I thought I would do something new for the New Year by recommending some individual songs I have recently purchased rather than entire albums. Honestly, most of these songs are not all that new, though they were new to me when I found them. I hope these nine songs and mini-interviews inspire you to explore more music by these artists. Listening to music is only half the fun. Exploring and discovering makes up the other half. These songs originate from all around the world…places like Moscow, New York, New England, London, New Orleans, Nashville, and the Netherlands. Come explore with me as we unpack some great new sounds for the New Year.
Caro Emerald: That Man (Grandmono)
This song is a throwback to the 1940’s golden age of Hollywood…not exactly the kind of song you hear on the radio every day, and that is partly why I love it. Caro Emerald (Caroline Esmeralda van der Leeuw) is better known throughout Europe and her home country, the Netherlands, where her 2010 album Deleted Scenes from the Cutting Room Floor became the biggest selling record in Netherlands history (even surpassing Michael Jackson’s Thriller).
Emerald got involved in music in 2007 at the age of 26, and after not gaining any traction with record labels, founded her own with her producer, David Schreurs, called Grandmono. That Man is the lead track off of her Deleted Scenes album on Grandmono. Is it jazz? Is it swing? Is it pop? Have a listen and decide for yourself. Either way, it is fun. The song is also available in different mixes such as instrumental and acapella, so you are rather spoiled for choice as they say.
Three questions for Caro:
PS: What drew you to the kind of music you perform?
CE: I was always drawn to singing jazz ever since I started singing. Simply because I had a “jazzy sound”. But I’ve always felt the need to update that sound, because I’m also a big fan of pop music and lots of other genres. This style of music really fulfilled that need.
PS: When you’re not from the US, is it harder to break into the US market as opposed to other countries?
CE: I guess it is, although I’m not an expert! The US market is very, very big, and it requires a good strategic plan and lots and lots of time investment. From a European point of view, it’s much easier to break into the much smaller markets here.
PS: How has COVID impacted you personally and professionally?
CE: Well, I guess it’s the same for a lot of musicians. It means being at home constantly instead of being on the road all the time. A big switch with lots of both positive and negative side effects. The benefits of a more-healthy routine is something that I really appreciate, but I miss performing with all my heart!
Trivia (supplied by Emerald): “The final vocals for “A Night Like This” had to be recorded quite last minute, so when [producers] David [Schreursand] Jan [van Wieringencalled] asked me to come over to the studio, I wasn’t very amused. I had a throat ache that day and was also in a hurry, so I was quite irritated while recording, also because they kept pushing me to do better. I even thought it would never be the final take. But it turned out to be the best take ever, taking all of my furious energy and turning it to something happy! And yes, it’s those vocals that you hear on the track today :)”
2. Ele Ivory: LaZboys
Ele Ivory performed in the Blind Auditions for NBC’s The Voice and The Comeback Stage, and she was last year’s recipient of BMI’s John Lennon Award. I discovered her by chance through Kickstarter, a crowdfunding platform I covered in a previous Tech Rap. Her successful campaign raised almost $17,000 for her new “visual album”, as she calls it. As she explained in her campaign, “I will always view myself as a storyteller and songwriter first, and I deeply believe the art of narrative is beautifully highlighted through visuals. I view each of the songs on this project as a character in the world of this album and I want to elevate every story.”
I purchased her single LaZboys, the video for which also happens to be one of the more creatively fun music videos I have seen in a while. LaZboys indeed highlights Ivory as a storyteller: “And why does a picket fence sound like a death sentence / And why do all the happy endings end the same / And why did she build her life on someone else’s design / ‘Cause she’s bored to death with living in recline / Maybe one day she’ll escape / ‘cause she never liked LaZboys anyway”. LaZboys is a tune with a vivid story to tell both lyrically and visually.
Originally from Georgia, the now eighteen-year-old relocated to Nashville to pursue her professional music career. She recently released a new video for her song A Little More. Her new album will be available around mid-year and I am looking forward to what other musical stories she has to tell.
Three questions for Ele:
PS: What was the inspiration behind LaZboys?
EI: LaZboys was actually born out of one of the most frustrating solo writes I’ve ever had. I knew I had an idea worth digging for, but I probably wrote 6 songs that I scrapped before the real song emerged. I’m grateful for what LaZboys taught me about dedication to the craft of writing and to never give up on an idea.
PS: The video for LaZboys is great! What can you tell me about it?
EI: Thank you for watching! The music video was an absolute joy to create. Growing up, I was very involved in musical theater and the Atlanta film scene, so visual expression has felt a part of my artistry for a long time. Phynley Joel, my co-creator and director, completely understood the wacky world I wanted to create for the song’s character, Cecelia, to live in. Surreal and a little kooky, but aesthetically (and misleadingly) beautiful. In Phynley and I’s first meeting, we were discussing concepts and while we were spit-balling ideas I started exclaiming “We just need FISH, Phynley! Fish everywhere!” …and that’s exactly what we did. Because of my background and the social commentary of the song, we included a couple of furniture pieces from my Grandparent’s old home. They were extremely supportive of my career and dreams, and It was important to me that their presence, as well as what their post-WWII era of the American Dream, was represented on set. The LaZboys music video really changed the way I write and launched my team & I into creating my next project, my debut visual album. We’re filming the next music video this coming weekend and the entire project will be finished by early Spring.
PS: For anyone unfamiliar with your work, how would you describe your music?
EI: I would describe my music as folk storytelling and poetic pop having fun. I enjoy building detailed worlds with my lyrics and exploring organic soundscapes; I’m pretty obsessed with horns and strings and I find a way to have them on every song (even it’s just a little taste!!). Regina Spektor, Tori Amos, and Fiona Apple are some of my biggest inspirations sonically. John Mark Painter (Ben Folds, John Mayer, Brandi Carlile) is producing my project and he’s been a dream to create with.
Trivia (provided by Ivory):Although she loves riding rollercoasters, Ivory has always been afraid of riding a bicycle.
3. Mik Artistik: Sweet Leaf of the North (self-released)
I was listening to NPR in my car when a segment came on with host Steve Inskeep interviewing Iggy Pop. Pop called Mik Artistik’s Sweet Leaf of the North a “great song” and one of the best songs of the 2010’s. I knew who Iggy Pop was, but quite frankly, I had no idea who Mik Artistik was. Intrigued, I launched my investigation after I got home. This UK musician is in his late 50’s, classifies himself as a poet, comedian, artist, and performer. That NPR interview was a while back, but I only just got around to purchasing the song. Better late than never.
What is so cool about his song is the subject matter. Artistik was on the road with his band to play a gig in London when a leaf became lodged behind his van’s windshield wiper. They finished their performance and headed home with the same leaf hitchhiking all the way back. This is such a simple song about such a simple thing, yet it is something we can all relate to. Sometimes something simple hits the spot. Artistik plays accordion and keyboard but he does not come across as a professional singer, at least not to my ears. That only adds to the authenticity of his lyrics: “Sweet leaf of the north / You go back and forth / A little brown star / To guide us on our way.” This is an innocent little ditty, almost like a child’s bedtime story, yet it speaks to all ages.
Have a listen to number three on my Recommended Songs list and your heart will hang on to this song just as that little leaf hung on to Artistik’s wiper.
Three questions for Mik:
PS: We know the inspiration behind the lyrics, but how did you come up with the music?
