Arts & Life
Canstar Community News
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This article was published 17/12/2009 (3941 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
SILVER bells, sleigh bells and jingle bells are ringing -- can you hear them?
If not, there are plenty of new holiday albums filled with songs about things that go ring in the night to choose from this year, with everybody from classical pop star Andrea Bocelli to Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford spreading their versions of goodwill towards everyone and wishing for joy to the world.
With so many artists and labels hoping you'll part with your holiday bucks to make them part of your tree-trimming soundtrack, the jolly elves at the Winnipeg Free Press have listened to every new seasonal release we received to ensure your no-so-silent nights are filled with only the brightest stars and sweetest jingles.
The ratings are from one to five snowflakes, with one snowflake representing a big lump of coal and five meaning peace on Earth, which really would be the best present ever.
Discs were reviewed by Wendy Burke, Beverley Lunney, Ashley Prest, Kevin Prokosh, Paul Samyn, Rob Williams and Jill Wilson.
Have a musical Christmas, everyone.
The offering: All--female Canuck choralists slip some silky vocals into your Christmas stocking with their flutey versions of traditional and pop seasonal songs.
Classic chestnuts: The popular tunes take on a department-store muzak feel, matching the cover photo of a very cheeky retro-style store window with the women dressed as mannequins. Winter Wonderland and Sleigh Ride just don't suit these singers. And the Hawaiian-style slide guitar (yikes!) is just wrong, wrong, wrong on Stille Nacht (Silent Night).
New jingles: Tchaikovsky's Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy is turned into a dainty vocal Terpsichore. Angels We Have Heard on High; O Come, O Come Emmanuel and Oh Holy Night are a wee bit faster than traditionally performed, which lifts them and brings out the joy of the lyrics. Subtle orchestral arrangements, gorgeous harmonies and beautiful descants add layers. 3 stars (WB)
The offering: Meatwad, Master Shake, Frylock and Carl, the animated stars of Aqua Teen Hunger Force, skip the nice and go for the naughty, changing the words and meanings of songs to become Twas the Night Before Jesus, Frosty the Red-Nosed Snowman, The Little Drum Machine Boy and O Holy Tonight, to cite a few examples. Fans of the show will get it, but the majority probably won't.
Classic chestnuts: Almost all, but none, since each number becomes a comedy skit. You might never hear I'll Be Home for Christmas the same way after Carl describes what he'll be doing at home on Dec. 25.
New jingles: Roots siren Neko Case joins Meatwad for the twangy Santa Left a Booger in My Stocking. Bet you didn't know Santa's elves make his snot. 3 stars (RW)
The offering: Remember 2008's American Idol winner? If not, then you probably won't remember baby-faced runner-up David Archuleta, who lends his delicate tenor to 13 syrupy, forgettable tracks.
Classic chestnuts: Joy to the World, O Come All Ye Faithful, O Holy Night, I'll Be Home for Christmas.
New jingles: Archuleta co-writes the piano-based ballad Melodies of Christmas about how great other Christmas songs are. This isn't one of them. 1 stars (RW)
The offering: Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli teams up with producer David Foster and shares the mic with Natalie Cole, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Mary J. Blige, Reba McEntire and the Muppets.
Classic chestnuts: Bocelli delivers tasteful, orchestral and operatic versions of White Christmas, O Tannenbaum, Silent Night, What Child is This (with Blige), but is less successful on more upbeat fare like Santa Claus is Coming to Town and Jingle Bells, the latter which is turned into a downbeat ballad until the Muppets join in.
New jingles: I Believe, written by Eric Levine, was supposedly a favourite of Pope John Paul II, so it's not quite new, but not regular fare. 3 stars (RW)
The offering: Never mind Luciano Pavarotti, Plácido Domingo and the other guy, whatever his name was. We've got our own tenors, eh, and they carol in English with just a wee bit of Italian thrown in to protect their operatic cred. Added bonus: fellow Canuck songstress Sarah McLachlan joins them on Wintersong.
Classic chestnuts: Silent Night, O Holy Night, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, O Come O Come Emmanuel and Hallelujah, which you should have keyed up and ready to play when Canada wins gold at the World Junior Hockey championships.
New jingles: By now Huron Carol is pretty much standard festive fare in these parts. But the Tenors' take on this favourite is enough to bring a tear to Tom Jackson's eye. 4 stars (PS)
The offering: Ever since Irving Berlin penned White Christmas, Jewish performers have seemingly been drawn to sing about a season they're technically excluded from. Diamond joins the ranks of Barbra Streisand, Barry Manilow, Carly Simon and Bob Dylan with this mostly secular collection of carols, most adapted to be slightly more swingin' than the average rendition. (Skip his painful version of Adam Sandler's The Chanukah Song. Oy.)
