Earlier this year, Amazon expanded Prime benefits to include free streaming music. I know there are plenty of other streaming services out there, but I never jumped on for a few reasons. First, some don't seem to be geared towards building playlists and listening to one album at a time (much less keeping track of which albums you've listened to and which you haven't, which is essential for this exercise). Second, I was already paying for Prime, so the added features were essentially free.
The free music is limited to select albums, so you're not getting total access to Amazon's catalog. To be honest, I didn't really have a sense of how much music I would or wouldn't be able to pick from this year. Still, this seemed like a better method of supplementing our music collection than picking up stacks of two dollar CD's and ripping them to MP3, so I stopped frequenting clearance CD sections.
Jump ahead to now. Well, not now for you, since you won't be reading this until several weeks after I write this section, but now for me. It's mid November; I finished my first pass of the CD's I bought a few days ago, and I stopped by Amazon to see what I could add.
Holy Christmas. I just added 1100 tracks. That's between 60 and 70 albums, if I'm counting right. And I didn't scratch the surface of Amazon's offerings. I kind of feel like I'm staring at an unlimited supply of holiday music.
Let's get started.
Irish & Celtic Christmas Music: Folk Classics (The Irish Christmas & Celtic Christmas Nollag)
This is a rather interesting compilation. I'm assuming the tracks were probably assembled from other collections, and that the actual artists' names were stripped away in the process. That seems like something record producers would do.
Most albums like this aren't anything to get excited about, but this one contains some solid music. It's not all great - quite a few tracks are relatively generic Christmas tunes with a slight Celtic vibe - but several are really cool. There are a couple tracks with names like "Celtic Christmas Guitar". I'm not familiar with these tunes, but I like the sound. I actually wouldn't even identify some of them as Celtic: one or two almost have a "wild west" vibe. Whatever they are, I like them.
Home For Christmas ('N Sync)
Ugh. I feel like I could copy/paste in the review for any one of a dozen pop albums and use that. In fact, screw it. That's what I'm doing. Here's a slightly edited version of what I wrote for Clay Aiken's Christmas album:
This is the kind of music I despise with every ounce of my soul. Like damn near every one of the CD's I listen to, almost all of the tracks are classics. On top of that, there's a new song with the same title as the album:
Merry Christmas With Love. I Never Knew the Meaning of Christmas.
Ugh. That's the one that really grated on me: the others are more or less just over-produced versions of songs I'm sick of. I'm used to sitting through that kind of stuff, but the original tune is painful. It's the sound the Platonic ideal of the color
pinkbeige would make vomiting directly into the mouth of the Universal Unconscious.
It's the kind of song that will make you hate love.Okay, so there are a few other crappy new songs, but... screw it. I've already wasted too much time with this garbage.
Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence (Leah)
First the bad news: this is just a single. Just three measly tracks on the album. The good news, of course, is that this is bad news. In other words, these three tracks are amazing. Leah (or Leah McHenry) performs Celtic Metal. I'm not sure if there are other artists in this genre, but if there are they've got stiff competition.
The first song gives the album its name: it's a chant that's around 1700 years old about the birth of Jesus (thanks, Internet!). As far as I can tell, it was just sitting around for all that time waiting for someone to put it to a kickass Celtic/metal tune.
Next up: "The Holly and the Ivy." This is more Celtic than metal. It's a gorgeous version of the tune, up there with my favorite interpretations. The last song is a very metal version of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. I've got at least one other metal versions of this song, actually, but it's a very different animal. Ronnie James Dio's take from "We Wish You a Metal X-Mas" is awesome, but it's fundamentally a joke. Leah's isn't: it comes off as an adaptation that celebrates the song through metal and Celtic influences. That may sound odd, but it works shockingly well.
I just wish this were a full album instead of a single. It's fantastic.
Christmas in the Heart (Bob Dylan)
Bob Dylan is known first and foremost as a songwriter, so what better approach than for him to revisit a bunch of classic Christmas songs in a traditional manner?
This album is bizarre. Apparently, there's some dispute on whether these songs were intended as parodies of the originals. The fact it's not immediately clear should give you a sense of what's on here. Dylan belts out songs like I'll be Home for Christmas, White Christmas, and Silver Bells in a voice so growly he almost sounds like he's doing an impression of Tom Waits. Only he's no more Tom Waits than he's Bing Crosby, so the result is primarily just painful to listen to.
The one exception is his version of "Christmas Blues," which through some lucky correspondence between his inflection, the music, and the lyrics, kind of works. In context, it feels coincidental - he's not really singing this any differently than the other songs on this album - but the result is quite a bit better.
As for the rest, whether he was trying to mock the tunes or honor them, he failed miserably. I'd have far preferred to hear some original songs showcasing Dylan's thoughts on the holidays.
Christmas Remixed 2 (Various)
This is pretty self-explanatory. The tracks are re-mixed version of classic Christmas songs designed to change the musical genre of the tune while still leaving it recognizable. It's a pretty impressive balancing act, all things considered, especially considering how well it works. All the tracks are pretty good, though I'm especially partial to Patrick Krouchian's take on Good King Wenceslas.
Hear Something Country Christmas (Various)
This is another compilation of country adaptations of Christmas songs: I've got quite a collection by now. Overall, this is a good addition.
I particularly like Kenney Chesney's Jingle Bells and Kellie Pickler's Santa Baby. Also, Montgomery Gentry has a cover of Merry Christmas from the Family I like quite a bit. On top of that, the last track is a version of Silent Night by Johnny Cash: no complaints there.
Songs For Christmas (Sufjan Stevens)
This one's been on our radar for a while. A couple of friends of ours who are enthusiastic fans of Stevens tried to convince us to review his work three years ago. I listened to a couple of his songs and bought one, but I held off on getting the full album. At the time, I was primarily looking for more upbeat holiday music, and this is about as far from that as you can get. But I'm less targeted these days, so let's have a listen.
A very long listen. That's not a cheap shot: there are 42 tracks on this album. That's mainly because it's really five albums strung together. Hell, I count three versions of O Come O Come Emanuel.
As promised, the music is good - really good, in fact, though it gets redundant by the end. Stevens's sound is great, but he doesn't mix it up as often as I'd like. When he does, it stands out: the song I bought a few years ago, "Get Behind Me, Santa!" is phenomenal. It's got great energy and a fantastic tone. That isn't to say it's the best song on the album: there are quite a few tracks that could probably give it a run for its money, too many to try and list here. But after 42 tracks, most of the others bleed together into a mass of downbeat indie folk-rock.
I don't want that to come off as negative: I have every intention of shuffling a bunch of these songs into various playlists, where they'll be much easier to appreciate.
This is a great collection of holiday music, There are new twists on classics along with original songs. I just wouldn't recommend trying to listen to it all in one sitting.
Trans-siberian Orchestra Christmas Piano Tribute (Tribute Players)
Okay... I think I understand what this album is. First of all, here's what it isn't: it isn't the Transiberian Orchestra. It's a pianist playing the music of the Transiberian Orchestra.
This reminds me of the Miniature-Giant Space Hamsters from Spelljammer. The 2% of you who got that reference should be able to ascertain what this album amounts to: the rest of you can keep reading.
The whole premise of the Transiberian Orchestra is to take classical Christmas music, arrange it as if it were rock music, then play it that way. The point of this album seems to be to take the music of the Transiberian Orchestra, arrange that as if it were classical Chrismas piano music, then play it that way.
