Kacey Musgraves: ‘A Very Kacey Christmas’

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Kacey Musgraves: A Very Kacey Christmas

Kacey Musgraves charmingly fulfills every holiday wish you could possibly dream of with her delightfully satisfying Christmas album. Her inimitable take on holiday favorites mixed with striking originals make this a crucial addition to your holiday music collection. Musgraves is irresistible on “Christmas Don’t Be Late,” “Ribbons and Bows” and “Christmas Makes Me Cry,” while her irresistible version of the quirky “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” is absolute holiday perfection.

Imagine a dash of Cajun spice, a Hawaiian rainbow or two, mix in a touch of Texas swing along with an inspired Willie Nelson duet, and you’ll have Musgraves’ inviting holiday recipe your ears will readily devour. A Very Kacey Christmas should be at the top of every astute, genre-defying music aficionado’s Christmas list.

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Sarah McLachlan: ‘Wonderland’

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Sarah McLachlan: Wonderland

Sarah McLachlan returns with her second proper holiday collection, Wonderland. This seasonal set contains 10 Christmas classics including: “The Christmas Song,” “Silver Bells,” and “O Holy Night,” plus McLachlan’s haunting rendition of the Canadian hymn “Huron Carol.” Produced by McLachlan’s longtime collaborator Pierre Marchand, Wonderland maintains the integrity of McLachlan’s most beloved albums, while concurrently conjuring a yen to envision Christmases of the past, present, and future.

Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood: ‘Christmas Together’

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Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood: Christmas Together

Country music’s super couple offer up duets and solo performances on this endearing yuletide collection. The famed duo blend together in perfect unison on “I’m Beginning to See the Light,” “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” and “Marshmallow World.” Brooks shines as he solos on “Ugly Christmas Sweater” and “Merry Christmas Means I Love You,” while Yearwood contributes playful renderings of “The Man with the Bag,” “Santa Baby,” along with a stunning version of “Hard Candy Christmas.” The only downside to this joyful holiday present is that it ends faster than Christmas day. The set’s total running time is a mere Grinch-sized serving of 27 minutes and 57 seconds, but it’s brevity is guaranteed to leave you hankering for second helpings.

Jane Lynch: ‘A Swingin’ Little Christmas!’

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Jane Lynch: A Swingin’ Little Christmas!

At first glance you might think this is a joke perpetuated by Ebenezer Scrooge himself, but Lynch and her holiday cronies deliver a serious portion of holiday cheer guaranteed to get your fingers popping and your toes tapping. Kate Flannery and Tim Davis join in on Lynch’s tuneful sleigh ride of holiday favorites including: “Up on the Housetop,” “Jingle Bells,” and “Good King Wenceslas.” Accompanied by the superb Tony Guerrero Quintet, Jane Lynch’s yuletide swing fest is guaranteed to turn any holiday gathering into an instantaneous Christmas party worthy of Santa’s approval.

Denny Smith: ‘An Overnight Low’

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Denny Smith: An Overnight Low

Denny Smith, the captivating frontman of rock band The Great Affairs has finally delivered his first solo album, An Overnight Low. Smith’s 12-track record contains exactly what fans have been hoping for; hook-heavy no frills rock and a healthy dose of contemplative ballads.

Written and produced by Smith himself, An Overnight Low shows the singer-songwriter in a new light from his previous band efforts. The gorgeous “Leaving L.A.” is a cinematic love letter to the City of Angels, while the infectious “Hard Stop” is the kind of romantic rocker made for blasting from rooftops and car windows when needing a break away from the insanity of the world.

For those not yet familiar with Denny Smith, his style can best be described as a stirring fusion of Tom Petty and Jon Bon Jovi, with a dash of the Stereophonics’ Kelly Jones. For fans of the aforementioned, An Overnight Low is the album you didn’t know you’ve been impatiently awaiting.

Upon repeated listening sessions of Smith’s introspective solo album, I found myself pondering the answers to a handful of questions, which he was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to answer. I’ve posted his comments below to give listeners some additional insight into the making of An Overnight Low.

A brief Q&A with Denny Smith:

Popmartzoo: What made you decide to make a solo record now?

Denny Smith: Truthfully, I was prodded by my drummer in The Great Affairs, Kenny Wright. We’d done a run of shows in South Carolina, and on a very long overnight drive back to Nashville, during which the subject of what OUR next record might look like came up, I offered the opinion that I thought maybe we should do a very lean, straight up rock n’ roll thing, designed specifically for the stage….one we could pull off in its entirety live if we chose to, with no auxiliary players or backing tracks. We’d run into some difficulty recreating a few of the songs from our last release, and I hated that a lot of the benchwarmers were my favorite tunes, so I really wanted to strip back the overdubs and make a Rock N’ Roll Over rather than a Destroyer this time around, to put it in KISS terms.

