Letters 05-30-2016

Oaks & Moths All of last week’s letters regarding recommendations for the best native plants from “Listen to the Experts” from the previous week were right on target. Those who are interested in learning more about native plants, and their importance to birds, bees and butterflies, would do well to read Dr. Douglas Tallamy’s wonderful book, Bringing Nature Home...

Poor Grades On Standardized Testing We have been enduring standardized testing for the last few weeks as our district isn’t allowing for opting out without student removal. I think other parents need to know and the district needs to address their own inconsistencies in policy...

Beware Trump  To describe Trump: hubristic, narcissistic, misogynistic, sociopathic. There are more descriptors. Should we pity this misfit or fear that his values attract such a large segment of our society? Hitler was spawned in the ferment of economic unrest...

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In a spin

Ross & Marc Boissoneau - December 13th, 2010
In a Spin: New Sounds to Liven Up the Season
By Ross and Marc Boissoneau
You better not shout, you better not cry. You better just listen up, as there’s new music on the way.
Only thing is, this time of the year, new music doesn’t usually mean new new music. It’s new old music, as another crop of artists try to bring something of themselves to the sounds of the season.
Sometimes they succeed, sometimes the results are less than holly-jolly. And sometimes you don’t even need to listen to know how it will sound. But enough about Mariah Carey. Here are our takes on a dozen of the season’s offerings. On with the show!

Ronnie Spector’s Best Christmas Ever (Bad Girl Sounds)
The original rock bad girl, Spector’s lost none of her sass since she hit it big with the Ronettes in the ‘60s. This 5-song EP is brief but enjoyable, expecially “Light One Candle.”

Various Artists, ’Tis the Season to Be Gotee (Gotee)
Since Gotee Records, one of the most notable independent labels in Contemporary Christian Music, was started in 1994, it’s shifted focus from rap and hip-hop to tongue-in-cheek rock. So it’s no surprise that for the most part, the best tracks here are the campiest, especially House of Heroes’ power-pop take on Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You.” Unfortunately, the more earnest songs, such as Abandon Kansas’s rendition of “O Come All Ye Faithful” and Stephanie Smith’s of “I Celebrate the Day,” fall very flat, though Ayiesha Woods’s version of “Jingle Bells” is good fun. MB

Wilson Phillips, Christmas in Harmony (Sony Masterworks)
The venerable pop trio’s first holiday album will doubtlessly please the group’s fans, but not much of anyone else. Wendy Wilson is in strangely poor voice throughout, and Chynna Phillips isn’t at her best either. Their recording of “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day”(a very hard song to mess up) is good enough, but it’s pretty generic. The real gem here is “Warm Lovin’ Christmastime,” which was first recorded by Carnie Wilson for her (vastly superior) solo Christmas record; it’s catchy but isn’t out of place among the traditionals. MB

Take 6, The Most Wonderful Time of the Year (Heads Up)
The a capella group has the chops, but while the highs are high, so are the lows. The arrangements may be imaginative, but they often obscure the tune. “White Christmas” is a great example, enthralling for the most part, but nearly spoiled by the human beatbox rhythm section. That has to go. “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” and a “It Came Upon The Midnight Clear” may be the album’s highlights; “The Grinch” is the lowlight. Hit and miss throughout.

The Brian Setzer Orchestra, Christmas Comes Alive! (Surfdog)
Does it ever! Setzer takes his sassy big band on a swinging sleigh ride where they find a boogie-woogie Santa Claus in a winter wonderland. Try to keep your toes from tapping. And the audience for this live disc eats it all up. He throws in a couple ringers, with “Stray Cat Strut” meeting the Grinch, and “Fishnet Stockings,” but the rest is a set of seasonal favorites dressed up for the holidays like only Setzer and his 17-piece band can do it.