MA: The music for Sweet Leaf came from me practicing a little riff on a Yamaha keyboard I’d just acquired for nothing. I don’t play piano so when I managed to find a few chords on the instrument I was very happy. The tune came before the lyrics, I think. It took me a little while to coordinate singing and playing at the same time.
PS: My takeaway from this song is fight hard to hang on. This applies to many things in life but especially the pandemic. Do you think so?
MA: The song is just about the epic struggle of the little and the seemingly powerless against the rough, hard world. We all might feel small and anonymous but can stir others in a good way by enduring.
PS: What did you think of Iggy Pop’s endorsement?
MA: A year in and I still find it hard to believe Iggy called it his ‘Song of the decade’. He was from another planet as far as I was concerned so him registering his approval of me and Jonny [Flockton, guitarist] was such a glorious treat.
Trivia (supplied by Artistik):Who’s tour bus did Artistik get escorted off of?Kid Creole.
4. Windborne: Diamond Joe (self-released)
Windborne’s music is framed in traditional American folk, but they weave in world music from Quebec, Bulgaria, Corsica, and the Republic of Georgia, creating a rich, musical tapestry. The group has existed in various iterations over the last decade, but are now four: Lynn Mahoney Rowan (vocals, percussion), Will Thomas Rowan (vocals, banjo, pandori, chonguri), Lauren Breunig (vocals), and Jeremy Carter-Gordon (vocals, banjo, bass). Their voices blend as smoothly as milk and honey and fall on the ear just as sweetly. Though New England-based, the group has toured throughout the US and Europe and also teaches workshops.
Windborne’s recently concluded Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign for their new album, Of Hard Times and Harmony, raised close to $35,000. Diamond Joe, however, is taken from 2015’s Lay Around That Shack, and is an a cappella song showcasing the group’s powerful harmony. As the group expounds on their website: “Versions of this old prison song have been sung by everyone from The New Lost City Ramblers to Jerry Garcia. Our arrangement is based on the John Lomax recording of Charlie Butler.”
There is something simple and pure about folk music. It cleanses the musical palate and soothes the soul. Let Windborne’s healing voices gently wash over you like their name implies.
Three questions for Windborne’s Lauren Breunig:
PS: How did Diamond Joe come about?
LB: We started singing Diamond Joe in 2013 as we prepared to go on tour with American Music Abroad (AMA), a program run by the U.S. State Department that sends bands to different parts of the world doing cultural diplomacy through music. In early 2014, we spent a month touring in Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia, as well as Angola in southern Africa, doing concerts, workshops, and community events to share our love of American folk music. Our album Lay Around That Shack (which features Diamond Joe) grew out of that tour, because we actually had to develop a bunch of new repertoire in order to do a whole concert of American folk. Our concert programs have always featured American and English folk songs, but prior to AMA probably half of any concert would have been music from other parts of the world with traditions of harmony singing–Corsica, the Republic of Georgia, Basque country, and Quebec, to name a few. One of the really delightful things about getting selected for AMA was having the excuse to look back at our roots and dive into our own musical histories. Diamond Joe is a song that we learned via Village Harmony, a singing camp we all attended as teenagers (which is also where we were introduced to singing traditions from places like Corsica and the Republic of Georgia), so there are a lot of special connections with it.
PS: When you recorded Diamon Joe, were you all singing together in the studio like you would in a live performance?
LB: Diamond Joe is on our CD Lay Around That Shack, which was our first studio album. We recorded with Alan Stockwell of Black Mountain Audio, who we’ve known for many years, and who has recorded a lot of a cappella folk music, so we knew he could capture the kind of sound we wanted for Windborne. He has a home studio setup and was able to create booths for each of us but keep us all in the same room so that we could still tap into that feeling of singing together onstage, which is so critical to our music. It still feels so different, though, to go from singing onstage–where we are just inches away from each other and totally keyed into the group blend–to singing across the room from one another, trying to balance the audio editing needs of reducing bleed and our performance needs of being able to really connect as a quartet. We just finished recording our upcoming album, Of Hard Times & Harmony, with Alan–it’s our third recording project with him, and while we have been really happy with each album, we have also altered our setup each time to keep searching for that perfect sound that captures the vivacity and life of a live performance. We are so grateful for Alan’s skill and patience, and can’t wait to share our latest record with the world!
PS: Does singing a cappella present more challenges than being accompanied by instruments?
LB: It certainly presents a unique set of challenges! The biggest one is staying in tune, both with each other and keeping the song as a whole from going sharp or flat. There also isn’t anywhere to hide… without instrumental accompaniment, our voices are so exposed, so if you’re having an off night or your voice cracks in the middle of a song, it feels way more noticeable. However, one of the things I love about harmony singing is the sensation that what we’re creating with our four voices is so much more than the sum of its parts–it is truly magical to feel our voices intertwine and resonate when we hit a chord just right.
The major benefit of being a vocal band is that we can travel super light! When we’re touring on the east coast or Midwest and don’t have to fly and rent a car, we can fit the four of us and all our luggage, gear, and merch into a Prius, which is a bit of a point of pride for us.
Trivia (provided by Breunig): “We write all our own arrangements (with the exception of some of the traditional music from Corsica or Georgia), but we don’t actually write them down until long after we’ve set our parts. By the time we put a song in front of an audience, the arrangement has been very carefully crafted, and it’s only then that we might think about notating what we’ve created. It’s also a big piece of what makes Windborne sound like Windborne–the arrangements we write as a group sound very different than what any of us might compose individually if we were to send one person off to write the harmonies for any given song.”
5.Gil Scott-Heron: The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (Flying Dutchman Productions)
Gil Scott-Heron called himself a “Blues-ologist”. Some called him the black Bob Dylan. Many consider him to be the first rapper. He was born on, of all days, April Fool’s Day in Chicago in 1949, received a Master’s Degree in creative writing from John Hopkins University, and taught at Washington DC’s Federal City College for several years. In the early to mid-2000’s he served a couple of stints in prison for drug possession and violating a plea deal. He died in 2011 at the age of 62 and was posthumously awarded a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award the following year.
Scott-Heron was mainly known for his spoken word performances, but this musical masterpiece merged his blunt poetry with a funky soundtrack. The Revolution Will Not Be Televised contains many now dated references (Nixon, Xerox, Green Acers, etc.), but Heron’s basic message, unfortunately, is just as relevant today as it was when he first recorded it fifty years ago: “There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down brothers on the instant replay…Women will not care if Dick got down with Jane on ‘Search for Tomorrow’, because black people will be in the street looking for a brighter day”.
If I am not mistaken, I first heard Scott-Heron’s “Revolution” when I wasin college, but I had not listened to it since. I suppose the current political environment motivated me to rediscover it. The song will not change the world we live in, but it will make you think about the world we have created.
Trivia: Scott-Heron’s grandmother knew the neighborhood junk-man and was able to rescue a grand piano destined for the junk heap for her then seven-year-old grandson. Her motive was to get him to learn Hymns.
6. Polina Kasyanova: Mr. Sandman (digital release only)
Moscow’s Polina Kasyanova was another happy accident. I had been researching the song The Little Boy That Santa Claus Forgot, popularized by Nat King Cole in 1953. It is a depressing tale about a child without a father who does not get any gifts for Christmas. Definitely not a track to include on your festive Christmas party playlist. I stumbled upon Kasyanova’s tender treatment of the song in her lovely music video posted on Youtube. I emailed her asking if the song could be purchased and received a personal reply from her in the negative. This led me to search other songs she had recorded that I could purchase. I ended up buying her unique cover of the classic hit Mr. Sandman (popularized by The Chordettes in 1955) from her live album from 2012.
