Wednesday, December 30, 2009

christmas money: endless possibilities?

Every year I get Christmas money from my Papaw, and occasionally from other folks as well.  And I always intend to pick out something and buy it specifically as my present from Papaw.  It almost never works out that way.  A few years ago, I specifically bought myself two pairs of shoes, but I can't think of an instance before or since that I actually spent my Christmas money on something memorable.  I usually end up breaking the $50 bill on gas or Kroger or something equally boring, and once it's broken, it's gone, and I never get around to doing anything self-indulgent with it--which, in the grand scheme of my self-indulgent life, is probably for the best.

This year, in addition to the gifted money I received from Papaw and an aunt and uncle, I've got a $75 amazon gift card burning a hole in my inbox.  I've mentioned this before, though at that time, I was leaning towards spending it on an external hard-drive.  Now that I've got right at $150 to frivolously spend and that I've gone through another holiday season dealing with my irritatingly unreliable camera, I'm leaning much more towards a digital camera that is less than five years old and hasn't spent a day and a night in my dad's recliner.
My plan is to go to a real-live store and look at some and handle them before ordering one online, but tonight I started to look around on amazon and found one that I hope is going to live up to my expectations when I see it in person.  The Nikon Coolpix L20 has gotten mostly good customer reviews on amazon.  It's got twice the megapixels as my old camera (but really pretty much anything does at this point), and it's red.  Plus the viewing screen on the back is huge, which is what I'm most excited about.  And here's the best part:  right now on amazon it's on sale for $79.  Of course, once I get a memory card and battery charger and such, it'll cost me a bit more than that.  Well, actually it's not costing me anything, but I still feel a responsibility to get a good deal.

So that's the plan for my Christmas money this year.  What about you, imaginary reader?  Do you get cold, hard cash for a holiday gift?  Do you earmark for a specific indulgence?  Or do you find that it's spent on the humdrum and mundane?  Or if you don't have holiday cash of your own to spend, let's play pretend.  If you had $150 to spend, mostly guilt-free, on yourself, what would you buy?

Saturday, December 26, 2009

meet my christmas music: the digital collection

In July 2008, my car radio/cd player stopped working.  Later that week someone would tell me that it was a precursor to alternator trouble.  I would ignore that advice and the problem until my car would no longer permit me to ignore it about a month later.  In spite of being pretty frustrated with spending money on a new alternator, I was at least pleased with the idea that my radio would work again.  But it didn't, which was frustrating, to say the least.  I finally settled on a workable solution.  I began to listen to my mp3 player on a small battery-powered speaker.  It wasn't the worst solution ever.

So when Christmas rolled around, I was in the mood for some new Christmas music, but buying a cd wasn't going to be the simple solution that it had once been.  Plus I was kind of on a mission to own versions of a couple specific songs, and I went on a downloading mission.  After some searching and decisions, I ended up dowloading an entire album Family Christmas by Acappella, plus a couple from some other artists. Family Christmas is a combination of three different Christmas albums the Acappella Company has put out over the years plus a few new songs.  So it's got recognizable voices from Acappellas past as well as some tracks with kids and women and other folks than the four-man groupings that have been called Acappella. 
And because there are twenty-three songs to talk about here and there are several songs I've talked about multiple times already and because it's my blog and I make the rules, I'm only going to talk about the ones I want to talk about. (I'm also not going to apologize for ridiculous run-on sentences because of that aforementioned rule-making thing.)

Here's how the album has worked out for me:
1.  "Mary, Did You Know?" The first few times I heard this song (which I think was on country radio in the mid-90s), I made fun of it mercilessly.  I think some of that had to do with the particular version.  But sometime since then, I have really come to enjoy this song and its message.  This is a great version.

2.  "Away in a Manger"Gary Moyers.  That's all I want to say.  Thank you.

3.  "A Tiny Child"  I have no evidence that I'd heard this song before this album, but this exact version is so familiar that I feel I must have heard it sometime.  Perhaps I heard it live at one of the many Acappella concerts I've been to in my time.  It's Duane Adams singing lead, so it's from the right era for that to have happened, but I can't back that up.  Anyway, I love it.  That's the point I'm trying to make.

4.  "The First Noel"

5.  "Noel" Kids singing, which is risky, for me, but I like this one.

6.  "Silent Night" Wayburn Dean singing this, I'm pretty sure, but even that's not enough to completely redeem this mediocre song.

7.  "Joy to the World" This song is faster and with more vocal percussion than I would have expected, but I'll give it a thumbs-up anyway.

8.  "There Were Angels"  I don't know the origin of this one, but it sounds like it would only ever have been an Acappella song.  I like it.  It's either Wayburn again, or I just think everyone sounds like Wayburn.

9.  "O Come, O Come Emmanuel"  I don't like to pick favorites, but Duane Adams is definitely up there.  So's this song.  Brilliant combination.  Lovely.  Special.

