Stubbys House of Christmas       
 
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1.  Dancing In The Snow
2.  I See Christmas
3.  The Christmas Song
4.  Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
5.  White Christmas
6.  Let It Snow
7.  Santa Claus Is Coming To Town
8.  Christmas Memories
9.  Frosty The Snowman
10. Snowflakes
11. O Holy Night
12. Winter Wonderland
13. Santa Baby
14. Christmas Land
15. Auld Lang Syne

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Before Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra became headliners in their own right, they paid their dues as featured vocalists with the big band swing orchestras of the 30s and 40s.  And it was the music of those swing orchestras, led by masters like Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey, that first crossed societal barriers in appealing to young men and women of all races.

The Beantown Swing Orchestra is less an homage to those earlier orchestras than it is a continuation of that tradition.  “A Beantown Christmas” is a perfect example of this.  Nowhere on the 15 track album does the group sound dated or derivative.  That is, in no small part, the result of fresh-as-new-fallen-snow arrangements from conductor Danny Fratini.  The album also features 5 original numbers that not only stand up well in the company of some of the most classic and best known of Christmas songs—they are among the best tracks here.   Just as important, if not more so, this band swings!   These are some seriously talented dudes and dudettes.  For the Christmas set, Beantown also recruited a 15 piece string section—a decision that really pays off in making this album a complete delight from start to finish. 

The Beantown Swing Orchestra, whose members are almost all under 30, features 4 vocalists (which was not uncommon among the big bands in swing’s heyday), and they each get their opportunities to shine on “A Beantown Christmas”

John Stevens is Beantown’s lone male vocalist.  A former American Idol finalist, “A Beantown Christmas” leaves little doubt that Stevens was born to sing this kind of music.  His voice is smooth as silk.  Stevens and the band swing mightily on “White Christmas” and Stevens demonstrates his agility and precision on a hurry up arrangement of “Frosty The Snowman” that also manages to squeeze in an incredible sax solo from Rick Stone.

Laura Brunner turns in what is likely the album’s most astounding vocal performance, scatting “The Christmas Song” so well that comparisons to Ella Fitzgerald are both inevitable and justified.

Jen Hirsch’s voice is pure honey, whether crooning “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” or swinging “Winter Wonderland” (Tucker Antell gets the sax solo on that one).

Micah Goolsby sounds like Beantown’s version of Zooey Deschanel and they saved her best performances for (nearly) last.  Micah’s appropriately both cute and sexy on “Santa Baby” and adorably cuddly on the original “Christmas Land”.  She and Fratini co-wrote 4 of the album’s new tracks, including that one.

And when no one is singing--that’s where you get a true understanding of just how good The Beantown Swing Orchestra is.  The band fully cuts loose on “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” with impressive solos from Tucker Antell, trumpet player Vivek Patel, piano man Steve Boudreau and drummer Austin McMahon.  And, on one of the best arrangements of “Auld Lang Syne” I’ve heard, Genevieve Rose (who is simply superb throughout) gets to show her stuff on a mezmerizing stand-up bass solo, the only flaw of which is it's brevity.

My favorite tracks from the album are almost all Beantown originals.  Everything comes together perfectly on “I See Christmas”, “Christmas Memories” and “Snowflakes”.  All three sound as though they could’ve been written in the 40s.  “I See Christmas” has enough pizzazz that you can easily imagine the Chairman of the Board himself covering it.  “Christmas Memories” has the feel of a standard straight out of the Make Believe Ballroom.  “Snowflakes” gives Laura Brunner yet another opportunity to show off her exceptional jazz chops.  I’d also cite “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” and "The Christmas Song" as album highlights.  And I have to include the too-wild-for-words “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town” jam, as well.

If you’re one of the millions who have bought or will buy Michael Buble’s “Christmas”, do yourself a favor and get this one, too; the two albums are perfect compliments for each other.  But “A Beantown Christmas” can easily stand on its own as well.   It’s a varied program perfectly paced.  From irresistible dance floor beats to cozy fireplace cuddle music, The Boston Swing Orchestra has got it covered.


You can find the digital version at Amazon or iTunes, but I highly recommend the hard copy CD, which features super gatefold packaging and the awesome cover illustration of the Boston skyline and Green Line trolley.  For that, you’d best order direct from the Beantown Swing Orchestra web site
 
 
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1.  Deck The Halls
2.  Here Comes Santa Claus
3.  What Child Is This?
4.  Jingle Bells
5.  Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
6.  I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day
7.  Hey Santa Claus
8.  The Christmas Waltz
9.  Fum, Fum, Fum
10. Baby It's Cold Outside
11. Santa Send A Fella
12. Silent Night
13. Merry Christmas, Baby
14. Santa Bring My Baby Back To Me
15. What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?


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Jillaine sings her way into your Christmas heart and memories with her jazz versions of favorite carols, hymns, traditional, humorous, and children's Christmas songs.  In "Jazzy Christmas To You!" Jillaine uses her jazzy blues vocals with ease to share the fun, excitement, sorrow, and hope that is Christmas to Christians all over the world.

Is it just me or does every singer on American Idol sound like every other singer on American Idol?  The same could be said of pop, Indie, and country music as well.  There are so many vocalists who sound so much alike—as if they were ordered up from central casting—that I was truly excited to come across Utah’s Jillaine in my annual Christmas music search.

Jillaine has the kind of voice that’s very nearly one of a kind—a powerful voice. Jillaine can take you for a pleasant Sunday spin in the country, but she can also accelerate from purr to full growl on a dime and then back again without ever losing control.
   
As excited as I was to hear “Jazzy Christmas To You!” in its entirety, I also had some trepidation.  Nothing spoils an album quite so much as high expectations.  And high expectations for an Indie release from such a relative newcomer are doubly perilous.  But the bluesy piano opening for “Deck The Halls” set just the right tone and put me at ease.   From that point right on through the final pitch perfect plaintive note that closes “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?”, I thoroughly enjoyed this album.


You won't hear lush strings or the backing of a big band here.  The backing on “Jazzy Christmas To You!” is sparse—just piano or guitar on several tracks and a trio on the others—and it works, serving to keep Jillaine’s voice out front as it should be.  Aided by wonderfully fresh arrangements, Jillaine generously seasons the set with jazz and blues, but doesn’t ever stray so far as to make the album inaccessible to fans of traditional Christmas vocal albums.
 
One of my favorites on the album is Jillaine’s bluesy take on “I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day”.  I don’t know who is responsible for that arrangement, but it suits both the song and Jillaine’s voice perfectly.  I honestly don’t think I’ve ever heard a better version of that song (and I’ve heard a lot).


Jillaine follows “I Heard The Bells” with another of the album’s great tracks, “Hey Santa Claus”, written by the late Harvey Fuqua and originally performed by The Moonglows.  Jillaine is at her bluesy best on this number, bending notes with her voice the way a good blues guitarist bends notes with his guitar.

“Baby It’s Cold Outside” was delightfully well executed, with bass player James Archibald serving as Jillaine’s duet partner.  The pair sounded relaxed and natural and as though they were truly having fun.  Once again, they pulled it off perfectly.

Next up is “Santa Send A Fella”, a song that was originally performed by Rose Marie on the old Dick Van Dyke Show.  It’s a song that’s seldom covered, so it’s a special treat anytime it is.  The arrangement is fairly close to the original, leaning a little more jazz and a little less show.

For me, the anchor of the album is "Merry Christmas Baby".  The genius of Charles Brown’s “Merry Christmas Baby” is that it sounds great in almost any arrangement.  Jillaine takes the gut bucket blues approach, much to my personal delight, channeling the spirit of Ida Cox in a way few vocalists could.  To my ears, Jillaine sounds more at home on this track than any other, free to be herself and unleash the full power of her amazing voice.  This is easily the bluesiest track on the album and easily my favorite.

After swinging her way through “Santa Bring My Baby Back To Me”, Jillaine lets everyone know that she can deliver just as much passion to a slow standard as she can to the blues.  Her performance of "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?" is revelatory and nothing short of stunning.

I’d have avoided some of these songs—I’ve previously noted that I don’t think anybody sounds good singing “Here Comes Santa Claus”—but Jillaine handles them well and keeps them brief.  On the other hand, there are a few songs—notably “Silent Night”—where I wished Jillaine would have lingered a while.  But the pacing is a plus, overall, and the sequencing of the songs (an often overlooked ingredient in the digital age) couldn’t have been any better.  Jillaine is ably supported by Archibald on bass, Ryan Flores on drums, and especially Craig Alder who provides outstanding guitar and keyboard work throughout the album.

In another lifetime, I managed a young female blues singer with a nearly one of a kind voice, so I understand that Jillaine is not going to appeal to everyone.  She's not likely to challenge the Michael Bubles and Justin Biebers for radio airplay this year.  Jillaine is still at the beginning of her career arc; time and life will add much greater depth to her music.  And this Christmas set, sadly, won't expose you to Jillaine's talent as a songwriter as her previous albums, "You Really Meant It" and "Scars On My Heart", have.  But I'll tell you this in perfect honesty:  I have listened to this album more than any other Christmas album so far this year, and I'm really not expecting that to change.  If you knew how many Christmas albums I listen to, you'd know that that is high praise indeed.

"Jazzy Christmas To You!" is a fun album and undeniably Christmasy (proving you don't need sleigh bells to make a record sound like Christmas).  You can opt for those central casting American Idol types if you like, and many many people will, but I am so happy I stumbled across Jillaine.  Give me a woman with a powerful voice any day.  One who has a fondness for jazz and especially blues, well, even better.  "Jazzy Christmas To You!" is exactly the kind of Christmas present I like finding under my tree.

Don't forget to check our preview of "Jazzy Christmas To You!" for a free download of "Jingle Bells".  Just Jillaine's way of saying "Merry Christmas".