Interestingly, her band for this album featured two acoustic guitars, a double bass, and a kazoo! Feed your ears something a little different this New Year with Kasyanova’s acoustic version of Mr. Sandman.
Three questions for Polina:
PS: What club was this performed at?
PK: It was one of Moscow’s oldest music clubs called Rhythm ’n’ Blues Cafe, which was one of the most common clubs for me to perform at that time. The album is called Douze, which means “Twelve” in French. It consists of 12 tracks and [was] recorded in the year 2012.
PS: Why did you decide to cover Mr. Sandman?
PK: Hard to remember the cause, but it sure is the song to cover, beautiful and immortal.
PS: When and why did you learn to play the kazoo?
PW: I believe it was one of my musician friends who gave me my first plastic kazoo as a present with which I totally fell in love at first sight. Later I discovered they can be made of different materials, so that I have had quite a collection of all sorts of kazoos, smaller, bigger, wooden, plastic, steel, etc. but I rarely play them now.
Trivia(supplied by Kasyanova):Kasyanova prefers instrumental music to vocal music and male voices to female.
7. Tessa Violet: I Like (the idea of) You (TAG Music)
This is a fun song from 2019 I discovered by accident. I was watching some music videos on Youtube and on the right-hand side of my computer screen was an image of a gaggle of young women dressed in black tights. Naturally, this caught my attention. I clicked on it thinking it was probably a lame exercise video. Instead, what greeted my eyes were groovy dance moves from the 1960’s and a fresh pop tune by Tessa Violet. I Like (the Idea of) You is a single from Violet’s 2019 album, Bad Ideas. In a Build Series NYC interview, Violet said this video was her tribute to Nancy Sinatra’s video of These Boots Are Made For Walkin’ from 1966.
From my optics, Violet looks, sounds, acts, and writes younger than her thirty years. She also sports bright yellow hair, not that I would ever hold that against anyone. She spent time in Hong Kong and Thailand as a model when she was younger, but is originally from Oregon, having eventually moved to New York. Got all that? At the age of 20 she won $100,00 in a Youtube contest for receiving the most comments on her video submission. Violet has left her vlogging behind in favor of crafting her own blend of indie pop music.
In addition to writing and singing, she plays piano, guitar, and ukulele. Her lyrics will not give Bob Dylan a run for his money, but sometimes you do not want to listen to songs that contemplate the complexities of life: “I know I shouldn’t be guessing, but you’re impressing me / And I can’t help reading into what you’ve been texting me / I keep repeating, repeating the way we shouldn’t be”.
Unfortunately, my three mini-interview questions were met with an inexplicable and impenetrable wall of silence, so I am unable to provide any first-hand insight from Violet herself. That aside, I Like (the Idea of) You is a super-spreader of fun and I highly recommend you repeatedly expose yourself to it as I have done.
Trivia:According to tvtropes.org, “in the music video for ‘Crush’, Tessa wore a vintage sweatshirt that had Cyrillic writing on it, and she found herself turned into a meme on the Russian-language internet, with Russian-speaking fans declaring her their queen. Most of the top comments on Tessa’s music videos ever since have been in Russian, leaving English-speaking fans bewildered. The level of interest was so great that she added a performance in Moscow to her tour.”
8. Professor Longhair: Hey Now Baby (Tomato Records)
I am a big Beatles fan, and back in 1988 I saw a picture of Paul McCartney wearing a Professor Longhair t-shirt. I did not know who Longhair was, but if he was good enough for McCartney, by golly, he was good enough for me. I later learned McCartney hired Longhair to perform for him at a private party. Straight away I bought a couple of used Longhair records from a local record store, and after listening to them, wondered how I ever managed to be on this earth for so many years without knowing about this fantastic music.
Longhair (born Henry Roeland “Roy” Byrd)had little formal education and enjoyed only one commercial hit (Bald Head) during his entire thirty-two year career. At one point he was forced to take a job as a janitor to support himself. His New Orleans blues music earned him a posthumous Grammy and induction into the Blues Hall of Fame, The Louisiana Music Hall of Fame, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. His calypso-mambo-rumba piano style was as distinct as his whistle and seemingly strained voice.
Forty-one years ago this very month, “Fess” (short for “Professor”) as many called him, died in his sleep in New Orleans from a heart attack, about one month after his 61st Birthday. Hey Now Baby is taken from the album Rum and Coke from 2002. It is a fun song I recently reconnected with, with lyrics I can personally relate to: “You know very well, I love you / Follow you all over town / You run around telling people, baby / That I was your clown / Why darlin’, tell me why, honey child / You told everybody baby, that I was your clown.”
Good music makes everything better, and I triple-dog dare you not to feel good while listening to this song.
Trivia:Longhair found a discarded piano in a junkheap and despite missing several keys, patched it up enough to be able to learn to play with help from musician friends Stormy Weather and Sullivan rock.
9.Paul Hardcastle: 19 (Chrysalis Records)
I have left perhaps the most interesting song for last. Believe it or not, this is a dance song about the Vietnam War and PTSD. No, 19 is not some obscure novelty tune from the 1970’s. If you like C-Jazz (Contemporary Jazz), or are a Vietnam War history buff, or served in Vietnam (or any war or conflict for that matter), then I call your attention to this epic piece. I first heard it a few months ago on a smooth jazz Internet radio station I was playing on my Musica and ended up buying the track.
Composer and multi-instrumentalist Paul Hardcastle, who turned 63 early last month, saw an ABC television documentary in 1984 about the Vietnam war and was inspired to write this song. The song’s title came from the statement in the documentary’s narration by Peter Thomas that the average age of a soldier in Vietnam was 19.
Besides featuring interview clips with soldiers and snippets from period news reports set to an electro-jazzy beat, the kicker is the sampling of Thomas saying “Nu-Nu-Nu-Nineteen“ (you will recognize Thomas’ voice as the narrator of the original Forensic Files series). Sampling was still in its infancy when this song was recorded back in 1985, and nothing quite like this had been done before in a song, certainly not within the jazz realm. The song proved very popular, becoming a top single in more than a dozen countries including the US. It was released in five languages in addition to English. According to Hardcastle’s website, to date the song has sold over 8 million copies worldwide.
One would think a song about the Vietnam War and PTSD would be downright depressing. On the contrary. 19 is fascinating, and the beat is, dare I say, infectious and danceable. Although the subject matter concerns a war that ended more than forty-five years ago, the music holds up very well today. Some Vietnam veterans have credited the song for acting as a kind of musical therapy for them.
Should you decide to buy 19, I want to caution you because there is a plethora of iterations. In fact, I am not aware of a jazz song that has so many variants…Welcome to Hell, 30th Anniversary, Industrial Mix, Destruction Mix, The Final Story, and others. I bought the version from Hardcastle’s “The Very Best of” compilation because most of the alternate mixes run almost as long as the war itself. The link I include at the end of this article is for the version I purchased which times out at 3 ½ minutes. I also included a link to a wild video of a game show contestant lip-synching the song. It is must-see TV.
Hardcastle’s son, Paul Jr, a musician in his own right, was gracious enough to coordinate answers to my questions from his father:
PS: Sampling was relatively new back in those days. What gave you the idea to use the technology?
PH: “I think seeing a Fairlight in a studio, and was amazed at the possibilities in mixing it with Dance music.”
PS: Is it true you ended up having to pay royalties to Peter Thomas?
PH: “Yes, Peter Thomas was well looked after lol”.