Yeah. I'm pretty sure we're done here.
Tis The Season For Los Straitjackets (Los Straitjackets)
Another on the list of albums I almost bought several times, but didn't because I was too cheap. This is an instrumental rockabilly group, and they bring that sound to their holiday music.
I love the music here, though I'd have liked to get some more original material in addition to the adaptations. The adaptations are generally pretty good, though I think they could have pushed the envelope a little more, particularly on songs like "Jingle Bell Rock." There's enough of the band's unique flavor to distinguish their versions from the norm, but not always enough to really make it something new.
That said, their versions of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" and "Little Drummer Boy" are awesome. Same can be said for quite a few tracks on this album, in fact.
My biggest complaint here is with the band's decision to forgo a singer. The music is fantastic, but I definitely feel the omission. Regardless, this is still a great album - I'll be listening to this music quite a bit in the future.
Christmas Grass - The Collection (Various)
This is apparently a compilation squared, which is to say it's compiled from three compilations. As the name implies, the music in question is bluegrass, and there are 28 tracks in all on this thing. Someday, I may decide I don't need anymore Christmas bluegrass, but it sure as hell isn't this day.
The music is incredibly diverse, ranging from instrumental bluegrass to songs you'd describe as country or blues. It's pretty much all good, but there are, as always, standouts. Sonya Isaacs's "Mary, Did You Know?"; Alison Krauss, Cody Kilby, Darrin Vincent, Rob Ickes, and Ronnie McCoury's "What Child is This"; Bryan Sutton's "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen"; and Cody Kilby, Darrin Vincent, Joe Caverlee's "Carol of the Bells" are personal favorites. That isn't to say the other tracks aren't fantastic, too: the whole album is great. I'm very happy with this one.
Christmas Background Music (The Smooth Jazz Instrumental Band)
I didn't have high expectations for this: the phrase "smooth jazz" doesn't exactly have the best connotations for me. But I was actually pleasantly surprised by this one. The music is definitely as advertised, but I actually like it quite a bit. It helps that "smooth" isn't being used as euphemism for "simplistic." This music is quiet and soft, not mindless. It's background music, but it's good background music.
In particular, there's a great version of Greensleeves on here.
Let it Snow Baby... Let it Reindeer (Relient K)
The devil should be ashamed of himself. Once again, a Christian rock band manages to one-up most of my secular rock Christmas albums by virtue of doing something other than rehashing the same tired arrangements of songs we've been listening to for decades.
This isn't a great album: there are plenty of weak tracks, and even the best are a long way from great. But they manage to include fresh versions of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas", and their new song, "Santa Claus is Thumbing to Town" is a lot of fun, even if it does feel a little too reminiscent of Weird Al's "The Night Santa Went Crazy."
They also have an original song called "In Like a Lion (Always Winter)" about The Lion, The Witch, and Wardrobe. I'm all in favor of Christmas songs that reference fantasy works. Even Narnia.
There are certainly religious songs on the album, but they don't overpower it or come off as overly preachy (with a few notable exceptions, like "I Celebrate the Day," an original song about how Jesus-y Jesus was when he Jesused down to Earth to die for their un-Jesus ways). Not surprisingly, the band's at their best when they're singing loudly about things that didn't die to save their souls. Fortunately, those songs are in the majority here.
It's not the best album I've ever heard, but there are some decent tracks. Also, the album's title might be the worst pun I've heard this year. So, kudos.
Chicago Christmas: What's It Gonna Be Santa (Chicago)
Wikipedia informs me this is a re-issue of a 1998 album that's been padded out with six extra tracks. That sort of explains it: the album feels very disjointed. That's not necessarily a bad thing at all, since it helps alleviate boredom. This time it's a glass half-empty/half-full sort of deal: do you perceive it as a great album dragged down by a number of dull tracks or an otherwise mediocre album enhanced by a number of great ones.
Let's start on a positive note, since that's how the album starts. The first track is a very upbeat, jazz/rock-infused version of "Winter Wonderland." It's everything a rock band's adaptation of a Christmas song should be: recognizable, but given a unique sound. When you finish the track you know you just listened to a version of "Winter Wonderland," but you don't feel like you just sat through a version of "Winter Wonderland."
That trend continues for quite a while. There's a slow rock, heartfelt take on Feliz Navidad that entirely reinvents that song. Love it. Same goes for their take on "The Christmas Song," which is given some much-needed swing and energy.
About half the album is like that: really inventive versions of classic songs. The other half... not so much. There are quite a few tracks featuring more or less traditional versions of tunes. Most of these have some alterations, but not enough to really make them distinct. A few of these are sung with the assistance of a children's chorus, which is something that rarely belongs on a rock album.
Overall, the weaker parts of the album don't invalidate the stronger songs. I'm happy to have the songs I like in my playlists, and the others can sit unloved in the digital void until I stumble across them down the road.
From Chicago to Alabama, get your cheap jokes in here. I've got nothing against the band, but this album was slower and softer than I wanted right now. It's mostly old songs, though not the normal classics: the majority of tracks are a little obscure, which is fine. I'm putting this into my country playlist: I suspect I'll appreciate it more later. For now, I kind of feels like it's putting me to sleep.
Christmas With a Capital C - Snow: The Deluxe Edition (Go Fish)
Thank Krampus this is the "Deluxe" edition. I'd hate to feel proselytized to by a basic album.
For those of you who are new to the blog or have forgotten, Go Fish is a band that puts the CHRIST back in CHRISTmas, CHRISTian rock, and SMUG ASSHOLES. This album is named after a stand-up comedy routine/incoherent rant by Brad Stine. The rant and song were adapted into a shockingly decent direct-to-video movie that we reviewed last year.
While that movie was reflective and intelligent, the lyrics and sentiments expressed on this album are moronic and disgusting. Take this passage from their altered version of Joy to the World: "Some of us are happier because we know, that this little bitty child came to save us...." JESUS FUCKING CHRIST. I'm sorry, it's just.... You know what? I'm not sorry: that language IS called for right now. And if the baby Jesus were here, I'm pretty sure he'd agree with me.
On top of verses like that, there's a song on here called "My Jesus, I Love Thee." If you've ever seen the episode of South Park where Cartman starts a Christian rock band by photocopying a bunch of pop songs and changing every appearance of the word "Baby" to "Jesus," you already have a pretty good idea of what the lyrics are like.
If I were Jesus, I'd be pretty creeped out.
Needless to say, the songs on this album will NOT be going on any of my permanent playlists. Listening to this thing, there were times I second guessed myself on my assumption they were serious. The lyrics read like over-the-top parodies of Christian rock, not examples. If this is a joke or scam, it's a awfully impressive one: they've been around for two decades.
The Andy Williams Christmas Album (Andy Williams)
Normally, this is where I'd be bitching about having to sit through a bunch of old-fashioned Christmas classics that I've heard before (and that sound exactly like every other version, anyway). But I just finished listening to Go Fish's "Christmas with a Capital C," so... right now... this is music to my ears.
White Christmas, The Christmas Song, The Twelve Days of Christmas... that's fine. In fact, it's better than fine. IT'S NOT GO FISH.
