Holiday Music Purists Will Appreciate Putumayo World Music’s New Compilation Record

Courtesy: Putumayo World Music

With the holiday season here once again, the stores are full of records loaded with cookie cutter holiday tuned.  From one genre to the next and even on the stores’ speakers, it is everywhere.  That can honestly become rather infuriating.  Thankfully for all of the same old same old that said music offers audiences, there are at least some diamonds in the rough so to speak that change things up this time of year.  One of those records is Putumayo World Music’s recently released compilation record, Jazz Christmas.  Released Nov. 26, just in time for the start of the holiday shopping season, the 10-song record is a welcome change of pace for those looking for something a little different from everything else.  That is due to the featured arrangements, which will be discussed shortly.  The compilation’s liner notes are just as much importance as its musical content and will be discussed a little later.  The record’s sequencing rounds out its most important elements and will also be addressed later.  Each item noted is important in its own way to the whole of the collection.  All things considered, they make the compilation a welcome addition to this year’s field of holiday music collections.

Putumayo World Music’s newly released holiday music collection, Jazz Christmas, is a surprisingly enjoyable new offering for those who are looking for something a little different in their annual holiday music presentations.  The record proves so enjoyable in large part because of its featured musical arrangements.  The arrangements are jazz takes on so many well-known holiday tunes.  Each one is so unique in itself and from its counterparts featured in this record.  It would have been so easy for any of the featured acts to either just try to make the songs in the vein of Vince Guaraldi or in another direction, to be just full on cheesy like a bunch of lounge acts.  Thankfully that did not happen.  Instead, each act gave each song its own touch.  Case in point is Lars Edegran and his Santa Claus Revelers’ original tune, ‘Christmas Time in New Orleans.’  The song title is a take of Louis Armstrong’s ‘Christmas In New Orleans.’  What’s interesting here is that where Armstrong’s famous rendition is a big band style composition, Lars Edegran and His Santa Claus Revelers turn the song slightly on its ear by giving the song more of a Dixieland sound.  Even in that unique take, the group still gives the song something of that big band sense.  Vocalist Big Al Carson even does a respectable job emulating the smoky, gritty sound of Pops’ vocal delivery style.

Another example of the importance of the record’s musical arrangements comes in the form of Chad Lawson Trio’s take of ‘Angels We Have Heard on High.’  Everyone Knows the sort of pomp and circumstance that is associated with this song, what with the pipe organ, choir, etc.  In the case of this rendition, Lawson and company give the song a lighter touch that is about as close as any of the featured groups come to Guaraldi’s work.  The song stays true to the roots of the original composition, but opts instead here to use a light piano touch, subtle bass line and equally subtle approach on the drums.  It really sounds like something that one would expect to hear on A Charlie Brown Christmas.  The swinging touch that the trio puts on the song and that there is no real sense of ego here makes it such a fun composition.

Yet another example of the importance of the record’s featured musical arrangements comes in Tom Grant’s take of ‘Winter Wonderland,’ which opens the compilation.  Considering how many times this song has been covered since it was first composed by Dick Smith in 1934, this rendition is honestly one of the better takes to come along in a long time.  There is no sense of pretense here.  It is just a piano, bass, and drums lightly playing the jazz classic while also giving it a touch that is just as soft as the snow about which Smith wrote.  Many of the bands out there that take on the classic tend to take such a down tempo approach to the song.  It is a nice change of pace here to have a group that ever so slightly picks up the pace and still gives the song a nice, light swing.  It is just one more example of the role that the arrangements play to the record’s presentation.  When it is considered along with the other arrangements examined here and with the rest of the collection’s featured arrangements, the whole leaves no doubt that the record’s musical content forms a solid foundation for its overall presentation.  It is just one part of what makes the record stand out, too.  The collection’s liner notes are of their own importance, too.

The liner notes featured with Jazz Christmas are important to note because of the background that they provide on the record’s featured artists and on the history of the featured songs.  Referencing again ‘White Christmas,’ the liner notes point out that Smith composed the song while recovering from tuberculosis in an asylum.  That’s not exactly what one might think of when one thinks of someone writing about the romantic nature of snow falling quietly and gently on the ground.  On a related note, the liner notes point out that Grant, who performed the piano line on this song, had a lifelong affinity for music, having grown up in a record store.  On a related note, audiences will be interested to learn that Grant had the honor of playing with famed jazz performers, such as Woody Shaw, Joe Henderson, and Jim Pepper.  That is not a bad resume to say the least. 

