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Mannheim Steamroller

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Mannheim Steamroller - Fresh Aire (American Gramaphone AG-355) (1975)

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Artist:

Mannheim Steamroller

Title:

Fresh Aire

Released: 1975
Label: American Gramaphone
Catalog: AG-355
Genre: New Age
T R A C K L I S T:
01 Prelude / Chocolate Fudge
02 Interlude I
03 Sonata
04 Interlude II
05 Saras Band
06 Fresh Aire
07 Rondo
08 Interlude III
09 Pass The Keg (Lia)
10 Interlude IV
11 Mist
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Album Review

Dave Connolly [allmusic.com]

A harbinger of the new age movement, Mannheim Steamroller's debut is a unique mix of light classical piano music, progressive rock, and medieval songs. Composer Chip Davis breaks the album into 12 semi-classical structures (sonatas, interludes, even a disguised passacaglia) that match up to the seasons, rendering Fresh Aire a concept album about nature and life. Most of the music is played by Jackson Berkey, dubbing piano, harpsichord, and synthesizers atop one another with a minimal rhythm section from Davis and Eric Hansen. At its spaciest, Fresh Aire sounds like Keith Emerson or Camel; when the band's in a medieval mood, Gentle Giant (notably "Talybont") comes to mind. Audiophiles took a real shine to Mannheim Steamroller, both for the superior album packaging and the clean sound (if memory serves, American Gramaphone used to charge on the high side for their LPs). As CD technology was introduced, the Fresh Aire series was reissued and became a popular demo for its inoffensive high-mindedness as much as its dynamic range. While sections of Fresh Aire are very pretty, the frequent interludes cost the album its momentum (and are a full half of the months really sad?). When Mannheim Steamroller cuts loose -- as on "Rondo," "Chocolate Fudge," and "Saras Band" -- they're a hoot. The solo piano passages are all right, but listeners would do better to turn to budding ambient composers (Brian Eno), electronic acts (Tangerine Dream), and the original masters (Claude Debussy, Sergei Rachmaninoff) themselves. Then again, a mix of medieval prog and mawkish piano melodies might be just what you're looking for.


Mannheim Steamroller - Fresh Aire II [American Gramaphone AG-359] (1977)

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Artist:

Mannheim Steamroller

Title:

Fresh Aire II

Released: 1977
Label: American Gramaphone
Catalog: AG-359
Genre: New Age
T R A C K L I S T:

Fantasia

01 Chorale
02 The First Door
03 The Second Door
04 The Third Door
05 The Fourth Door
06 The Fifth Door
07 The Sixth Door
08 Door Seven
09 Fantasy

10 Interlude V
11 Velvet Tear
12 A Shade Tree
13 Toota Lute
14 Going To Another Place
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Album Review

Dave Connolly [allmusic.com]

This is a rehash of the medieval themes and romantic piano pieces found on the first Fresh Aire. Fresh Aire II gets the nod over the debut by separating the two styles rather than alternating them; the side-long "Fantasia" consists of variations on a stirring medieval theme, not as fertile as Rick Wakeman or Camel's The Snow Goose perhaps, but not far off the mark either. The variations are described as doors (a convenient allusion given the music's conduciveness to reverie), with the intended effect of each described with Epimethean acuity by (presumably) Chip Davis. Without all those precious piano interludes in the middle, Mannheim manages to steamroll its way through more than 15 minutes of medieval mind candy. The second side of the LP features the imaginary themes to romantic movies found on the first album's interludes (there's even a continuation here, with "Interlude V" picking up where the first four left off). Of the three romantic pieces, "A Shade Tree" is the prettiest, with strings (acoustic and classical) conjuring a reflective calm. The medieval theme returns (this time without the accoutrements of contemporary rock) for "Toota Lute," with Jackson Berkey on harpsichord, Eric Hansen on lute, and Davis on recorder. Verily, it doth produceth much pleasure. But Fresh Aire II's finest moment is the closing "Going to Another Place," which wraps the band's different sounds into a succinct, memorable package. Although admirers of the first Fresh Aire will certainly wish to drink deep draughts of Fresh Aire II, listeners with a soft spot for keyboard-led prog rock and historical themes (i.e., Rick Wakeman fans) are also invited. As with all of the American Gramaphone releases, the original LP version is audiophile-friendly.