PS: After the success of “19”, did you hear from, or are you aware of, Vietnam veterans who said your song helped them?
PH: “Had least a few thousand letters from Vets thanking me for highlighting their plight and 19 was played at their March through Washington.”
Trivia (supplied by Hardcastle):“The original voices were recorded onto a Betamax video tape !!! and most of the song was recorded in our front room.”
Streaming Music Files
Once you have purchased and downloaded music to your smartphone/tablet/computer/MP3 player, your Como Audio music system gives you a couple of different wireless streaming options. When I stream my music from my Motorola smartphone, I usually use Bluetooth, but when I am streaming from my HP laptop, sometimes I use UPnP (Universal Plug n’ Play) instead of Bluetooth. Here I will describe both streaming options as well as Spotify Connect.
If you have music files, you can stream the songs to your Como Audio music system wirelessly via Bluetooth. Moreover, if your source device (i.e., smartphone) supports aptX audio, our models will de-code that codec automatically for even better, CD-like sound quality. Simply place your Como Audio model in Bluetooth mode, open Bluetooth on your source device, and pair and connect the device to your Como Audio music system. Then, start playing your music. You will see meta data (if embedded in the file) like artist name and song title, but not album artwork. Just press the “i” key on the remote control to cycle through the available meta data. The advantage of Bluetooth is quick and painless setup and very good sound quality, especially with aptX audio. The drawbacks are is it has limited range (about 30 feet) and can have trouble going through solid objects like walls.
Another wireless streaming option is UPnP for PC’s. Apple, as usual, goes their own way and does not support UPnP, though there are third party programs you can purchase as a work around. Just Google “Apple UPnP”. UPnP technology uses Wi-Fi which many audio enthusiasts believe sounds better than Bluetooth. Unlike Bluetooth, UPnP has a greater range since it uses your Wi-Fi network, and it will usually show album artwork (if the artwork is not high resolution) in addition to meta data. Everything has a down side, and the downside to UPnP is the involved setup. You will find detailed UPnP setup instructions in the Comprehensive manual on our website starting on page 38.
If you subscribe to the paid premium version of Spotify you can search for the specific songs on my Recommended list and stream them wirelessly to your Como Audio music system. The sound quality will be superior, and album artwork and meta data will be supported. Simply select Spotify in the source menu of your Como Audio music system, open the Spotify app on your smartphone/tablet/computer, connect to your Como Audio model, search for the song or artist in the Spotify app, and start streaming. If you use the free version you can search under the artist’s name but not be able to zero in on a specific song. If you own our top-of-the line Musica and subscribe to any of the other supported premium streaming services such as Amazon Prime Music, you can access these Recommended songs through those services as well.
Plug Me In
This article concerns wireless streaming of music files, but you can go old school and playback your music files by connecting your source device using an audio cable from its headphone jack to your Como Audio system’s Auxiliary input if wireless is not your thing or your device does not support Bluetooth or UPnP.
As we very happily slam the door firmly shut on 2020, here are a few of the very talented artists from the music world we lost last year, some owing to the cruel pandemic:
Lyle Mays (66) (Pat Metheny Group) “after a long battle with a recurring illness.”
Jimmy Heath (93) from natural causes.
Barbara Martin (76) (The Supremes)
Kenny Rogers (81) from natural causes.
Bill Withers (81) from heart complications.
John Prine (73) from complications related to COVID-19.
Little Richard (87) from bone cancer.
Bonnie Pointer (69) (The Pointer Sisters) from cardiac arrest.
Vera Lynn (103)
Charlie Daniels (83) from a stroke.
Trini Lopez (83) from complications related to COVID-19.
Ian Mitchell (62) (Bay City Rollers)
Ronald Bell (68) (Kool and the Gang)
Tommy DeVito (92) (The Four Seasons) from complications related to COVID-19.
Ellis Marsalis Jr. (85) from pneumonia brought on by COVID-19.
Lee Konitz (92) from pneumonia brought on by COVID-19.
Mac Davis (78) following heart surgery.
Edie Van Halen (65) from a stroke (with cancer and pneumonia as underlying causes).
Joseph Shabalala (79) (Ladysmith Black Mambazo)
Spencer Davis (81) (Spencer Davis Group) from pneumonia.
Charley Pride (86) from complications related to COVID-19.
I thought I would close out 2020 by asking that musical question posed by Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday, Linda Ronstadt, and others…What’s New? There have been many exciting changes here at Como Audio over the last few months, most of which you are probably not aware of. Let us review what has been happening at your favorite MA startup audio company and then survey the Christmas music landscape.
New Como Audio USA Office and Warehouse
At the end of July, we relocated our main office from Boston’s Seaport District to Braintree, MA. Our new facility has more space, an actual kitchen, plenty of free parking, a 4,000+ square foot warehouse with three raised loading docks, and for most of us, a much more manageable commute. I for one will not miss the daily hour-plus slog in and out of Boston. Operating our own warehouse affords us more accurate inventory management and better oversight of shipping. Our new facility also has a dedicated “demo” room, so if you live locally you can come in and listen to our products and receive a personal tutorial from one of our Customer Service Advisors (we just ask that you make an appointment with us ahead of time, wear a face mask, and socially distance). The move was a lot of work (in the heat of summer) and it created some unforeseen hiccups, but we have settled in nicely and we really dig our new digs.
Trivia:Braintree, MA is located nine miles south of Boston and is the birthplace of President John Adams, President John Quincy Adams, and John Hancock.
New Como Audio Employees
Our Founding CEO, Tom DeVesto, is serious about creating decent paying American jobs, so we took advantage of our larger office space to expanded our Customer Service team by adding two new full-time employees, joining our three existing full-timers. With the addition of Ryan Gallagher and Alec Gervais, both of whom hold undergraduate degrees in Sound Recording Technology from the University of Massachusetts, we will be able to serve the needs of our customers and prospective customers even more effectively. Our Bryce Dort and Nick Dussault, each of whom have been with Como Audio about one year, also hold degrees in Sound Recording Technology. Philip Vecchiarelli has been with us for nearly four years and was promoted last month to Senior E-Commerce Manager. “PJ”, as he is affectionately known, is now in charge of our Customer Service Department among his other responsibilities.
As for me, I continue with myDissociative Identity Disorder as General Manager, Logistics Manager, V.P. of Product Development, and Tech Rap author. I will celebrate my fifth Anniversary with Como Audio in two months. I also recently received my commission as a MA Notary Public.
In the way of a Customer Service staff introduction, here is a hit-and-run Q&A with some of our team:
Plays: Bass Guitar, Piano
Currently listening to: Grace Jones, Chaka Khan, Ashford & Simpson, and Alex Cameron
Favorite Internet station: Bossa Jazz Brasil
Little known fact: He’s a semi-pro photographer
Favorite Christmas dinner side dish: Secret family Brussel sprout recipe
Plays: Drums, Guitar
Currently listening to: Wand and Slow Pulp
Favorite Internet station: KEXP & WUML
Little known fact: He’s an experienced recording/mixing engineer
Favorite Christmas dinner side dish: Eggnog (Wait. Is eggnog a side dish?)