Classic chestnuts: The aforementioned White Christmas, Jingle Bell Rock and Deck the Halls, as well as an ill-advised Amazing Grace, for which his voice is too ragged.
New jingles: Cherry Cherry Christmas is a cheeky, cheesy but enjoyable track that gives shouts out to past Diamond hits. 3 stars (JW)
The offering: The Bizarro Album of the Season award goes to Bob Dylan, whose aloof, nasal voice takes on 15 popular favourites for charity. It works better than it should, although his croak makes some of the songs sound more creepy than festive.
Classic chestnuts: Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, I'll Be Home for Christmas and Silver Bells are delivered straight with some backing vocals for added effect. He sings the first verse of O Come All Ye Faithful in Latin, and turns Must Be Santa -- the album's highlight -- into a rousing barrelhouse polka.
New jingles: None, but the Hawaiian-flavoured Christmas Island isn't covered by many artists. 3 stars (RW)
The offering: On this six-song EP, subtitled A Collection of Traditional Christmas Carols, the former Winkler resident, who now calls London, England, home, returns to music after a 10-year layoff.
Classic chestnuts: Funk's dulcet tones anchor Away in a Manger, The First Noel, Silent Night and O Come O Come Emmanuel.
New jingles: None. 3 stars (RW)
The offering: Toronto old-time trio Good Lovelies -- Caroline Brooks, Kerri Ough and Sue Passmore -- recall the Andrew Sisters with their sweet three-part harmonies, and throw in some bluegrass to get the party going.
Classic chestnuts: A finger-snapping, swinging version of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, bluegrass pickin' Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree and a rootsy version of Blue Christmas.
New jingles: Hurry Home, Maybe This Time and Another Year to Wait. 3 1/2 stars (RW)
The offering: Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford (really!) puts a metal spin on the season, lending his pipes to a surprisingly cohesive and respectful set of standards and new songs filled with more guitar solos than all the albums on this list combined. Disappointingly, there's no song called Screaming for Santa. Guaranteed to be Nigel Tufnel's favourite holiday album.
Classic chestnuts: We Three Kings gets a heavy makeover, O Come O Come Emanuel is a mid-tempo riff fest and O Holy Night is a straight-up piano ballad until the guitars kick in.
New jingles: Get Into the Spirit is a musical cousin to Freewheel Burning, Christmas for Everyone is Halford at his poppiest (and happiest) and I Don't Care is a bluesy tale of trying to make it home for Christmas. 3 1/2 stars (RW)
The offering: Lush and jazzy arrangements from the adult contemporary superstar backed by the Matt Herkowitz and Randy Kerber trios.
Classic chestnuts: Manilow sings harmony with himself on Silver Bells, turns Jingle Bells and Winter Wonderland into a bouncy swing numbers and gets sentimental on Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas and Christmas Time is Here.
New jingles: None, but it's not often you hear Frank Sinatra's Violets for Your Furs, Toyland, from Victor Herbert's operetta Babes in Toyland, and Irving Berlin's Count Your Blessings on holiday albums. 3 stars (RW)
The offering: Italy's DJ Spankox takes 10 tracks from Elvis Presley's famous 1957 Christmas album and gives them the remix treatment, adding in extra beats, orchestration and other production tricks. Unnecessary.
Classic chestnuts: Presley's album is a holiday staple, so they are all classics, but this time White Christmas is a dance number, Blue Christmas is slightly sped up and backed by a new beat and Silent Night is given a boogie makeover.
New jingles: Everything is reworked, some songs slightly, like O Little Town of Bethlehem, and others radically. 2 stars (RW)
The offering: A compilation of Christmas classics belted out by Johnny Reid in his fabulous gravelly voice. In the liner notes Reid writes that he recorded this disc at the request of his son and chose songs that are his favourites.
Classic chestnuts: Silent Night, I'll Be Home for Christmas, a rockabilly-style Jingle Bell Rock, a stirring version of Waiting For Christmas To Come and some down-home fun with Run Run Rudolph.
New jingles: None, but Reid's version of Little Drummer Boy, a joyous rendition with a Celtic influence, is a gift. 4 stars (AP)
The offering: Not a Christmas album per se, this is Sting in full-on Ye Olde Troubadour mode on a collection of traditional British ballads and carols focused on the winter season. It's a tasteful, pleasant album with medieval flair -- hurdy-gurdy, melodeon and lute (duh) prevail, with Sting resorting to a mildly amusing, if historically accurate, overly enunciative fashion of singing.
