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Cherry Red’s él Label Spends Christmas In Nashville with Anita Kerr and Chet Atkins

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Atkins and Kerr - ChristmasCherry Red Records’ él imprint is celebrating this Christmas in Nashville with the recent release of The Anita Kerr Singers and Chet Atkins at Christmas. This new two-for-one CD includes both Christmas with Chet Atkins (1961) and The Kerr Singers’ On This Holy Night (1959) plus a smattering of related bonus tracks.

It’s nearly impossible to sum up the career of Chet Atkins in a mere few words. The fourteen-time Grammy winner (1924-2001) was a mainstay of the RCA Victor label between 1947 and 1982 as a performer, producer and executive. Ranked the No. 12 Greatest Guitarist of All Time by Rolling Stone, he was also a key participant in the creation of the “Nashville Sound” which made country palatable to crossover audiences by applying pop touches such as string arrangements. Christmas with Chet Atkins arrived in 1961 from the prolific artist, featuring fourteen sublimely understated guitar renditions of holiday favorites and spirituals alike, from “Jingle Bell Rock” to “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” His prior album, also released in 1961, was titled The Most Popular Guitar, and Atkins proved why as he applied both sparkling musicianship and a pop sheen to this selection of Christmas carols played on a variety of guitars. Atkins was joined by his frequent guests, The Anita Kerr Singers, who added both wordless harmonies and occasional lyrics to the set.

As a major component of The Nashville Sound, Anita Kerr led her Anita Kerr Singers on records by Patsy Cline, Jim Reeves, Brenda Lee, Eddy Arnold, Willie Nelson and Floyd Cramer. The group’s distinctive vocal harmonies were also heard behind Roy Orbison, Perry Como, Rosemary Clooney, Bobby Vinton, and too many others in the pop and rock arenas to mention. Like The Sweet Inspirations or The Jordanaires, The Anita Kerr Singers also struck out on their own even as they continued to support other artists. In 2013, the él label reissued two of the group’s earliest LPs on one CD, The Genius in Harmony and Nashville…The Hit Sound (both from 1962).

On This Holy Night predates both of those releases. The LP was recorded with producer Owen Bradley in 1959 for the transcription library of performance rights organization SESAC, originally The Society for European Stage Authors and Composers. Most of the LP’s twelve tracks were traditional Christmas songs including “Deck the Halls,” “The Coventry Carol” and “The Cherry Tree Carol,” all with Kerr’s warm and intricate vocal arrangements. (An a cappella “Where Will the Baby Lay” is particularly beautiful.) Soprano Kerr was joined on the album by alto Dorothy Dillard, tenor Gil Wright and bass Louis Nunley, as well as musicians Hank Garland (guitar), Harold Bradley (guitar), Bob Moore (bass), Douglas Kirkham (drums), Marvin Hughes (piano), Robert Bays (French horn), and James Hall, James LeCroy and Gene Mullin (trombones).

What bonuses will you find here? Hit the jump for that and more, including the full track listing and order links! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

December 8, 2014 at 11:16

The Nashville Sound: New Set Spotlights Chet Atkins’ Collaborations

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Chet Atkins - Master ClassFourteen-time Grammy winner Chet Atkins (1924-2001) was a man of many hats. At RCA Victor between 1947 and 1982, as a performer, producer and executive, he was a key player in the creation of the “Nashville Sound” which made country palatable to crossover audiences.  Indeed, though the style has changed, the pop influence on the country genre certainly hasn’t, and fans of Taylor Swift, Keith Urban, Kenny Chesney and Carrie Underwood all owe something to Chet Atkins.  Also one of Nashville’s most pioneering and virtuosic guitarists, Atkins notched a number of hit singles while at RCA and embarked on a series of collaborative albums with other guitar greats including Les Paul, Mark Knopfler, Jerry Reed and Tommy Emmanuel – all four of which are represented on a new 2-CD set from Australia’s Raven Records. Chet Atkins – Four Master Class Albums 1978-1997 collects four Atkins LPs originally released on the RCA and Columbia labels and continues Raven’s series of Atkins reissues.

