Monday, October 01, 2012


A year and a half ago my brother finally died not from the cancer that he fought for five years, but from a massive heart attack caused by all the drugs he was taking to cure the cancer. The day of his death I had a show to do with my band Bric-a-Brac. I had been trying to come up with a new project that I could do myself, that would involve singing, and that I could just throw myself into for a few months as something to take my mind off things.

 The show we were going to play at was in the DePaul University Library and was an art installation where my friend Brian's rumpus room was recreated and all the bands who had recorded in it were invited to play. Brian had created a home studio in the real rumpus room and Steve Albini talked about sound insulation and PVC pipe to the delight of all the recording nerds. It was a fun night and afterwards I told Brian that I wanted to record a vanity project album using backing tracks I had collected on albums and tapes throughout the years. Just something to give to friends.  Brian said, do it in the Rumpus Room!  I was thrilled.

Every week for over a year I would go over to Brian's, who lives only about three blocks from me, and I would drink Scotch and sing over these old Music Minus One album tracks that I have or some Karoeke backing track... When it was done I had my vanity project completed and I called it Empty Orchestra (the Japanese translation of Karoeke). I offer it here for you to download and share if you like.

Oh, I took the album cover photo myself. I was coming home one night at 2 in the morning after seeing a band. These two poor souls were having a horrible time keeping the evenings festivities down... I thought it was a perfect image for this album of melancholy songs.
This was a moment from my Empty Orchestra record release party singing one of the songs with Jane Baxter Miller.


Saturday, August 11, 2012

The World of the Un-Easy

Recently I fulfilled a dream that I've thought about for years. Starting my own on-line radio station. Through the magic of a site called Live365, you can pay a bit of money and start posting songs for all the world to hear. I and my friend Andy Somma decided a few months ago that our record collections weren't doing much good sitting on shelves and it is time to share it to the world. The station's been up for a few months now and has a large playlist. I hope you'll stop by and be a regular listener.

Monday, May 28, 2012

He Wears a Pair of Silver Wings
In the 1920s and 30s it was rare for a there to be a girl singer with a band; It was quite common for songs that were written for a woman to sing would sung by a man. The Columbia Art Deco series put out a CD of these type of songs called "Can't Help Lovin' That Man". The very idea of homosexuality was so far from the listening public's mind that no one questioned this practice. In transferring a few records this weekend, I came across this Kay Kyser song. By the mid-40s there is no reason I can think of for Harry Babbitt to sing this song that could have been sung by their girl singer, Ginny Simms.

In any case, it's a pretty song that just drips with male affection; And pre-dates 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' by about fifty years. It also reminded me of the book Affectionate Men. The photo above is from David Claudon's web-site.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Another year, another massive amount of transferring my record collection. This year for some reason I transferred a large number of vocal group and organ albums, plus quite a few albums that were made for small groups that played at nightclubs around town...

Some highlights from this compilation are: Art Newman, who runs the Night and Day TV Repair shop in Dayton Beach. In the 80's a friend of mine when to school at Avery Riddle and brought me back several of Art's homemade recordings. Arthur Newman would given them out whenever anyone got their TV or VCR fixed. I love his albums for their earnestness; The Irritants, singing Dead Rock Funeral, is off of an old cassette I had of some friends singing songs that either they or I recorded. I always thought this had the makings of a hit. It is definitely an earworm song.

I through a couple of my songs on here as well. Moon River is a discarded song from a project I worked on last year called Empty Orchestra. On the recording I sing along with either Music Minus One recordings or Karoeke tracks. After all the songs were done we through this one out because it just sounds too Karoeke and the other songs have a real band feel to them. Sunshine Day is also from those sessions; all the people involved with the recording participated in the song, Gary Ward, Brian McNally and his wife Gwen. Damn singing Cindy Brady's part was hard.

I've also put on a lost Bric-a-Brac song: Dreams of an Everyday Housewife.

The rest is a total mishmash. I tried to stick with my rules of only records or songs I transferred during the calendar year. But I think this came out o.k. I do have to say I compiled this with a new program and the levels are a little off... If I ever get around to fixing that I'll re-post it...

Happy New Year...!!!!