Just as interesting to point out in reference to the record’s liner notes is the revelation that Oscar Peterson, whose rendition of ‘Let It Snow’ is featured in the record, enjoyed a career that spanned more than six decades.  Ironically, it was just before Christmas in 2007 when Peterson passed.  So to have one of the tunes that he helped make so beloved here and knowing that he died just before Christmas makes for an interesting irony.  Staying on that note, the people at Putumayo World Music also make sure to note that the story of the song’s original creation is itself ironic.  As the liner notes point out, the song was written during the dead of summer in 1945 by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne.  It additionally points out that despite not mentioning Christmas even once in its lyrics, the song is still so strongly associated with Christmas just because of the matter of snow.  Considering that snow happens around the country today as early as October, one can not help but start really thinking about this added irony.  Again, here is more proof of the importance of the record’s liner notes.  When everything pointed out here and in the liner notes for the other songs examined here  and with the rest of the record’s songs, the whole of the liner notes’ content makes clear that the liner notes with the collection are just as crucial to the record’s presentation as the songs.  To that end, the whole of that primary and secondary content makes for so much reason for any holiday music purist to appreciate the collection.  Even with that in mind, there is still more to examine to the record’s positive.  That one more item is the record’s bonus content.

The bonus content in question noted is the bonus download card.  As is the case with Putumayo World Music’s recently released compilation, Acoustic Paris, the download card is so important because of the listening options that it allows audiences.  In an age when streaming and digital itself is so big a deal for so many consumers, the ability to download the collection will allow audiences to stream the music anywhere or even download it and burn it to disc.  Audiences can give the card to a friend or family member and let that person download the album, thus further spreading the music among audiences to more audiences.  It is a way to reach as many audiences as possible and appeal to all of those audiences, rather than risk alienating any one group of listeners or another.  It reaches out to almost all audiences in one package.  For that, all involved at Putumayo World Music are to be commended for including the download card with the collection.  When the big positive of that tiny card is considered along with the impact and importance of all of the record’s content, the whole puts the final touch to the presentation and makes the whole that much more enjoyable for fans of the holiday standards.

Putumayo World Music’s newly released holiday music collection, Jazz Christmas, is a presentation that is sure to appeal to a wide range of audiences.  The record’s appeal comes in large part through its featured arrangements.  The arrangements are important to note because they give the 10 holiday standards unique takes without ever having any sense of pretense, unlike so many holiday standard covers.  The liner notes that accompany the record’s songs add their own appeal.  That is because of the background that it all provides on the songs and the acts that performed the songs here.  The bonus download card that comes with the collection rounds out the record’s most important elements.  That is because of the fact that it shows once again, Putumayo World Music’s officials reaching out to as many audiences as possible.  Each item noted is important in its own way to the whole of the collection.  All things considered, they make the collection a surprisingly welcome addition to this year’s field of holiday music releases.

Jazz Christmas is available now. More information on this and other titles from Putumayo World Music is available online at:



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‘A Gift To Pops’ Is A Gift To Pops’ Fans, Jazz Fans Alike

Courtesy: Verve Records

It goes without saying that Louis Armstrong is among the most important and influential figures in the history of American jazz (yes, there is jazz from other nations that varies from that of America).  While many of the songs that he made famous were written by others, his renditions of those songs have gone on to join the ranks of the most timeless songs in the American songbook.  Countless compilations and covers of those songs have seen the light of day since he first made the noted songs famous, too, including the latest compilation, A Gift To Pops.  Released Oct. 15 by The Wonderful World of Louis Armstrong All Stars through Verve Records, the 13-song (technically 12, since the last song is just a recording of Armstrong speaking on his view of life) record is a welcome addition to the library of any Louis Armstrong fan.  One of the most notable of the covers featured in this collection comes late in its 53-minute run time in the form of ‘Just A Closer Walk With Thee.’  This rendition will be discussed shortly.  The collective’s take of the lesser-known hit, ‘The Peanut Vendor’ is another notable addition to the record and will be discussed a little later.  Also of note here is the group’s take on ‘A Kiss to Build A Dream On.’  It will also be examined later.  Each noted song and rendition is key in its own way to the compilation’s presentation.  When these noted songs are considered along with the rest of the record’s featured covers, the whole makes the record a welcome addition to the library of any Louis Armstrong fan.