The problem with that concept was my tendency to write mostly pop stuff, ballads, and moodier pieces that didn’t really qualify with those specs. I was effectively pushing for an agenda that would leave the majority of my input on the cutting room floor. So, as we passed through Atlanta, listening to a handful of the demo tracks I’d been working on, Kenny suggested I take the time to do a record of my own on the side. It took me a minute to warm up to the idea of sticking my neck out on something like that, but once I weeded through the material, and realized I was gonna get to play a lot more guitar than I normally would on a record, it started to feel more like something that was probably a little overdue.

Popmartzoo: Which is your favorite track?

Denny Smith: “Fall To Me” is one I’m really close to. It was the last thing I wrote before we started work on the album. I’d had a pretty rough past few months at the time, just dealing with some personal things, and I’d seen some friends going through a lot of what I felt was undeserved hardship too, so I think I channeled all of it into that lyric.

Also, just listening to the band play on that one is so cool. They elevated this crummy little acoustic demo in a way I couldn’t have possibly imagined when I handed it off to them. Michael Webb’s piano parts are so amazing that I honestly got a little choked up the first time I heard a mix. It’s also the only track where I gave up my stranglehold on the guitar-playing responsibilities, and had my engineer/co-producer Michael Saint-Leon do his best George Harrison impression. His slide playing on there is something I couldn’t have conjured on my own with a million takes.

Popmartzoo: How did the recording process differ this time from previous group efforts?

Denny Smith: No rehearsals. Normally, my band would spend months writing, arranging, and rehearsing this stuff in a practice room somewhere, but this time I cut 12 demos at home, and emailed them to the rhythm section, Dave Webb and Criss Cheatham, and they showed up at the studio on the appointed date, with charts in hand, ready to work. Of those 12 songs, they both played on 10 of them, and we were in and out of the studio with finished takes in 2 days. Total pros. Oh yeah, and all the invoices were made out to me. THAT was a difference I didn’t celebrate.

Popmartzoo: Do you still feel passionate about making music or has it become more of a job?

Denny Smith: I don’t always get paid enough to consider it a job. In all seriousness though, it IS becoming a struggle for me to get in the van sometimes. We’ve been very fortunate to have found a good handful of venues who will pay us to play nothing but our own material(or whatever obscure covers we might feel like throwing in on any given night), but a lot of people are so apathetic, glued to their phones, lost in some app. that puts whiskers on the selfie they just took in the john, or whatnot, that trying to engage a room with a bunch of tunes they’ve never heard before or already feel somewhat invested in is just a losing battle a lot of the time. Occasionally we get lucky, and stumble upon an oasis of warm bodies that still wanna be moved by music, but those occurrences are fewer and farther between I’m afraid.

That said, I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of writing songs or making records. I’m just not sure I’ll always be able to AFFORD to make them to my standards or release them at the level I’ve been able to for the past several years. It’s still a business after all, if you’re gonna go to the trouble of spending money creating something, giving it a name, and running it up the flagpole for people to judge. I’m usually just happy breaking even, but that’s a taller order than you’d think these days.

Popmartzoo: How has making music changed for you in the digital age?

Denny Smith: It’s made so much more possible. I can always sing in tune for instance, if I so choose…. but I try to do that unassisted as often as I can manage.

It also totally allowed me to work at my own pace on ‘An Overnight Low’. I took the rough mixes of our initial sessions home with me, where I was able to throw up some amplifiers, run a few lines down the hall, and cut the bulk of the guitars on my own…taking as many passes at a part as my aging iMac would allow between system crashes. I did my own string sections, flew in parts from the original demos that I couldn’t see myself getting a better performance of, and even did my own album art. I used to have to farm all that labor out, but the digital realm has made being a DIY operator one more never-ending learning curve that’s well worth the effort to tackle. I’m hoping the few corners it lets me cut will allow me to keep doing this a while longer.

Popmartzoo: What tips do have for new artists trying to navigate the music business in the digital age?

Denny Smith: See above. Learn to do as much for yourself as you possibly can, but try to know when you’re selling the art short by doing critical work that you might be under-qualified for. For example, I know I need a good engineer to man the board when I cut vocals, because I don’t 100% trust my judgement when it comes to pitch. Sometimes you need a second opinion, a better caliber of gear, or a trained eye/ear to turn out a quality product. If that’s your goal, you’ll need to be objective in assessing whether or not you’re the guy/gal for the job. “Jack of all trades, master of none” is fine if you don’t mind not excelling at anything, but it probably won’t bode well for any particular career you might aspire to. Just my 2 cents.

