Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category
Review: Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, “Riding Your Way: The Lost Transcriptions for Tiffany Music 1946-1947″
“Pull another chair at the table,” comes the invitation that opens Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys’ Riding Your Way, the new deluxe 2-CD set from Real Gone Music (RGM-0244). “Make room in your heart for a friend,” goes the second song on this collection featuring 50 of the never-before-released Lost Transcriptions for Tiffany Music circa 1946-1947. You’ll want to pull up that chair, and make room for Wills, with this remarkable (and remarkably entertaining) historical find filled with good, old-fashioned cowboy music. Real Gone has given the royal treatment to the King of Western Swing.
Songwriter, fiddler and bandleader Bob Wills carved out his niche in the realm of western swing, playing the music before it even had a name and continuing to do so until his death in 1975. Wills and his band The Texas Playboys flourished in the era of Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Sammy Kaye, Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman. They fused acoustic and electric country-and-western guitars, fiddle and banjo with prominent steel guitar, drums, piano, horns and reeds to create music that combined the excitement of urbane big-band with the rural, downhome charm of country and folk – and above all, was danceable.
1940’s “New San Antonio Rose,” written by Wills, propelled his group to widespread fame. A recording by Bing Crosby – onetime band singer for Paul Whiteman – sold over one million copies. Wills and the Playboys travelled to Hollywood to star in films like Take Me Back to Oklahoma opposite singing cowboy Tex Ritter, and challenged conventions by bringing horns and drums onto the hallowed stage of the Grand Ole Opry. In 1946 and 1947, Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys recorded almost 400 full songs for Tiffany Music, Inc., a body of work that came to be known simply as “the Tiffany Transcriptions.” (Wills was a partner in Tiffany Music.) These recordings were distributed only to radio stations on 16-inch transcription discs, intended for airplay as part of a syndicated radio program featuring Wills and his band.
Recorded by the busy band on Mondays in between tour stops, these recordings consisted of largely on-the-spot arrangements of a wide variety of material from familiar Wills hits to standards, ballads, blues and swing instrumentals. In addition, the 16-inch, 33 1/3 rpm recording format allowed the arrangements room to breathe beyond the standard, three-minute limitation of the era’s typical 10-inch, 78 rpm commercial records. Many of these “Tiffany Transcriptions” were uncovered over the years. Vinyl LPs arrived from the Kaleidoscope label, followed by CDs from Kaleidoscope and Rhino. Then, all of the material on those discs was released in box set form by Collectors’ Choice Music in 2009. The 10-disc box, the label’s first, has since become so rare that a second-hand copy can’t even be found on the usually-redoubtable Amazon.com!
Before 2014, however, less than half of Wills’ transcriptions had been released. For Record Store Day 2014, producers Gordon Anderson, Patrick Milligan and Mike Johnson unveiled a limited-edition EP with ten never-before-released sides – yes, its tracks were never even pressed on transcription discs! Six of those songs appear on Riding Your Way, plus 44 more, drawn from thirteen sessions in 1946 and 1947. (Four songs remain exclusive to the EP, at least for now.) All are sequenced chronologically and grouped by session, with the sessions having taken place between March 25, 1946 and December 30, 1947.
Swing along with us after the jump! Read the rest of this entry »
Real Gone Music is moving to the sound of a disco beat! In conjunction with SoulMusic Records, Real Gone has tapped the vaults of RCA Records to present two world-premiere CD reissues, both with rare bonus tracks.
Perhaps no other genre has inspired as many songs imploring listeners to suppress their inhibitions and put their dancing shoes on as disco has. “Let’s Go to the Disco/’Cause I feel like dancing tonight/Let’s go to the disco/Where the music is outta sight!” The call to arms “Let’s Go to the Disco” opened the self-titled 1975 RCA album by Faith, Hope and Charity, which was produced, arranged, conducted and largely written by Van McCoy. Brenda Hilliard (“Faith”), Albert Bailey (“Hope”) and Zulema Cusseaux (“Charity”) first teamed as The Crystals (not those Crystals) and then as The Lovelles before canny producer Bob Crewe (The Four Seasons, “Lady Marmalade”) rechristened them Faith, Hope and Charity. They first worked with McCoy – in his days as a top purveyor of sophisticated, sultry soul, pre-“The Hustle” – in 1970, and their hit “So Much Love” gained them entrée to the Top 20 of the U.S. R&B chart and the Top 100 Pop. McCoy took the trio from Maxwell Records to Sussex Records, and although Zulema split from the group in 1971 after a couple of albums, the remaining two members stayed in contact with the producer. (Bailey and Hilliard had even sung on McCoy’s Disco Baby LP, from which “The Hustle” was drawn!) With the addition of new member Diane Destry filling the role of Charity, Hilliard and Bailey reteamed with McCoy and snagged a deal at RCA just as disco was continuing its ascent in the mainstream.
