Stubbys House of Christmas       
1. Let It Snow
2. Christmas Song/Christmas Time is Here
3. O, Little Town of Bethlehem
4. O Come, O Come Emmanuel
5. We Three Kings
6. Holiday For Strings
7. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
8. Sleepers, Wake!
9. O Come, All Ye Faithful
10. The Merry Medley: The Man With the Bag/I’d Like You for Christmas/Santa Claus Is Coming to Town
11. I Wonder As I Wander
12. We Wish You a Merry Christmas
13. Silent Night


As you are no doubt aware, we're pretty much closed up here (honestly, I'm not even here, now; this is just the Ghost of Christmas Past typing).  Only one group was silly enough to send me a physical disc (got another one this week, so I guess there are two silly groups out there).  Yes, I said silly.  But I get it.  If you do a rock, country or soul Christmas record, there are plenty of outlets to get your music exposure beyond people who already know about you.  Not so much for Jazz.  Merry & Bright might give you a spin, but Christmas Reviews--formerly the "go to" Christmas site for off-genre stuff--is dead and buried.  Stubby's was supposed to fill that void.  (Is this where I note that life is what happens while you're making other plans?)

I'm grateful New York Voices sent a copy of "Let It Snow" to Stubby's, though.  Because, this year, I doubt I'd have heard it otherwise.  And its a beauty, easily one of the best Christmas albums of 2013.

New York Voices have been around for more than 25 years.  Though they began as a quintet, the group today is structured a lot like Manhattan Transfer--four very talented vocalists (2 male, 2 female)--bringing multiple musical influences to the table in arrangements that cover the waterfront from a capella to full orchestra.  The current lineup features founding members Darmon Meader, Peter Eldridge, and Kim Nazarian, along with Lauren Kinhan (who joined in 1992).  New York Voices previously graced us with their stunning arrangement of "I Wonder As I Wander" on the second of GRP's essential "Christmas Collection" records, back in 1991.  A decade later, they turned up in a supporting role on Nancy Wilson's full length holiday effort.  Another dozen years have passed and, finally, New York Voices have given us a full Christmas album of their own.

As it happens, I'm a big fan of vocal Jazz.  The Manhattan Transfer's "Christmas Album" is one I simply must listen to every Christmas.  But I'm equally fond of those groups that hew closer to pure Jazz--such as Bug Alley and Lambert, Hendricks, & Ross--and others that tend towards a softer, more sentimental approach that, while still containing Jazz elements, is just as evocative of a fifties pop vocal style (Vocalion and Sonos are the first that come to mind).  On "Let It Snow", New York Voices showcases their range and their ease at moving from one end to the other on the vocal Jazz spectrum.  And they find my absolute "sweet spot" on the title track that opens the set.

If you like Manhattan Transfer, you'll love "Let It Snow", which scats and bops along its jazzy path without losing any of the warmth and sweetness of the season.  It recalls those fifties styles we mentioned above without sounding the least bit dated.  New York Voices crafts about as perfect a rendition of the song as has ever been recorded (in my humble opinion).  Yep, I even like it better than Manhattan Transfer's take on their essential holiday record.

If you came for the sweet cuddle up by the fireside harmonies, you'll find them no sweeter than New York Voices' medley of "Christmas Time Is Here", the Vince Guaraldi standard, and "The Christmas Song"; you'll swear they were always intended to be together.  And there's Jazz to be had in New York Voices' spin around "O Little Town Of Bethlehem".  

"We Three Kings" is likely the most complex arrangement on the album.  I'm not an arranger and I don't play one on TV, but it seems New York Voices lay it all on the table on that track.  I've seen other reviewers dismissively talk of a "Middle Eastern" sound.  But, wow, that doesn't begin to describe all that's in here.  In just that one song, you can hear all the multitude of these artists' decades of experience (my English teacher would flunk me for this sentence).  There's a heavy dose of the group's classical influences and even some Broadway musical theatricality.  The instrumentation is fine throughout "We Three Kings", but it's the work of the four vocalists that hold this one together.

On the back half, highlights include the reverent "Sleepers, Wake!" and "The Merry Medley".  New York Voices also revisit "I Wonder As I Wander", sounding better today than they did 22 years ago, and they close with a beautiful "Silent Night" featuring a capella in both German and English.  A personal highlight of mine, on "Let It Snow", is "We Wish You A Merry Christmas"--rarely done as anything more than a throwaway.  New York Voices find the Jazz in "We Wish You..." and turn in quite a sweet and full bodied performance that had me smiling throughout.

What didn't I like?  Well, I know opinions are going to vary on this, but I hated the inclusion of "Holiday For Strings".  Not that they did anything but a superb job on it.  But, please, the arguments are still raging as to whether "My Favorite Things" is genuinely a Christmas song, and that's after decades.  More recently, "Wonderful World" has been starting to crowd into the Christmas action.  Coming, as it did, smack dab in the middle of the CD, I felt I was being cheated out of a fer real Christmas song by its inclusion.  There are so, so, so many Christmas songs--many deserving of more attention than they've received.  Why would you do this?  Hated, hated, can't emphasize enough, hated the inclusion of "Holiday For Strings".  But I must forgive this digression as the rest of the record is wonderful.  (And, besides, I've been known to push a non-Christmas song into a Christmas mix, well, pretty much every time I do one, so.....guilty, Your Honor; I throw myself on the mercy of the court.)

As a whole, "Let It Snow", the album, is a top shelf effort--easily one of the finest Christmas records this year.  And "Let It Snow", the title track?  That sucker is dead on perfect.  The New York Voices rendition is going straight to the Stubbys Hall of Fame (if there were such a thing).  Bravo, New York Voices!  Now don't make us wait another 25 years for your next Christmas album.



12/16/2013 23:03

Great review Stubby. I have seen this on Amazon and Spotify several times, but then have quickly forgotten to listen to it. I'm going to have to check it out. The Manhattan Transfer Christmas album is also one of my favorites, so I'm looking forward to listening to this one. You're right about their version of "I Wonder As I Wander". Thanks!


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