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Music Review: Kenny Vance and The Planotones – Mr. Santa

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Kenny Vance is one of those artists that you have no doubt heard and possibly seen without realizing it. He was a founding member of the 1960s pop group Jay and The Americans, who were responsible for such hits as “She Cried,” “Cara Mia,” “Come A Little Bit Closer,” “This Magic Moment,” and “Sunday and Me.” He spent 11 years with the group, then became the music director for Saturday Night Live in 1980. Branching out into film work, he was the music supervisor for films such as Eddie And The Cruisers and Animal House.

The seeds for Kenny & The Planotones were sown during the 1978 film American Hot Wax. He appeared in the film with the members of Brooklyn Dreams as Professor LaPlano and The Planotones. During 1992, he and Johnny Gale, Kurt Yahjivan, Jimmy Bense, Chip DeGaard, and Tony Gallino officially became Kenny Vance & The Planotones. The original group remains intact nearly 20 years later.

The sound can be best described as a modern day doo-wop group. Their use of intricate vocal harmonies looks back to some of the classic sounds of the 1950s and early 1960s, but the production and sophistication of the music is very modern.

Their new Christmas release, Mr. Santa, combines a number of older classics with three newer Christmas compositions co-written by Vance and Gale with assistance from Bruce Sudano and Marty Kupersmith on one track apiece. What it all adds up to is a different type of Christmas album that not only is true to the spirit of the season, but is a nice ride through the music of seasons past.

Vance owns a voice that is suited for this type of material. He is able to blend effortlessly into the group’s tight harmonies or step out front for a traditional lead vocal.

The album begins with a composition by Joseph Rock and Kenny Beaumont of the Skyliners: “You’re My Christmas Present.” This classic doo-wop Christmas song is perfect for a group like the Planotones. It helps to present and define their style and establish the tone for what is to follow. Two originals follow–the title song and “Doo Wop Christmas,” which both serve to introduce the high caliber of Vance’s lead vocals.

Songs such as “Please Come Home For Christmas,” “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” “Merry Christmas Darling,” “What Are You Doing New Year’s Ever,” and “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” all serve up some more holiday fare.

Kenny Vance & The Planotones have managed to bridge the years, as they combine the best elements of the old and the new of the holiday season. Mr. Santa is a worthy and unique addition to the Christmas season and should remain so for years to come.

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