recording of Soliloquy.  20.00

MOMENTS TO REMEMBER - The Mantini Sisters (Trio Music)
Although this independent release by Niagara-area favourites The Mantini Sisters has been out for ten years now, it still sounds fresh and still reflects the many talents of these three ladies.  Most of the selections feature simple, straightforward arrangements with the trademark harmonies of the Mantini Sisters performing classic songs like 'Sentimental Journey' and 'Mr. Sandman'.  If you have ever attended one of their performances and have yet to get a copy of this for yourself, do yourself a favour and get it - you won't be disappointed!  20.00

HERE WE GO AGAIN:  CELEBRATING THE GENIUS OF RAY CHARLES - Willie Nelson & Wynton Marsalis, featuring special guest Norah Jones (Blue Note)

Both Willie Nelson and Wynton Marsalis share a great respect and admiration for the late musical pioneer Ray Charles.  Not long ago, they joined musical forces for a two-night Jazz at Lincoln Centre concert event at New York City's Frederick P. Rose Hall, home of Jazz at Lincoln Centre.  They were also joined by the vocalist Norah Jones, who provides a sort of middle ground between Nelson and Marsalis.  The sold-out performance was captured and then mixed and mastered for a brand-new disc featuring a great selection of music including:  "Hallelujah", "Hit the Road, Jack" and the title track, "Here We Go Again."  22.00

SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME - Susan Boyle (Syco Music)

The Scottish singer who hit it big a few seasons back on Britain's Got Talent with music from Les Miserables is back with a third disc, and one that stretches Boyle in new directions.  Along with more predictable, standard fare such as the title track, Both Sides Now and Unchained Melody, Susan also tries her hand a more contemporary material like Tears for Fears' Mad World and Depeche Mode's Enjoy The Silence.  Susan Boyle has had a difficult time adjusting to fame over the last couple of years, but this new, very strong outing signals she is back and sounding better than ever!  22.00

LERNER & LOEWE:  MY FAIR LADY (Soundtrack) - Rex Harrison, Julie Andrews, Stanley Holloway, with Musical Director Cyril Ornadel (Sony/Columbia)
The mega-hit on Broadway and in London, England, where it opened in April of 1958, this recording made February 1st, 1959 features the London cast which is much the same as the American cast, really.  It is the musical that launched Julie Andrews' career, and brought Stanley Holloway to the attention of a whole new audience outside of England.  Everyone knows the story, based of course on Shaw's play Pygmalion, and everyone knows the songs, too:  Get Me to the Church On Time; The Rain in Spain; On The Street Where You Live and I Could Have Danced All Night, among so many others.  Almost every song in the show is remembered still, and that is pretty impressive considering the show is now over 50 years old!  Finally, after 50 seasons of perfoming plays by George Bernard Shaw, the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake celebrates their own milestone with a lavish production of My Fair Lady at the Festival Theatre, and it is one for the ages.  20.00

ANDREW LLOYD WEBBER/TIM RICE:  JESUS CHRIST, SUPERSTAR - Soundtrack (25th anniversary edition) (MCA) (2 CD)

While the Shaw Festival revives Lerner & Loewe's My Fair Lady this season, two musical revivals take place at the Stratford Festival, with one of them being the ground-breaking rock musical that actually started out as an album before making it to the stage as a fully-produced musical:  Jesus Christ Superstar.  Dating from 1970, J.C. Superstar was a huge hit onstage before the movie version came out, and this soundtrack is from the movie version.  The music sounds fresh and relevant even today, and suggests Webber and Co. can actually write more than one hit song per musical.  I attended the Stratford performance the same night Mr. Webber attended himself, and word is he was pretty impressed with the Stratford production.  You will be, too!  35.00

SINGLES 1969-1981 - The Carpenters (A&M)

During most of the 70s and into the early 80s, The Carpenters pretty much defined light pop music heard on the radio back then, and pretty much all their classic singles from 1969 to 1981 are included here:  (They Long to Be) Close to You; For All We Know, Ticket to Ride, and Rainy Days and Mondays are just some of the hits you'll remember.  Sure, the sugar content was pretty high on this stuff, but it still brings back memories of a more innocent era, and listening to Karen's radiant voice again just makes it seem okay again.  15.00

THE MANCINI TOUCH - Henry Mancini Orchestra (Blue Moon)
This album, first released on RCA Living Stereo in 1959, blended the easy-swinging jazz rhythms Mancini was very familiar with and the smooth-sounding strings his arrangements exemplified with very satisfying results.  The material includes several Mancini originals, including "Mostly for Lovers", "Politely" and "A Cool Shade of Blue" with standards such as "Like Young", "My One and Only Love" and "Snowfall."  The light touch and exceptional playing by such talents as Dick Nash on trombone, Ronnie Lang on baritone sax and alto flute, Ted Nash on also sax and Shelley Manne on drums, make this disc a great addition to any record collection over 50 years after it was first released.  25.00

SPEECHLESS:  THE INSTRUMENTAL BRUCE COCKBURN - Bruce Cockburn (True North)