Stereo Balance

The Theme From S.W.A.T – Ray Conniff Singers

I Can See For Miles – Frankie Randall

We Can Work It Out – The Brothers Four

Steppin’ Stone – The Golden Gate Strings

Mountain Greenery - Frenchy Boutan

Happy Together – The 7th Sound

I Like How You Taste – Unknown

The Touch – Betty Johnson

Destination Moon – The Ames Bros

Life on Mars – The King Singers

Dead Rock Funeral – The Irritants

To Die in Summertime – Rod McKuen

The Impossible Dream – Liberace

Moon River – John S. Connors

A House is Not a Home – Art Newman

Going Out of My Head - Gene and Joey

Are You Lonesome Tonight – Bob Kames

Dreams of the Everyday Housewife – Bric-a-Brac

Feelings – Ford and Angel

Three O’Clock in the Morning – Wendy and Bonnie

Wonder Why – Joanna Gault

Where Does It Lead – The Little Sisters

Where Flamingos Fly - Linda Lawson

It’s Silk – India Adams

Sunshine Day – Empty Orchestra Singers

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road - 101 Strings Singers.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

The Year of Transferring Dangerously

This year I spent a huge amount of time transferring my extremely huge record collection to mp3's... I've been doing this for ten years now and have barely made a dent...

Each year for friends I make a compilation of the best or most interesting songs I stumbled upon...

There are also three new songs I've recorded this year... I Will Follow You I did in my kitchen using CuBase and a Karoeke track...

The Sea and Sand was a demo I did with Mike Armstrong to play for our band so we could learn it... we sent it a former band member Erik Johnson who over laid strings and punched it up...

and A Taste of Honey is a preview of some of the work I've been doing with Brian McNally in recording an album using found backing tracks...

Below is a player where you can listen to the whole CD as a podcast...

Enjoy and Happy New Year 2011!!!

The Ghost and Mr. Chicken - Vic Mizzy
Rubber Bands and Bits of String - Telly Savalas
All My Friends Have Gone to California - Anthony Perkins
I Will Follow You - John S. Connors (from the kitchen sessions)
Don't Rain on My Parade - Nelson Riddle
Bye Bye Brown Eyes - Anthony Newley
Let's Fool Around - Johnny Charro
The Green Grass Starts to Grow - Percy Faith
The Sea and Sand - Bric & Brac (produced by El Nazn)
I've Been Wrong Before - Julius LaRosa
What Became of Life - Jimmy Durrante
Forever - The Carravelles
Holiday For Strings - Sue Raney
Soul and Inspiration - Jane Morgan
A Bad Case of You - Dolly Holiday
I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face - Nino Nanni
The Ballad of The Shape of Things - Blossom Dearie
Shapes - Eileen Fulton
A Taste of Honey - John S. Connors (produced by Brian McNally)
My Cigarette and I - The J's With Jamie
Theme from The Stowaway in the Sky - Nelson Riddle
We've Loved Before - Henry Mancini
Over The Sun - Tony Bennett
You Were Meant for Me - Peggy Lee/Michael Franks
When It Doesn't Work Out - Cass Elliot
Nessun Dorma - Joah Valley

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Love Isn't the Answer - It's a Vocal Coach

So I listened to the new Barbra Streisand album Love is the Answer this afternoon while at work. Pretty closely because I was doing mindless data entry. A new Streisand album is always something I've anticipated since I was a teenager. When I was in high school and a new album would come out I would purposely take one track on the album and not listen to it for a week, just to prolong the joy of hearing Babs sing another song I didn't know... Even her last album Guilty Pleasures, for all it's over produced Barry Gibb-ness had a couple solidly good songs on it.

I've been looking forward to her first album of standards and was really hoping that Diana Krall would be the guiding hand that would force Barbra out of the things that made her Movie Album almost unbearable... except for Moon River every song was so frickin' slow...

So, I listened to Love Is the Answer and I'm just shocked... shocked at how terrible it sounds. Now there are two CDs one with strings and one sans strings. I listened to both; the one with strings has a nice sound, Johnny Mandel is no slouch when it comes to arranging. He did my favorite Peggy Lee album Mirrors. But Barbra, Barbra, Barbra... her voice is gone... As part of the publicity there was a New York Times interview where she professed never to warming up before recording or doing scales, or taking a lesson. Uh, at 67 I'm sure you can't do a lot of things you used to be able to do.