Mannheim Steamroller - Fresh Aire III (American Gramaphone AG-365) (1979)

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Artist:

Mannheim Steamroller

Title:

Fresh Aire III

Released: 1979
Label: American Gramaphone
Catalog: AG-365
Genre: New Age / Eclectic
T R A C K L I S T:
01 Toccata
02 Small Wooden Bach'ses
03 Amber
04 Mere Image

The Woods Is Alive

05 Morning
06 Interlude 6
07 The Cricket
08 The Sky
09 Midnight On A Full Moon
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Album Review

Dave Connolly [allmusic.com]

Like its namesakes, Fresh Aire III is a series of song-specific themes (the life cycle, the forest) couched within a larger seasonal theme (this time, summer). Listeners will find the same mix of medieval music, progressive keyboard rock, and soft instrumentals that made up the first two Fresh Aire albums in varying amounts. The new wrinkle is music that better leverages the part-time string sections as composer Chip Davis casts his arrangements in a contemporary classical setting. On a piece like "Mere Image," originally written for the Omaha Ballet and chronicling the passage of life from young to old, the music blossoms in the hands of an orchestra. However, sentimentality gets the better of Davis on "Morning," resulting in sub-Sergei Rachmaninoff mawkishness. Balancing out the orchestral pieces are the medieval/prog rock keyboard showcases for Jackson Berkey ("Toccata," "The Cricket," "Midnight on a Full Moon"), again bearing a strong resemblance to the work of Rick Wakeman, and the thoughtful instrumentals painted in watercolor tones ("Amber," "Interlude 6," "The Sky"). At this stage, the notes explaining the program behind the music are less illuminating than didactic; after all, this isn't rocket science. It is, however, a well-balanced alliance of Davis' own musical development and the spirit of nature and history that runs through all of the Fresh Aire releases. Incorporating the sounds of nature into "The Woods Is Alive," writing music set to motion for "Mere Image," these represent incremental steps for Chip Davis as a composer. Mannheim Steamroller wasn't about to abandon their Fresh Aire aesthetics, yet they manage to move forward within those musical parameters with each album.


Mannheim Steamroller - Fresh Aire 4 (American Gramaphone AG 370) (1981)

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ITEM# SR-AMAG370
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Artist:

Mannheim Steamroller

Title:

Fresh Aire 4

Released: 1981
Label: American Gramaphone
Catalog: AG 370
Genre: New Age
T R A C K L I S T:
01 G Major Toccata
02 Crystal
03 Interlude VII
04 4 Rows Of Jacks
05 Red Wine
06 Dancing Flames
07 The Dream
08 Embers
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Album Review

Dave Connolly [allmusic.com]

Winter had a polarizing effect on the band, drawing them toward a more severe, economical sound that favored clarity over sentimentality. Gone were the overly romantic piano pieces and giddy medieval romps. This is music tinged with a certain sadness (as on "Red Wine"), at times alien and foreboding ("Crystal"). It's not a complete departure from their formula, but it does succeed at matching that formula to a specific season, moreso than the first three Fresh Aire records anyway. The album was originally split between outside (the first four tracks) and inside (the last four tracks), a point lost on the subsequent CD reissue. There's not a huge difference between the two; the medieval "Four Rows of Jacks" isn't so much different in spirit from the modern "Dancing Flames," and neither evokes the outdoors or indoors in particular. If Fresh Aire 4 is a better record than its predecessors, much of it depends on the listener's appreciation of synthesizers. Jackson Berkey uses them more here than on previous albums, and the music seems to sparkle as a result. It is their most modern record, embracing the world of electronic music on "Crystal" and "The Dream" (based on Johannes Kepler's work, which would serve as the launching point for Fresh Aire 5). The opening "G Major Toccata," as much fun as it is, almost sets the listener up to expect the same fare as the first three Fresh Aires. But the band quickly turns introspective, and by the closing "Embers" the mood has changed 180 degrees. Fresh Aire 4 remains their most effective evocation of a season, even if they are indoors for half of it. More importantly, it proves that the band could compete with modern musicians on their own turf.