The gleaming, upbeat Faith, Hope and Charity followed the lush, string-laden orchestral disco approach that developed out of the Philadelphia soul sound emanating from that city’s Sigma Sound Studios. McCoy wrote or co-wrote seven of the album’s nine tracks, with the remaining two slots going to cover versions. Each cut found the arranger-orchestrator at the top of the disco game, surrounded by top NY session pros including Steve Gadd on drums, Eric Gale and David Spinozza on guitars, and Leon Pendarvis and Richard Tee on electric piano and clavinet. George Devens filled the Vince Montana role on the vibes.
Like “Let’s Go to the Disco,” “Disco Dan” reveled in the very sound of the new dance music, unabashedly celebrating it: “Disco Dan/He’s the latest, he’s the greatest…Makes you wanna move your feet and clap your hands…The man is really something!” Faith, Hope and Charity also found room to revive classic songs in disco versions. “Disco-fying” songs, from standards to recent hits, was par for the course; in 1975, Gloria Gaynor famously took The Jackson 5’s “Never Can Say Goodbye” to the Top 10. For FH&C, McCoy remade two vintage R&B hits. Both “Rescue Me,” Fontella Bass’ 1965 hit, and “Just One Look,” Doris Troy’s 1963 classic, featured lead vocals from Brenda Hilliard and respectably updated the beloved songs. Hilliard also lent her urgent vocals to the uptempo “Find a Way” from McCoy and his songwriting partner Charles Kipps, Jr.
After the jump: more on Faith, Hope and Charity, plus The New York Community Choir! Read the rest of this entry »
I. See What a Love Can Do
Nils Lofgren was just seventeen years old when Neil Young called upon him to play piano on his third solo album, After the Gold Rush. The guitarist, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and onetime child prodigy joined Jack Nitzsche and the men of Crazy Horse – Danny Whitten, Billy Talbot and Ralph Molina – on an instrument which was largely unfamiliar to him. He added the understated, stark and raw piano parts that Young and producer David Briggs were looking for, and also supplied harmonies and acoustic guitar to the Top 10 album. Young had discovered Lofgren with his band Grin, and Lofgren would parlay his credits with Young into a deal for the band. Though Grin disbanded in 1974 after just four albums, Lofgren’s prolific career hasn’t let up since. Over 20 solo records have followed, as well as guest appearances, soundtrack recordings and various one-offs, not to mention membership in Bruce Springsteen’s legendary E Street Band since 1984. The Detroit native hasn’t yet penned an autobiography, but as a chronicle of the story of his life, chances are one wouldn’t top the massive new box set from Concord Records dedicated to his singular career. Face the Music encompasses 9 CDs and 1 DVD, all in service of an artist whose own music has long taken a supporting role to higher-profile music with the likes of Young and Springsteen. The limited, numbered edition, compiled and annotated by Lofgren, is a quirky yet personal journey with a true musician’s musician.
By the numbers, Face the Music features 169 audio tracks, 40 of which are previously unreleased, and 20 video clips, along with a 132-page softcover book – in other words, a whole lotta Lofgren. It’s far too sprawling to serve as an effective introduction to Lofgren’s art and career, but then, that isn’t the point, is it? For longtime fans who have followed his career, with and without Grin, Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen, Face the Music is manna. Those fans should carve out the time to explore this set in depth, as it’s not designed for casual listening and is best experienced in chunks, one disc at a time. Following Dave Marsh’s introduction, Lofgren provides comprehensive liner notes – blending autobiography (“I was born in Chicago, on the south side, June 21, 1951,” they begin) with recollections about each and every album represented, plus track-by-track commentary. Testimonials from Lofgren’s famous friends – many of whom are, of course, present on Face the Music – are also included.
