Christmas classics played by guitar virtuoso Joel Paterson! Season’s greetings to you all in Hi-Fi! I’ve been kicking around the idea of recording a Christmas guitar album for a while now. Every year I faced the same problem—I would get excited to play Christmas songs around the holidays, but couldn’t finish an album in time to release it before December. In 2016, I posted a series of guitar videos online counting down the days to Christmas. The response to them was overwhelming to me; it was great to know there was still a demand for classic Christmas music. So this summer I got motivated, locked myself in my music room to assemble some of my favorite seasonal songs, and started working on Hi-Fi Christmas Guitar.
Three overlapping groups are heard from here, and they revisit the repertoire of the McKenzie & Condon's Chicagoans of 1927 (playing new versions of the four songs originally recorded) and Bud Freeman's 1939-1940 Summa Cum Laude Orchestra. The two septets and the octet feature such immortal Condonites as tenor saxophonist Bud Freeman; Jimmy McPartland and Billy Butterfield on trumpets; trombonists Tyree Glenn and Jack Teagarden (who also takes some vocals); clarinetists Pee Wee Russell and Peanuts Hucko; pianists Gene Schroeder and Dick Cary; rhythm guitarist Al Casamenti (but surprisingly no Eddie Condon); bassists Milt Hinton, Al Hall, and Leonard Gaskin; and drummer George Wettling. The veterans were all still in prime form at the time, and they sound quite inspired.
Recorded during and immediately following R.E.M.'s disaster-prone Monster tour, New Adventures in Hi-Fi feels like it was recorded on the road. Not only are all of Michael Stipe's lyrics on the album about moving or travel, the sound is ragged and varied, pieced together from tapes recorded at shows, soundtracks, and studios, giving it a loose, careening charm. New Adventures has the same spirit of much of R.E.M.'s IRS records, but don't take the title of New Adventures in Hi-Fi lightly – R.E.M. tries different textures and new studio tricks. "How the West Was Won and Where It Got Us" opens the album with a rolling, vaguely hip-hop drum beat and slowly adds on jazzily dissonant piano. "E-Bow the Letter" starts out as an updated version of "Country Feedback," then it turns in on itself with layers of moaning guitar effects and Patti Smith's haunting backing vocals. Clocking in at seven minutes, "Leave" is the longest track R.E.M. has yet recorded and it's one of their strangest and best – an affecting minor-key dirge with a howling, siren-like feedback loop that runs throughout the entire song.
Whether in its original serial form in the 1940s, in the low-budget films of the 1950s, in the television series of the 1960s, or even in the overgrown re-imaginings for blockbuster movies in the 1970s and beyond, the science-fiction genre on film (and videotape) has always had something cheesy about it, and that is part of its appeal. Even when the technical wizards at director George Lucas' Industrial Light and Magic are dreaming up the next Star Wars movie, there is, at heart, a sense of the earliest, silliest versions of the genre still present. In that spirit come Neil Norman's souped-up and synthesized treatments of the various scores for sci-fi films and TV…
Hugh Cornwell's third proper solo album since leaving the Stranglers, Hi Fi, ranks with the most confident and accessible work of his career. Any fans of Cornwell's old band should keep in mind that this most clearly recalls the latter-day pop-influenced Stanglers material, rather than the thuggish misogyny of their earlier work, and while Cornwell certainly sounds a bit cranky on several of these tunes, "One Day at a Time" and "Lay Back on Me Pal" reflect a welcome compassion that he's gained with the years. (Don't worry, though – "Leave Me Alone" and "Putting You In The Shade" prove he's still got plenty of problems with people. Nice to know some things never change.) For the most part, Hi Fi is pleasingly tuneful, with strong pop melodies and a winning psychedelic undertow on tunes like "All the Colours of the Rainbow," "The Prison's Going Down," and "Gingerbread Girl" (the last of which appears in two versions on the album's American release – the string-fortified original take, and a dubwise electronic remix from Black Dog Productions). Cornwell's vocals and songwriting are in fine shape, Laurie Latham's production is clean and serves the material well, and if Hi Fi isn't exactly a startling step forward for Cornwell.