Verve Records’ presentation of The Wonderful World of Louis Armstrong All Stars’ new compilation record, A Gift to Pops is a presentation that will appeal to any jazz purist and to any fan of Armstrong’s work.  That is because though it is essentially little more than a compilation record, it still offers some unique takes on the songs that Armstrong made so famous and timeless.  One of the most notable of the collection’s featured covers is that of ‘Just A Closer Walk With Thee.’  The song’s original composer(s) is/are unknown to this day, though it is known that the song is linked back to pre-Civil War-era African-American churches as a gospel hymn.  To that end, having it presented here with that distinct southern African-American gospel fashion, complete with organ, along with such a great New Orleans Dixieland style approach makes it such a unique composition in this case.  Reginald Veal gets the nod on this engaging and entertaining rendition. 

By comparison, the version that Armstrong made so famous opens with a much more dirge-like approach, which is thought to be how the original, earliest version was presented.  Armstrong’s rich, gravelly vocals are just as controlled as a drummer keeps a steady beat on a bass drum and trombones and tuba join in to back him.  This rendition is the polar opposite of that presented in the new compilation, and honestly, as good as Armstrong’s version is, the updated take featured in A Gift To Pops is arguably even better than that from Pops.  Yes, that is a heck of a statement, but it is the case at least to this critic.  The soulfulness from the take’s gospel opening is such a great contrast to the more celebratory Dixieland style and sound in the song’s second half in comparison to the full on melancholy approach of Armstrong’s take.  It just gives audiences the best of both worlds.

The Wonderful World of Louis Armstrong All Stars’ updated take of ‘Just A Closer Walk With Thee’ is a clearly notable rendition of the timeless hymn, and really builds on the positive nature of Armstrong’s take on the song in the best way possible.  It is just one of the songs featured in this record that makes the set so interesting.  The collective’s take on ‘The Peanut Vendor’ is another unique presentation. Originally composed by Moises Simons in 1930, Armstrong’s rendition is a subtle, flowing composition complete with castanets, Armstrong’s muted trumpet line, and guitar.  Of course his equally unique vocal talents are also on full display at points in the song, too.  The use of the noted instrumentation keeps Armstrong’s rendition relatively close to its source material.  The only thing missing is the maracas, but they are replaced in Armstrong’s take by the castanets. 

In the case of The Wonderful World of Louis Armstrong All Stars’ take, the guitar line that is so prominent in the original song and in Armstrong’s take is replaced here by a bass line performed by Veal.  The maracas are returned to the mix along with an unmated trumpet.  A close listen also reveals what sounds like timbales and cymbal to add a little bit of extra flare to the mix.  It even sounds like this arrangement, composed by Nicholas Payon (who also released his latest album last month), incorporates a pair of a-go-go bells for even more Latin “spice.”  As with Armstrong’s rendition, the arrangement does work to stay as true as possible to it source material, but the added instrumentation really conjures even more so, thoughts of warm nights at the cafes that lined Havanna’s streets way back when.  It is a nice updated take on a classic that can easily be considered lesser-known by many in the jazz community, and in turn a great introduction to the song for those who are less familiar with the song.  It is just one more of the songs that shows what makes this compilation worth hearing.  The collective’s take on ‘A Kiss to Build a Dream On’ is one more excellent example of why these covers are so engaging and entertaining.

Originally recorded by Oscar Hammerstein II with Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby and used in the 1951 crime noir movie, The Strip (which starred Mickey Rooney and Sally Forrest), it was performed by Armstrong for the movie’s soundtrack.  The song was even nominated by the Academy for the “Best Original Song” Oscar® award.  Everybody, even the most casual jazz fan, knows Armstrong’s relaxed rendition, what with its gentle piano line, brushes on the snare and equally relaxed trombone accents. That famous, sharp trumpet that Armstrong performs is arguably the most notable moment in his rendition as he hits those high notes.  The soft vibrato that he incorporates as he holds certain notes adds even more to the whole.  It all combines to just make the song so timeless and wonderful.

Meanwhile, the updated take featured here gives the song its own unique identity.  In the case of this take, The Wonderful World of Louis Armstrong All Stars give the song a welcome update that still incorporates the subtle drums but kicks them up a little.  Pops’ vocals are replaced in this case by a rich saxophone line performed by Roderick Paulin.  The piano line gets a special touch, too, as it is accompanied here by B-3 organ.  Both keyboard lines, which are engaging and entertaining updates on the original keyboard line, are performed by Davell Crawford.  Nicholas Payton has the honor of taking on Armstrong’s trumpet line, though Paulin gets the solo here.  That aside, Payton (who also arranged this take on the song – and who also released his new solo record last month through Smoke Sessions Records) is still impressive in his subdued performance.  The way in which Payton arranged the song really gives everybody so much chance to shine while still staying true to the song’s source material.  The whole comes across as such a great bluesy composition that listeners can so easily imagine being played in such club, dim lighting and all, people relaxing, fully focused on the music.  It is yet another wonderful addition to A Gift to Pops that shows in its own right, what makes this compilation successful.  When it is considered along with the other songs examined here and with the rest of the record’s featured works, the whole makes A Gift to Pops a gift to his fans and to jazz fans alike.