The King's Gift (Trace Adkins)
This one's pretty cool. It's a Country/Celtic fusion album. Usually when you get cross-genre Christmas albums from established artists, the influence of the outside genre is fairly minimal. Not this time: if you were to take out Adkins's voice track, you'd be left with something indistinguishable from an instrumental Celtic holiday album (and a solid one, at that). Stylistically, he sings as if he's simply making a Country album. The two genres blend together seamlessly; the end product is kind of genius.
The first track on the Album is "The Wexford Carol," and it's one of the best. I also love Adkin's very bizarre spin on Little Drummer Boy (titled "Carol of the Drum" here). Pretty much every track is good, though.
This makes an interesting companion to the Celtic Metal single I talked about earlier. Between the two, I'm extremely happy.
Christmas Carols (Cedarmont Kids)
This is an album containing fifteen songs sung by kids, followed by another fifteen "split track" versions of the same songs. A split track is just a track set up to play the music through one speaker and the vocals through another, allowing the listener to increase or decrease the volume of the singers as their kids learn the songs.
The good news is that the kids singing on this thing aren't awful. They're not great, but the point of the album isn't to make them sound cutesy or anything. The bad news is that the album does have a point. And that's to indoctrinate children into religion. This album actually has a higher rate of religious songs than the Go Fish album (Go Fish threw in a version of White Christmas, presumably unaware that the writer wasn't Christian). This album is clearly intended for a religious audience (a fact easily verified with a quick look at the "Cedarmont Kids" other offerings).
The best word for the music accompanying the kids is lame. There are worse, more accurate words, but I'm feeling surprisingly generous right now. Probably because I know I never have to listen to this pedantic crap again.
In case anyone was wondering, I did listen to both versions of the songs on this album, despite the fact they were essentially identical. I'm not entirely sure why I did this, but I felt like it would be cheating not to.
December (George Winston)
George Winston is a pianist, and - judging by his Wikipedia page - a pretty good one. I get the feeling this is probably exceptional music, but I'm not exactly an expert when it comes to classical piano.
A few of the tracks sound fairly unique to me, but for the most part, it just sounds like any of the other hundreds of tracks of classical Christmas music I've got. The real standout for me is this version of Carol of the Bells: I might be a philistine, but even I can tell that's beautiful.
The Ultimate White Christmas (Peggy Lee, Danny Kaye, Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney)
This is a sort-of but not-really soundtrack for the movie, White Christmas. Apparently, the rights were tangled up, so they couldn't produce a soundtrack with all the stars when the movie came out. This was cobbled together much later with a mix of recordings from the cast.
Most of the songs on here aren't explicitly Christmas-related, of course. Really, only two of the songs are holiday-specific. However, that gets inflated here, since both of those songs have multiple versions, and there are an another three Christmas songs on the album that weren't in the musical (Suzy Snowflake, Winter Wonderland, and C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S). Even so, only about a third of the album is Christmas-specific.
While I liked the movie well enough, I've certainly heard these songs enough times for one lifetime.
Christmas (Kirk Franklin & The Family)
This is a gospel Christmas album, which isn't exactly my favorite musical genre. I find the vast majority of songs on this album boring. It's also kind of astonishing how many of these tracks feature lyrics about Christmas being about Jesus being the cause for the fact that there's no Christmas without Jesus, who's the real reason for the season. Or something.
Oddly, I enjoyed the track titled, "Jesus is the Reason for the Season." It's got a nice energy, and it's hell of a lot of fun. Plus, it includes the line, "Santa Claus ain't got nothing on this," which means I just can't take the lyrics seriously and get offended.
There are a few others I don't hate, but the album as a whole was a hard one to make it through. Not as bad as Go Fish, but then what is?
Christmas Cheers (Straight No Chaser)
This is the second Christmas album I've heard from Straight No Chaser. They're an a cappella group; Lindsay picked up the other album several years ago. It's good stuff: they perform a wide variety of songs in an equally wide variety of styles. Part recital, part stand-up routine, their work is certainly fun to listen to.
The comedy is best the first few times you hear it, but the music is good enough to hold up over time. There are a lot of great songs on here, but one stands out for me, and that's their version of You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch. I'm not even sure how to describe it - a little pop, a little rock, a little blues... and unlike any of the versions I've heard before (and I've heard quite a few).
I also want to mention their approach to "We Three Kings", which they essentially a mash up with the Mission Impossible theme. It's a brilliant idea, and they do a good a good job with it. That said, a version of this arrangement with more traditional vocals and a orchestra would pretty much be the Platonic form of the perfect holiday song.
A Merry Little Christmas (Linda Ronstadt)
This certainly wasn't what I expecting. The first third of the album is pretty straightforward, featuring pretty standard versions of the classics (i.e.: White Christmas, The Christmas Song, etc.). The standout here is Ronstadt's cover of River, a Joni Mitchell song I wasn't previously familiar with (though that just changed, and - sorry, Ronstadt - I prefer the original).
The other two thirds of the album go in a completely different direction, focusing more on the other classic Christmas songs: Silent Night, Welsh Carol, I Wonder as I Wander, etc. I realize it wasn't that uncommon for singers like Bing Crosby to do a few of those, but they typically did them in a jazz or at least hybrid style: Rondstadt sings like classic carols.
Ultimately, the album is nothing if not impressive. Rondstadt displays a lot of range here, which is neat... but not actually all that interesting to a holiday junkie. If I've said it once, I've said it a million times (which mean I've actually effectively it said around 100 billion times, since I've said way more than once): the world doesn't need more versions of classic songs trying to ape the style of the original. That's fine for live shows, but... do recording artists really not understand the way recordings work?
That said, some of those choral pieces are really pretty. Ah, hell. I do have a playlist for pretty songs: in they go.
Wintersong (Sarah McLachlan)
I don't have positive associations with the name "Sarah McLachlan", though I'm not 100% sure why that is. Did she have a crappy pop song out in the 90's or something? I had an irrational hatred of mainstream pop singers in the 90's.
Regardless of what angsty high school self might have thought, I like the album quite a bit. There's an original version of "What Child is This" I really like. Her sad. jazzy take on "I'll be Home for Christmas" is also nice. Likewise, she takes a Celtic approach on "The First Noel/Mary Mary" that's pretty fantastic.
I'm more mixed on her cover of "River," though I'm amused that I got back-to-back versions of the song on this Ronstadt's album and this. I'm also ambivalent about her version of "Happy XMas (War is Over)", but opening a Christmas album with that song is essentially a middle-finger to the religious right, so... kudos.
Overall the album has a eerie, sad tone. Certainly not a unique take on Christmas, but it's still cool. Also, she experiments quite a bit within that tone, moving through genres and styles, all within an album that feels strongly unified. I like this one quite a bit. Maybe I'll hop in my time machine, go back to 1997, and mock myself for not giving her music a chance.
Let it Snow (Jewel)
The first of two back-to-back Jewel albums I'm listening to. *Spoiler Alert* I like this one better. And I'm only kind of mixed on it. You'll never guess where my ambivalence comes from. Give up? Well - surprise, surprise - I'm annoyed that most of the tracks are fairly straightforward adaptations of common Christmas songs.
To be fair, they're not entirely unaltered, though most of the changes feel superficial. Things like using a ukulele on Sleigh Ride are certainly changes, but they don't transform the song.