The deterioration in her voice is even more pronounced on the CD without any strings. During You Must Believe In Spring it sounds as if she has asthma, barely making it through the smallest of phrases. My favorite version of this song is by Sylvia Syms, who sounds as if she gargled with rocks and whiskey before singing it. So it's not a song that requires a great singer, but it should sound as if you mean it. Barbra sounds as if she just picked up the sheet music and they kept the first take. Was Krall so fearful to ask for another try?

The sad thing is that nearly all of the songs are all time favorites... the selection couldn't have been better. A Time for Love, Here's That Rainy Day, Here's to Life, If You Go Away... timeless classics; all I'm afraid done better by other people. Barbra brings nothing. She again slows them down to the entertainment value of watching a piece of ice melt. The band is pedestrian at best; crap, how much money did they spend on this album and the band is no better than anything I've seen at any high brow fundraiser.

This is really an album that maybe she could have pulled off 20 years ago; but there seems to be nothing left. Take away her high notes and she isn't that good of an actress to do a jazz reading of a song.

I'm a great fan of watching performers get older and adapt their voices to their age. Peggy Lee comes to mind; she made much out of nothing. When she sang slowly it was because there was a meaning to the slowness; When Sinatra got older his gravel voice and shakey higher register was used to dramatic effect to show a whisper of pain. Rosemary Clooney did most of her best work after 65... Jeez, Delores Hope (Bob's wife) recorded an album after 80 and it was a solid piece of singing. Barbra just comes off under rehearsed, out of shape and not very interested in the material.

Song overview:

1. Here's To Life (Listen to Shirley Horn's masterful version, or Eartha Kitt's amazing version that is actually full of life)

2. In The Wee Small Hours Of The Morning (Sinatra's version is the definitive. Although Streisand included a recording of her singing this in 1969 on her For the Record, pared with Tony Newley's song When You Got to Go. That was a great version... why re-record a bad version)

3. Gentle Rain (Probably the best song on the album and the only one with any beat to it; albeit a slow bossa nova.

4. If You Go Away (Ne Me Quitte Pas) (Painfully slow; and I know I recorded a painfully slow version myself. Youtube Dusty Springfield singing it; or Rod McKuen's own version)

5. Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most (Again Streisand included a lovely version of this song on her For The Record. Why sully the memory...?)

6. Make Someone Happy (Argh I've always hated that song... the best version I've heard is Dean Martin singing a swinging style.... Slowed down it's like nails on a blackboard.

7. Where Do You Start? (Really a disappointment; this song should be perfect for her... but it's too late... the best version I ever heard of this song during Bea Arthur's show... Barbra sings it like the pizza delivery man is late, not like she lost a long time lover.)

8. A Time For Love (again a great song... Matt Monro has the best version... It's just too slow...)

9. Here's That Rainy Day (Sinatra has the best version; Her version is o.k. but her voice really sounds creaky in this one)

10. Love Dance (Argh, I hate this song... no one should ever record this awful song again... Did Paul Williams guilt her into doing one of his songs.)

11. Smoke Gets In Your Eyes (A hard song to do regardless... she just barely pulls it off... but with lots of oddly flat notes scattered about... She just sounds really tired...)

12. Some Other Time (This ends the album, and it sounds wistful, just because I don't think there is going to be another time... I can't imagine another album after this one... )

13. You Must Believe In Spring is a bonus cut. (As I mentioned before she sounds wheezy and lost... sung with just a piano it could have/should have been a great closer to the album. The last song on Guilty Pleasures was done with just a piano and her voice sounded vulnerable but strong. Here it sounds like she record this after she got over a flu.)

Poor Barbra. I was telling my friend Dan as we were going back and forth in e-mails about this album ; Forget about her doing Sunset Blvd... she should jump on that Fokkers sequel.

But I'm sure there is many a disappointment waiting to happen in the career of our Barbra.

Monday, June 08, 2009

RIP Kenny Rankin...

One of the all time best jazz/folk singers...