The earliest album here, 1978’s Guitar Monsters, was the second full-length collaboration of Atkins and Les Paul following 1976’s Grammy-winning Chester and Lester.  Though Atkins pioneered the “countrypolitan” sound of Nashville, the tracks on Monsters are stripped-down and tight with no strings anywhere in sight.  Randy Goodrum (piano) and Larrie London (drums) returned from Chester, and were joined by Paul Yandell (rhythm guitar), Buddy Harman and Randy Hauser (drums) and Joe Osborn (bass).  As on that first duo album, a loose, informal atmosphere prevailed on Guitar Monsters.  You’ll want to turn your volume up to hear the faint in-studio comments preserved.  Sometimes the gents are calling out chord changes; other times, they’re just laughing or making wry observations.  But of course, the main attraction here is the music – standards like “Over the Rainbow,” “I Want to Be Happy,” “Limehouse Blues” and Antonio Carlos Jobim’s bossa classic “Meditation.”  There’s plenty of breathing room for tasty solos from both men over these eleven tracks, with friendship as well as competition likely keeping Chet and Les at the top of their respective games.

The set then jumps to 1990 with Atkins’ Mark Knopfler collaboration, Neck and Neck.  The elder statesman and the hotshot Dire Straits leader/axeman picked up two Grammy Awards for this joint effort, on which they were joined by Guy Fletcher on drums, bass and keyboards, Edgar Meyer and Steve Wariner on bass, Larrie Londin on drums, Mark O’Connor on fiddle and mandolin, and Paul Franklin on steel, with guest spots from legendary Nashville pianist Floyd Cramer and vocalist Vince Gill.  Knopfler supplied the original song “The Next Time I’m in Town,” with other repertoire coming from the classic country (Don Gibson’s “Sweet Dreams” and “Just One Time”), pop (Gus Kahn and Isham Jones’ “I’ll See You in My Dreams”) and jazz (Stephane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt’s “Tears”) songbooks.

There’s more after the jump including the full track listing and order links! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

October 21, 2014 at 12:32

Review: Perry Como, “Just Out of Reach: Rarities from Nashville Produced by Chet Atkins”

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Perry Como - Just Out of Reach“Hey, let’s do it again and again,” invited Perry Como on the bouncy opening track of 1975’s Just Out of Reach.  The Tony Hatch/Jackie Trent song, previously recorded by singer-actor Jim Dale on This is Me, was perfectly suited to Como’s warm, soothing tones.  Who wouldn’t take him up on the offer to do it again and again?  As the musical landscape of the 1960s and 1970s drastically shifted, the one-time big band “boy singer” wasn’t quite as ubiquitous a presence as he once was. Still, the crooner continued to notch surprising hits: 1965’s Top 30 Pop/Top 5 AC “Dream On Little Dreamer,” 1970’s Top 10 Pop/No. 1 AC “It’s Impossible,” 1973’s Top 30 Pop/No. 1 AC “And I Love You So.”  Both “Dream On Little Dreamer” and “And I Love You So” teamed Como with Nashville legend Chet Atkins as producer.  The Atkins sessions breathed new life into Como’s career and repertoire, so further dates in Nashville were inevitable.  This period of Como’s long RCA Records career is anthologized on Real Gone Music’s new Just Out of Reach – Rarities from Nashville Produced by Chet Atkins (RGM-0191, 2013).  The core of this very welcome release is the never-before-on-CD album Just Out of Reach (1975), but it’s joined by other pop-meets-country productions helmed by Atkins for Como in 1973 and 1975.  Five of these are non-LP singles, two are Spanish language tracks making their American debuts, and six are previously unreleased anywhere.  It adds up to an absorbing and nostalgic trip with two of RCA’s premiere artists.

