I thought John Zorn's Christmas set was absolutely brilliant, with the quality to become an annual favorite. "A Dreamers Christmas" was an instrumental album (except for the final track) and ought to appeal to fans of classic exotica, classic Christmas, and jazz fans of any stripe (traditional, modern, new age, fusion, triple Z, you name it). Pop and Rock fans ought to like it, too, if they give it a chance. The album works as background or foreground and is the kind of a record that, if you're listening as background, it'll draw you into the foreground. After spending a few months with "A Dreamers Christmas", the highlights for me are "Snowfall" and "Magical Sleigh Ride". And now that John Zorn has put a lasting stamp on Christmas, I hope he'll drop a Hanukkah record someday soon.
Mindy Gledhill's "Winter Moon" is one of the best contemporary pop Christmas albums I've heard in years. At least going back to Universal Honey's "Can't Stop Thinking About Christmas" (2007) and possibly all the way back to Lisa Mychols' "Lost Winter's Dream" (1991, though I bought it in 2002). Mindy paced the album perfectly, the recording is impeccable. And Mindy's voice is just dreamy. Whether she's delivering a peppy pop tune like "Little Saint Nick", a religious standard like "Silent Night", or turning "The Christmas Song" into a uke driven song from the roaring 20s, Mindy Gledhill brings everything to her performance and leaves you wanting more of the same. The original, "Little Soldier", packs as much seasonal wallop as most any holiday song ever has. And she gets extra points from me for recording the first version of "Patapan" I have ever liked--and I not only liked her version, I loved it.
For the second year in a row, the album I listened to the most turns up in the third position in my listing. This is just such an easy album to listen to. Whenever I couldn't figure out which Christmas album to toss on, Jillaine got the call. Familiar songs, with a few twists and turns, full throated Jazz and Blues, nicely arranged, mixed and paced. Really, just a Christmas delight. It's not a deep album with heavy message overtones, but that doesn't mean it lacks punch. Jillaine's version of "I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day" still makes me cry. "Jazzy Christmas To You!" may not be on everybody's year end list, but I liked it just fine.
My favorite new Rock Christmas album of the year, the Power Pop Grip Weeds have, I think, created one for the ages. The song selection was a Rock fan's wet dream--pulling out some of the best and most memorable of the rock holiday tracks of the 70s and 80s. "2000 Miles", "I Believe In Father Christmas", and Jethro Tull's "Christmas Song". Ignoring the over done "Happy Xmas" and "All I Want For Christmas Is You". Peppering with originals like "Santa Make Me Good" and "Christmas Dream". And tossing in the obscure but wonderful "Merry Christmas All". Guest Stars Mark Lindsey of the Raiders and Pat Dinizio and Jim Babjak of the Smithereens add some spice to the punch, but they weren't really needed. "Under The Influence Of Christmas" rocks and still sounds entirely like Christmas to me--a much rarer feat than you might imagine. As a big fan of the Knack back in the day, this is the Christmas album I'd always hoped they'd record...only better.
Well, I have to hand it to him. Michael Buble did release a splendid Christmas album. "Christmas" not only stands well in the company of the classics from Bing and Perry and Andy, it does so without sounding the least bit dated. I never liked the "Let It Snow" EP Buble released at the beginning of his career. I thought it sounded like crap. And cheap crap at that. Michael scored his first points with me this year when he as much as acknowledged that--saying the "Let It Snow" album wasn't him at all, just his voice. With the power to control the song selection, the arrangements and everything else, Buble showed label execs everywhere that they should just stick to their desk jobs and let the creative people do the creative stuff. Buble scored with "Christmas" and he scored big. Sure, Bieber had his moment in the sun, but Buble's album is the one that will live on.
As I noted in my review of this album, I listen to Christmas music as music. I'm not looking for a spiritual uplift and, if anything, I'm guarded against it. It's not that I'm not spiritual; I'm just not looking for that from my music. So for an album to reach me on that level is plenty incredible. Musically, I was amazed throughout "Good People All, This Christmas Time" at instruments doing things I did not know they could. Johnson Roberts and Lee Holland were unbelievable--divinely inspired you might say--and Lee Ann Roberts' vocals were soaring when they needed to be and earthy when they needed to be. Just an incredible album, start to finish, so well performed and produced that it stands apart. This one should not be missed.