Mannheim Steamroller: Christmas (1984)

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Artist:

Mannheim Steamroller

Title:

Christmas

Released: 1984
Label: American Gramaphone
Catalog: AG-1984
Genre: Holiday / Christmas
T R A C K L I S T:
01 Deck The Halls
02 We Three Kings
03 Bring A Torch, Jeannette, Isabella
04 Coventry Carol
05 Good King Wenceslas
06 Wassil
07 Carol Of The Birds
08 I Saw Three Ships
09 God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen
10 God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen
11 Stille Nacht
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Album Review

by Rodney Batdorf [allmusic.com]

Christmas 1984 is the first holiday album the Mannheim Steamroller released, and it remains their definitive work. Chip Davis never strayed from the clean, airy instrumental style that he exhibits here (and earlier perfected on his Fresh Aire albums), but it is here where it all sounded fresh. It's also where he had his best selection of songs, tackling a variety of classic carols like "Deck the Halls," "We Three Kings," "Good King Wenceslas," "Wassail, Wassail," "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," and "I Saw Three Ships." Some listeners never found the Mannheim formula that engaging, but anyone who his been captured by one of their holiday records should investigate Christmas 1984, which is where it all began.


Mannheim Steamroller - Saving The Wildlife [American Gramaphone AG-2086] (1986)

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Artist:

Mannheim Steamroller

Title:

Saving The Wildlife

Released: 1986
Label: American Gramaphone
Catalog: AG-2086
Genre: Modern Classical
T R A C K L I S T:
01 Rhinos And Elephants (Africa)
02 Dolphins And Whales (Come Home To The Sea)
03 Wolfgang Amaedeus Penguin (Argentina)

Florida Suite

04 Barbeque (USA)
05 Everglades (USA)
06 Sunset (USA)

07 Wolves (USA)
08 Tamarin Monkeys (Rio De Janeiro)
09 Grizzly Bears (USA)
10 Tigers And Lions (India)
11 Eagles (USA)
12 Amanda Panda (China)
13 Harp Seals (Canada)
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Album Review

Dave Connolly [allmusic.com]

This album served as the soundtrack for a PBS special that focused on endangered species around the world. Call it the Carnival of Animals with a social conscience, Saving the Wildlife is a modern musical bestiary from Mannheim Steamroller. Chip Davis combines the character of the animals with their environment, using two percussionists to evoke landscapes like Africa and the Orient. The poor ol' U.S. of A is often caricatured with musical hokum ("Grizzly Bears," "Barbeque" from "Florida Suite"), but for the exotic locales of India ("Tigers and Lions"), Africa ("Rhinos and Elephants"), and China ("Amanda Panda"), Mannheim Steamroller arrives at a broader musical lexicon that in many ways represents a radical departure from their previous work. The songs actually shed no new light on their subjects; "Eagles" is suitably majestic, "Wolfgang Amaedeus Penguin" is consistent with that creature's clown-like image, "Wolves" sounds lonely and desolate. And the band arrives at similar sounds for similar settings, such as the typewriter tap of the keyboards to suggest the worlds of "Rhinos and Elephants" and "Tamarin Monkeys," or the almost avant-garde amalgam of Eastern and Western music that appears on both "Tigers and Lions" and "Amanda Panda." The lovely "Dolphins and Whales" recycles an earlier song, "Come Home to the Sea" from Fresh Aire VI, and serves as one of Saving the Wildlife's highlights. Another highlight comes at the end, raising their medieval ghost for "Harp Seals." Despite lineup changes that left Mannheim Steamroller at their leanest in years (Eric Hansen is absent and no string section is attached), Davis still produces a color-rich musical canvas. The variety of sounds and subjects results in a few surprises as well, which saves this from becoming the tame soundtrack some might have made it.