“Let’s Do It Again” came all the way from London.  But despite the album’s title, stylistic versatility was certainly not Just Out of Reach for the 63-year old vocalist.  None of the material was too radical for so-called MOR audiences of the day, but all of these tunes were treated with respect and supreme confidence by Como.  Though Atkins produced the Nashville sessions, he didn’t play on them.  Instead, Como was supported by “Nashville” David Briggs and Randy Goodrum on piano; Beegie Cruser on electric piano; Mike Leech and Henry Strzelecki on bass; Larrie London, Kenny Malone and Buddy Harman on drums; John Christopher, Paul Yandell and Bobby Thompson on rhythm guitar; and Reggie Young, Pete Wade and Grady Martin on electric guitar.

Como’s voice is tailor-made for familiar ballads like John D. Loudermilk’s “Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye” and Lennon and McCartney’s “Here, There and Everywhere.”  But the latter surprises when it cuts through the Nashville Sound with a brief electric guitar solo. Ben Peters’ “Let It Be Love” is more squarely in that traditional vein.  Its loping melody is brought to life with tinkling piano and tasteful guitar licks plus cooing, prominent background vocals supported by gentle orchestration.  Peters’ “Love Put a Song in My Heart” is in a more AM pop bag.  Como is playful on Porter Jordan and Bob Duncan’s “Let Me Call You Baby Tonight” but at his interpretive best with Kris Kristofferson’s “Loving Her Was Easier (Than Anything I’ll Ever Do Again).”  The sensibilities of the older and younger generations found common ground on Como’s pretty but also deeply affecting reading of the sad, reflective lyric.

“The Grass Keeps Right On Growin’,” written by Gloria Shayne of “Do You Hear What I Hear” fame, is one of the more unusual tracks here, veering between dramatic, string-drenched verses and an up-tempo chorus.  James Stein’s “Make Love to Life” isn’t the strongest song on Just Out of Reach, but its sing-along quality fit the “Magic Moments” and “Hot Diggity Dog” singer like a glove.  And Como makes the title track, popularized by soul great Solomon Burke, his own.

After the jump, we’ll look at Como and Atkins’ outtakes and more! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

October 31, 2013 at 12:56

Posted in Chet Atkins, Perry Como, Reissues, Reviews

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From Miss Ross to a Friend of the Boss: Legacy’s Latest Wave of “Playlists” Offer Hits and Deep Cuts

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Playlist - Diana RossPlaylist, Legacy Recordings’ series of single-disc anthologies spotlighting “The Hits plus the Fan Favorites,” keeps on rollin’ with a new, typically eclectic group of artists covering a wide swath of genres and styles.  Today, May 21, Legacy releases volumes in the series dedicated to the best of R&B (Diana Ross, Donna Summer), pop (Billy Ocean), country-and-western (Chet Atkins, Patty Loveless, Restless Heart, Mindy McCready), Latin jazz (Tito Puente) and the many strains of rock (Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, Warrant, Jeff Buckley, Switchfoot, Iggy Pop).  All Playlist titles are now housed in traditional jewel cases, and each title includes a booklet with a historical essay and discographical annotation.  Some of the titles even include new-to-CD and previously unissued rarities.

Playlist: The Very Best of Diana Ross kicks off with three seminal tracks from Miss Ross’ late period at Motown: “Love Hangover” from her second eponymous album in 1976, and “Upside Down” and “I’m Coming Out” from 1980’s CHIC-helmed smash diana.  (Don’t miss a loving and truly comprehensive tribute to diana from one of our favorite scribes, Christian John Wikane, over at Popmatters.)  Following that Motor City appetizer, the set kicks into high gear with eleven tracks from the legendary singer’s oft-overlooked tenure at RCA, released between 1981 and 1985.  Highlights such as “Chain Reaction” and “Eaten Alive” are derived from the Barry Gibb production Eaten Alive, with the latter track providing a reunion between Ross and Michael Jackson.  Four songs have been taken from 1981’s Why Do Fools Fall in Love, including Ross’ solo version of “Endless Love.”  Silk Electric, Ross and Swept Away are also represented, with every track in pristinely remastered sound from Mark Wilder.  The No. 2 AC hit “All of You” with Julio Iglesias is among the Swept Away tracks you’ll find in this tasty survey of Ross at RCA.