Plays: Guitar, Bass, Modular Synth
Currently listening to: Bochek, Oneohtrix Point Never, and Nino Rota
Favorite Internet station: Magic 106.7
Little known fact: Shares the same Birthday with Drake and Jeff Mangum
Favorite Christmas dinner side dish: Roasted Brussel sprouts
Plays: Bass Guitar, Drums
Currently listening to: The Beatles’ Love
Favorite Internet station: Radio Swiss Jazz
Little known fact: Played bass in The Funkodactyl’s- a high school funk band that did Chicago, Stevie Wonder, and Earth, Wind and Fire covers
Favorite Christmas dinner side dish: Mashed potatoes
Plays: Failed at Piano and Accordion. Do you know the difference between an onion and an accordion? No one cries when you chop up an accordion.
Currently listening to: You will find out when you read January’s Tech Rap…
Favorite Internet station: Atomic City. Warning: Don your gamma radiation suit before listening.
Little known fact: When I was a sophomore in college minoring in Political Science, I was selected out of hundreds of applicants to intern for 1 week in Washington, DC with Senator Claiborne Pell (D-RI).
Favorite Christmas dinner side dish: A liberal helping of my famous homemade green bean casserole (with a secret ingredient). I also make a pretty mean no-bake strawberry cheesecake.
Trivia:Pecan pie has nearly 550 calories thanks to the butter, sugar, and nuts. Plop some vanilla ice cream on top and the count jumps to 700 calories. Have a slice and you will need to work out after you pig out.
New Como Audio Website
In late September, we launched our completely redesigned website which we had been toiling over for most of the year. It is still being tweaked here and there, but the majority of it is finished. We tried to streamline things to make the information a little easier to digest. Since we are a web-based company, our website serves as an introduction to our products, so it is important to us to make a favorable first impression. We hope you like our new site. If you have any comments or suggestions, we would love to hear your constructive feedback.
Trivia:According to History.com, the first-ever website was launched on August 6, 1991. The site explained the world wide web and how to use it.
New StartEngine extension
Our StartEngine equity crowdfunding campaign is not new, but our extension is. Our campaign was set to end last month, but you now have a few more weeks to get in on the action. For a minimum investment of $250 you can join over 250 other smart investors and become part owner of Como Audio. As of this writing we have raised $174,000, which is fantastic, but if we are to achieve our goal of developing American manufacturing and creating more new jobs, we still have a long way to go. Can we count on your generous support before our campaign expires next month?
Trivia:Having collectively raised over $200 million for hundreds of companies, StartEngine is the biggest equity crowdfunding platform.
Occasionally, we receive emails from prospective customers inquiring about financing options. We heard you, so we added a new service from Bread to pay for your Como Audio music system over time. 12-Month, 0% APR financing is available. Look for the Bread option when you select your purchase on our website*.
*The term is for a loan to finance a purchase. Rates range from 0% to 29.99% APR, resulting in, for example,12 equal monthly payments of $83.33 at 0% APR or 24 equal monthly payments of $45.22 to $55.91 at 0% to 29.99% APR, per $1,000 borrowed. Your terms may vary and are subject to credit approval. Down payment may be required. Bread® loans are made by Cross River Bank, a New Jersey Chartered Bank, Member FDIC.
Trivia:In 1950, Diners Club was the first to issue a general-purpose charge card according to Experion.
New Como Audio Products
Somehow, despite our major office and warehouse relocation, COVID-19, totally redesigning our website, hiring and training new staff, and servicing an equity crowdfunding campaign, we managed to steal some time to design some new products. It goes without saying, any of these would make a much better holiday gift than a George Foreman grill or a Richard Simmons Chia pet. Just be sure to place your order soon so your purchase gets delivered in time for the holiday. With the dramatic increase in on-line ordering due to the pandemic, UPS is even busier this season and has earlier cut-off times than previous years. Plus, if a COVID vaccine starts shipping in December, that could inflict further delays. The bottom line from the experts is if you want something in time for Christmas, the earlier you order, the better chance you have of getting it in time. Also consider a Como Audio gift card to avoid shipping delays and let the lucky receiver pick out his or her own gift.
New Como Audio Amico Carry On
For Amico, our popular portable model, we have a new, hard-sided travel case. The 0.19-0.34” thick injection molded, textured rigid case is custom designed specifically for Amico and its accessories. The precision die cut foam interior includes customized compartments for one Amico (with or without its Protective Cover), a spare battery pack, a remote control, the external power supply, and several snap-in regional adapter plugs. Featuring an integrated handle, the Amico Carry On travel case provides light duty protection and splash resistance while maintaining a professional look, and will fit comfortably in an airplane’s overhead bin (thus the name Carry On). Best of all, as part of our commitment to try to bring manufacturing back to the states, our new case is 100% made in the USA. Keep Calm and “Carry On”.
New Como Audio Turntable Analog
The success of our Como Audio Bluetooth Turntable led us to develop a second model for those looking to spend a little less and can do without Bluetooth. Though it has a lower retail price, our new, belt-driven Turntable Analog retains the same build and sound quality as its big brother and is made in the Czech Republic. Custom-designed in partnership with Austrian-based turntable experts Pro-ject, Turntable Analog includes a switchable Phono/Line output and an MDF plinth wrapped in premium walnut vinyl or piano gloss black vinyl. It includes a large steel platter set atop a sub-platter and supports 33 1/3 and 45 RPM speeds via a single, side-mounted speed control switch. The newly developed DC motor with TPE (ThermoPlastic Elastomer) damping provides speed stability without adding vibration. An Ortofon OM5e cartridge comes pre-mounted and balanced, meaning no adjustments are necessary…just plug n’ play. A removable transparent dust cover, Como Audio slip mat, high-quality audio cable using “dual twisted pair” technology, and a 100-240V universal power supply with regional plugs are all included. Take your record collection out for a spin on Como Audio’s new Turntable Analog.
New Como Audio Global Editions
How could we make our models even better? We made universal versions. They might look the same as our standard models, but our Solo/Duetto/Musica/Amico Global Editions include both a US and a CE power cord, support for DAB/DAB+ (digital broadcasting as used in most European countries), and finer tuning of FM stations in the US. Global Editions also have stricter certifications like CE, CB, and DRUK (for DAB). This is in addition to all the standard features like Internet radio, Bluetooth, Auxiliary input, Spotify Connect, dual alarms, a two-year warranty, free technical support, etc. Note not all finishes are available in Global Editions. Music is universal. Now your Como Audio music system can be as well.
New Como Audio Solo/Duetto Pop Colors
As handsome as our models are with their real wood and piano gloss finishes and aluminum accoutrements, we can now make your piano gloss white Solo or Duetto music system purchase even more special by customizing it with your choice of five colored grilles and knobs. One, small example of our effort to bring manufacturing back to the states, the grille/knob customization is carefully performed by hand in our Braintree, MA office by our own staff. Choose from grille/knob sets in Sea Foam Green, Blush Pink, Salmon, Baby Blue, and Primrose (yellow). These matte colors add a real “pop” of color against Solo and Duetto’s high gloss white finish, so we called them Pop Colors. The pastel colors were jointly selected by our Founding CEO, Tom DeVesto, and Italian Designer Ilaria Marelli. Best of all, this Solo/Duetto customization comes at no additional charge, but our exclusive colored grille and knob supplies are extremely limited, so act fast to add a little pop to your music.
Trivia:According to Wikipedia, the first traditional radio station to broadcast over the Internet was WXYC in North Carolina in 1994.
There certainly has been no shortage of holiday programming on television starting as early as October. I caught Food Network’s A Very Brady Renovation Holiday Edition. I just could not resist seeing all of the Brady Bunch “siblings” reunite to decorate the iconic Brady house and then gather together to enjoy a 1970’s-inspired traditional holiday meal (fondue mashed potatoes, onion soup mix turkey, Jello with a surprise inside). Carol, Mike, and Alice would have been proud (and Kitty Carryall, too). If you want to make your Christmas a Very Brady Christmas, check out 1970’s Merry Christmas from the Brady Bunch, an album of holiday tunes sung by the actual Brady’s themselves. Groovy, man.