Popmartzoo: What do you want listeners to take away from this album?

Denny Smith: The same thing I hope every time I make one of these: that people will find one or more of these songs resonates with them personally. I don’t write about anything terribly abstract, I’m pretty common when it comes to my daily concerns, and what gets distilled into lyric form. I’ve probably got some variation of the same problems you’ve got, just on a different day… the same frustrations, fears, dreams, failings…and we all wanna connect. I hope folks will listen hard enough to actually hear. It might not be “Blowin’ In the Wind,” but it ain’t “Pour Some Sugar on Me” either. There’s stuff going on in there.

Popmartzoo: What’s next for you?

Denny Smith: The Great Affairs have a covers EP that’s almost finished, and we’ve started work on a mess of new songs that could conceivably turn into that rock n’ roll opus that kicked off this whole solo record nonsense. I’ve also got just about enough stuff to make another one of these, assuming this one sells enough CDs, downloads, and streams to warrant the effort. I sure hope so, ’cause I kinda enjoyed myself.

For more info on Denny Smith and The Great Affairs, go to: DennySmithMusic.com

Oasis: ‘Be Here Now’ (Remastered Deluxe Edition)

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Once upon a time two brothers, Liam and Noel Gallagher, ruled the world with their legendary rock band Oasis. The brothers Gallagher, along with their merry cohorts, crash landed upon American shores in the mid-1990s with their landmark debut album Definitely Maybe. Born with a voracious lust for life and overconfident pomposity, Liam and Noel could have easily been mistaken for the real life versions of Beavis and Butthead. After all, the feuding siblings’ humorous witticisms and pointless banter actually landed on the charts with their infamous interview recording “Wibbling Rivalry.”

After successfully conquering the United States with their anthemic Britpop hits “Live Forever,” “Wonderwall” and “Champagne Supernova,” the Gallagher brothers seemed determined to record an album which sounded as gargantuan as their enormous egos. Late in the summer of 1997, Oasis unleashed their keenly awaited follow-up the multi-platinum (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? Initial reactions seemed to indicate fans were ‘mad fer it’ as the group’s third album, Be Here Now was quickly consumed by the public, selling in excess of 350,000 copies on its first day of release. Despite its initial warm reception, Be Here Now is historically remembered as the beginning of the end of Oasis’ worldwide reign. Although touted by many as “the last, great Oasis album,” Be Here Now is full of infectious hooks, sing-a-long choruses, and big, sloppy guitar riffs, all of which beautifully demonstrate the band’s florid illusions of world domination.

While certainly not Noel Gallagher’s strongest effort lyrically, Oasis’ third album more than aptly says what it says very melodically. Despite its shortcomings, the album triumphs as an over-the-top cataclysmic summation of the visceral bravado projected by Liam and Noel. It proudly revels in its arrogant bombast, while concurrently being excessive, brash, nonsensical and semi-psychedelic, all of which are the exact reasons it is equally loved and loathed. While overly long and dripping with delusional grandeur, it’s 71 minutes is flooded with fist pumping anthems and catchy hooks custom made to fill a stadium. From its massive opener “D’You Know What I Mean,” to the exceedingly tuneful “Stand by Me,” Be Here Now doggedly beguiles by combining nearly symphonic melodies (“Don’t Go Away”) with an intense electric guitar crunchiness (“My Big Mouth”). Each of the album’s magnanimous tracks seethe with a seriously intense insincerity, which continues to be recalled as a distinguishing component within Oasis’ everlasting legacy. And don’t bother trying to deny the irrepressible smile that creeps across your face during the 9-minute opus “All Around the World” as you wickedly imagine Noel insisting the track was to be needlessly extended just to torment Liam during the recording process.

The newly remastered three-disc deluxe edition of Be Here Now makes it worthwhile to revisit this historically divisive album, as it includes the much sought after Mustique demos. Over the years, these mythic recordings have reached legendary status amongst throngs of Oasis fanatics. Also included are the era’s B-sides, and several rarities including a cover of the Beatles’ “Help! (Live in L.A.).” This set is beautifully housed within a case bound book with rare photos and extensive liner notes. A super deluxe limited edition will be released in November, which will include the album on double heavyweight vinyl, an exclusive 7-inch of early demo versions of “Stand by Me” and “Going Nowhere,” the Mustique Demo white label LP, a promo only CD of “D’You Know What I Mean? (NG’s 2016 Rethink),” a 52-page coffee table book, embossed key ring, and a set of four postcards.