Canadian singer/songwriter Bruce Cockburn has earned his fame by producing tuneful yet thought-provoking songs on issues that matter to both him and a lot of us; he is a quiet, gentle man who really works hard at his craft.  I met Bruce years ago in Toronto and still remember the interview we did at the True North offices.  This is a different side to Bruce:  the instrumental side we don't often hear.  The nice things about instrumentals is you don't really have to have a reason for naming them what you do, so we have songs titled Foxglove, Train in the Rain and Rise and Fall, among many others.  Cockburn is comfortable and at ease on this set, and you will be too once you settle in for a listen.  15.00

NOSTALGIA

GILBERT & SULLIVAN:  THE MIKADO (1960 BELL TELEPHONE HOUR SOUNDTRACK) - Groucho Marx, vocals; soloists with The Norman Luboff Choir; Bell Telephone Orchestra, Donald Voorhees, cond. (DRG Records)
Back in the 50s, someone at NBC-TV had the idea, for whatever reason, to assemble a TV cast of capable opera-quality singers with chorus and orchestra, and crown the group with the one and only Groucho Marx, who appears as Ko-Ko, The Lord High Executioner.  Perhaps as a way to introduce the masses to the wonders of G&S by way of television, this 50-minute adaptation by Martyn Green is considerably shorter than the usual two-hour length of the full-scale operetta; as such, purists will likely shun this 1960-era oddity originally released on Columbia Records and now re-released by DRG; others, however, will enjoy the novelty of the whole adventure for at least a little while!  I remember hearing Groucho's recording of "The Willow, Tit Willow" years ago and was intrigued how straight he actually sang the part.  Not the leering Groucho we remember, but perhaps Groucho in a reflective mood?  The mind boggles...  25.00

THE GREAT POP INSTRUMENTALS - Various Artists (3 CD) (Sony/BMG)

Although the discs are a little on the short side in terms of play length, the material is a wonderful cross-section of mostly 50s & 60s pop instrumental music, with a couple of nods to the 70s as well with "Frankenstein" by The Edgar Winter Group and "T.S.O.P." (The Sound of Philadelphia) by MFSB featuring The Three Degrees.  But there are some real gems here I bet you have not heard on disc in years, such as Ralph Flanagan's recording of "Hot Toddy" and "Doodletown Fifers" with the Sauter-Finegan Orchestra.  Other artists featured are Floyd Cramer, Perez Prado, Percy Faith, Al Hirt, The Viscounts and even Henry Mancini with his lovely 1969 hit, "Love Theme from Romeo & Juliet."  20.00

THAT WAS THE YEAR THAT WAS - Tom Lehrer (Reprise)
A Harvard mathemetician by day who moonlighted as one of America's most biting satirists at night, Tom Lehrer was big news in the late 50s and early 60s, making several highly-popular recordings for Reprise Records, but he always remained a bit of an enigma.  He never allowed his picture to appear on the album jackets, for example, and he rarely toured.  Still, he became a social commentator of great influence before he essentially retired from performing in 1965.  It was that year this classic live recording was released, recorded at the Hungry i in San Francisco, and containing some of his best material, including "New Math", "National Brotherhood Week" and of course, his wickedly funny "The Vatican Rag".  Lehrer reappeared in public a few times after retirement and worked on a few musical projects, but largely remained a mathematics professor for years.  In April, he turns 83!  20.00

60 BAR-B-QUE SIZZLERS - Various Artists (Proper Music) (3 CD)

There really isn't any real correlation between the music and barbecuing here, other than the fact this three-disc set provides a great nostalgic background to your outdoor summer get-togethers, with a wealth of 50s-era hits you'll all remember.  Artists include:  Jerry Lee Lewis, Frank Sinatra, Johnny Cash, The Everly Brothers and Elvis, among many others, and the songs include everything from Bird Dog and Great Balls of Fire to I've Got You Under My Skin and Summertime Blues.  Sit back, fire up the barbie, and put this set on repeat.  Nothing left to do but enjoy!  20.00
 
BUONA SERA - Louis Prima, featuring Keely Smith and Sam Butera & The Witnesses (Proper Music) (4 CD Box Set)
Louis Prima is remembered today as a musical pioneer and innovator who contributed considerably towards modern muisc and the course it eventually took.  It all began with his taking off at the once-famed 52nd Street in New York City so many years ago.  In the 50s, he downsized his band, added the great sax-man Sam Butera and vocalist Keely Smith, and introduced a shuffle beat combined with a New Orleans southern rock sound to complement his onstage antics and singing, and his career took off.  The string of hits they produced in that era, including Just a Gigolo/I Ain't Got Nobody; Buona Sera, Zooma Zooma, and of course, That Old Black Magic, are all here in this impressive four-disc set of their best-known material.  Crack it open and remember the way things were so many years ago!  40.00