Trivia:In the December 19, 1969 episode of The Brady Bunch, the only Christmas episode of the entire series, Carol gets laryngitis, preventing her from being able to sing solo at the Christmas church service. On Christmas Eve, Cindy asks a department store Santa to restore her mother’s voice. Spoiler alert: Carol gets her voice back in time for her performance. Awwww.
‘Tis the Season for Recommended Streaming
You will find a roster of free Holiday Internet radio stations on your Como Audio music system to get your Christmas on. Always on the lookout for something different, I scoured our extensive Internet radio data base in order to recommend some fine holiday stations from around the world. Each of these honor Christmas in their own unique musical way and are very Tech Rap-worthy of your consideration:
Klassik Radio – Christmas (192 kbps, MP3, non-commercial): I do not have much on my Bucket List at present, though I am sure my list will become more congested as I grow older. One thing on my list is to spend a Christmas in Germany. For the time being, Klassik Radio- Christmas will have to do. This station from Hamburg streams a joyous mix of holiday classical music with an occasional vocal performance thrown in for good measure. According to what COO Richard Goerlich told me, Klassik Radio is the largest private station in Germany with a combined worldwide listenership of six million, most of whom are over forty and well educated. Frankly, I am not a big classical music fan, but I have been enjoying this holiday station quite a lot. I suppose if a trip to Germany does not pan out, there is always “Little Bavaria” in Michigan or Bavarian Village in Washington state.
If you prefer classical closer to home, check out WQXR’s pop-up Holiday Channel (50 kbps, AAC, non-commercial) in New York, streaming now through early next year.
Trivia:From parkersymphony.org: “William Henry Fry holds the distinction of being the first composer born in the United States to write for a large symphony orchestra. His Santa Claus Symphony was written in 1853 and was very well received by audiences. It may be the first orchestral use of the saxophone which was invented just barely a decade before.”
SomaFM – Xmas in Frisko (128 kbps, MP3, non-commercial) In the words of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, and now for something completely different. The first time I heard this station I asked myself, what in the wide, wide world of sports is this? I knew this station was for me when I read the description of the music they play: “offensive”, “raunchy”, “nasty”, “silly”, and “childish”. Perfect! Even the station artwork is bizarre. But hey, the station is from San Francisco, so what do you expect from the left coast? I, along with about 5,000 other daily listeners, have not been able to stop listening. Xmas in Frisco has been streaming since 2001 but did not come into its own until 2004. Some of the politically incorrect songs that greeted my virgin ears: Fruitcake Makes Me Puke,I’ll Be Stoned for Christmas, I Saw Daddy Kissing Santa Claus,Rudy, the Big Booty Reindeer,Santa’s Pissed Off, Daddy Drank Our Xmas Money, It’s the Most Fattening Time of the Year, Deck the Halls with Parts of Charlie, and I’m Getting Sued by Santa Claus. You will even hear songs that skewer Hanukkah and Kwanza. No one is safe from Xmas in Frisco. There are sprinklings of TV & movie holiday-related soundbites as well. Needless to say, this is not a station to play when the little crumb crunchers are within ear shot. You will laugh! You will cry! You will kiss three bucks goodbye! Actually, you will not kiss any money goodbye since this station is free (but they accept donations).
I reached out to the station’s General Manager and Music Director, Rusty Hodge, with some questions about the unique (to say the least) format:
PS: What gave you the idea for this unconventional format?
RH: I’ve always collected strange/non-traditional Christmas music, and after a while I realized I had a lot of it! And I was inspired by the “SantaCon” event, where people would get dressed up as Santa and parade around the city being drunk and obnoxious (and usually quite funny). “Merry F*****’ Christmas” and “Ho Ho F*****’ Ho!” were things the drunk Santa’s would say. I thought there needed to be a holiday soundtrack with this same kind of fun, irreverent and sometimes offensive attitude. I mix in a few “traditional” popular Christmas songs (like Mariah Carey) just to offend the people who aren’t offended by the NSFW [Not Suitable For Work] themes.
PS: What is up with the station artwork of the two young ladies?
RH: It was born out of an invite to a “Be the Tree” Christmas party. It’s a collage, the dresses, hats, etc. all came from various places. And thinking how the “Tree models” looked like the Transamerica pyramid in SF, which itself was Christmas-tree shaped. Wacky, eclectic, San Francisco.
PS: Do you have a favorite naughty Xmas song?
RH: I would rather not say 🙂
PS: What is your favorite Christmas dinner side dish?
RH: Usually mashed potatoes.
Trivia:In 2017, Spin.com ranked the thirty weirdest Christmas songs. Topping their list was “Weird Al” Yankovic’s ‘Christmas at Ground Zero’from 1986.
Celtic Radio- A Celtic Christmas (128 kbps, MP3, non-commercial): I find Celtic music soothing to the soul. It has a kind of spiritual quality. Perhaps that is why Celtic and Christmas music seem to blend together so naturally. As A Celtic Christmas states on its website, “Celtic music has character, it has grace, depth and inspiration.” This station streams out of Toronto, but you could close your eyes and swear you were in Ireland. A few of the artists I heard during my listening session include, Moya Brennan, Enya, Raven, Celtic Thunder, Blackmore’s Night, Matt and Shannon Heaton, and Mannheim Steamroller. Celtic music was 5,000 years in the making. Surely you can set aside a few hours this holiday for A Celtic Christmas (and don’t call me Shirley).
Trivia: Every year, a handful of brave swimmers go for a dip in the freezing Irish sea on Christmas morning in Sandycove, a suburb of South Dublin.
Aloha Joe Christmas Radio (24 kbps, MP3, non-commercial): This is a perfect example of the advantage of Internet radio. You would never find a station on FM like this. As the station’s name hints, Aloha Joe plays traditional holiday music performed in English and Hawaiian primarily by Hawaiian artists. J.E. Duke (aka Aloha Joe) is a popular DJ and novelist and has been broadcasting this stream since 1995 after breaking up his main Aloha Joe Radio into several different stations. As Joe told me in an email, the Internet is too slow on the Islands to stream his stations on location, so he does his thing from an undisclosed location in southern California. However, you would swear this station was streaming from the big island. Ginai, Ozzie Kotani, Gordon Borad, Teresa Bright, Brothers Cazinero, the Maui Prep Student Choir, and Leilani Rivera Bond are just some of the artists I heard during my listen. Unfortunately for me, I have never been to Hawaii (maybe I should add that to my bucket list just above Germany), and I am not familiar with any of their musicians, yet I find myself frequently accessing Aloha Joe in My Favorites list. Ordinarily I would refrain from recommending a station with less than stellar streaming quality, but the unique programming more than compensates for the low bit rate. Mix yourself a Piña colada, don a Hawaiian Lei, and welcome Aloha Joe into your home for the holidays. Mele Kalikimaka.
Trivia: Many Hawaiians forgo Turkey on Christmas in favor of the KaluaPig which is roasted for hours in a pit containing hot rocks and banana leaves.