Sensibly, the set is organized in chronological fashion beginning with a disc of 21 prime cuts from Grin. (This would be the most comprehensive single-disc Grin compilation available, though there’s one notable omission.) The second CD chronicles the beginning of his solo career and collaborations with producers Briggs, Al Kooper and Andy Newmark from 1975-1977, with the third CD covering 1979-1983 and notable works with co-writers Lou Reed and Dick Wagner, producer Bob Ezrin, and even a guest appearance by Del Shannon. Disc Four commences in 1985, around the time Lofgren began his tenure with E Street, and continues through his two Rykodisc albums from 1991 and 1992; Young, Springsteen, Levon Helm and Ringo Starr all drop by. The next three discs feature the least well-known material, recorded independently of the major labels between 1993 and 2011. Lofgren was completely free to follow his muse, releasing film soundtracks, live albums, and studio efforts including a tribute to Neil Young. Bonnie Bramlett, Willie Nelson, Paul Rodgers, Lou Gramm, Sam Moore (of Sam and Dave) and the duo of David Crosby and Graham Nash show up along the way. The final two discs are dedicated to completely unreleased music – “songs, demos, obscure tracks left behind from recording sessions, back rooms and basements,” as Lofgren describes it. These odds and ends date as far back as the Grin days and feature oddities like tributes to Yankee Stadium and The Washington Bullets from the longtime sports fan, and a song inspired by Lofgren’s close pal, the author Clive Cussler. As is always the case with anthologies, it’s not inconceivable that a favorite track might be missing, but Face the Music admirably covers all of the bases.
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Muscle Shoals, Alabama is a long way from Glasgow, Scotland. But when Lulu took the trek in 1969, the “To Sir with Love” songbird proved that she could play with the big boys. Though neither New Routes nor its Miami-recorded, Dixie Flyers-assisted follow-up Melody Fair scaled the heights commercially, both projects proved the versatility of the vocal dynamo. In 2007, Rhino U.K. issued The Atco Sessions 1969-72 collecting both of Lulu’s lost southern soul forays in one deluxe 2-CD package. Upon its deletion from the catalogue, The Atco Sessions began fetching high coin. Real Gone Music has come to the rescue, however, with a reissue of the complete package (RGM-0268) that once again makes some of the finest music of Lulu’s career available at a reasonable price.
The ballad “To Sir with Love” established Lulu in the United States, remaining at No. 1 for five weeks and becoming the top single of 1967. (Ironically, it didn’t even chart in Lulu’s native United Kingdom.) In addition to singing the Mark London/Don Black title theme, Lulu also appeared in the film. How to capitalize upon her newfound American success? After splitting with her longtime producer Mickie Most, Lulu signed to Atco in the States and headed to Muscle Shoals with the Atlantic Records trinity of Jerry Wexler, Tom Dowd and Arif Mardin. This move into R&B might have been perceived as a left turn by her new American fans, but not those who had followed her career since 1965. Though Lulu won the U.K. the Eurovision song contest of 1969 with the lightweight “Boom Bang-a-Bang” – it tied with entries from Spain, France and the Netherlands – her first U.K. single hit was a cover of The Isley Brothers’ “Shout!” Subsequent tracks like Bert Berns’ bluesy “Here Comes the Night” and Goffin and King’s “I Can’t Hear You No More” were also essentially R&B recordings. Many of Lulu’s more overtly pop recordings – like her U.K. Top 10 hit of Neil Diamond’s “The Boat That I Row” – were so potent because of her soulful sound. Though her vocals were filled with youthful abandon, they also reflected an old soul. Lulu had a great desire during this period to diversify her talents; though the production didn’t come to fruition, Lulu was even set to make her West End debut in a musical adaptation of Vanity Fair in the challenging role of the cunning Becky Sharp!