Mannheim Steamroller - A Fresh Aire Christmas [American Gramaphone AG-1988] (1988)

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Artist:

Mannheim Steamroller

Title:

A Fresh Aire Christmas

Released: 1988
Label: American Gramaphone
Catalog: AG-1988
Genre: Holiday


T R A C K L I S T:
01 Hark! The Herald Trumpets Sing
02 Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
03 Veni Veni (O Come O Come Emanuel)
04 The Holly And The Ivy
05 Little Drummer Boy
06 Still Still Still
07 Lo How A Rose E'er Blooming
08 In Dulci Jubilo
09 Greensleeves
10 Carol Of The Bells
11 Traditions Of Christmas
12 Cantique De Noel (O Holy Night)
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Album Review

A Fresh Aire Christmas is the second Christmas album and tenth studio album released by American musical group Mannheim Steamroller. The album was released in 1988 and was the last album to feature Eric Hansen as a member of the band.

When selecting the tracks, Chip Davis had requested of fans to submit three of their favorite Christmas songs. He then tabulated the results and sent a note of thanks and a copy of the album to those fans who had a song selected.

The album was a huge success and continues to be a huge seller 25 years since its original release. On June 21, 2004, A Fresh Aire Christmas was certified by the Recording Industry Association of America for shipment of six million copies in the United States, making it one of the best-selling holiday albums in the U.S.

Four of the album's tracks were included in the group's 2004 compilation Christmas Celebration.

As of November 2014, A Fresh Aire Christmas is the sixth best-selling Christmas/holiday album in the U.S. for the Nielsen SoundScan era of music sales tracking (March 1991 present), having sold 3,660,000 copies during this period according to SoundScan. The album has become the band's biggest success, even surpassing their mammoth first Christmas release four years earlier, Mannheim Steamroller Christmas. [wikipedia.org]

Mannheim Steamroller's Biography

by Jason Ankeny [allmusic.com]

The alias of composer Chip Davis, Mannheim Steamroller was among the pioneers of neo-classical electronic music, emerging as one of the driving forces behind the new age phenomenon. Born in Sylvania, OH, Davis' father was a high school music teacher, while his mother was a trombonist with Phil Spitalny's All Girl Orchestra. His grandmother was his first music teacher, giving the child his initial piano lessons at the age of four; two years later, Davis composed his first piece, a four-part chorale written in honor of his dog. He later joined a boys' choir as well, and while attending the University of Michigan, played bassoon in the school's concert band. Upon graduating in 1969, Davis was tapped to tour with the Norman Luboff Choir; after five years with the group, performing everything from pop to classical, he returned to Sylvania to teach music at the local junior high school, often adapting classical standards to contemporary harmonies and rhythms for student consumption.

Davis later left teaching, arranging and conducting an Omaha, NB production of Hair before accepting a job writing advertising jingles. With co-worker Bill Fries, he created the enormously popular C.W. McCall character, later the figure behind the chart-topping hit "Convoy." As the McCall craze went into high gear, however, Davis returned to the classical adaptations he'd first composed as a teacher, and soon entered the studio to begin recording what he dubbed "18th century classical rock" -- classical music performed on electric bass and synthesizers. He titled the resulting album Fresh Aire, and when no label would touch it, he founded his own company, American Gramaphone, in 1974, creating a fictitious band named Mannheim Steamroller to better promote the project. Davis initially marketed Fresh Aire to stereo show rooms, where his state-of-the-art sound proved ideal for demonstrating home stereo equipment; the LP became a smash hit among audiophiles, and a series of popular Fresh Aire sequels followed in the years to come.

In 1984, Davis issued Mannheim Steamroller Christmas, which shocked onlookers by selling over five million copies on the strength of a Top 40 Adult Contemporary rendition of "Deck the Halls." It was followed four years later by A Fresh Aire Christmas, another unqualified hit. The environment informed 1986's Saving the Wildlife, the soundtrack to a PBS special, and was followed three years later by Yellowstone: The Music of Nature, which raised over half a million dollars for the National Parks Service. Although in the early '90s Davis began recording under his own name for the first time, he also maintained the Mannheim Steamroller guise for a series of seasonal recordings, among them 1995's Christmas in the Aire, 1997's Christmas Live and 1998's Christmas Angel: A Family Story. 1999's two-disc 25 Years celebrated Mannheim Steamroller's silver anniversary. Continuing with their Fresh Aire series, volume eight was released in mid-2000. The albums Romantic Melodies and American Spirit came in 2003.
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