Hopefully you do, because thats the only way this collection gets off the ground. The arrangements are simple and dated, sounding like those holiday records youd get with a can of Maxwell House coffee or the like. The mixing part will take some learning but is really the only point of this album.
The smaller set may get into Nick Holiday. Thats not Saint Nick, but rather Nickelodeon, so were treated to The Very First Christmas by SpongeBob SquarePants, Feliz Navidad by Dora the Explorer and other hits from Jimmy Neutron, The Fairly Oddparents, and LazyTown. And three, count em, three from the Rugrats. Count your blessings indeed.
Christian pop/rock vocal quartet Point of Grace goes for a jazzy sound on the groups follow-up to 1999s Gold-certified A Christmas Story. Winter Wonderland includes songs sacred and secular, as well as one new tune. The harmonies are generally engaging though they get thin and twangy when paired with guest vocalist John David Webster in the original Let There Be Light. The Santa Medley includes Here Comes Santa Claus, Frosty the Snowman, and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, while less festive choices include For Unto Us and the concluding All Is Well.
Michael McDonald is relaxed and funky throughout Through the Many Winters, currently available through Hallmark stores. The former is fine, commendable even, but somehow funky and Christmasy dont seem to go together well. Thats obvious on O Come O Come Emanuel and Deck the Halls/Jingle Bells which are unforgivably clunky.
McDonalds wife Amy joins him for the vocal duet Wexford Carol along with some traditional fiddle. Unfortunately he goes high-tech on the following God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen with a soulful backing vocal chorus and drum machine. Truly one of the disappointments of the season.
Altogether more successful is the second holiday disc from the Brian Setzer Orchestra. Setzer may be an acquired taste, but theres absolutely no denying the excitement of his jump-swing band. This wont be heard on your local new age or smooth jazz stations, as Setzer and his 16-piece orchestra swing with abandon on Let It Snow, Youre A Mean One, Mr. Grinch, and a version of Angels We Have Heard On High that really rocks. The original Hey Santa is a rollicking trip to the North Pole via Atlanta. Dont ask, just go there.
Fresh from the triumph of SMiLE, Brian Wilson revisits the music of the season with What I Really Want for Christmas. It includes a new version of his Beach Boys classic, Little Saint Nick, which still brings a smile to ones face. But while the season may be merry and bright, most of the tempos are far too bright, and the harmonies are just a little to close to Surfin USA to sound quite right for the season.
Though it also takes some chances with tempos and stretching out solos in a decidedly non-holiday way, Diana Kralls Christmas Songs is a more appropriate choice for the season. She takes The Christmas Song and Ill Be Home For Christmas at a langorous pace, and slows down the Peanuts classic Christmas Time Is Here as well. Krall can be a lazy vocalist on occasion, but takes the time to enunciate clearly and bring forth the joy of the season on this disc.
Anita Bakers Christmas Fantasy starts off perilously, with Frostys Rag, an attempt at a playful NAwlins-style reworking of the popular childrens favorite that falls flat. Her version of Christmas Time Is Here, which follows, nearly makes up for that misstep, until she steps out too much. Thats the dilemma for anyone trying to update holiday sounds, particularly in a jazz vein. Its deceptively difficult to know where to stretch out, as jazz typically does, without losing the soul of the song. Yet without doing so, its impossible to make a song sound refreshingly original. Baker fares better on Ill Be Home For Christmas and O Come All Ye Faithful.
Its not just Krall and Baker re-discovering the classic sounds of Vince Guaraldis classic Peanuts compositions. On the 40th anniversary of the landmark TV special A Charlie Brown Christmas comes 40 Years A Charlie Brown Christmas, with brand-new versions of Linus and Lucy, Beethovens Fur Elise (immortalized by Schroeder at his toy piano), and two versions of Christmas Time Is Here. The first, by Brian McKnight, is gentle and engaging. Eric Marienthals reprise is a bit more up-tempo, but still relaxed and thoroughly enjoyable.
Elsewhere, Gerald Albrights O Tannenbaum is sinuous, the Rippingtons take on The Red Baron and saxophonist Dave Koz updates Linus and Lucy with wah-wah and electronic rhythm. David Benoit, who has scored the Peanuts specials the last 10 years, produced, performed and oversaw the disc, a labor of love for him and for us as well.