Playlist - Donna SummerThe late Donna Summer gets feted with Playlist: The Very Best of Donna Summer.  Unlike most entries in Legacy’s series, this Playlist volume isn’t derived from the superstar diva’s original recordings but rather from a concert performance.  Summer’s blazing 1999 show at New York City’s Hammerstein Ballroom was previously captured on disc as VH1 Presents Donna Summer Live and More Encore, but Playlist premieres four previously unissued tracks from that concert (“Is There Music There,” “Riding Through the Storm,” “Don’t Wanna Work” and “Nobody”).  It adds up to a live summary of the legendary vocalist’s hit-filled career, with “MacArthur Park,” “On the Radio,” “No More Tears (Enough is Enough)” (with Tina Arena filling in for Barbra Streisand), “She Works Hard for the Money,” “Bad Girls,” “Hot Stuff” and the inevitable “Last Dance” all making appearances.  Vlado Mellor has remastered at Sony Studios New York.  Those who already own Live and More will likely wish to grab this for the four newly-released songs and the remastered sound, but both discs are essential for the full program.  “My Life,” “Love is the Healer” and “I Will Go with You (Con te partirò)” are absent from the new Playlist.  The latter two songs were studio recordings added to the Live and More CD; Grammy nominee “I Will Go with You” was a No. 79 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 and fared even better in the U.K., with a No. 44 chart berth.  In addition, both of the studio tracks reached the top spot on the U.S. dance chart.

Playlist - Billy OceanThough he’d been charting hits in the U.K. for nearly a decade prior, the Trinidad-born singer made his first major splash on the U.S. Hot 100 when “Caribbean Queen (No More Love on the Run)” shot to No. 1, the same berth it occupied on the R&B chart.  The song began a hot streak for Ocean, the results of which are captured on Playlist: The Very Best of Billy Ocean.    The non-chronologically-sequenced 14-track set kicks off with “Caribbean Queen,” and also finds room for “When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Going” (No. 2 Pop/No. 6 R&B), “Loverboy” (No. 2 Pop/No. 20 R&B), “Suddenly” (No. 4 Pop/No. 5 R&B) and “Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car” (No. 1 Pop/No. 1 R&B).  In all, six albums are represented, and every track has been remastered by Tom Ruff.

After the jump: details on Jeff Buckley, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, Chet Atkins, Iggy Pop and the rest – plus full track listings with discography and order links for each and every title! Read the rest of this entry »

Release Round-Up: Week of May 21

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Beach Boys LiveThe Beach Boys, Live: The 50th Anniversary Tour (Capitol)

Brian, Mike, Al, Bruce and David may not be touring again anytime soon, but at least we now have two discs of live memories to play. (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

TVZ-Late-Great-CD-and-LPTownes Van Zandt, The Late Great Townes Van Zandt / High, Low and In Between (Omnivore)

You heard the demos, now rediscover these great country albums, on CD or vinyl!

Late Great CD (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.), LP (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)
High, Low CD (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.), LP (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

FM Soundtrack - Culture FactoryVarious Artists, FM: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Culture Factory USA)

The hit-filled soundtrack, featuring the Steely Dan single of the same name, is the latest to get the Culture Factory LP replica treatment. (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Southside Johnny PlaylistSouthside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes, Diana Ross, Donna Summer, Jeff Buckley, Chet Atkins et al., Playlist: The Very Best of (Legacy)

A dozen or so new entries in the Playlist series are coming your way this week. Watch this space tomorrow for a full breakdown on them all!

Real Gone’s Duos, Reviewed: Tom Jans and Mimi Fariña, Chet Atkins and Les Paul, Barbara and Ernie

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Tom JansReal Gone Music has recently released three very different albums from three duo acts, and we’re looking at each one of them!

