Sing Christmas Music/The Little Drummer Boy
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RCA s wildly successful Living Stereo series spawned a number of ensembles with Living in their titles; the two that folks remember these days are The Living Strings and The Living Voices. Both groups were the brainchild of RCA s trailblazing female producer Ethel Gabriel, who assembled some of the finest studio musicians, arrangers and vocalists for lush, beautifully recorded albums aimed at a middle America eager to give their newly acquired stereo systems a spin. In particular, the two holiday albums featured on this twofer that she released with The Living Voices remain treasured among Christmas music aficionados for their ornate orchestration, innovative arrangements, and, most of all, sweeping stereo sound. The first, 1962 s Sing Christmas Music, had actually come out on the Living Stereo imprint in 1959 as Christmas Surprises from The Ralph Hunter Choir; choir director Hunter garnered two Grammy nominations that year for his album The Wild Wild West. Among the surprises was the introduction of orchestra of toys including the Hunter family s electric train and transformer to Parade of the Wooden Soldiers, and an intriguing rendition of The Indian Christmas Carol, which is credited as being the first North American Christmas song dating back to 1643! The second album, 1965 s The Little Drummer Boy, featured the legendary Anita Kerr Singers and production by Anita Kerr herself; the program varies from recent Broadway fare ( Be a Santa from Subways Are for Sleeping; Pine Cones and Holly Berries from Here s Love) to warhorses like Jingle Bells and We Wish You a Merry Christmas to modern classics like Blue Christmas and the title tune. The Little Drummer Boy makes its first domestic CD appearance on this Real Gone reissue, while Sing Christmas Music has never been on CD anywhere; Joe Marchese pens the liner notes. A pair of easy listening Christmas classics!
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Top Customer Reviews
The first album on the CD is Living Voices Sing Christmas Music, released on RCA Camden in 1962. This is really a deception, since the album was originally titled Christmas Surprises from the Ralph Hunter Choir, recorded in 1959 with a larger budget and more inventive arrangements than the usual Camden release. To my tastes, the only dated part of this album is a siren-sounding high soprano line featured in a couple of songs (maybe that was one of the "surprises!")
The Little Drummer Boy is from 1965 and is much more typical of the Living Voices style. Among the songs are three (parts of medleys) that were new at the time, and did not catch on--no loss--but it would've been nice to have had better songs in their place. Still, it's quite an enjoyable album.
The older album was originally recorded in RCA's fabled Living Stereo and sounds wonderful, although there are a few (very few) minor pops that apparently couldn't be rectified in the remastering. The Little Drummer Boy also sounds nice and full--you won't be disappointed in the sound quality of either. The Living Voices (and the Living Strings, as far as that goes) are practically nonexistent on CD, so this is a wonderful opportunity to have two of their Christmas albums on one disc.
I owned the "Sing Christmas Music" album back in the day and the most memorable song on it was the Huron Carol/"Indian Christmas Carol" which is just about impossible to find elsewhere. The LP was also notable for the beautiful shiny, metallic red cover. In recent decades if I played my old mono Camden album at all, the "Indian Christmas Carol" is about the only song I wanted to hear again, and the reason I bought this CD was to get a clear, stereo version of that specific song. The men's chorus on that song is excellent. As far as the rest of the songs, many of the arrangements, stylings, vocal performances and sound-effect gimmicks on the "Sing Christmas Music" album were interesting in the early 1960s but have not aged well and now sound sort of goofy. Plus like the other reviewer noted, a soprano singer ("siren") basically ruined at least one of the songs, during the otherwise fine, closing performance of "Silent Night", she screeches over the chorus. It's annoying and you want to say "oh god, get her out of here!" There are some good songs on the first of these two albums, but I don't think any younger listeners would like this album because of the arrangements and performances.
Although both albums are credited to "Living Voices", the two albums on this CD were recorded by two different groups, 6 years apart. There are a lot of musical differences between the two.
I had not owned or heard the Living Voices' "Little Drummer Boy" album before buying this CD (instead bought the "Little Drummer Boy" album by the Harry Simeone Chorale which was extremely popular at the time). The music on the Living Voices' "Little Drummer Boy" album is much more palatable for modern listening than on the "Sing Christmas Music" album, in fact it's quite good. It's definitely the better of the two albums collected here. Anita Kerr and Cam Mullins were renowned RCA arrangers and performers and did a pretty good job putting the album together. Anita Kerr likewise arranged and sang on the classic Jim Reeves "Twelve Songs of Christmas" album recorded in 1962, and hearing her voice and group's performances of "A Holly Jolly Christmas" and "Do You Hear What I Hear", I couldn't help thinking how a Jim Reeves vocal would have sounded on those songs, if he had later recorded a second Christmas album.
Camden albums were budget releases and sold in record and department stores such as Woolworth's, usually discounted to $1.99 or $1.59 depending on the retailer, and whether the album was in mono or stereo. The material issued on Camden budget albums was often considered to have "had its day" in earlier incarnations on RCA Victor Records, although most of it was still top quality, such as the Mario Lanza "Christmas Hymns and Carols" album, "Elvis's Christmas Album", "Perry Como Sings Merry Christmas Music", or The Robert Shaw Chorale's "Christmas Hymns and Carols", all golden classics which were highly popular on Camden and remained in print for decades. It was rare for "new" recordings by a top performer to make an actual debut on a Camden album, but it happened now and then (such as Jim Reeves' "Good 'n Country" album, which was also produced by Anita Kerr).
While the two "Living Voices" Christmas albums have some pleasant sounds here and there, the performances on the first album in particular are hit and miss, and not in the same league as the other Camden Christmas albums by Lanza, Como, Presley or The Robert Shaw Chorale. Nor do they rise to the level of other choral groups such as The Harry Simeone Chorale, The Norman Luboff Choir, Fred Waring and the Pennsylvanians, The Roger Wagner Chorale, or Mitch Miller's singers, all of whose Christmas albums were later issued as budget albums on other labels. The "Little Drummer Boy" album is very good. I wish the "Sing Christmas Music" tracks were last on the disc instead of first.
Real Gone Music is an outstanding reissue label and the package, production notes and sound quality for this CD are all good, with one big complaint: this album is mostly going to appeal to older listeners who like myself, owned one or both albums back in the 1960s and are still buying CDs, but the track listing on the back of the CD is in very small print against a dark background, and it's impossible for us seniors to read it without a magnifying glass, and even then it's too dark. The company needs to make the print larger and clearer.
4 stars for the "Little Drummer Boy" album, 2 stars (or maybe 1) for the "Sing Christmas Music" album = 3 stars. However in this case I am giving 4 stars because the "Little Drummer Boy" album is so good.
Having grown up with this album playing non-stop on my parents' "stereophonic" through the holidays makes me very partial to this group and their style. But having sung in church choirs, I have a deep appreciation for these 8 singers and how their voices blend on these songs. From the deep baritones of the men and the soaring female soprano. The more you listen, the more you hear the talent and complexity of this group!
Also, my hat is off to Anita Kerr, for her wonderful arrangements and conducting! I have heard her work on other albums and liked it but on this particular album -- she struck gold!
With all the really "bad" holiday music made every year, I often wonder why these songs and medleys with their unique arrangements are not being covered by todays singers! Why reinvent the wheel?
There is something for everyone on this album. Upbeat, secular songs and slow, traditional hymns.
If you know someone who likes classic, choral holiday music or just appreciates good quality -- this will be an excellent gift!