Musical Interlude, Part 2

I'm continuing my trek through my new holiday albums, one-by-one. So far, it's been pretty mixed. On to round two!

Album: The Christmas Angel - A Family Story
Artist: Mannheim Steamroller (narrated by Chip Davis and Olivia Newton-John)

I've been meaning to pick up some Mannheim Steamroller for a while - mainly, I felt obliged given the band's success - but I haven't been willing to drop any real money on the acquisition. Well, I came across a couple CD's for dirt cheap, so I picked them up.

This particular album basically consists of short bits of narration spoken over synthetic music. Imagine a picture book, but instead of images you get really boring music: that'll give you some idea. There are a few that don't suck (I kind of like "Messengers of Christmas"), but most are pretty awful.

The story tying this together isn't any better. Basically, it's about a Christmas angel who gets kidnapped by a monster (or wizard or something - it wasn't entirely clear), then rescued by a woman and some living toys. Setting aside that it's bone thin and idiotic, I don't even think it works as a "family story:" while there's certainly nothing blatant, the capture and imprisonment of the angel is certainly constructed to imply rape (for example: "He pounced on the angel and held her arms tight/ Then he spread his dark cloak and disappeared in the night").

So, ultimately, I don't think this has much value to anyone for any reason. Hopefully, the next Mannheim Steamroller album will be better, because that's next on my list.

Album: Christmas Celebration
Artist: Mannheim Steamroller

Christmas Celebration is a compilation of Mannheim Steamroller's holiday music. I was all set to dismiss this as a mix of over-produced versions of classical Christmas pieces and crappy synth-pop tunes for the first half of the album, but there were actually a handful of decent tunes in the second half. Not enough to redeem the album, but plenty to justify the dollar I spent on this thing.

Overall, I can't help but compare Mannheim Steamroller to the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, which I'd much rather be listening to. Granted, Steamroller was first, but most of their music just doesn't feel all that distinctive.

Album: Christmas Classics
Artist: Various

This is a collection of stars doing classic Christmas songs. I know I've already got some of these; others are new to my collection. Most of the songs are pretty straightforward, which kind of defeats the point in my opinion. I don't really care that Moody Blues is singing "What Child is This" or Boys II Men includes a version of "Silent Night" if they're just doing generic renditions.

Album: Christmas in the King's Court: Celtic Harp and Pan Flute
Artist: Ann Heymann and Robert Windenhill

Yet another clearanced CD. This one seems to be divided into two sections: one featuring harp (Heymann)  and the other for Windenhill's pan flute. The harp section is far better: it's very pretty, though I've got much prettier. Still, it's good background music for the holidays. The pan flute tracks are less impressive: way too much use of synthesized music for their own good. On top of that, pan flutes are far cooler in person than on a recording.

Album: The Christmas Song
Artist: Nat King Cole

I'm not a big fan of Nat King Cole's Christmas music: overall, I find it kind of boring to listen to. Still, you can't inject yourself full of Christmas cheer without the classics.

Album: Asylum Street Spankers
Artist: A Christmas Spanking

I had never heard of this before, but - like so many other Christmas material I find on clearance - I picked this up without worrying about the consequences. I wasn't entirely sure what to expect from a band called the "Asylum Street Spankers", but I thought the odds were better than not it was going to hurt.

When I actually listened to the album, I was extremely - and pleasantly - surprised. Turns out, this is a really cool blues/jazz/country/folk band performing some really innovative and beautiful holiday tunes.

What I assumed was an act of masochism wound up one of my favorite holiday albums: this is fantastic stuff. I highly recommend you at least listen to some of the samples.

Album: Christmas to Elvis from the Jordanaires
Artist:  The Jordanaires

This is basically a tribute album by musicians who had worked with Elvis. It's a decent album, all told. I'm not a huge fan of Elvis (I've never really liked his voice), but I'm finding I kind of like his arrangements without him.