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Watch Noel Gallagher discuss the making of Be Here Now below:

 

Fleetwood Mac: ‘Mirage’ (Remastered Expanded Edition)

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Fleetwood Mac: Mirage 

It’s hard to fathom 34 years have passed since the release of Fleetwood Mac’s Mirage. The stakes were high in 1982 as the highly efficacious lineup of Lindsey Buckingham, Stevie Nicks, Christine McVie, Mick Fleetwood, and John McVie was close to imploding. Relationships were strained after a tumultuous tour, in addition to the band’s double LP Tusk failing to live up to the mega-success of the now legendary Rumours. At the time of its release in 1979, Tusk was considered a commercial disappointment, although over the years it has been reevaluated as a misunderstood masterpiece. But back in the days of multi-platinum smashes and music industry excess, if a record sold 20 million copies, its follow-up was misguidedly expected to equal or surpass its predecessor. However, that feat proved impossible to duplicate as Rumours managed to dominate the Billboard chart for 31 weeks, spawned four hit singles, won Album of the Year at the 1978 Grammy Awards, and eventually sold an astronomical 45 million copies worldwide. In contrast, Tusk only sold moderately well in comparison (a respectable 4 million units), but failed to reach number one (peaking at number 4), and delivered only two top-ten hits. Therefore, to say expectations were high for the superstar team’s fourth effort would be somewhat of an understatement.

After a substantial hiatus, Fleetwood Mac reunited to record the bulk of Mirage at Château d’Hérouville in France, which resulted in an unambiguous divergence from the experimental Tusk. Mirage offered a more radio friendly balance of straight forward pop-rock compositions by Christine McVie and Stevie Nicks, tempered with Buckingham’s idiosyncratic, but infectious concoctions. Not only was Mirage the group’s first release since Nicks and Buckingham launched solo careers to differing degrees of success, but it also served to bridge the gap between the startling Tusk and the more accessible Tango in the Night. Mirage was the group’s conscious attempt to deliver a more focused set, which harkened back to the sounds more akin with the band’s fruitful albums during the mid-1970s. Mirage managed to return the band to Billboard’s top spot for the first time since Rumours, while concurrently serving as the band’s introduction to a new audience via heavy rotation on MTV with a pair of eye-catching music videos; the desert-themed “Hold Me” and the conceptualized storytelling of “Gypsy.” Russell Mulcahy directed the video for the latter, which at the time held the honor as the most expensive music video clip ever made, and was fittingly selected as MTV’s very first “World Premiere Video” in 1982.

While Buckingham continued to eschew the straightforward rock stylings of previous songs like “Go Your Own Way” in favor of continuing draw from his well of inspiration initiated during the Tusk sessions, Mirage currently remains as Fleetwood Mac’s last album to date which sounds like a full-fledged group effort. Although cracks have clearly started to develop within the group’s musical path, all of the band members sound fully present in the mix, as opposed to Tango in the Night, which sounded as if Stevie Nicks’ contributions were edited in as a last minute afterthought.

This newly released deluxe edition provides a much needed sonic upgrade, superbly delivering an enhanced crispness to the previous murkiness and lackluster sound quality heard in its original 1980s release. Mirage has been impeccably remastered, which casts a much needed new light upon the album’s material, especially Christine McVie’s exceptional ballad of longing “Wish You Were Here” and the energetic fizziness of “Love in Store,” as well as Stevie Nicks’ folk-country flavored “That’s Alright” and album-oriented rock gem “Straight Back.”

Other highlights include Nicks’ alternate version of “That’s Alright” and two previously unreleased tracks “If You Were My Love” and “Smile at You,” which recall hints of “Sara” and “Sisters of the Moon.” Also included are remastered versions of the previous B-side “Cool Water” and the outtake “Goodbye Angel,” in addition to the superior subtleties of the original album version of “Straight Back.” The deluxe set also features the original extended music video version of “Gypsy,” work- in- progress demo versions. The super deluxe box set includes a DVD of a newly created 5.1 surround mix, and a vinyl LP of the remastered album.

Mirage is available as a remastered single disc, a two-disc set of the original album plus outtakes and B-sides, and a super deluxe 3 CD/1DVD/Vinyl LP edition which also includes a full disc of live tracks culled from a concert recorded at The Forum in Los Angeles during the band’s excellent but brief 1982 Mirage Tour.

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