Christmas Radio Philippines (65 kbps, AAC, non-commercial): You like trying different ethnic foods, so why not try some ethnic food for your ears? CRP broadcasts out of the Philippines and celebrates the holidays with seasonal songs performed in English and their native language, Tagalog. Some the artists I encountered during my musical trip to the Philippines: Boney M, Karayama, Alpha Music, Apo Hiking, DJ Sammy, Bayani, and Jose Mari Chan, but I also heard holiday recordings by Kenny G and Connie Francis. About ninety percent of Filipinos are Christian, so Christmas is an especially important holiday to them. You will definitely get that feeling when listening to CRP.
Trivia:During the Christmas season,Filipino streets and homes are adorned with Parol, a colorful, star-shaped lantern made from bamboo sticks and capiz shells.
Metal Xmas (128 kbps, MP3): In the mood for a headbanging holiday? Rumor has it when Santa gets some rare alone time away from Mrs. Claus and the Elves, he puts on his red leather jacket and cranks this station on his Como Audio Musica. Metal Xmas is based in Germany and features merry metal and punk. Yes, you will hear guttural vocals and scorching guitars, but there are also more mainstream songs (to the extent metal goes mainstream). Thrill to the heart-warming sounds of Twisted Sister, Warrant, Steel Panther, Guns N’ Roses, and Type O Negative. Santa wishes you a Metal Christmas.
Trivia:From Wikipedia: “Several case reports can be found in the medical literature which connect excessive headbanging to aneurysms and hematomas within the brain and damage to the arteries in the neck which supply the brain.”
Happy Christmas Radio (320 kbps, MP3, Canada); Merry Christmas Radio (192 kbps, MP3, USA); Magic Christmas (127 kbps, AAC, UK); If you are a traditionalist and prefer to stay with the usual Christmas music fare, these three stations should satisfy, and they all stream in excellent quality.
Trivia:According to Wikipedia, Bing Crosby’s White Christmas is the best-selling Christmas song of all time with over fifty million copies sold worldwide.
To tune any of these outstanding stations on your Como Audio music system, go to Station list > Stations > Genre > Seasonal-Holiday, and find them in the list. Save them to a preset or add them to My Favorites for easy access all month long. Fill your home with the sounds of the season by grouping together multiple Como Audio models via the free Como Control app or in the unit’s menu: System settings > Multiroom > Create new group.
Holiday Vinyl & CDs
With COVID-fatigue setting in, we should all really appreciate this holiday season more than ever, even if we cannot be with our loved ones because of the pandemic. Music is an excellent way to get in the mood and this year there are a bunch of artists with new holiday albums including the Goo Goo Dolls, Carrie Underwood (including a track with John Legend), Jim Brickman, Megan Trainor, Leslie Odom, Jr., Brian Bromberg, Tori Amos, Dolly Parton (with guest appearances by Jimmy Fallon and close friend, Billy Ray Cyrus), and an Annie Lenox remastered re-issue. Most of these new releases are available on vinyl as well as CD, so you can spin them on your Como Audio Turntable or in your Musica’s CD player. And those that are not, you can wirelessly stream the digital files to your music system via UPnP or Bluetooth. If you are Christmas music insecure this season, there is no shortage of options.
Trivia:Dolly Parton is Miley Cyrus’ Godmother.
Jingle All the Way
Soundtracks often get overlooked, and Jingle All the Way (TVT Records, 8070) from 1996 is no exception, especially since the film was panned by the critics and only performed so-so at the box office. The soundtrack can be had cheap on eBay and contains a nice mix of classic holiday songs and a couple of tunes performed by the great Brian Setzer Orchestra. I own an Intrada special collection CD limited to 1,500 pressings. It features music composed by David Newman for the film, none of which is included on the regular soundtrack CD.
This also happens to be one of my favorite family-friendly holiday movies despite Arnold Schwarzenegger’s dreadful acting. If you are seeking a departure from A Christmas Story,It’s a Wonderful Life, and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, give Jingle All the Way a watch this holiday.
Trivia:Jingle All the Way was Phil Hartman’s final film before he died.
A Walton’s Christmas
Though not a soundtrack per se, A Walton’s Christmas: Together Again (Page Music, 7072200)is about as close as you will get to one for this quaint, Emmy Award-winning TV show that aired from 1972-1981 on CBS. I remember my grandmother watching this show religiously every Thursday night. I am more a seasonal fan, watching mainly during the holidays. This 1999 CD should not be confused with The Walton’s ChristmasAlbum from 1974 which was a shameless attempt to cash-in on the popular series. That album cover showed the Walton’s cast gathered in front of their long kitchen table before a huge Christmas feast. Yet, with the exception of Grandpa Walton who recorded his Christmas wish, none of the cast appeared on that album. All of the songs on the record were performed by the “Holiday Singers”, members of whom were never identified (but they were not any of the Walton’s characters).
Contrast that with A Walton’s Christmas: Together Again, where all of the songs are sung by the original cast (sans the actors who portrayed Grandma and Grandpa Walton whom had both passed away by then), with character banter included. This CD opens with a remake of the Walton’s TV theme and ends with the cast wishing each other goodnight just as they did at the conclusion of every episode. John Boy, whom played an aspiring writer on the series, recites ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. There is even an Applesauce cake recipe included in the CD booklet. The CD was produced by the actor who played Jason Walton, who in real life is a musician. A Walton’s Christmas will make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside and you will look forward to playing it each and every Christmas. Oddly enough, the original CD was recorded in Dolby Surround Sound (though it will play just fine in your Como Audio Musica). The CD was re-issued in 2003 in stereo only. Both versions have long been out of print but can be found on eBay (link at the end of this article).
Trivia (from Hallmarkdrama.com): “The “Walton House” was located in Warner Brothers studios in Burbank, CA. “Walton’s Mountain” was actually a slope of the Hollywood Hills directly south of the Warner Brothers lot.”
A Chaise Lounge Christmas
Being the admirer of vintage lounge music I am, I was delighted to recently discover A Very Chaise Lounge Christmas (Modern Songbook Records) from 2012 (better late than never). The album cover has a sort of strange vintage look and hints at the fun inside that awaits the listener. This retro group from Washington, DC puts a lounge twist on some great original Christmas tunes mixed in with more traditional renderings. Chaise Lounge is Marilyn Older, Charlie Barnett, Tommy Barrick, Jeff Gray, Joe Jackson, and Pete Ostle, and they will jazz up your holiday.
Some of the standouts: Mister Santa’s lyrics are creatively set to the hit, Mr. Sandman. The Man with the Bag gets an appropriately kitschy treatment. December 25 is a jazzy little gem. Snow Day celebrates the days when schools closed because of snow, not because of a virus. Cool Yule is a throwback to beatnik times: “He’s gonna have a bag of crazy toys / To give the gonest of the girls and boys / So dig / Santa comes on big”. Backing Chaise Lounge’s Marilyn Older’s delightful vocals is a mosaic of instruments including accordion, trombone, saxophone, flute, clarinet, piano, drums, bass, and guitar.
“The songs all sound like they were recorded in 1959 at Capitol records”, Chaise Lounge band member Charlie Barnett told me in an email. “The band always sounds like this, but never more so than on our holiday albums. The song, Snow Day, should have been a hit. And if it was 1959 it would have been. The cover was made by taking photos of the band, then making cut-outs of the photos and placing them on a ‘set’ that I built out of vintage dollhouse furniture and cotton batting. I only mention this because one person reviewing that record thought it was some terrible photo-shopping. The picture on the cover is actually a picture of the pictures of us delicately balanced on that set. I was really proud of its artistic goofiness. Marilyn, of course, sounds delicious on this record. I always thought this was our best-sounding record. Until the new once, Out Under the Sky. The only thing the new one is missing is a vinyl release.”