New Routes, released in February 1970, blended both pop and soul into a beguiling whole. The album featured Muscle Shoals’ take-no-prisoners rhythm section of Barry Beckett on keyboards, David Hood on bass, Roger Hawkins on drums, and Eddie Hinton, Jimmy Johnson, Cornell Dupree and a certain Duane Allman on guitar; horns and strings would flesh out the sound. Duane Allman’s scorching blues licks enhanced four tracks on New Routes, most notably “Dirty Old Man” from Mac Davis and Delaney Bramlett, and Fran Robbins’ rockin’ n’ rollickin’ instructions to “Sweep Around Your Own Back Door.”
With Lulu in the midst of her rocky marriage to Maurice Gibb of Lulu’s Atco labelmates The Bee Gees, two songs on the LP bore the group’s imprimatur, including the whimsical “Marley Purt Drive” and Barry Gibb’s ballad “In the Morning.” Lulu cut loose with her throaty wail throughout the LP, particularly on “People in Love” from guitarist Eddie Hinton and Grady Smith and the lament “Is That You Love” from Jackie Avery and John Farris. Hinton co-wrote “Where’s Eddie” with Donnie Fritts; the same team penned “Breakfast in Bed” as recorded by Dusty Springfield on her now-legendary southern-soul excursion Dusty in Memphis. Lulu hit just the right note of desperation on their rueful, tense ballad.
Other moments ranged from the funky (a loose run through Dave Mason’s “Feelin’ Alright”) to the reflective (“Mr. Bojangles”). Jerry Jeff Walker first recorded his “Mr. Bojangles” for Atco; Lulu’s version of the song predates the more famous interpretations by The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Sammy Davis, Jr., among so many others. Her heartfelt reading of the song is low-key and stripped-down, free of horns, strings or other ornamentation.
A fellow Glasgow native, Jim Doris, provided two tracks: the passionate “After All (I Live My Life)” as well as the album’s biggest success – both artistically and commercially. The marriage of evocative lyrics with the dramatically-building melody of Doris’ “Oh Me, Oh My (I’m a Fool for You, Baby)” gained Lulu entrée into the U.S. Top 30 for the first time since “To Sir with Love.” The sensual, simmering track is the centerpiece of New Routes.
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“Eternal Flame,” “So Emotional,” “Like a Virgin,” “True Colors” – the songs of Billy Steinberg not only nearly defined the sound of eighties pop, but have endured to the present day. Yet before Steinberg joined with Tom Kelly to pen those songs and so many others, he was fronting a power pop/new wave quartet with the unlikely name of Billy Thermal – Billy for Steinberg, Thermal for the city in which his father’s vineyards were located. The group, consisting of Steinberg, guitarist Craig Hull, drummer Efren Espinosa and bassist (and future “Butterfly Kisses” hitmaker) Bob Carlisle, received a featured spot on a compilation of up-and-coming artists for Richard Perry’s Planet Records and subsequently self-released one EP, but no other music ever surfaced…until now. Omnivore Recordings has just unearthed the lone LP from Billy Thermal (OVCD-95), the shelved 1980 album from which the five-track EP was sourced. If this cool little record may not change your world, it just might rock it for 45 minutes or so.
Billy Thermal’s tight, energetic, three-minute-or-so power pop nuggets fit squarely into the new wave genre of the day with just enough variety in the tempi and arrangements to make the album a compelling listen. The lean, compact, take-home tunes on this fresh, fun time capsule sound as if they were composed to be played onstage at maximum volume by the crack, take-no-prisoners rhythm section, combining a smidgen of punk attitude with a heaping helping of pop know-how. Though he wrote all of the music and lyrics for Billy Thermal, Steinberg found his truest calling later as a lyricist, penning the words to Tom Kelly’s melodies which were of a much more sweeping nature than the compositions here.
In the liner notes, Steinberg describes the band’s songs as “intensely personal,” and indeed, many of the relationship songs here have intimacy and honesty despite being firmly rooted in pop territory. Some are less distinctive and less keenly-observed such as “I’m Your Baby” (“And I’m your baby/I’m your baby/I’m your baby/I’m your baby/I’m your ooh!”) with its eighties-meets-Peter Gunn feel, but it’s clear that Steinberg the embryonic songwriter was well on his way.