COMMERCIAL BREAK:  THE OLD TUNES FROM THE NEW ADS - Various Artists (ASV/Living Era)
This is a fun collection of vintage recordings used over the past while to help sell products in the U.K.  So although many of the products won't be familiar over here, such as Anchor Butter and Boots No. 7, the music, largely from North America, certainly will be.  Who knew, for example, Glenn Miller's classic 'In The Mood' has been used to hawk Walkers Doritos or The Grasshopper's Dance was used to sell milk?  Other artists included in this set are Al Bowlly, Ted Lewis and his Band; Benny Goodman and Eddie Cantor.  The real gem is the final track, used to promote NPI Pensions of all things:  'As Time Goes By' from the original soundtrack of 'Casablanca' with Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman with Dooley Wilson at the piano.  And no, Humphrey never said "Play it again, Sam" in the movie; it was actually "Play It, Sam!"  What a great vintage set!  20.00

MEMORIES ARE MADE OF THIS - Ray Conniff and his Orchestra and Chorus (Columbia)
Originally released in 1961, this proved to be one of Ray Conniff's most commercially-successful albums, featuring the wordless vocals he was famous for in the early years.  The title track, a hit for Dean Martin in 1958, sets us off on a musical journey through the 50s with some of the best-known tunes from that era, including Tammy, Young Love, Three Coins in the Fountain and Love Me Tender among others.  In later years, Conniff and his singers were very busy in the recording studio as well, but rarely hit the mark as much as they did on this vintage turn.  15.00

PAPER MOON (Soundtrack) - Various Artists (Cherry Red Records) 
Released in 1973, this Peter Bogdanovich movie starred Ryan and Tatum O'Neal as the bible-selling huckster Moses Pray and the newly-orphaned little girl Addie.  Tatum had never acted before, but the huge gamble paid off handsomely for Bogdanovich as she delivered a remarkable performance, eventually becoming the youngest-ever winner of the Oscar for best supporting actress at the tender age of ten.  The soundtrack featured classic depression-era songs in original recordings by the likes of Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra; Jimmie Davis; The Blue Sky Boys; Bing Crosby and Ozzie Nelson and his Orchestra among others, as well as Django Reinhardt and the Quintet of the Hot Club of France.  26 tracks in all and a very rare soundtrack!  30.00

YOU CAN CALL ME MISS KITTY - Eartha Kitt (Golden Stars) (3 CD)

This three-disc set released in 2009 features the nothing-if-not-versatile Eartha Kitt on no less than 48 tracks, including everything from her Christmas hit, Santa Baby to I Want to be Evil, as well as C'est Si Bon and Uska Dera.  Kitt was one of only a few performers to be nominated for an Emmy, a Grammy (twice) and a Tony (three times).  It is easy to dismiss her as a caricature who claimed a certain amount of fame in the late 60s Batman TV series as Catwoman, but listening to her voice and the breadth of her work on this set, you remember the pioneer she really was, and a darn sexy one at that!  30.00

MAN OF 1,000 VOICES:  THAT'S ALL, FOLKS! - Mel Blanc (Remember)

What can you say about Mel Blanc?  The pre-eminent character voice master of the 20th century who gave voice to so many classic cartoon characters we grew up with:  Woody Woodpecker; Bugs Bunny; Elmer Fudd; Daffy Duck; Sylvester the Cat and so many others.  Here, Blanc performs his magic on studio recordings such as Sylvester singing I Taught I Taw a Puddy-Tat and Porky Pig singing K-K-K-Katy, among others.  Also included are classic radio routines, including one where Jack Benny gets a violin lesson!  Somewhat dated now, but still really entertaining.  20.00

TERRIBLY SOPHISTICATED SONGS:  A COLLECTION OF UNPOPULAR SONGS FOR POPULAR PEOPLE - Irving Taylor/Henry Mancini (Tartare)
Here's a real oddity:  released in 1958, Irving Taylor wrote all the songs but the artists have been lost to history.  There are choral groups and soloists, but no mention of them is given; it is known, however, a young up-and-coming conductor/composer in his own right, Henry Mancini, handled the musical direction on this disc, orginally released on the Warner Bros. label.  The songs, witty in their time, have become somewhat dated now, but some of them still are fun to listen to:  "The Brooklyn Beguine", for example, or "I'll Never Forget Those Unforgettable Never to be Forgotten Memories."  The clever arrangements by Mr. Mancini go a long way to making the material still sound fun today.  Not a disc for everyone, to be sure, but something different if you dare...  25.00

THE GIRLS OF PETTICOAT JUNCTION:  SIXTIES SOUNDS - Various Artists (Real Gone Music)
In the 60s, lots of television shows produced memorable music, either as part of the show itself or simply with a great introductory theme song.  Petticoat Junction managed to do both in a way, and this disc celebrates a show that defined a much simpler, more innocent time.  The famous theme song, complete with train whistle, is sung here by the original TV series vocalist and co-composer, Curt Massey.  But the disc also compiles the long-unavailable Imperal singles onto one album, including previously unreleased tracks and debut stereo versions for every recording.  One of the highlights is a rare 1967 Capitol single by Meredith MacRae, Who Needs Memories of Him/Goodbye Love.  Fun stuff!  20.00

PLEASE NOTE:  Prices include shipping within Canada; all Mike's Picks selections are tax-free within Ontario.