A Very Chaise Lounge Christmas is a sextet of pleasures for the ears. Do not be a flat tire. Get out of squaresville, man, and get your own record in red or green colored vinyl (link provided at the end of this article).
Trivia:(Everybody’s Waitin’ for) The Man with the Bag was originally written in 1950 and was made popular by jazz/pop singer Kay Starr.
Continuing my holiday lounge theme, Richard Cheese is an acquired taste (no pun intended). With Silent Nightclub (Surfdog Records), the tuxedo-clad Cheese and his merry band of three take Christmas lounge music to the extreme. Like a drunk driver on Christmas Eve, the music on Silent Nightclub is all over the place…from classics such as Jingle Bells and Silent Night, to “lounge-ified” versions of Ice Ice Baby, Imagine, and Like A Virgin, to originals like Christmas in Las Vegas: The wise men are rolling sevens / The elves are doubling down / Light a candle and pull the handle / I love that jingling sound. There is nothing else out there like this, at least not with such an abundance of cheese baked-in.
Cheese has managed to keep his unique lounge act going for twenty years without it turning all green and moldy. All I can say is this music is as deliciously cheesy as a plate full of hot Mozzarella sticks left out for Santa. Definitely not for the lactose intolerant.
Trivia: Cheese (real name Mark Jonathan Davis) has appeared on Jimmy Kimmel, Anderson Cooper 360, Last Call with Carson Daily, Howard Stern, Fox & Friends, and Opie & Anthony, and has released over twenty CDs.
Music Box Christmas
Let us transition from cheese to Porter Music boxes out of Vermont (also known for cheese) whom sells recordings (CD’s and downloads) of holiday music as played by their music boxes. Porter has been making hand-crafted music boxes since 1974. Co-founder Mary Porter told me they only make about 24 music boxes a year, so you know the quality must be very high. Mary and her husband, Dwight Porter, are still both active in the company.
Music box music seems especially suited for Christmas. I have had one of Porter’s Christmas CD’s I bought my Music Box Christmas (Porter, PMBD18) CD well over thirty-six years ago (!) at The Breakers mansion gift shop in Newport, RI, of all places. The music is especially unique because the particular dual-disc music box model used for the recording costs $15,000. The recordings for all of their CDs were conducted at a studio in Vermont and were produced by Mr. Porter himself. Celtic Radio- A Celtic Christmas, an Internet radio station I recommended earlier in this article, often plays music from these Porter CDs.
Trivia:Geneva watchmaker, Louis Favre, is largely credited with making the first music box in the late 1700’s.
I like to use Tech Rap as a vehicle to expose our music lovers to new sounds, and here is a brand-new sound for the holiday. The Serenad3 (yes, that is how they spell it) is a new vocal trio consisting of Fernando Varela, Craig Irvin, and Devin Eatmon. Varela is a native of Puerto Rico and has performed with the likes of Lionel Richie, The Beach Boys, Sarah Brightman, Gladys Knight, Jewel, Patti LaBelle, Steven Tyler, and Josh Groban. Irvin and Eatmon are both opera singers, with Irvin having performed with the Minnesota Opera, Philadelphia Opera, and Atlanta Opera to name just a few. Eatmon is currently an artist-in-residence for Opera Colorado.
Released just one week ago in time for the holidays, The Serenad3’s debut album features big-name musical contributions from David Foster,Gloria Estefan,Pia Toscano,and the a cappella group Voctave. Some of the tracks covered include O Holy Night, Mary, Did You Know, Silent Night, Carol of The Bells, and even John Lennon’s Happy Xmas (War is Over). The album is not on CD or LP, but digital files of the songs or indeed the entire album can be purchased from Amazon (a link is provided at the end of this article). The Serenad3 have a slightly formal, yet relaxing sound, fitting for late night gift wrapping by the Christmas tree while enjoying your favorite holiday libation.
Trivia:According Wikipedia, a serenade is “…a musical greeting performed for a lover, friend, person of rank or other person to be honored. The classic usage would be from a lover to his lady love through a window. It was considered an evening piece, one to be performed on a quiet and pleasant evening…”
Christmas by the Numbers
The Top 10 American Christmas albums through 2016 according to a list published on Wikipedia:
Trivia:According to Goldmine Magazine, the most expensive Christmas album ever sold was an original 1957 copy of Elvis’ Christmas Album on red-colored vinyl that sold for $18,000.
A Very Zoom Christmas
If you plan to connect with family or friends this holiday remotely via zoom because of the virus, you can hear the sound through your Como Audio music system. You can either connect an audio cable from your computer to the Auxiliary input, or pair and connect your computer to your Como Audio system wirelessly via Bluetooth. Then open the drop-up menu in zoom next to the microphone icon and under “Select a Speaker”, select your Como Audio model. You will still use the microphone in your computer.
Trivia:According to The Verge,Zoom exceeded 300 million daily meeting participants as of April 2020.
A Very Como Audio Christmas
Enjoy a free, specially curated collection of holiday sounds from Como Audio via Spotify Connect. All of our models support both the free and premium versions of Spotify.
A Very COVID Christmas
Christmas will certainly feel different this year. Some examples: There will be no legs a kicking by the New York Radio City Rockettes thanks to the pandemic. The Rockefeller Christmas tree lighting will still happen but without in-person spectators. Here in MA, the Boston Pops’ annual Holiday Pops performance will be virtual, or as they call it, “digital”. Boston’s First Night New Year celebrations also go virtual.Brian O’Donovan’s A Christmas Celtic Sojourn will be another concert gone virtual.The Enchanted Village display at Jordan’s furniture in Avon is closed due to COVID.
Take heart. Not everything has gone virtual. Old Sturbridge Village and Plimouth Plantation are both open this month. The Polar Express Train ride in Buzzard’s Bay will delight children once again this holiday. LaSalette Shrine in Attleboro, MA flipped the light switch to the on position last week for their annual, eye-popping Festival of Lights (face masks and social distancing required) as they have done since 1953. Given these profoundly dark times, I applaud La Salette for literally bringing some much-needed (and deserved) positive light into our lives. Hint- Be there when they first turn on the lights at 5pm. It is amazing.
Trivia: According to WJAR-TV, La Salette’s ten-acre Christmas display requires over 300,000 lights.
That concludes Tech Rap for December, wrapped up in a big red bow. From all of us at Como Audio, we hope you have a safe, happy, and healthy holiday, and enjoy the (holiday) music. See you next year.
Want more holiday music and Internet radio station recommendations, and want to learn about aluminum Christmas trees? Check out last year’s fun Kitschy Christmas Tech Rap.
Tech Rap Voting Results
Last month we asked you to vote for your favorite Tech Rap article. After a flurry of court challenges and manual recounts, we have officially certified the Tech Rap article with the most votes. The winner is our Birthday Celebration articles for the Cassette, 8 Track, Mini Disc, and Phonograph. Coming in second was our Recommended Internet Stations articles. Thank you to all of you who voted. We look forward to bringing you a new year full of interesting Tech Raps.
Next Tech Rap: Recommended Songs
General Manger Peter Skiera lives in southern MA, worked in radio broadcasting throughout New England, and also worked for Cambridge SoundWorks, B&W Loudspeakers, and Tivoli Audio for 15 years before joining Como Audio in 2016. If you have a comment or would like to suggest a topic for a future Tech Rap, Peter can be reached directly at email@example.com