The Wonderful World of Louis Armstrong All Stars’ new collection of Armstrong standards is an impressive new set of songs from Pops.  The renditions featured throughout the record take the songs made famous by Armstrong and give them a welcome update from one to the next.  That is made clear through the examinations of the songs noted here.  When those songs are considered along with the rest of the collection’s other songs, the whole makes A Gift to Pops a gift to Pops’ fans and to jazz fans alike.

A Gift to Pops is available now.  More information on this and other titles from Verve Records is available at:




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Free Live Q&A Session Added To ‘Up From The Streets Premiere’

Courtesy: Eagle Rock Entertainment/New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation

A new feature has been added to this week’s premiere of the documentary Up From The Streets.

The documentary’s Executive Producer, Terence Blanchard and its Producer/Director, Michael Murphy, will hold a free live question and answer session following Friday’s premiere of the presentation.  The announcement of the session’s addition to the premiere was made Tuesday through a news release.

The event is planned to start at 7 p.m. EST.  Since this portion of the presentation is free to the public, anyone who wants to take part can pre-book in advance here or just present questions during the event.  The session will be available to view at 8 p.m. for those unable to take part in the meeting.

Up From The StreetsNew Orleans — The City of Music will be presented Friday thought a partnership between Eagle Rock Entertainment and the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation.  More than 90 theaters  and record stores nationwide are scheduled to take part in the documentary’s premiere.

“Tickets” to watch the documentary are available at a price of $12 each, and can be purchased from viewers’ local theaters to watch the documentary in the comfort of their own homes.  Tickets are available here.  Viewers will have three days to finish the documentary once they have started watching.

Proceeds from the “ticket” sales will go to benefit the fund, which assists musicians who live and work in New Orleans who have been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak.

The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation is a nonprofit organization that owns the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival presented by Shell.  The agency has created the Jazz & Heritage Music Relief Fund to assist musicians and residents in New Orleans who have been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak.

Up From The StreetsNew Orleans — The City of Music originally debuted in October at the 30th annual New Orleans Film Festival.  It examines the city’s musical roots.  Oscar-nominated and six-time Grammy Award-winning trumpet player Terence Blanchard serves as the documentary’s host.  The program features archived footage from performances and interviews conducted by artists, such as Louis Armstrong, Fats Domino and Allen Toussaint among others to help tell the story of the city’s musical history.  Michael Murphy directed and produced the presentation.

In anticipation of the debut of Up From The StreetsNew Orleans — The City of Music, a playlist of songs from the documentary has been curated and is streaming now here.

More information about the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation and its latest effort is available online at:






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PBS Revisits America’s Civil Rights Movement With New Documentary

Courtesy: PBS

Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.  That is why next month, PBS Distribution is bringing audiences what is one of so many important stories from America’s Civil Rights movement.

The Jazz Ambassadors is currently scheduled to be released on DVD on June 19.  The story centers on the so-called “Jazz Ambassadors” — jazz greats Dizzie Gillespie, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington Benny Goodman and Dave Brubeck — as the group  worked with the United States government to fight the Soviet Union’s propaganda war while at the same time facing the reality of Jim Crowe laws in America.

The Jazz Ambassadors is told through archival film footage, photos, radio clips, and performance clips from the musicians and their integrated bands.  The story overall shows how the Jazz Ambassadors’ work ultimately played a key role in the Civil Rights movement at a critical moment while also serving its other purpose in foreign affairs at the same time.  A trailer for the program is streaming online now here.

The Jazz Ambassadors will retail for $24.99, but can be pre-ordered online now at a reduced price of $19.99 via PBS’ online store.  More information on The Jazz Ambassadors and other PBS programs is available online now at:






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PBS’ Richard Sherman In-Studio Concert Will Leave Audiences “Singing” Its Praises

Courtesy: PBS/Public Media Distribution

John Williams. Hans Zimmer. The Sherman Brothers. One thing connects each of these names: each name is among the movie industry’s great musical minds. Each has composed some of the most well-known and beloved themes that audiences have ever heard. This past September, PBS and Public Media Distribution brought audiences a very special profile of one of those names with the release of Richard Sherman: Songs of a Lifetime. Released Sept. 5, this in-studio performance by its title figure, is a wonderful musical profile of one half of the famed Sherman Brothers creative musical team. That is due in no small part to the songs that Sherman performs for audiences. The stories that he shares along the way are just as entertaining as the songs, and in turn will be discussed later. The program’s bonus material rounds out its most important elements. Each noted element is important in its own right to the recording’s whole. All things considered, they make Richard Sherman: Songs of a Lifetime a release that will leave audiences “singing” its praises.

