(Review by Michael Sander)
In 1993 Capitol Records released an album called 'Frank Sinatra Duets'. Frank went to Capitol Recording Studios and recorded about 30 of his hit songs live with the orchestra. After that Producer Phil Ramone invited some of the most famous artists, coming from Rock, Pop, Country and Jazz for vocal overdubs. This release was so successful, because it sounded authentic - everything was really new, so it very soon was followed by 'Frank Sinatra Duets II'. Of course the success of these projects wasn't forgotten, so Capitol continued in 2002 by releasing some famous duets from the 60's TV shows on 'Judy Duets' and 'Frank Sinatra Classic Duets'. Sony followed with one of their greatest artists on 'Barbra Streisand Duets', which was a remastered compilation of already released duets, but it was nice to have them on one album. As for then these releases were either completely new recordings, or compilations of old material. But in 2007 Capitol Records (EMI) released 'Dean Martin Forever Cool'. It's the first album, which in audiophile perfect quality remixes a 60’s voice (of Dean) with a new Swingin' Big Band and some younger and older stars, from Joss Stone to Charles Aznavour. But the Dino album wasn't that kind of a success, maybe because some of the voices really didn't fit for his style. Now Sony continues this idea, mixing old and new, choosing their greatest artist - Elvis.
This Album – The 50's:
What's really positive about this release: Sony selected the guest-artists not just by their big name in today's showbiz, they selected "musically". So this album has a concept, inviting famous female Country/Pop singers of today, doing a Christmas album with Elvis. It sure wouldn't make any sense to invite any male artists, would it? So the idea is quite pretty. But does it work out technically? Don't expect a miracle, since every time when Elvis is singing, you can hear the old instruments and chorus in the background, but just slightly, because the new overdubs are really decent and perfect on the 50's songs. The 2008 overdub band, including members of the Jordanaires, did a terrific job. Instrumentally these versions would have been a sensation already, even without the guest artists, including only Elvis' voice! The original arrangements are still there, but the sound has been lifted to a modern level, using only drums, bass, guitar and organ. Reminding me in some way of the 1983 LP 'I Was The One'. The only problem that occurs to me is; how to keep the correct balance between old and new voices. Except for Amy Grant on Track 6 ('White Christmas'), everyone else on Track 1 to 5 and 8 sounds a little bit too loud, compared to Elvis' voice. Anyway the ladies did a nice job, every fan will have a favorite song of his own, as for me: Next to Amy on 'White Christmas', I think, Karen and Kimberly did a beautiful job on 'O little town of Bethlehem'.
This Album – The 70's:
Unfortunately the 70's overdubs lack the credibility of the 50's, since they had to take care about the strings and Imperials overdubs of the original. So except for the lovely blues number 'Merry Christmas Baby', the 1971 versions sound rather inappropriate to me. The new string overdubs, that try to make the old overdubs a bit more invisible, were done by The Nashville String Machine. Yes, it sounds a bit like this; you cannot replace the sound of real musicians. Sony would have made a better choice, using some 1971 outtakes, without any overdubs, only rhythm group, continuing the sound of the 50's. Furthermore neither Anne Murray, nor Olivia Newton-John or Renee Martel fit as a duet partner for a 1971 Las Vegas performer Elvis Presley preferring The Sweet Inspirations as background vocals. Some black female artists from today's Soul or Gospel scene would have been a much better choice. Even the bonus songs aren't that exciting, if you grow up with 'The Wonder World of Christmas' LP. Only 'The First Noel' offers some new ideas, simply because the original didn't have any rhythm group at all, but every other song sounds just like a sloppy overdub copy of the original. After listening to them for four or five times, I put on the old versions of the 1971 album and ... what a relief! ... Elvis!
© Michael Sander, Germany October 2008