There are few that feel more original. That's particularly true of the two new songs, obviously. These are "It's Christmastime" and "Blue Crystal Glow," both of which are more inline with what I'd associate with Jewel. They're quirky, fun songs, and they add some value to the album. I also like her French/English hybrid of "I'll be Home for Christmas". Plus, I like damn near every version of "What Child is This?", so no complaints there.
I wish the rest of the album had been more like those tracks.
Joy: A Holiday Collection (Jewel)
While it happened to fall on my list second, this was the earlier of her two Christmas albums. I suppose it shouldn't be surprising that it's more conventional. Most of the songs are classic Christmas tunes, and the stylistic changes are fairly minimalist.
I do like her adaptation of Rudolph, though. While she's certainly not the first singer to give the song some swing, it's really good version.
The last track is a "Christmas version" of one Jewel's early hits, Hands. I'm not really sure what makes this Christmas-y: the instrumentation is a little reminiscent of holiday music, but not extremely, and there don't seem to be any lyrical allusions to Christmas.
Christmas Card (Marvin Sapp)
I'd describe this as a gospel/dance/pop album sung by a pastor of a Michigan church. Unfortunately, the mixture is less interesting than I'd hope. I accept that any gospel album I listen to is going to beat me over the head with the "Christ is the reason for the season" message, and I'm willing to set that aside. But I have to find the underlying music interesting, and I just don't this time.
It doesn't help that a few of the tracks employ auto-tuning, which I've yet to learn how to stomach. I'm also not a fan of Sapp's style of singing. It's certainly impressive, but I dislike the end effect.
I don't really even like this version of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. It starts off with an incredibly promising musical intro, but then dwindles after about five seconds.
I doubt I'll be listening to this again anytime soon.
Cheers, it's Christmas. (Blake Shelton)
Is it just the veneer of optimism peeling away after two weeks of solid Christmas music, or is this just not that good of an album? I'm really not sure. This is country, and I can't really identify any specific fault or problem with the music. That said... most of these songs are just making me bored.
It doesn't help that several tracks are relatively generic. Winter Wonderland, White Christmas, The Christmas Song, and others don't feel fresh here. They're country versions, but very straightforward country versions.
On the other end of the spectrum, there's "Santa's Got a Choo Choo Train," which is a great song, provided you can get over the title. But that's the exception here - overall, the album just feels stale to me. Again, there's certainly an even chance my impression has more to do with my state of mind than the album itself. But I certainly never promised objectivity here.
The Classic Christmas Album (Luther Vandross)
Get used to the words "Classic Christmas Album." Sony released a series of albums with this name from a number of different genres. Most of these seem to be re-releases of prior Christmas albums with a few extra tracks to justify the new packaging and name.
As far as R&B goes, I tend to prefer it when it's closer to blues or rock and dislike it when it feels like pop. The vast majority of songs on this album, unfortunately, are pop. They also drag: only one track is less than four minutes long, and six are over five.
That said, there are a handful of tracks on here I do like. "The Mistletoe Jam" is too much fun not to like, and the same goes for his adaptation of "My Favorite Things" and "I Listen to the Bells."
CeeLo's Magic Moment (CeeLo Green)
So. The second track on this album is "Baby It's Cold Out There," which is very difficult to consider out of context.
Setting that aside, the album is a mix different concepts. The first five songs - including the aforementioned "Baby It's Cold Outside" - are essentially classic songs without much modification. You already know my thoughts on that approach.
Next up, things get... weird. There's a Christmas version of "All I Need is Love" where CeeLo's joined by the Muppets. That is, to be fair, pretty awesome, though I'm betting Disney's now wishing they'd skipped this partnership.
Next up is a version of "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" where Straight No Chaser provides the music. It's not bad, but the version on their album was far better.
The remainder of the album is made up of pretty straightforward adaptations that don't deviate much from the classics. I like the version of "Run Rudolph Run," though.
There's also yet another version of "River." I don't think it's any better than the others I've picked up, but I am kind of fascinated how many versions of this song I'm coming across all of a sudden.
One Wish / The Holiday Album (Whitney Houston)
This is a Christmas pop album, and not a particularly interesting one. The focus is of course on Houston's singing, and there's no denying she was talented. But I feel like that talent is mainly being shown off instead of utilized to create something new.
She slows several songs down to better emphasize her voice, and the result is fairly boring. I also wasn't particularly fond of the song that lent the album its title: One Wish (For Christmas). Just more pop.
Fortunately, the second half of the disk picks up the pace a bit, starting with a medley of Deck the Halls/Silent Night. I still don't love it, but it's a good break from the tedium of slow pop.
The Classic Christmas Album (Willie Nelson)
Here's another "Classic Christmas Album." I'm not sure why I like this so much more than, say, Blake Shelton's holiday album, but I do. Apparently this is a reissue of an earlier album, Pretty Paper, which has been padded with a few extra tracks.
The album's good country Christmas music. Oddly, the first track, A Dreamer's Holiday, doesn't seem to be Christmas-themed, at all. It's still a good song, though.
My favorite track on the album is actually an instrumental piece, Christmas Blues. His version of Jingle Bells is close behind, though, as is Pretty Paper.
Even the more common tracks have enough of Nelson's style to stand out from other versions. All around, it's a good album, and I plan on listening to these tracks again.
Greatest Christmas Songs (Perry Como)
I'm kind of shocked how few of these songs I already had. Before adding this, I had six Perry Como songs, and only two repeat what's on here.
A yet I still feel like I've heard these a thousand times before. The differences between Como's versions and other singers contemporary with him are minute, and - as I've already stated over and over again - there are plenty of modern performers content to keep making nearly identical versions.
All that being said, there's nothing inherently wrong with Como's approach, and he deserves some credit for increasing the popularity of these tracks. Probably some of the blame, as well.
The Classic Christmas Album (Martina McBride)
This is one of those country albums that doesn't really sound all that much like country to me. There are certainly country elements, but they're fairly subtle. I don't really consider a good or bad thing - McBride's clearly singing a pop/country hybrid style here. She seems to do so pretty well, though it's hard to get excited for the same reason I find it hard to get excited for 80% of the holiday music I listen to: it's all the same.
These are, once again, relatively traditional interpretations of classic Christmas songs - Silver Bells, The Christmas Song, Winter Wonderland, and so on and so forth. Oh, in the bizarre department, she's had herself edited into a version of Blue Christmas with Elvis. I'm not entirely sure why she did that, but it's on the album. Same goes for the version of Baby It's Cold Outside with Dean Martin. I can't decide whether those qualify as homages or arrogance. Maybe both.
That album isn't actually bad, but I'm not especially interested in listening to it again anytime soon.
The Classic Christmas Album (Elvis Presley)
Oh, you've got to be kidding me: the second track is the same version of Blue Christmas created in a editing room with Martina McBride I just listened to. I guess that's what I get for picking up a bunch of albums released in the same series.
When I first looked at this album, I was surprised how many of these tracks I didn't already have. It turns out, I only had a handful of Elvis Christmas tracks available. This definitely pads that out.
The music is, well, Elvis. No surprises, obviously, other than the fact there are a few more fake duets/collaborations created long after Elvis's death through the magic of mixing.
At this point, I really don't have anything against Elvis's music, but I'm not a fan, either. It's decent, and it has certainly earned the right to be called classic. In addition, there are some less famous songs on here like "Holly Leaves and Christmas Trees" that are an interesting diversion from things like "White Christmas."