PBS’ recently released Richard Sherman musical documentary Songs of a Lifetime is a special new “live” recording from PBS and Public Media Distribution that is certain to leave audiences “singing” its praises. That is due in part to the recording’s songs. The songs that Sherman performs throughout the program are not limited to just his Disney compositions. Also included in this intimate setting are songs from Tom Sawyer (1973 — MGM), Chitty-Chitty Bang Bang (1968 — Pinewood Studios), Charlotte’s Web (1973 — Paramount Pictures/Hanna-Barbera Productions), Snoopy Come Home (1972 — Cinema Center Filims/Lee Mendelson Film Productions/Bill Melendez Productions/Sopwith Productions/United Features Syndicate), a Christmas tune that he composed with Joe Van Winkle titled ‘Christmas in New Orleans,’ (which was made famous by Louis Armstrong) and even his own heartfelt composition that he wrote for his wife (who is there to enjoy the song at his side) among so many others. There is even a brand new song included at the recording’s end titled ‘A Kiss Goodnight’ that is certain to move viewers of any age.

In regards to the Disney tunes featured throughout the recording, the movies featured through those songs include: Winnie The PoohMary Poppins, The Happiest Millionaire, The Jungle Book, Summer Magic, The Aristocats, The Jungle Book, Peter Pan, The Parent Trap and Bedknobs and Broomsticks. Needless to say, even though “only” ten movies are on that list, that is still a healthy cross-section of Sherman’s time with Walt Disney Studios. That is especially considering that some of those movies get more than one nod. Mary Poppins gets a handful of nods with the likes of ‘Feed The Birds,’ ‘Let’s Go Fly A Kite,’ and ‘Through The Eyes of Love.’ Winnie The Pooh received three nods through a medley of tunes early in the performance while The Jungle Book receives its own share of representations, too. Considering the number of Disney flicks represented in this in-studio concert and the songs used to represent those movies, it goes without saying that even at “only” nine movies, the concert presents a healthy dose of Disney.

When that healthy dose of Disney is coupled with Sherman’s non-Disney compositions, the whole the recording proves quite impressive. Counting the single songs and the medleys, it is safe to say that the recording boasts at least 30 songs. Considering that the performance’s run time is roughly one hour, that is a lot of material pushed into that space, and quite well at that. Staying on that note, while the material in whole is impressive, one cannot ignore the lack of a program guide inside or outside the box printed or physical. The only program guide that does exist is in the scene selection option on the disc’s main menu. The songs are not even listed with their respective movies. Sure it seems on the surface like a not so important aesthetic element, but is in fact very important to the box’s presentation. That is especially in connection to the songs themselves. It would have been nice to have had that listing. Luckily though, as much as it detracts from the recording’s whole, it is not enough to completely ruin the program’s presentation. It just would have been nice to have had that element.

While the extensive list of songs and movies that makes up the body of Songs of a Lifetime are clearly critical to the recording’s whole, they are collectively not the DVD’s only important element. The stories that Sherman shares throughout the recording are just as important to its presentation as those songs. One of the most interesting stories that Sherman shares during his time at the keys is that of the creation of the song ‘Gold Can Buy Anything (But Love),’ which was made famous by country legend Gene Autry. Sherman tells audiences that the song came about after the Sherman brothers’ father (who was himself a well-known and respected musical mind) jokingly told his sons that the pair, even with their college degrees, “couldn’t write a song that a kid would give up his lunch money to buy.” He also notes that the song was the Sherman Brothers’ very first published song, and was written because country western music was big at the time. Another interesting anecdote that Sherman shares in the program tells the story of how Louis Prima and his band ended up as King Louie and his apes in The Jungle Book. He explains that Walt Disney himself sent Sherman and company to a Las Vegas night club where Prima and company were performing, showed them the movie and convinced them to star. There is a little more to the story here, but that will be left to viewers to discover. It goes without saying that the rest of the story (as a certain radio announcer used to say) will leave audiences laughing happily. As if that isn’t enough to get viewers interested, Sherman also shares a moving story tying the creation of the song ‘It Changes’ (from Snoopy Come Home) to how he and others felt when Walt Disney died in 1966 from lung cancer. While the story is short, it is a story that, when coupled with the emotion of the song, will deeply touch audiences as it illustrates expertly that story. When this and the stories featured throughout the concert are joined with the recording’s featured songs, the whole of that material gives audiences more than enough to appreciate here. Even with this in mind, that whole is still not all that audiences will appreciate. The program’s bonus material rounds out its most important elements.