10.  "Christmas Medley" Wordless renditions of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" and a very upbeat "Good King Wenceslas" layered with "O Come All Ye Faithful.  Definitely interesting.  Mostly fun.

11. "No Other Day" This album is the only place I've heard this song.  It's quite pleasant.

12.  "Here We Come A-Caroling" Kids again.  This is a medley by a kids chorus.  They do the title song, which I thought was wassailing not caroling, "Do You Hear What I Hear," "Silent Night," "Angels We Have Heard on High," "O Come All Ye Faithful," "Joy to the World," "Hark!  The Herald Angels Sing."  Then at the end, it turns out they're caroling for their grandparents.  Kinda cheesy.  The songs aren't bad, but I also think it's odd that nearly every one is repeated in a full-length version elsewhere on the album.

13.  "That's What I Love about Christmas"  This song is annoying.  The lyrics are annoying.  The phrasing seems weird.  It makes me glad the cd doesn't end here.

14.  "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing"  There are some great things going on here--really, truly lovely acappella singing.

15.  "Angels We Have Heard on High"  This song used to be one of my favorites as a kid, and I'm not all that crazy about it anymore.  I don't know why exactly.  But since I've grown into liking so many songs as I've gotten older, I guess it's all right to grow out of loving one here and there.

16.  "Jesus Carol"  Kids again.  What's up with that?  This is a mostly wordless version of "Carol of the Bells," followed by a slow rendition of the chorus of "Jesus Is the Answer," which appeared on the AVB album Give Me Light

17.  "Merry Christmas"  I don't know this song.  It's upbeat, very Acappella-ish.  I have mixed emotions about it.

18.  "What Child Is This?"  I'm having a hard time determining the lead voice here.  I think it's George Pendergrass, which would thrill my soul.  This one's very stately.  And they do more than just the first verse (which is true, but thus far unmentioned, of most of the songs on this album).

19.  "Is Born a Savior" Kids again.  I don't know this one from anywhere besides here.  It's fine.  Nothing spectacular.  Done talking about it.

20.  "O Holy Night"  Nice.  Quite nice.  Better than nice actually, but I'm suffering from adjective overload after all this reviewing.

21.  "Little Drummer Boy"  This is the final song on Family Chrstimas, a pleasant ending to a lovely journey.  Thanks, Acappella.  It's been delightful.

22.  "Mary, Did You Know?" Kathy Mattea:  I mentioned earlier that I was on a mission for some specific songs when I went downloading.  Apparently, it didn't matter that I found them on the Acappella albumI still downloaded a couple other versions of the songs I wanted.  Obviously this is one of them.  Kathy Mattea did not record the version that was the object of my mockery.  So I can say that I paid for this one and listen to frequently without any lingering guilt.  It's a lovely version.

23.  "O Come Emmanuel" John Berry:  I may be one of about three people still living in the world that remembers country artist John Berry, but I still own two of his cds, and when I was looking for someone trustworthy to sing this song to me, I turned to him.  And he has not let me down.  Thank you, John Berry.  Thank you.

Thus ends our journey through my Christmas soundtrack.  I know you're sitting at your computer feeling just as fulfilled and accomplished as I.  I'm so pleased we could share this experience.

Now I have to find other stuff to blog about.  I will consider any suggestions offered.

P.S. I only missed having this done on Christmas by an hour and twenty minutes, so I'm not such a failure, right?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

meet my christmas album: sounds of the season, the lionel richie collection

My friend Justin gave me this cd one year recently.  I think it was 2006 because that's when the cd came out.  I do know it's the most recent physical album in my Christmas soundtrack.  I've mentioned previously that I was raised on Lionel Richie (along with Elvis and Journey and country music), so a Lionel Richie Christmas album thrilled my soul.  Because I believe in full disclosure, I will admit that for a year or two after I got this, I didn't listen to it because it got separated from the rest of my Christmas music, and I forgot I had it.  But it's back in the rotation this year just in time for your reading pleasure.  You're welcome.  Overall, everything has a really typical Lionel Richie feel, which obviously suits me fine.  As I was listening to this one yesterday on my trip home for Christmas (after the torrential downpour, so I could focus a little more), the big thing that leaped out at me was the music.  The accompaniment on all the songs is very full and polished-sounding.  And it all works out.  The playlist (as you'll see) is strictly familiar carols, so I don't have to feel disconcerted about learning new Christmas songs. 

1.  "Little Drummer Boy" I have very mixed feelings about this song in general.  So some made-up kid that doesn't appear in any biblical account of the nativity story drums a song for baby Jesus.  It's just an odd song.  But there are many versions of it that I enjoy despite the weirdish storyline.  This one is fairly nice.  There is a bit at the end where Lionel has really strong feelings and might do a verse I don't know.  He really feels playing that drum.

