1. Good King Wenceslas
2. The Christmas Song
3. Do You Hear What I Hear
4. Coventry Carol
5. Hark! the Herald Angels Sing
6. Away in a Manger
7. Angels We Have Heard on High
8. White Christmas
9. I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
10. Jolly Old Saint Nicholas
11. Happy Christmas (War Is Over)
12. Auld Lang Syne (Hope for a New Year)
14. O Come, O Come Emmanuel
15. Silent Night
16. Jingle Bells
RICK GALLAGHER WEB SITE
PURCHASE CD FROM RICK GALLAGHER
PURCHASE CD OR DIGITAL FROM CD BABY
PURCHASE DIGITAL FROM AMAZON
PURCHASE DIGITAL FROM iTUNES
The free download to the right is for "Hark The Herald Angels Sing" only. I included the widget, here, so you could listen to something from the album while you read. See the play button? Hit it. There ya go.
As it turned out, I was worried about nothing. Almost nothing. When the album opens with "Good King Wenceslas", I did indeed listen to the song as though it were a track cut from the original special. It measured up just fine, mind you. But I would still think it difficult to listen to an entire album chasing ghosts. Fortunately, that melted away quicker than Frosty and, by track 2, "The Christmas Song", I was only listening to Rick Gallagher (and the other members of his fabulous combo--Paul Thompson on bass, Thomas Wendt on drums, and George Jones on percussion).
"Christmas Tidings" isn't Rick's first Christmas rodeo. A Jazz pianist of long standing and great reputation in western Pennsylvania, he's released two prior holiday sets (four, if you count his more Gospel oriented albums; "Peace Be Still", as example, includes one of the best renditions of Horace Silver's "Peace" not recorded by Silver himself...in my opinion at least). Living in New Jersey, at the time, I was able to get "A Sleigh, A Song, and a Baby Boy" at a local record shop the year it was released (2002). That was one of the Jersey perks--you'd get all the music from New York and Pennsylvania, along with our own thriving music scene. I totally missed 2006's "Snowriding", having moved to eastern North Carolina (where its hard enough to get the music of Raleigh and Charlotte).
Vince Guaraldi's style is what is known as "Cool Jazz". At the time Guaraldi was coming up, BeBop was the more popular style among Jazz musicians, even though both music styles were "born" at roughly the same time. BeBop was played fast and loose and featured extensive improvisational solos with sharp corners (for lack of a better term). Cool Jazz was much more about the melody and flow. The improvisation is just as impressive, but generally smoother and still rooted in the melody. Vince Guaraldi liked the fact that his music was easy to listen to--that it bordered on Pop music--even though it was still distinctly Jazz. He wanted his music to be music that people enjoyed, music that made people feel good. BeBop was more intense. If BeBop is Niagara Falls, Cool Jazz is a peaceful stream on a sunny day.
But there are many more tracks where you can hear the inspiration of Guaraldi, but the artistry of Gallagher. "Do You Hear What I Hear" was a standout track for me. "Away In A Manger" is pretty special, too. It's fascinating to hear Rick's interpretations of "I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day" and "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)", which sound far less somber is his hands without losing their power.
But, for me, by far the best stretch of "Christmas Tidings" was the ending block--from "Auld Lang Syne" through "Jingle Bells". That's a Rick Gallagher tour de force, right there. I've heard few do as much with "Auld Lang Syne". "Rainflakes" is the one completely original Gallagher tune on the album and it sounds like he took certain elements of the Guaraldi soundtrack and turned them inside out to find there was yet another beautiful melody waiting to be discovered. "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" is just pure heaven, seasoned ever so lightly with Latin beats. The playing of the combo on that one is absolutely exquisite. "Silent Night" is the Gospel side of Rick Gallagher. And "Jingle Bells" is a slow burn, soft and gentle boogie woogie with a quiet Samba rhythm underneath, closing with one final melodic snow flurry and a tip of the cap to Guaraldi.
Almost everyone enjoys the music from "A Charlie Brown Christmas", even if they don't believe they like Jazz. So I have no problem saying that you'd also very much enjoy "Christmas Tidings", whether or not you believe you like Jazz. As with Guaraldi, the melody is the thing. Rick's set works just fine as background or foreground (though I think you'd appreciate it more as foreground). The digital version is pretty much everywhere and CDs are available from CD Baby and Rick's own web store (and Rick's got the better price, of course; at his web store, scroll down below the tracks for Rick's hard copy via Paypal option). And, if you want a little more incentive or a chance to "live" with a track before you commit, you're in luck because Rick has posted "Hark The Herald Angels Sing" as a free download on Noisetrade (there's also a track from "Snowriding", so you might as well grab that one as well).
I'm always terrified to review Jazz. I am and have always been the idiot in the corner who knows next to nothing about Jazz but just knows he really likes it. And I'm always afraid Marshall McLuhan is going to step out from behind a pillar and tell me I know nothing. On the other hand...when the finished "A Charlie Brown Christmas" was presented to CBS, they hated everything about it. I mean everything. They hated the story line. They thought it moved too slowly. They hated that actual kids were hired to do the voices. They hated that it wasn't "funny" enough and that there was no laugh track. And they completely hated the Vince Guaraldi soundtrack. Jazz? C'mon, now. That's never gonna play in Peoria. They felt the show was such a disaster, they almost didn't air it. And they were certain that, if they did air it, they would never air it again. Well, as Marty Feldman says in "Young Frankenstein", "they were wrong, then, weren't they?" (I just really love that movie). Even as a kid, I knew that Peanuts special was.....well, special. And, even as a kid, I recognized that a big part of why it was so special was the music. So, worst case scenario, I think I have a better idea about what you might like than network television executives. (Oh, c'mon; at least give me a smile on that.) As always, listen for yourself. All of my words and opinions aside, I'm pretty certain you're going to thoroughly enjoy "Christmas Tidings".