The bonus material included in Songs of a Lifetime is so important because of what it adds to the program’s overall presentation. Audiences learn through this roughly four-minute discussion from 2015, Sherman’s thoughts on PBS’ Walt Disney profile American Experience: Walt Disney. Audiences learn that Sherman approved of that doc, even as it didn’t just sing Disney’s praises, but instead showed both sides of Walt Disney — the good and bad. He also discusses his emotion at holding the interview in Disney’s office, the very place where he, his brother and Walt Disney crafted so many hit tunes. That revelation will capture audiences just as much as anything else in his interview. Audiences also learn that the guest performers included in the recording were hand chosen for the program by Sherman himself. They weren’t just random selections by some faceless person or group. This is all just a sample of what is presented in Sherman’s bonus interview. When it is coupled with the rest of the interview’s discussions, the whole gives audiences even more to to appreciate. The behind-the-scenes photos montage adds one last touch to the whole as it couples the songs from the main feature with the noted photos for an experience that, as simple as it is, is certain to entertain audiences, too. When this is set alongside Sherman’s short but in-depth interview and the program’s main feature, the whole of those elements makes Songs of a Lifetime a presentation that will most certainly leave audiences “singing” its praises.

PBS and PBS’ Distribution’s recently released Richard Sherman “live” recording Songs of a Lifetime is a work that is certain to impress audiences. That is due in no small part to the recording’s featured songs. The songs featured in the program include not only Sherman’s work with Disney, but with other studios and even his own compositions. All in all, they paint a vivid picture of his career, showing why he remains today such a respected figure (along with his brother). The stories that Sherman shares throughout the performance add even more interest to the program’s whole. At times funny and at others emotional, Sherman’s stories are just as certain to keep viewers engaged and entertained as his songs. The bonus material included in the program puts the finishing touch on its program thanks to its own information. Each noted element is critical in its own way to the program’s whole. All things considered, they make this presentation one that will most certainly leave audiences “singing” its praise. Richard Sherman: Songs of a Lifetime is available now and can be ordered online direct via PBS’ online store. More information on this and other titles from PBS is available online now at:




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The Spirit Of Satch Is Anything But Another Covers Album

Courtesy:  Concord Records

Courtesy: Concord Records

Covers albums, like greatest hits albums, are among the most overly used records in the music industry.  Regardless of genre, there are almost as many covers and hits albums in stores and online every year as there are albums of new music from artists across the genres.  The problem with these albums is that it’s obvious that they are nothing more than fillers used for the purpose of contractual obligations.  One listen through their track listings proves this. For all of the forgettable covers and hits albums that pollute store shelves and online outlets each year, there are thankfully those diamonds in the rough that actually stand out among the masses.  Those hidden gems show that for all of the space fillers that are out there, there are those artists that take covers albums, hits albums and tribute records with at least a certain amount of seriousness.  One of those hidden gems that has been revealed in 2014 comes from veteran performer Dr. John in the form of his Louis Armstrong covers/tribute album Ske-Dat-De-Dat: The Spirit of Satch.  This thirteen-track record is more than just a collection of covers from one of the greatest names in the industry.  The covers included on this record exhibit not only the spirit of Satchmo, but also the very creative spirit of music itself.  While the songs on this record are largely full-blown re-imaginings of Armstrong’s original works, the creativity used in each song will lead this record to grow on even the most hardline of Louis Armstrong fans.  And it all starts right off the top with Dr. John’s re-imagining of Armstrong’s greatest hit, ‘What A Wonderful World.’  Dr. John’s jazzy cover of ‘I’ve Got The World on a String’ will most certainly impress audiences as it’s one of the few songs on this record that stays close to the original work.  The addition of blues great Bonnie Raitt doesn’t hurt the song, either.  And his collaboration with the famed Dirty Dozen Brass Band on ‘When You’re Smiling (The Whole World Smiles With You’ is the perfect closer for this record.  As impressive as these songs prove to be in the long run, they’re only part of what makes Ske-Dat-De-Dat: The Spirit of Satch such a rare release.  The album’s other ten tracks are worth their own listen, too.  And in hearing all thirteen tracks on this disc, any listener will agree that this record definitely stands out as one of this year’s truly rare covers/tribute albums worth hearing.

