It's 2017 but I wanted to get in a few words about two more Christmas music reissues from Real Gone Music that arrived after the 25th. The music of Italian conductor and arranger Mantovani pretty much defines "easy listening" music (or, for a more pejorative term, elevator music) of the 1960s: a big light-orchestra sound with lush, cascading strings, taken at a fairly slow tempo. Christmas Carols is a reissue of a 1958 stereo version of an earlier mono album and it's exactly what one would expect from Mantovani: big, bright symphonic arrangements of traditional carols. And, as one expects from Real Gone Music, the remastering is spectacularly clear and bold. For fans of this style, this is perfection, though for myself, if I want to hear instrumental Christmas carols, I'll probably opt for the classical style orchestras or smaller ensembles.
For years, RCA put out instrumental easy listening records under the "Living" moniker: Living Strings, Living Brass, etc. The Living Voices were, of course, vocal, and their albums were a big part of my childhood, not because my family ever owned any, but because they were everywhere, not just in record stores but in bargain bins, drug stores, grocery stores, Woolworth's--pretty much any place that ever stocked records seemed to have room for a few Living Strings or Voices albums. As the liner notes to this CD reissue note, the Living Voices was not any one group or conductor, though the entire series of Living albums was under the control of producer Ethel Gabriel. Two albums are included in this Living Voices reissue and they are by completely different ensembles.
The Anita Kerr record, The Little Drummer Boy, is the more traditional one, though the choral sound seems a bit smaller than on the other Real Gone CDs I've been listening to. It's well produced but fairly undistinguished, except for two lesser-known songs from Broadway musicals of the era: "Be a Santa" from Subways Are for Sleeping and "Pine Cones and Holly Berries" from Here's Love (a musical version of Miracle on 34th Street)--versions of both are also included as bonus tracks on the Christmas Mitch Miller reissue from Real Gone Music.
The Ralph Hunter album, however, tinkers more with the arrangements. They aren't jazzy or cocktail-ish; in fact, the tempos are taken quite slowly. But every so often, there's an odd touch. On "White Christmas," a piercing soprano voice noodles wordlessly in the background on occasion. "The Wassail Song" begins cleverly, with a fade-in as though this band of carolers was slowly approaching, but oddly, at the end, a small marching band begins plays, quite merrily but still unexpectedly. There is also an odd little version of "Parade of the Wooden Soldiers" without lyrics but with voices almost scatting over the melody.
This album might join my permanent Christmas repertoire, perhaps visited more sparingly than some others. But I've certainly enjoyed listening closely to these albums from Real Gone Music, discovering subtleties and oddities that might otherwise have just slipped through my consciousness like, well, elevator music.