Ben Rudnick and Friends, It’s Santa Claus! (Bartlett Ave.)
Children’s music favorite Ben Rudnick manages the nearly impossible: He leads off this disc with a new holiday song, and it’s instantly sing-along-able. From there it’s on to the familiar, with “Jingle Bells,” “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” “Let It Snow” and more holiday favorites. Kids will no doubt enjoy these gently twangy, folksy arrangements. It won’t change the world, but for kids’ music (or even adults’), there are far worse ways to go. Trust me.

Indigo Girls, Holly Happy Days (Vanguard)
If an Indigo Girls holiday album sounds like a really bad idea, that’s because it is. Holly Happy Days comes off not as spirited or festive, but just irritating. MB

Bradley Leighton, Holiday of Lights (Pacific Jazz)
The popular flutist puts a contemporary jazz spin on a dozen tunes. Charlie Brown’s “Christmas Time Is Here” is joyously upbeat, filled with percussion and synth backgrounds, while “Winter Wonderland” gets a bossa nova beat. “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” comes off as irritating, but for the rest, the sound palette, arrangements and Leighton’s brilliant flute playing make this a winner. Add bass and alto flutes to the mix and you’re in for a holiday treat indeed.

Point of Grace, Home for the Holidays (Word)
Point of Grace should have stopped while they were ahead, with 1999’s standout holiday album A Christmas Story. Instead, this is their third studio Christmas album, fourth including a compilation last year. Although “Labor of Love,” which explores the myth of a “Silent Night” at the Nativity, is somewhat interesting, you can’t help but come away from the album thinking that they were trying to bridge the gap between hillbilly music and The Andrews Sisters –not the best of combinations. (Even at that, it’s more spirited than their mediocre 2005 release.) Fans of country-pop acts like Taylor Swift may find something to like here, but it’s not a particularly exciting record (nor, granted, an especially terrible one) for the rest of us. MB

11 Acorn Lane, Happy Holy Days (Wooden Hat)
Each year it seems there is one left-field entry that makes you go, Whoa! What’s that? Happy Holy Days is that album. 11 Acorn Lane is a Swiss/British duo whose approach ranges from edgy exotica to sophisticated lounge and back again. Fun, fizzy music, with saxophone sections opposite swinging singers, bass clarinet and tuba and accordion, oh my! The stop and start sections make for something off the overly-beaten Christmas path, but you can recognize the tunes, and just like the season, it’s fun!

Celtic Thunder, Christmas (no label)
If you’re expecting something along the lines of Celtic Woman, you’re in for a surprise. Not necessarily a good one, as this disc sounds more like it was American-made than anything from the old country. Actually, it often sounds like contemporary country. The five male singers range from adequate to pretty good, but it sure isn’t Celticy. Not when “Winter Wonderland” sounds like Trace Adkins, or “Let It Snow” brings to mind Rod Stewart’s homages to the Great American songbook.

Straight No Chaser, All I Want for Christmas (Atlantic)
The 10-member a capella group has put together their two previous seasonal CDs with a DVD, all in a bright shiny holiday package. And it’s quite the package. Disc one’s 14 holiday favorites includes everything from “Silent Night” to “Little Saint Nick,” while disc two has another 15 gems, among them “Jingle Bells,” the always-popular “Who Spiked the Eggnog,” and their brilliant rendition of “The 12 Days of Christmas,” incorporating Toto’s “Africa,” which became a YouTube sensation. The DVD is from a concert in New York featuring more secular fare, including their takes on Queen, Stevie Wonder, even the Bee Gees. Oh well. Plus a few holiday treats as well. Enjoy!

Of course, there’s always more. Among the other new holiday releases this year are Glee: The Music – The Christmas Album (Columbia), by the cast of the uber-popular Fox show; Christmas with The Puppini Sisters (Verve), retro-Andrews Sisters stylings; Pink Martini’s Joy to the World (Heinz), exotic mini-big band stylings with vocals; Annie Lennox’s A Christmas Cornucopia (Decca) a madrigal/electronica/baroque extravaganza; and The Gift by Susan Boyle (Syco), who does a more than respectable job on holiday favorites, her gaffe on The Viewnotwithstanding.

  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
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