Dr. John’s new Louis Armstrong covers/tribute album Ske-Dat-De-Dat: The Spirit of Satch is one of 2014’s rare covers/tribute albums that is actually worth audiences’ attention.  And it isn’t just because it is from one of the most respected names in the music industry today.  That is proven right off the top with his cover of Armstrong’s most beloved of songs, ‘What A Wonderful World.’  Dr. John collaborated on this cover with gospel greats The Blind Boys of Alabama and fellow New Orleans native Nicholas Paton.  At first listen, the song will most certainly leave some audiences scratching their heads.  That is because it is a completely re-imagined take on the classic tune.  Rather than taking the safe route here, Dr. John and company give the song a decidedly upbeat almost gospel-style turn, making it into more of a celebratory song than the more reserved piece which audiences have come to know.  Of course that is thanks to the inclusion of The Blind Boys of Alabama on this take.  It may not grab some audiences at first.   But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  That’s because it will grow on said audiences that give the song more than one chance.  Those audiences will realize that the more celebratory tone, as different as it may be, actually works when one takes into consideration the song’s lyrics.  Armstrong once sang on this song of all of the things that make the world so, well, wonderful.   Audiences that take that into consideration will in turn appreciate this rendition for the surprisingly positive re-working that it proves to be in the long run.  And in doing so, it will lead audiences to give this album’s other songs just as much of a chance, too.

If the re-imagining of ‘What A Wonderful World’ doesn’t win over listeners, then perhaps his duet with fellow blues legend Bonnie Raitt on ‘I’ve Got The World on a String’ will.  This hybrid jazzy/bluesy cover comes as close to the original as possible without actual mirroring said song.  Raitt and John both pay proper tribute to Armstrong in this take.  Audiences that are familiar with both artists’ style will be pleasantly surprised by their ability to balance the song’s jazz roots with their own bluesy addition to the composition.  Audiences that have heard Tony Bennett and k.d. Lang’s Armstrong covers album won’t be able to ignore the comparison to their covers here.  That’s because both Raitt and John exhibit a true reverence for Armstrong’s work here more than anywhere else on the album.  That reverence will most certainly have purist Armstrong fans dancing arm in arm and *ahem* cheek to cheek (bad pun fully intended here).

Dr. John’s duet with Bonnie Raitt on his cover of ‘I’ve Got The World on a String’ is without a doubt this record’s peak moment.  Coming in a close second is the cover of ‘When You’re Smiling (The Whole World Smiles With You).’  The song, which features Dr. John’s fellow New Orleans musicians in The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, closes out the album.  And such a song proves to be the perfect way to close out such an imaginative collection of covers.  The song’s run time comes in at just under three minutes.  To be exact, it clocks in at two minutes and forty-two seconds.  Dr. John takes a back seat throughout most of the song, letting the members of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band have the spotlight instead.  For those audiences that are less familiar with the work of the band, this song is a wonderful first impression from its members.  Those that are more familiar with the band’s body of work will be just as impressed with the ability of the band members to mix its trademark Dixieland sound with a more Latin-tinged sound.  The end result is one more truly creative and original cover of one more of Armstrong’s most beloved works.

The collaboration with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band as the final number for Ske-Dat-De-Dat: The Spirit of Satch proves to be the perfect way to close this record.  That is because it once more exhibits Dr. John’s respect for Louis Armstrong’s legacy and Armstrong himself.  Just as with all of the songs that come before it, it pays homage to Armstrong’s legacy by balancing the song’s original sound with something of a more original arrangement.  In this case, it doesn’t stray too far from the original tune.  Because it doesn’t, it is sure to leave listeners with that warm, happy feeling of nostalgia.  And what better way to go out after such an intriguing musical ride than with that warm, happy feeling?  By the song’s end, audiences will agree that having heard it and the album’s other songs, Ske-Dat-De-Dat is anything but another run-of-the-mill covers album.  It is one of the most creative covers/tribute albums released by any artist to date.