2.  "Silent Night" My feelings on this song are well-documented.  I'm just not a fan.  It bores me. And people get so serious about singing it, and this one of those times.  Katelyn was just passing by as I was listening, and she proclaimed it awful and asked me to make it stop.  Out of the mouths of babes, people.  Well, the mouths of ten-year-olds actually.

3.  "The First Noel"  I really like the second verse of this song, and lucky for my relationship with Lionel, he sings it here.  All the repetitive "noel"s sometimes get old in versions of this one, but Lionel's being all soulful right now, and I like him for it.  Katelyn gives it up a thumbs-up.

4.  "Joy to the World"  When I was a kid, I didn't like this song at all.  But it is one that I have learned to love by singing it at church.  I love the verses, and I love how it sounds in four-part harmony.  This is the first cd in my collection that contains this song (I think).  It's a fairly nice version.  He's really feeling it.  Katelyn's feeling it too.

5.  "The Christmas Song"  Sometimes this song sounds melancholy, and it's really not that kind of song.  But I like Lionel's take on it.  Katelyn is picking out cookies to leave out for Santa now, so she's not available to weigh in on this one.

6.  "O come All Ye Faithful"  This is another song that I've come to appreciate more as I've aged and matured.  This is a beautiful version.  Lionel Richie's my guy.  Good job, Lionel.

7.  "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"  Well, he's no Judy Garland.  This version is neither spectacular or painful.  It's in the top 3 or so of versions I own though.  There's some fairly awesome saxophone work here. 

8.  "Winter Wonderland"   Lionel Richie brings all his 80s pop star credibility to this one.  But since I've reviewed WW something like 756 times in the past two weeks, it's nice to have a different sounding version to talk about.  It's a nice change-up from the more solemn sounds of most of the other selections here, with a strong Lionel vibe.

And that's the end of this one, the shortest of my Christmas cds.  Special thanks to guest reviewer, Katelyn, who had to jump in bed and cover up her head somewhere between tracks 6 & 7.

All that remains are the 23 or so downloaded Christmas songs.  Perhaps I'll get them reviewed by Boxing Day.  I could be more certain of this, if I knew when Boxing Day was.

Merry Christmas to all!

meet my christmas album: a christmas album by james taylor

So I told the back story on this one last post.  In case you missed it, I got it from Hallmark in 2004 or 05 on sale when I bought three cards.  A bit of research reveals that the album was re-released a couple years later with a couple of changes to the track list.  I'll admit I was jealous when I read about the changes--they replaced "Deck the Halls" with "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."  But it's altogether possible that I'd be upset with that rendition, so perhaps it's for the best that I've got the "Deck the Halls" version of the album.  Here's what else I'll tell you about James Taylor in general:  first, I'm a big-time fan.  Huge.  But my experience with his live album is similar to what's going on with this Christmas album.  James Taylor is not afraid to sing his own songs in a completely different way, so it's not surprising that he doesn't mind taking a traditional carol and mixing it up.  You'll see how that works out for him in the track-by-track.
So here it goes:

1.  "Winter Wonderland" I have lots of versions of this song.  This one sounds like a James Taylor song.  I'm not being facetious . . . it just completely sounds like a song James Taylor would sing, and there's some good piano here.

2.  "Go Tell It on the Mountain" I didn't know until I was an adult that this is a Christmas song.  I really think the Baptist church that had joint custody of me as a kid used to sing it year-round.  Plus the Harding University Chorus used to sing it regularly.  But it is about Baby Jesus, so apparently, it is a Christmas song.  And this is the only version of it that I own, and it's really good.  James Taylor is a mellow good time.

3.  "In the Bleak Midwinter"  Apparently this song has been around for a long time, but I didn't know it before James Taylor taught it to me.  I'll admit that when I first got this album, I thought this song was lame, but it has certainly grown on me, and the words (written in the 1800s by British poet Christina Rossetti) are beautiful.

4.  "Baby, It's Cold Outside" I don't know that I'd ever heard this song before owning this cd either.  Now it's everywhere in my life, but it started here.  Natalie Cole is the girl, but unfortunately for the joke I'd like to make, James Taylor is not one of her dad's dead old friends.  Fun song.

5.  "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" It is a matter of public record that I prefer a Springsteen-style, rocking version of this song, but James Taylor can do no wrong.

6.  "Jingle Bells" I need to talk about this song in context of another James Taylor song.  The first JT album that I owned was his Greatest Hits album.  The last song on that disk is "Steamroller Blues," and it took me years of owning that cd before I could like that song at all.  I'm not really a blues sorta girl, I guess.  Then when I got his live album, it was on there and sounded significantly different, and it bothered me that it wasn't like the one I was used to.  Listening to this "Jingle Bells" is sorta like that.  It's bluesy and with a sort of improvisational feel.  It's unsettling.

7.  "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)" