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by Dr. Buono in the November 10 Northern Express. While I applaud your enthusiasm embracing a market solution for global climate change and believe that this is a vital piece of the overall approach, it is almost laughable and at least naive to believe that your Representative Mr.

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An Earful of Music

Ross Boissoneau - December 15th, 2005
Every year brings us new sounds of the season. Some are sublime, some less so. But one of this year’s new entries promises to make this your favorite holiday collection ever by making it your very own. “U-Sing-It Christmas” is an enhanced CD that allows you to install a version of Cakewalk Media Mixer and then add your own personal touches to the music, including your own vocals, assuming you have a mic that will plug into your computer.
Hopefully you do, because that’s the only way this collection gets off the ground. The arrangements are simple and dated, sounding like those holiday records you’d 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.” That’s not Saint Nick, but rather Nickelodeon, so we’re 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 group’s follow-up to 1999’s 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 don’t seem to go together well. That’s obvious on “O Come O Come Emanuel” and “Deck the Halls/Jingle Bells” which are unforgivably clunky.
McDonald’s 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 there’s absolutely no denying the excitement of his jump-swing band. This won’t 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,” “You’re 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. Don’t 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 one’s 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 Krall’s “Christmas Songs” is a more appropriate choice for the season. She takes “The Christmas Song” and “I’ll 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 Baker’s “Christmas Fantasy” starts off perilously, with “Frosty’s Rag,” an attempt at a playful N’Awlins-style reworking of the popular children’s 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. That’s the dilemma for anyone trying to update holiday sounds, particularly in a jazz vein. It’s deceptively difficult to know where to stretch out, as jazz typically does, without losing the soul of the song. Yet without doing so, it’s impossible to make a song sound refreshingly original. Baker fares better on “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.”
It’s not just Krall and Baker re-discovering the classic sounds of Vince Guaraldi’s 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,” Beethoven’s “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 Marienthal’s reprise is a bit more up-tempo, but still relaxed and thoroughly enjoyable.
Elsewhere, Gerald Albright’s “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.


 
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