Ske-Dat-De-Dat­: The Spirit of Satch is available now online and in stores everywhere.  Fans can order it online now direct from Dr. John’s official Facebook page and website at and  Audiences can also purchase Dr. John’s new album at any of his upcoming live performances.  Fans can check out Dr. John’s tour itinerary now on both sites as well.  They can also keep up with all of the latest news and updates from the man himself on both sites.  To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at

Avi’s ‘Night Light” Is a Bright Musical Light

Courtesy:  Little Monster Records

Courtesy: Little Monster Records

Singer Zee Avi’s latest album Night Light is available today. The third album from the Malaysian born singer, it is also the first family album that she has ever released. It goes without saying that her first venture into that realm has produced what is one of the most intriguing records of the year in the realm of family and children’s music. The nine-track disc is comprised primarily of covers from some of the most well-known names in the music industry, including: Joni Mitchell, Lou Reed, and Bobby McFerrin. There is also a cover of the famed ‘Rainbow Connection’ from Jim Henson’s original Muppet Movie that any Muppets fan will enjoy. And audiences will agree that her cover of the Louis Armstrong hit ‘Dream A Little Dream’ is absolutely beautiful, even if they aren’t fans of jazz. It all closes with a medley of well-known children’s songs aptly titled ‘Nightlight Medley.’ It’s a fitting closer for the album that will leave a smile on the face of any listener young and old alike. Having been left with that smile, listeners will agree that Night Light is an album that any family should hear at least once this year.

Night Light opens with what can best be described as the most intriguing cover of Bobby McFerrin’s ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’ that this critic has ever heard. Avi’s take on the song gives it a decidedly different identity than McFerrin’s original tune. She incorporates what sounds like a tabla and a rather interesting bass instrument. The combination of the two instruments set against Avi’s almost siren-like singing sets her take on McFerrin’s song completely apart from any other cover of the song currently out there. Even as she sings, listeners will note that Avi doesn’t simply try to cover McFerrin’s original work. Rather she actually makes it her own without completely losing the original altogether. It definitely is something that must be heard to be fully understood and appreciated.

Avi’s cover of ‘Don’t Worry, He Happy’ is definitely original. That goes without saying. On the other side of the proverbial coin, she sticks more to the original work when in her cover of ‘Dream a Little Dream’ The song, originally made famous by jazz legend Louis Armstrong, is made even more interesting with what sounds like a ukulele. Even with the combination of Avi’s gentle vocals and ukulele in the place of Armstrong’s famed trumpet and gravelly voice, the song is still as wonderful as ever. The true irony of Avi’s vocal style here is its similarity to that of Billie Holiday. Some might call it a stretch. But a close side by side comparison reveals the similarity. It is slight. But once listeners hear it, they will agree as to Avi’s high level of talent, being compared to such a great.

The album’s closer, ‘Nightlight Medley’ offers listeners a pair of classic children’s tunes. It is is the perfect closer for listeners. It starts with Avi’s rendition of ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.’ She starts off by singing it in English before proceeding to sing the song in her native tongue. There’s something special about hearing this song known around the world in a language completely unknown to most listeners. From ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’, Avi moves on to ‘Four and Twenty Black Birds Baked in a Pie.’ She gives even this song its own twist as she sings. As with the other covers included in this album, it is one that absolutely must be heard in order to understand and appreciate the new life and identity that Avi has given the song.

Night Light is available in stores and online now. It can be ordered online now via Amazon at Audiences can keep up with the latest from Zee Avi after ordering her CD online at and To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to and “Like” it. Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at

Zee Avi To Release First Ever Family Album This Spring

Courtesy:  Little Monsters Records

Courtesy: Little Monsters Records

Malaysian-American singer/musician Zee Avi will release her latest album this Spring.

Night Light, which is a collection of covers of family favorite songs, will be released Tuesday, April 15th. It is the first ever family for the artist who has also released albums via Jack Johnson’s Brushfire Records. The album includes covers of Louis Armstrong’s ‘Dream a Little Dream’, Bobby McFerrin’s ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’, Joni Mitchell’s ‘The Circle Game’, and even ‘Colors of the Wind’ from Disney’s Pocahontas among many others. It was produced by Little Monster Records head Kevin Salem at his company’s studios in Woodstock, New York and conjures thoughts of Avi’s earliest releases. Salem noted of the overall fell of Night Light, “There’s a lot of soul and great musical nourishment here.”

Zee, who is a Malaysian native, has recognized her as one of the Top 10 Malaysians. She won the International Youth Award in her home country in 2011. These honors have led to numerous speaking engagements around the world and performances at some of the world’s biggest festivals. Those festivals include: Borneo’s Rain Forest World Music Festival, Australia’s Byron Bay Festival, San Francisco’s Noise Pop Fesitval, Austin’s SXSW Festival, New York’s Mountain Jam Festival, Lilith Fair, Bonnaroo, and San Diego’s Street Scene. She was also just recently tapped to perform at the KiddieComm family music festival in Philadelphia, PA on June 28th.

More information on Zee Avi’s upcoming performances and album is available online at,, and To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews, go online to and “Like” it. Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment news and reviews in the Phil’s Picks blog at