The Classic Christmas Album (Kenny G)
Kenny G puts the "smooth" in smooth jazz. But then he removes the "jazz". I have a hell of a time staying conscious while listening to this stuff - I find it extremely boring.
This is, obviously, another of those Sony "Classic Christmas" releases. I've already got four or five of these tracks from his album, Miracles, which I wasn't keen on, either.
This is the last of the "Classic Christmas Albums," at least for the near future. And thank God - I'm getting sick of these things.
Christmas Song (Mannheim Steamroller)
Mannheim Steamroller is a bizarre artist. I'm not really even clear what it is. Is this an artist? A group? My understanding after skimming Wikipedia is that it's somewhere in between: sort of a musician/producer who started making his own albums under the name then brought in other musicians, eventually replacing himself and creating multiple versions of the group.
Conceptually, they're music is intended as a mash-up of classical, jazz, and rock, though whether any of that describes them seems to vary from song to song. This album is particularly uneven, which actually felt like a kind of blessing here. I was ready to write this thing off as crap after the first five tracks, which were synth-heavy pieces with very little rock influence. It turned around after that: there were a handful of tracks I really like. In particular, they have a version of Frosty the Snowman that's transformed to the point it's barely recognizable. The result is extremely cool.
There are some other good tracks, but if you were ranking this by average quality, the album wouldn't fare that well. Of course, that's only annoying to me right now - I'm glad to have that version of Frosty, along with a few other tracks on here, and I'll add them to various playlists for the future.
A Christmas Festival (Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops)
You don't grow up in New England without hearing the Boston Pops Orchestra on the radio and TV every year. There's nothing particularly distinctive about their recordings as opposed to other orchestral Christmas music (at least as far as I know). They tend to do a lot of jazz and pop songs as opposed to classical, but that's hardly unique.
It's good classical music, and I am enjoying listening to it. That said, I suspect a lot of my enjoyment stems from nostalgia associated with the album's name - if I heard this without knowing who was playing, I don't think it would stand out from other orchestras.
Christmas (Michael Bublé)
More of the same, of course. This is a traditional Christmas album, an homage celebrating all those albums of yore by recreating the same holiday magic that's overflowing out of the bargain bins at Best Buy.
There are a few songs that deviate a bit; at least one in an interesting way. That's Blue Christmas, which has been re-imagined as a New Orleans jazz song. I like that track quite a bit.
The other song that's been changed is Santa Baby, but not in a particularly interesting way. More specifically, it's been adapted in the least interesting way possible, given that it's being sung by Michael Bublé. Or, to put it another way, he's not singing it in a romantic or sexualized manner: the main refrain is shifted to "Santa Buddy" (though the song title is left intact), there are other changes to remove any innuendo or hint of marriage, and the tone is gives the implication is they're pals. This is a cowardly approach, given the songs history and subject matter. If you're going to do a male-led version of this song, you owe to every female singer who's sung it over the years to leave in the sexuality of the piece. Otherwise, leave it alone.
Noel (Josh Groban)
I'm sure it's grossly unfair, but all I can think when listening to an album like this is that the singer's trying to show off.
It won't have a lot of replay value, but the song "I'll be Home for Christmas" is quite effective, thanks to the inclusion of recordings from service members overseas to their loved ones.
Over all, it's a decent enough album, but it doesn't sound all that distinctive to me.
Wrapped In Red (Kelly Clarkson)
I'd say 60% of this album is composed of generic pop music I find uninteresting. Let's set all of that aside and talk about the generic pop music on this album I like.
I'll start with 4 Carats, which plays like a modernization of Santa Baby. It's an extremely clever play on that tune. I also like her versions of My Favorite Things, Winter Song (Brandon's Song), and Just for Now.
Most of the other tracks fall in the usual pitfalls: retreads of old adaptations to demonstrate the singer's range and all that. But a handful of good tracks is more than I'd expected, so I'm pretty happy.
Home For Christmas (Susan Boyle)
This is, obviously, the Christmas album from Susan Boyle, who became internationally famous after appearing on Britain's Got Talent and demonstrating that everyone in the world is an asshole who judges singers on their appearance. Well, the world felt bad, everyone bought her album, and now she's a multimillionaire, so I guess we're all square.
The album is exactly like you'd expect. Susan Boyle didn't become famous by creating original music, and there's no point in her starting here. She's got a good singing voice, and she uses it reproduce classic tunes.
Oh, there's also a track where she sings a duet with Elvis. Is this just a normal thing now? I'm seeing several of these in my music this year.
Regardless, I've got little interest in more conventional Christmas music, so I'm moving on.
A Family Christmas (The Piano Guys)
The Piano Guys got famous on YouTube: you've probably seen a few of their music videos floating around even if you don't recognize the name. They typically play classical music with what I'd describe as rock or pop flourishes in slickly edited music videos. They're described as New Age sometimes, but I think that's a stretch.
The album is essentially Christmas piano and cello music (with some other instrumentation and a small amount of singing), but it's surprisingly distinct. There are a few tracks that boil down to relatively commonplace classical holiday music, but most have something to make them stand out.
The best track, hands down, is a Carol of the Bells/God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen mash-up performed with strings. They essentially merge the two songs rather than relying on a more conventional medley approach. Likewise, they integrate melody lines from several other Christmas songs in Angels We Have Heard on High.
Christmas In The Aire (Mannheim Steamroller)
Similar to the last Mannheim Steamroller album I listened to, this is a mixture of different takes on holiday music. Once again, there's are several synthesizer heavy tracks, most of which I don't care for. The exception is Los Peces en el Rio, which I think works well.
There are also two medieval-sounding tunes. No, that's not quite right: renfaire would be a better descriptor. I like these, though only one of them seems to have any legitimate Christmas connections.
There's good and bad stuff on here: I suspect I'll find a similar mix on other Mannheim Steamroller albums. I won't have to wait long to test that theory - the next few albums are from them, as well.
Christmas Extraordinaire (Mannheim Steamroller)
Pretty much the same as before. A number of tracks on this album appeared on a compilation I bought a year or two ago, and they tended to be the better ones (Faeries, in particular, is a standout here that I've already got; same goes for Fum Fum Fum).
At least I get a break from Mannheim Steamroller after this.
A Fresh Aire Christmas (Mannheim Steamroller)
Ha! You bought it, didn't you? You totally believed me when I said I'd wrapped this section. Not even close: I'm not even halfway through this block.
And... er... I'm starting to think grabbing all the free Mannheim Steamroller on Amazon Prime might have been a mistake.
Setting all that aside, the music is more or less exactly what I've come to expect. If there's a difference, it's that this one tends to lean towards the quieter holiday songs compared with the last few albums I listened to.
Christmas Symphony (Mannheim Steamroller)
Okay - this is at least different. This album has an orchestra redoing various arrangement from the group's history. Needless to say, that's a major step up from some of the overly synthesized tracks I've been sitting through. I noticed the difference immediately: the opening track is a version of Deck the Halls. I'm familiar with the group's take, but switching in an orchestra makes it pretty damn good.
The weaker songs on this album aren't exactly bad. A lot of Mannheim Steamroller just boils down to synthetic versions of Christmas classics, so switching out the keyboards for an orchestra just results in generic holiday music. The second track, Greensleeves, is a pretty obvious example of this. I'm sure there are subtle changes that identify it as Mannheim Steamroller's Greensleeves, but I certainly couldn't identify them.