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In 1992, American voters were asked to vote on not one, but two, matters of national importance: who should be the next President of the United States – and which image of Elvis Presley should grace a postage stamp. Bill Clinton won the former with roughly 43% of the popular vote, and as for the latter decision? It was “young Elvis” by a reported 75% landslide. The lithe, “Heartbreak Hotel”-era image of the pelvis-swiveling icon had triumphed over the jumpsuit-clad “old Elvis” – who, in fact, wasn’t that old. In 1969, when Elvis first set foot onstage at the International Hotel’s showroom, the biggest in Las Vegas, he was just 34 years old. He was dead a little over eight years later, at 42. But for those early days when Elvis ruled as the reigning King not just of Rock and Roll but of Sin City, too, there was likely no more electrifying performer. The proof is in the pudding – or more exactly, in the wealth of recordings left behind. If one were to leave a time capsule for future generations to discover the sound of American music – of rock and roll, pop and country melded into one blazing showbiz creation – it might look and sound a lot like RCA and Legacy Recordings’ massive new, 8-CD/2-DVD box set dedicated to Elvis’ That’s the Way It Is.
That’s the Way It Is was the title of both director Denis Saunders’ documentary/concert film chronicling the ascent of the “new Elvis” and RCA’s own hybrid LP consisting of eight recent studio recordings and four live tracks derived from the same 1970 Vegas “Summer Season” as the motion picture. (It was his third engagement at The International.) The matter-of-fact title might have disguised the fact that the contents of both projects were far from standard-issue. Admittedly, a better hint might have been the album’s cover artwork of Elvis in the kind of flamboyant white jumpsuit that defined his late period onstage attire (and was depicted in the rejected postage stamp). This wasn’t your mother’s – or at least, your older sister’s – Elvis. In 1970, Elvis’ past and present collided in exuberant fashion. The performer was capable of channeling the rock-and-roll fire that exuded such danger and sensuality roughly fifteen years earlier, but had moved into a new period in which he found the bigger the emotion, the better. “Hound Dog” and “Blue Suede Shoes” still played a part in this persona, but so did “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me” and “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” The role of big-voiced pop balladeer fit Elvis like a glove, and he filled much of his music in this era with equal parts heart, soul and sweat.
Legacy’s newest iteration of That’s the Way It Is continues the label’s series of Presley reissues that treat the artist’s catalogue with the respect it rarely received in his lifetime. His original album releases were often hastily-assembled collections of recordings drawn from various periods and sources and therefore lacking cohesion. Legacy’s reissues, often drawing on material excavated for the comprehensive, mail-order Follow That Dream program, have “cleaned up” the catalogue with such projects as Elvis at Stax and a number of expanded concert titles: Elvis in Person at the International Hotel and On Stage, Elvis as Recorded at Madison Square Garden, Aloha from Hawaii via Satellite, and Recorded Live on Stage in Memphis. That’s the Way It Is marks the most gargantuan undertaking in the series – even more packed than 2011’s remarkable Young Man with a Big Beat.
The album was last expanded by RCA in 2001 as a 3-CD set and then in 2008 by Follow That Dream. The 2001 set included the original album with additional studio performances, the complete August 12, 1970 midnight concert and rehearsals/unreleased tracks, while the 2008 FTD release concentrated on the Nashville studio sessions for the album, presenting more than a full disc’s worth of alternate takes, rehearsals, rough mixes and more (including a couple of live performances). The new box drops most of the studio extras (all available elsewhere; it would take a detailed diagram to outline all of the releases of material from the Nashville 1970 sessions – especially as they also were tapped for the Elvis Country and Love Letters from Elvis LPs) and presents, instead, a deep and vivid exploration of the live performing artist on eight discs:
- CD 1 – The Original Album plus a selection of alternate takes (outtakes) and single versions
- CD 2 – August 10, 1970 Opening Night concert at Las Vegas’ International Hotel (previously released on One Night in Vegas from Follow That Dream)
- CD 3 – August 11, 1970 Dinner Show (first release of full concert)
- CD 4 – August 11, 1970 Midnight Show (previously released on Live in Las Vegas from Follow That Dream)
- CD 5 – August 12, 1970 Dinner Show (first release of full concert)
- CD 6 – August 12, 1970 Midnight Show (previously released on That’s the Way It Is in 2001)
- CD 7 – August 13, 1970 Dinner Show (previously released on The Wonder of You from Follow That Dream)
- CD 8 – Rehearsal Highlights
In addition, this release is the first to include the MGM motion picture along with its music. The DVDs in the box set are identical to those released in 2007:
- DVD 1: 2001 Special Edition, Restoration Featurette, Elvis Career Highlights, Director/Restorer Filmographies, Theatrical Trailer
- DVD 2: 1970 Original Theatrical Version, Outtakes
For those unwilling or unable to drop high coin on the box, Legacy has also offered a spiffy alternative in the form of a 2-CD highlights set. This Legacy Edition release includes the box set’s complete, 21-track first disc with the 1970 LP, alternate takes and 45 RPM single versions, as well as a second disc with the complete August 12 Dinner Show (CD 5 of the box set).