I loved the energy and variety in this album from Karling Abbeygate. The six originals offer a little something for everyone, with the Rockabilly rave "Christmas Party" likely garnering the most positive nods among the rockabilly faithful, and the country ballad "Angel Tears" sure to draw comparisons to Patsy Cline. But I've always liked "Tra La La La La" the best since it seems to be the perfect fusion of rockabilly and Indie pop. Karling does well with the standards of the season, too. This is one girl you want at your holiday party, because there is nothing like "Christmas With Karling".
It takes me too darn long to collect myself for a full review. But I really do mean to review this one and I'm hoping to get that done today or tomorrow. Danny Mitchell knows how to sing and he knows how to play. But, more than that, he knows how to write a song. Danny's originals on "Savior On The Way" stand up well with most any of the traditional standards. The title track has brilliant lyrics that will reach you instantly. And "A Merry Christmas To Me" is by far the best new Christmas song of the season, and likely the best written Christmas song in it's genre of the last 25 years. Danny gives us a secular side and a more religious side and then closes the album with a rousing all-in jazz jam on "Auld Lang Syne".
I have a fondness for all things Boston having lived there for a few years eons ago. I always thought it was the perfect combination of big city and small town. Add the Beantown Swing Orchestra to the many great things the city has to offer. "A Beantown Christmas" is a bit like the city in that it's a perfect combination of the classic music of the season and yet it's got the feel of something fresh and new. With four different vocalists and the occasional addition of strings, the group offers up a variety of sounds and styles along their merry way. The originals are memorable and the traditional favorites come alive. There are too many highlights to recount, but the scat singing on "The Christmas Song" is amazing and the original "Christmas Memories" seems to strike a chord with everyone for whom I've played this. The album flows well and there's definitely a feel of a live performance. Speaking of which, The Beantown Swing Orchestra needs a PBS Christmas special...or, more accurately, we need a PBS Christmas special from them.
I'm a little on the fence about this one. Some albums just hit you in the right frame of mind at the right time. When that happens, there's always the question "Will you still love me tomorrow". So I really can't say this is a lasting favorite for the years to come...not yet. But it's definitely a favorite of mine right now. "Time Is Passed" is the best anti-Christmas album I've ever heard. There's no anger or fury (typical of most anti-Christmas records), just sad resignation. The music is moody, but beautiful, and perfectly delivered by vocalist Laura Weinbach. Foxtails Brigade has provided the best anti-Christmas song ever in "I'm Not Really In The Christmas Mood This Year" (see the video here). If we're being honest, we've all experienced something similar at one time or another. Universal experience offered up in a classic Christmas music package makes for a lasting contribution to the music of the season.
Since I only had nine records in last year's list, I figure I'm entitled to eleven this year. If you love Jazz, this is just a very satisfying record to listen to. There's very much a sensation of walking into an after hours club, where the lights are low and the band is hot. Harkening back to the Hard Bop era, the music is solid Jazz with a deep R&B and Blues influence. And Chris Davis doesn't constrain the music; he lets it breathe. The one track I wasn't crazy about was "Angels We Have Heard On High". But that's just me. And every other track, I felt, was a home run. Even "Blue Christmas", and you know I don't like that song. "Winter Wonderland", "Toyland", "I've Got My Love To Keep Me Warm", "Little Drummer Boy"--to name but a few--these are among some of the best jazz arrangements and performances I've heard. "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas"? Davis out does himself. "This Christmas" is an album I'll be listening to a lot this Christmas, and for many Christmases to come, I'm sure.
We've got a couple of Christmas Radio-On-Line shows for you to catch over the weekend. With any luck, we'll be back early tomorrow with the rundown. In the meantime, there's lots of action on the Free Page.