Classic chestnuts: With songs dating back centuries, these are all mostly chestnuts, if not classic ones. But listeners will find familiar fare in the form of a reworking of Gabriel's Message, which appeared on A Very Special Christmas Album back in the '80s.
New jingles: Sting's dreary The Hounds of Winter and Lullaby for an Anxious Child likely won't be performed 500 years from now. 3 stars (JW)
The offering: A collection of half original tracks with too few traditional ditties mixed in. You'd need to be sweet on Sugarland to bother with this disc. A booklet with the lyrics to the original tunes is included in case you want to sing along with Jennifer Nettles' twang.
Classic chestnuts: Winter Wonderland, a stirring rendition of O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, a sweet sounding Silent Night and a truly annoying version of Holly Jolly Christmas, sung by Kristian Bush (Sugarland's other half).
New jingles: There are five, but the highlights are City of Silver Dreams, a dreamy tune about New York at Christmastime, and Maybe Baby (New Year's Day), a countrified ditty about finding lost love at the most wonderful time of the year. 2 stars (AP)
The offering: The latest instalment of the Canuck Christmas series rounds up the usual suspects from the frozen north -- Anne Murray, Loreena McKennitt and Diana Krall -- singing holiday classics heard at many yuletides. It's the younger singers such as Serena Ryder, Suzie McNeil, Ron Sexsmith and Justin Hines who light up this disc with bracing festive cheer.
Classic chestnuts: River, Winter Wonderland, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen and Silent Night.
New jingles: Calling to Say, Maybe This Christmas and Bring the Boys Home (holiday remix). 4 stars (KP)
The offering: Imagine Christmas on Hannah Montana, High School Musical and American Idol. Gather Miley Cyrus, Vanessa Hudgens and Carrie Underwood round the fireplace. Pour some eggnog. Enjoy.
Classic chestnuts: Winter Wonderland, Jingle Bell Rock, Hark! The Herald Angels Sing and Silent Night.
New jingles: There ain't nothing new here, but then again there wasn't anything new when the Ray Conniff singers turned these holiday ditties into hit records for your grandparents. They're classics, just a little more up-tempo. Added bonus: purchasing this CD helps raise money for Special Olympics. 3 1/2 stars (PS)
The offering: These days he's known to the kids as a convicted murderer, but in the 1960s Phil Spector was one of the greatest producers in the business known for his famous "wall of sound." This disc is a digitally remastered re-release of the 1963 mono album featuring the Ronettes, the Crystals, Darlene Love and Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans.
Classic chestnuts: Iconic versions of Sleigh Ride, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, Marshmallow World, Winter Wonderland. These are the songs you hear in the malls and in the movies.
New jingles: It's a part of the Christmas canon now, but Spector and Brill Building writers Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich composed Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) specifically for the album. 5 stars (RW)
The offering: A bizarre compilation of both classic and original tracks that lures you in with a few well-known artists, then tricks you into listening to some you've never heard of.
Classic chestnuts: Highlights include Diana Krall's Let It Snow, an incredible rendition of O Holy Night by the Canadian Tenors, Faith Hill's exuberant Joy to the World and the most upbeat, rocking version of Blue Christmas to date, performed by Collective Soul.
New jingles: Prepare to be offended by some truly unfestive metaphors used in Lady Gaga's Christmas Tree and Third Eye Blind's One of Those Christmas Days, involving trees, fireplaces, candy canes and even melted snow. The only bright light in a sea of unbearable original tunes is the Spice Girls bouncy dance track, Christmas Wrapping. 3 stars (BL)
The offering: Motown has emptied the vaults with a two-disc set featuring over 50 vintage holiday favourites from the label's stable -- or should that be manger at this time of year? -- of stars, including the Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder, the Four Tops, Marvin Gaye, the Commodores and the Supremes.
Classic chestnuts: Michael Jackson and his brothers lead off with a rousing Santa Claus is Coming to Town and highlights include Stevie Wonder's Ave Maria, Silver Bells by the Supremes and Smokey Robinson partnering with the Temps on The Christmas Song.
New jingles: Xmas Twist, Purple Snowflakes, Christmas in the City and Give Love on Christmas Day are not so much new as rarely heard oldies that Motown is re-gifting. 3 stars (KP)
The offering: Local jazz outfit the Bob Watts Trio -- drummer Bob Watts, bassist Bob (Moose) Jackson and pianist Bert Johnson -- cover 10 holiday favourites with all proceeds from CD sales donated to the Holy Trinity Downtown Mission Ministry.
Classic chestnuts: The trio offers Vince Guaraldi-esque takes on God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, O Christmas Tree Good King Wenceslas and What Child is This. Someone animating a new holiday special? The Bob Watts Trio has your soundtrack.
New jingles: None. 3 stars (RW)
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