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James Last
Gentleman Of Music

James Last was never one of those hip '60s lounge era acts that appeared on my radar, other than hearing his name here and there in passing. But back in the day, Last gained notoriety by updating the big band sound with brass and bass heavy arrangements of modern popular tunes, and in the end, he revolutionized pop music and paved the way for disco and dance-mix eras.

Gentleman Of Music (Eagle Records), a 2-CD set featuring 33 tracks all recorded live in concert in 2001, is strangely appealing, piquing your curiosity in the same as a car wreck by the side of the road. This is the ultimate in easy-listening music arrangements that would undoubtedly be great fun at a lounge party. Last still fills theaters to capacity in Europe and his native Germany with his Orchestra and Choir, the latter of which are hardly your typical group of choral singers. Often, they sound more like a band of 20 people "La-La-La-ing" the melody of the songs while pounding Stines full of Lager.

Many of Last's arrangement have that Bavarian feel, which only adds interest to his ultra-lite renditions of "String of Pearls/In the Mood," "Hip-Hop Polka," "My Heart Will Go On (Titanic Theme)," the Beatles' "Can't buy Me Love Medley" and even Cher's "Believe."

The work of James Last, the German equivalent of Percy Faith and Billy May, has spanned almost 50 years, and there are numerous recordings to consider. While many are now out of print, Gentleman of Music is a good representation of his work. You'll either cringe at the sound or be drawn in out of curiosity to marvel at how easy-listening lounge music can take on such full-bodied sound.

—Smilin' Buddha Joe



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