In addition, the song I'd most expected to love, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, wound up falling short of Mannheim Steamroller's normal version. I'm not entirely sure why this is, but something about the arrangement just doesn't transition well to a full orchestra.
Overall, though, I like this a lot more than any of the other Mannheim Steamroller albums I've listened to.
Christmas 25th Anniversary Collection (Mannheim Steamroller)
This is, obviously, an anniversary collection pulling together some of Mannheim Steamroller's
The album isn't actually bad, but it's more of the same tracks I've been listening to from the last four albums, along with some from other Christmas recordings they've made. I honestly don't know whether any of these tracks is unique for me, or if they're all just duplicates. Nor do I have any indication of running a search and sorting through the results to figure it out.
I listened to it. I'm done. I'm moving on to the next album. Which is also from Mannheim Steamroller.
Mannheim Steamroller Christmas Symphony II (Mannheim Streamroller)
Oh, wait - this is another symphony album. Praise the Lord Santa on his icy throne!
My thoughts here are more or less identical to those from the last symphonic recording of this group's work, right down to the failure of one of their best songs to survive the transition. This time it's Carol of the Bells: like God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, this version just doesn't work at this scale. It loses the energy and winds up sounding simplistic.
Likewise, there are quite a few tracks where Mannheim Steamroller's influence is lost entirely, and we're left with relatively generic-sounding orchestral music. There's certainly nothing wrong with that, but it seems odd that they bothered recording it.
All and all, not a bad way to step away from Mannheim Steamroller, at least for a while. I think there's another album or two in this list somewhere, but it looks like I actually get a break for the time being.
Christmas Eve And Other Stories (Trans-Siberian Orchestra)
On paper, I feel like this should be my favorite band. Rock versions of classical Christmas music? That's what I'm ostensibly looking for. And I do like their music. I just don't really love it.
I find their approach a bit by-the-numbers, particularly when compared to bands that occasionally do a Christmas song or two. Put Trans-Siberian Orchestra against similar songs on Jethro Tull's Christmas album, and TSO just doesn't have the same impact.
That doesn't mean they aren't worth listening to. Their music can be a lot of fun - I really like A Mad Russian's Christmas, Good King Joy, and plenty of other songs on here. But - again - I don't love them.
The Christmas Attic (Trans-Siberian Orchestra)
More of the same, which isn't a bad thing. This is good Christmas rock music; so much better than most of Mannheim Steamroller it makes you wonder why anyone still listens to them. But, again, there's something that just doesn't feel right about the music.
It's like the difference between original songs and most remakes. This might not be fair, but I always feel like the performers aren't really trying when I listen to Trans-Siberian Orchestra. No matter how fast and loud they play, the result just doesn't sound energetic to me.
I feel bad complaining about music I enjoy (and that I'll listen to quite a bit this year). It's just... I feel like something's missing here.
Colonial Christmas (Barry Phillips & Friends)
For a classical Christmas album, this is actually pretty interesting. The gimmick is that the music is meant to reflect that played in the American colonies around the late 1700's. Most classical Christmas music is drawn from later or earlier, giving this album a different flavor. There are a handful of songs on here that are more or less identical to other interpretations, but there are at least as many I don't recognize at all. All things considered, it's a fun album.
Hot Jazz For A Cool Night: A Jazz Christmas (Various)
This is pretty straightforward: a nice collection containing Christmas songs played in a variety of different jazz styles. In keeping with the theme, slower jazz tunes edge out the fast-paced, but there are some of each.
I feel like I'd have to listen through this at least another two or three times before I could meaningfully choose favorite tracks. After just one time through, I was especially taken with Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas by Jim Hall and Toots Theilemans, though.
It's definitely a good choice for holiday music that sets a quiet, contemplative mood. It's a very good compilation.
Six String Santa (Joe Pass)
Another strong jazz album, though I wished it had fallen a few spots away from the one I just listened to. Tonally, it's very similar, though this one's all from a single artist.
Pass is a jazz guitarist, hence the title. I really like his approach to these songs. He adds riffs to transform classic Christmas songs into new creations with an entirely different flavor, all without losing their core. It's a neat effect that breathes some much needed life into old songs (and even more importantly, into those listening).
Hanukkah Swings (Kenny Ellis)
This is what it sounds like: a handful of traditional Hanukkah songs, along with some original works, done in swing or other jazz styles. This album is, in a word, awesome.
There's a lot of variety on here. In addition to several different styles of swing music, there's a spoken word comedy track, 'Twas the Night Before Hanukkah, as well as a song that needs no further description beyond the title, Hanu-calypso. The tracks are almost universally really good, a lot of fun, or both.
Good holiday swing music is surprisingly hard to come by, as are interesting takes on Hanukkah songs. This blends them together, and the results are fantastic. Definitely one of the top albums I'm listening to this year.
A Classic Soul Christmas (Various)
This is a compilation of holiday soul music from the 60's. It's got tracks from Clarence Carter, Booker T. & the M.G.'s, Otis Redding, Carla Thomas, and others. The first surprise I got was when I starting checking how many of these tracks were duplicates and I only found a few. I'd have sworn I had Carter's Back Door Santa, but all I had were remakes.
Some of these are songs I don't recall ever hearing before. Carla Thomas's "Gee Whiz, It's Christmas" is a great example: I'm not sure why this song died out without becoming a holiday staple.
The tracks from Booker T. & the M.G.'s are probably my favorites, though. They do instrumental versions of classic and traditional holiday songs that simply fantastic. The same can be said for King Curtis's "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve." I'm sick of most versions of that one, but his approach feels fresh.
A Christmas Album (California Guitar Trio)
With a few exceptions, this is essentially a classical Christmas album performed on guitar... which is actually quite a bit more interesting than classical Christmas music played by an orchestra. I like the sound of acoustic guitars, and the final product is distinct enough to let it stand apart from the countless other classical albums I've amassed.
The exceptions are towards the end of the album. There's a cool jazz version of Jingle Bells, a version of part of the score for Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (just added to our Netflix queue), and a version of Happy XMas (War is Over). These are all pretty good, though I find an acoustic instrumental version of Happy XMas doesn't add much to the original.
Overall, though, I'm very happy with this album. The last several albums, in fact, have felt like the Universe's apology for making me sit through all those Mannheim Steamroller albums in a row.
The Darkest Night of the Year (Over the Rhine)
You might not be able to judge a book, but when an album has a name like "The Darkest Night of the Year," you can be damn sure you're not going to be stuck listening to some obnoxiously cheerful holiday pop. The words "obnoxiously cheerful" are pretty much the antithesis of this album, by the way: this music is about as dark and sad as it gets.
So, yeah. I love it.
This opens with an instrumental version of "The First Noel" that's been twisted and warped into some disturbing. There's a sadness permeating the song - and pretty much every song after it - that gets under your skin and makes you shiver.
Wikipedia describes Over the Rhine as a folk band, which is... I don't know. Sure, why not? If this is folk, it's experimental folk. Some of the tracks remind me of Tori Amos, as well.
It's awesome music; really dark Christmas stuff. If that sounds wrong to you, you're probably reading the wrong blog.