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Bobby Darin knew he was in a race with time. If it was a race he would inevitably lose as a result of the heart condition he fought for his 37 years, Darin accomplished more in that short period of time than many artists who lived twice as long. A master of reinvention, Darin successfully transformed himself from teen idol to sophisticated hipster to folk troubadour and back again before his death in 1973. He also left behind a catalogue of impressive size at Atlantic, Capitol, Motown and his own Direction label, most – but not all – of which has been reissued on CD. But, with Darin departed for more than 40 years now, any discovery of new music from the singer is cause for celebration. As such, Edsel’s release of The Milk Shows – with some 96 songs on two CDs, only a couple of which have ever appeared anywhere before – is a major event for fans of The Great American Songbook and one of its most famous proponents.
96 songs on just two discs, you might be asking? Wouldn’t that have been too herculean a feat even for the perennially cocksure Bobby Darin? In the early 1960s (likely 1963), Darin recorded a series of five-minute, five-song radio shows for NBC sponsored by the American Dairy Association, hence the title The Milk Shows. Naturally, his performances range from mere seconds (14 seconds of “Fools Rush In”) to nearly two minutes in length (Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “I Have Dreamed” and “Climb Every Mountain”), but these recordings are not mere throwaways. Not only did Darin invest them with the full range of his interpretive skills, but he performed many songs he didn’t otherwise record. In addition, the format was an unusual one for Darin. Rather than utilizing the full orchestra he often had at his disposal, The Milk Shows were recorded with just an ace jazz quartet of Richard Behrke on piano, Ronnie Zito on drums, Milt Norman on guitar, and Billy Krist on bass. When Darin’s manager Steve Blauner and archivist Jimmy Scalia turned up these recordings in 2002, they set about transferring them into a digital format and organizing them into a cohesive album. The result, these many years later, is The Milk Shows.
As the recordings employed no overdubs or multi-tracking, The Milk Shows grants listeners an intimate audience with Darin, up close and personal. Each disc begins and ends with a show introduction, and there are a couple of commercials plus occasional chatter from Darin, but by and large, these rare recordings have been sequenced not to replicate the original broadcasts but to present wall-to-wall Bobby Darin.
The programs are announced as “from New York,” but were apparently recorded at Hollywood’s Capitol Studios; Darin was recording for the label at the time. The appreciative applause heard throughout was apparently added later, despite Darin’s referring to it often. A great number of the selections were, naturally, plucked from the decades-spanning Broadway songbook, representing true songwriting royalty. George and Ira Gershwin (“They Can’t Take That Away from Me,” “It Ain’t Necessarily So”) Frank Loesser (“Guys and Dolls,” “Standing on the Corner”); Johnny Mercer solo (a hot Latin-style “Something’s Gotta Give”), with Henry Mancini (“Moon River,” “Days of Wine and Roses”) and with Harold Arlen (“Come Rain or Come Shine,” “Ac- cent-tchu-ate the Positive”); Richard Rodgers, both with Lorenz Hart (“I Didn’t Know What Time It Was,” “Blue Moon”) and Oscar Hammerstein II (“Hello, Young Lovers,” “This Nearly Was Mine,” “Climb Every Mountain”); and Cole Porter (“What is This Thing Called Love?”) are just a sampling of the talents whose songs are heard here.
Pour yourself a glass – of milk, of course! – and join us as we dive into The Milk Shows after the jump! Read the rest of this entry »