Tom Jans is perhaps best known today as the songwriter of “Loving Arms,” so memorably recorded by Elvis Presley in 1973 and also cut by everyone from Etta James to Kenny Rogers.  But in his tragically short lifetime – he died in 1984, aged 35 or 36 depending on the source – Jans also recorded five albums as a singer-songwriter.  His first two, including an album of duets with Mimi Fariña, have been reissued on one CD by Real Gone (RGM-0132).

Jeffrey Shurtleff introduced Jans to Joan Baez, who in turn introduced Jans to her younger sister Fariña.  Mimi was seeking a return to music after her second failed marriage; her first, to Richard Fariña with whom she had recorded a series of folk LPs, ended when he perished in a motorcycle accident.  Jans was an ideal collaborator, and their harmonious blend earned them a following in and around the Bay Area.  They toured with Cat Stevens and James Taylor before signing to A&M for 1971’s Take Heart, the first of the two albums on Real Gone’s new CD.

For their album debut, Jans and Fariña enlisted three-fourths of the famed Section of L.A. musicians: Craig Doerge on piano, Leland Sklar on electric bass and Russ Kunkel on drums.  Another session pro, Jim Keltner, filled Kunkel’s chair on some tracks; “Sneaky” Pete Kleinow also contributed pedal steel to one track.  The album crafted by this core band under the aegis of “the other” Michael Jackson as producer is a tender, soft, folk-style affair, anchored by Jans and Fariña’s tight harmonies and acoustic guitars.  Every song was written by Jans, Fariña, or the two artists in tandem, save one.

The album opens with the lyric “Carolina’s on my mind,” except in Jans’ song “Carolina,” the title refers to a woman, not a state (or a state of mind).  It’s just the first of the character studies on Take Heart.  On “Charlotte,” Fariña’s pure, crystalline voice, so reminiscent of her sister Joan Baez’s, is enhanced by Edgar Lustgarten’s cello for a story of a girl who’d “like to see her sister take a fall, up, up on a stage, where the whole world could see.”  If any parallels – intentional or otherwise – bothered Baez, she didn’t let on, and supported her sister by recording the album’s “In the Quiet Morning” for her own A&M album.  Mimi’s song was a eulogy for Janis Joplin (“That poor girl, she cried out her song so loud/It was heard the whole world ‘round…”), but it wasn’t the only tribute to fallen friends.  Mimi also wrote “Reach Out,” subtitled “For Chris Ross,” who was “so lonesome that he died.”  She tempers the song with the encouraging chorus: “Reach out, make a little contact/Reach out, send a little love!/You may think this life is trying, but this is it, so do the best with it/’Cause for now, it’s all you’ve got…”  The country-flecked “Letter to Jesus” shows off the duo’s gorgeous vocal blend at its most lovely, while “After the Sugar Harvest” features just their shimmering acoustic guitars.  Clearly both Jans and Fariña enjoyed the sound of country duos; the album’s lone cover is Buck Owens’ “The Great White Horse,” which Owens sang with Susan Raye.

After the jump: more on Tom Jans, plus reviews of Chet Atkins and Les Paul, and the jazz-pop-R&B team of Barbara (Massey) and Ernie (Calabria)! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

May 7, 2013 at 14:46

Release Round-Up: Week of April 2

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Alexander O'Neal vinylThe S.O.S. Band / Cherrelle / Alexander O’Neal, “Tabu Reborn” Vinyl Editions (Wave 1) (Tabu/Edsel)

The start of a lengthy reissue campaign from Demon Music Group, these are 180-gram vinyl reissues of The S.O.S. Band’s III (1982), Cherrelle’s 1984 debut Fragile, and Alexander O’Neal’s self-titled debut from 1985. Expanded editions of these albums come out on CD next week, followed by a great many more waves of product throughout 2013 and into 2014!

S.O.S. Band: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
Cherrelle: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
Alexander O’Neal: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.