The Meaning of Christmas (Fred Waring)
When the album's named "The Meaning of Christmas," it's never a good sign. It could have been much, much worse though: the fact it was more than twenty years old means that it at least entertained "meanings" of Christmas other than Jesus.
Based on the reviews at Amazon, this appears to be a re-release of a 70's album of the same name. A few tracks were pulled, though, but I'm really not complaining about it being too short. Most of the album, as presented, is a series of short choral arrangements of Christmas songs, cut down to a minute or two each. Between these, Waring offers a definition of Christmas corresponding with the tune.
The last track continues this trend by gathering together 17 minutes of songs about the birth of Jesus and telling the story around them. According to at least one review, the original album did something similar with the rest of the tracks, and they were simply broken out for the CD release.
In general, I find old Christmas recordings fairly interesting, though I wouldn't call this one of the better ones.
The Sing-Off: Harmonies For The Holidays (Various)
This album contains a collection of a cappella groups that competed on the final of the show, "The Sing-Off." In other news, apparently there's a show called "The Sing-Off" where a cappella groups compete. Obviously, I'm missing some context here. Fortunately, I really don't care.
The music is good, of course. The groups are talented and all that. However, for the most part, they're all singing classic versions of classic Christmas songs, which is about as interesting to me these days as watching a sealed can of paint not dry.
There are subtle alterations made to all the songs, of course, but there's very little that pushes the sound into original territory. The only track that I really liked was Street Corner Symphony's re-imagining of Auld Lang Syne: that was pretty neat.
Winter Tidings: An Appalachian Christmas (Al Petteway, Amy White)
It took me a little while to fully come around on this album, but I'm definitely a fan now. My initial hesitation was due to the genre. From the title, I was hoping for some more bluegrass, which is what I associate with the term "Appalachian." That's my mistake, though - while bluegrass is connected, Appalachian music can be more diverse.
If I were gauging someone's potential interest in this, I'd just ask if they liked Celtic music: this album is almost indistinguishable (a minute and a half on Wikipedia provides some insight into the similar sounds: the genres are definitely related, and these artists perform Celtic, as well).
The music is beautiful, and it deserves a place beside the great Christmas string albums. There are no shortage of Celtic and folk Christmas albums, but - in my humble opinion - this is one of the better ones.
Christmas With Buck Owens And His Buckaroos (Buck Owens & His Buckaroos)
Kind of a fun album actually, this is a country album originally released in 1962. It's sort of a jumble of country, rock, and comedy: I don't get the impression that Owens took himself too seriously.
It's not hard to imagine this music getting tedious if you heard it often, but it's so different from 95% of the holiday songs I listen to, it makes for a nice diversion. My favorite song here is the eternally versatile Jingle Bells, which has more rock than country. I also kind of enjoyed Santa Looks a lot Like Daddy, a song I can only assume is as overplayed as I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus is here in a parallel Universe.
Snowfall - The Tony Bennett Christmas Album (Tony Bennett)
Yet another classic Christmas album. Like most of them, this isn't bad: it's just not all that distinctive. Tony Bennett's voice is certainly recognizable, but it's in the same vein as a dozen other singers from his generation and earlier. Stylistically, his arrangements of the songs are even closer.
That's all by design, of course - it always is. And - at this point - I've listened to so much Christmas music this year, I'm past the point of being bothered by the repetition. That doesn't mean I've got much interest in hearing this again this year, though.
Christmas Like This (Ayiesha Woods)
This is a pretty solid Christmas album, overall. Woods uses a variety of different styles and genres. Some, like O Holy Night, are relatively generic pop versions, but there are at least as many that deviate in more interesting directions. From a Rastafarian take on Joy to the World to an extremely funky re-imagined Rudolph, she certainly doesn't seem to feel confined to traditional approaches.
That Rudolph track's my favorite, by the way. It is FANTASTIC.
Continuing a trend I've noticed, Ayiesha Woods's album is classified as Christian music (based on the artist, I'm sure: this doesn't have any more religious songs than the average holiday album). It's been striking to me to discover many Christian musicians have been more willing to experiment with holiday classics when compared to secular performers. As someone who has dismissed Christian music on principle for years, it's a fascinating discovery.
I don't love every track on this album, but more than half are songs I want to hear again. All in all, this is very good. My biggest complaint is that the album's too short: it's only about a half hour total. Give how good it is, I'd have gladly listened to a lot more.
Ancient Noëls (Maggie Sansone & Ensemble Galilei)
Sansone is a hammered dulcimer player, which should be a strong tip-off that this isn't your usual classical Christmas music. The selling point here is that these are old - in some cases very old - Christmas hymns and songs being done in the style of the era they're from. In other words, authentic Renaissance and medieval tunes.
If you want to know whether these are remotely period accurate, go find an expert. At the very least, most of them deliver the sound you associate with old European music. Which, for my uneducated purposes, is just fine.
It's nice, fun music. Plus, I've got a playlist called "It's a Renfaire Christmas" where I dump stuff like this. It's a pretty good playlist, and this should make it better.
Christmas (Mannheim Streamroller)
More Mannheim Steamroller. Because far too much wasn't enough. How was it? Well, it was exactly like the other albums I listened to. Which is probably because most of these albums are compilations. By now, I'm pretty sure I've got two, three, even four different versions of some of these songs. Some are still good. Some are still bad. None of them feel appreciably different.
And the best part: this still isn't the last of these albums. Oh, no: I just checked, and there's one more to go. That'll have to wait, though: mercifully, it's not the next album on my list.
We Three Kings (The Reverend Horton Heat)
The first time I ever heard the Reverend Horton Heat was on an episode of Conan back in the mid to late 90's. I was fascinated, both by the music and the performance, which included some pretty impressive choreography for a three-person band.
Their Christmas album is quite good. There are at least three tracks on here that are amazing, and almost all the rest are at least strong. They're version of Santa Claus is Coming to Town incorporates the Adam West Batman theme in a way that works astonishingly well. The title track, We Three Kings, is sort of psychedelic version that's likewise fantastic. And they re-invent What Child is This into something that sounds like it belongs on the soundtrack of a Sergio Leone movie. That's always a good sign.
There are two tracks that I find a little odd: both Silver Bells and Pretty Paper are mostly unchanged, compared to the other songs on the album. It's an odd choice, and I'm not entirely sure if they're intended as parodies or if they just thought it would fun to use a classical arrangement. They're both fun tracks, but I'm certainly not smitten by them. Fortunately, there's the rest of this amazing album.
Let it Snow (New York Voices)
New York Voices is a vocal group with changing membership. The album is a solid collection of classic Christmas tunes, with all that entails. It's certainly not a bad album, if that's what you're looking for. If you've read this far, you already know it's not my cup of Christmas tea, mainly because I'm currently drowning in a lake of the same tea. But, for what it's worth, this one has got a fun energy to it, and it does a good job of capturing the feel of a classic Christmas album.
In addition, there are a few tracks that aren't overly common. Including a version of Holiday for Strings required some thinking outside the box, and it's a nice addition.
Christmas Gumbo (Various)
The description says the songs on this compilation are "Cajun-flavored", which I'm assuming just means the artists are from Louisiana or something. There's not a lot of consistency in sound, tone, or genre. Of course, this isn't necessarily a bad thing.
On Santa's Way Home, by Marc Broussard, is a great funk/rock song, as is Houseman's Pimp My Sleigh. I also like Beausoleil's heavily Cajun-sounding Papa St Nick and Wayne Toups's blues/rock song, Louisiana Santa. Lastly, Ingrid Lucia does a fantastic version of Zat You, Santa Claus.
There are also a handful of pop songs, but even these are pretty well done. All in all, this is a great album.
Christmasville (Mannheim Steamroller)
Hey. Wait a minute. I don't recognize these tracks. It's a goddamn Christmas miracle! Okay - here's what I'm getting from Wikipedia. It looks like this was produced for Universal Studios for Grinchmas. I have no clue what that is, nor do I care enough to research it right now.
This came out in 2008, a year before their 25th Anniversary Collection (not be confused with any of their other goddamn collections of Christmas music). I'm guessing they decided it would be too soon to dump a bunch of those tracks onto a compilation (or maybe there were rights issues - who the hell knows?).
Due to the Grinchmas thing, it's no surprise there are a few Grinch songs on here. I like their Welcome Christmas, despite the fact it doesn't deviate all that much from its source material. Their spin on "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" is all right, but there are plenty of better covers of this song out there. There's a "reprised" version of Welcome Christmas, as well which is half traditional and half rock (split right down the middle, in fact).
There's some incredibly bizarre stuff on here, too. Humbugs is more or less beyond description, and The Fruitcake Song is pretty strange, too. That's a good thing, by the way - I wish more of Mannheim Steamroller involved experimentation.
Sadly, there are also a number of slow pop and/or new age songs on here that are much less interesting, but that's to be expected. I'm just glad there were some fun tracks on here, as well.
Holidaydream: Sounds of the Holidays Vol. One (The Polyphonic Spree)
Wikipedia calls The Polyphonic Spree a "choral rock band." Based on this album, I might have described them as Sesame Street channeled through The Beatles. Mostly in a good way, though.
This absolutely meets my criteria for putting an original spin on classic holiday tunes. They completely rework every song in their own style, until the result is virtually unrecognizable, at least on some tracks.
It's a strange, fun album, although it gets a little overwhelming.
A Twismas Story (Conway Twitty)
What in holy hell am I listening to? The cover image advertises that it's sung "with Twitty Bird and their little friends," and the picture of the cartoon birds look so much like Tweety bird, I honestly started wondering if it was licensed.
It isn't. As far as I can tell, "Twitty Bird" is a play on Conway Twitty's name and Tweety Bird. If there's a reason Warner Bros. didn't sue the producer's ass off, I can't imagine what it is.
The album is comprised of a series of introductions by Conway Twitty, followed by him singing Christmas songs with "Twitty Bird," a cartoonish voice which is about as mismatched to Conway Twitty country vocals as you can possibly be before legal action is taken.
I should probably mention that, according to multiple reviewers on the Amazon page, the cartoon characters' voices were re-recorded when it was released to CD. I'm not sure why they bothered. Releasing this on CD, I mean.
Most of the songs are classics you know, but they also make a point of butchering some original music, such as "Happy, the Christmas Clown" about the clown who wraps all of Santa's gifts. If I spent hours smashing my head into a brick wall then tried to come up with lyrics as idiotic as the ones in that song, I'm fairly certain I still couldn't do it.
It's pretty painful. It doesn't help that the tracks were meant to string together seamlessly, but there's a second or two added to the end of each section that makes the whole thing even more intolerable. The intros start at the end of the tracks, so the breaks are incredibly intrusive.
So, ultimately, this is a poorly conceived album that was made worse when it was re-released.
Punk Rawk Christmas (MxPx)
I've got a handful of MxPx tracks from compilations, but this is the first full-length album I've listened to. Before I get to my thoughts, I want to take a minute and talk about the band, mainly because I just found myself caught following a tangent trying to figure out what exactly their story was.
The most useful information I found was from this article. It seems like they were a high school punk band comprised of Christians who got pulled into the Christian music scene, didn't fit in, then broke off. At this point, it sounds ambiguous whether they still even consider themselves Christians, but that's not really relevant.
For a Christmas album ostensibly put out by a Christian band, it's striking that they don't seem interested in singing about Jesus. I didn't notice a single reference on the entire album, though I could easily have missed a few. On the other side, for a punk album, there wasn't really any mention of sex or drugs.
As far as I can tell, that sums up the band: they are (or at least were) Christian musicians who weren't trying to convert or preach on stage, but their content reflects their background. In other words, they're a G-rated punk band.
I don't have any problem with that. However, the music feels a little weak. There are a handful of strong tracks, like the title song (which I already owned) and the one adaptation they did, Auld Lang Syne. But overall the music wasn't particularly interesting. They sound a lot like a high school punk band, to be honest: no better or worse than the ones my friends played with back in the 90's.
The Christmas Shoes (Newsong)
I'm a little disappointed. This isn't nearly as abysmal as I'd hoped. I mean, sure, it's bad. It's horrible. But it's not epically bad.
More than half of the album is comprised of covers of classic Christmas songs, and - to be fair - they butcher them. But for the most part, they do so in a synth-pop style, rather than the cheesy country style of the title song. Besides, no one's listening to this album for covers: they're looking for the title song.
If you've never heard Christmas Shoes, it's widely considered the worst holiday song ever recorded. I'm not sure I'd go that far, but it certainly belongs on the short list. Personally, I was personally hoping for a whole album in that template.
That's not to say there are no other hilariously manipulative songs about Jesus and sad people on Christmas. The 80's pop sound of Light Your World isn't quite as comically melodramatic as Christmas Shoes, but it comes closer than you might think. I wish they'd produced a full of album of this pablum.
This is just boring. Ultimately, the album sucks, but it's far better than Go Fish!'s Christmas offering.
Oh, before I forget. We're obligated to link to this video in every article discussing the Christmas Shoes.
A Dog's Christmas (The Barking Dogs)
For those of you who don't remember the days when these were sold at every drug store in the country, the "artist's" name is 100% literal. Sort of.
This is an album of dogs barking over synthetic holiday music. Which means, of course, it's actually a synthesizer (or equivalent program) where the notes are replaced with matching dog barks. No clue who actually played this, but I suspect they're just as happy remaining anonymous.
While the premise stopped being funny long before it started, I can't get myself irritated over this. Look, I just sat through Newsong's Christmas album: dogs barking are pretty much neutral right now.
A Twisted Christmas (Twisted Sister)
This album seems to have been released about eight years ago, which is quite a long time after the heyday of Twisted Sister. I feel like that's reflected in the music. While it's fun and energetic, it feels oddly polished for a metal band. Likewise, it doesn't feel at all subversive, despite the premise. This is essentially a novelty album for fans of the band.
Again, it's certainly fun. I particularly like their versions of White Christmas.and Let it Snow. But even these don't come close to competing with the Christopher Lee metal Christmas album that came out a few years ago as a half joke, nor can anything on here deliver the innovation of Leah's short Celtic Metal Christmas album I wrote about earlier in this article.
Still, I'll definitely listen to some of these tracks again: you can never get enough Metal Christmas music. Well, I can't.
Okay. I think... wow. I'm done for now. That was exhausting. In case you were wondering, it took me a little less than three weeks to listen through all those albums. I assume it took slightly less for those of you who are still here to read through my synopses.
I'll probably grab some more music as the season progresses, but I think this is a good start to 2014.