Martha and The Vandellas Singles CollectionThe Four Tops / Martha Reeves & The Vandellas, 50th Anniversary: The Singles Collections (Hip-O Select/Motown)

Two new lavish sets collect all the single sides worldwide by two of Motown’s most underrated vocal groups – and in the case of Martha & The Vandellas, there’s a bonus disc of unreleased “lost and found” content to enjoy, too!

Four Tops: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
Martha Reeves & The Vandellas: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.

Mad Season - AboveMad Season, Above: Deluxe Edition (Columbia/Legacy)

This short-lived grunge supergroup, featuring Alice in Chains frontman Layne Staley and members of Pearl Jam and Screaming Trees, only put out one record, but it’s been expanded as a 2CD/1DVD set featuring unreleased tracks (with vocals by Screaming Trees frontman Mark Lanegan) and live audiovisual content. (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Born Under a Bad SignAlbert King, Born Under a Bad Sign: Expanded Edition (Stax/Concord)

One of the Memphis’ label’s most celebrated blues albums is remastered and expanded with five unreleased alternate takes! (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

David Gates - Early YearsDavid Gates, The Early Years: The Early Songwriting Genius of David Gates (Rare Rockin’)

Before leading Bread, Gates was a talented singer-songwriter whose early works were covered by a myriad of vocalists – many of which are making their CD debuts on this compilation. (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

Simple Minds CelebrateSimple Minds, Celebrate: The Greatest Hits (Virgin/EMI)

As the ’80s hitmakers embark on a new tour, this new hits compilation – available in double and triple-disc variants – was made available in the U.K. last week. (A U.S. release is reportedly slated for later this spring.)

2CD: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
3CD: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.

RKivesRilo Kiley, RKives (Little Record Company)

A collection of rare and unreleased material from the now-defunct L.A. band.

Margaret Whiting - Wheel of HurtChet Atkins with The Boston Pops, The Pops Goes Country/The Pops Goes West / The Grateful Dead, Dick’s Picks Vol. 24: Cow Palace, Daly City, CA – 3/23/1974 / Tom Jans, Take Heart/Tom Jans / Barbara & Ernie, Prelude To… / Steve Lawrence, Winners!/On a Clear Day / Don Nix, Living by the Days / Eydie Gorme & The Trio Los Panchos, Amor/More Amor / Margaret Whiting, The Wheel of Hurt: Deluxe Edition Maggie Isn’t Margaret Anymore/Pop Country / Alfred Newman, The Diary of Anne Frank: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

The latest wares from Real Gone: plenty of two-fers, a rare Alfred Newman soundtrack, a new Dead reissue and expanded works from country-pop singer Margaret Whiting.

CD: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
LP: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.

Mills MercilessJerry Butler, Love’s on the Mend/Suite for the Single Girl / Stephanie Mills, Merciless: Expanded Edition / Donna Washington, Going for the Glow: Expanded Edition / Nancy Wilson, Can’t Take My Eyes Off You/Now I’m a Woman (SoulMusic)

A slew of great titles from SoulMusic are out this week, including a Stephanie Mills album produced by the late Phil Ramone. Check out the above post for details.

Jerry Butler: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
Stephanie Mills: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
Donna Washington: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
Nancy Wilson: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.

Anita WardCaston and Majors, Caston and Majors / Fern Kinney, Groove Me / Arthur Prysock, All My Life / Anita Ward, Songs of Love (Big Break)

And the latest expanded titles from Big Break include some Motown and T.K. rarities, including Anita Ward’s megahit “Ring My Bell.”

Caston and Majors: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
Fern Kinney: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
Arthur Prysock: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.
Anita Ward: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.

Judy Garland CreationsJudy Garland, Creations 1929-1962 (JSP)

A four-disc U.K.-only compilation of “the songs that Judy Garland sang first.” (Amazon U.K.)  U.S. customers may order at CD Universe or Collectors’ Choice Music for April 9 release.

eagles_boxEagles, The Studio Albums 1972-1979 (Elektra/Rhino)

Every one of the California hitmakers’ original studio albums, in a handy slipcase. (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

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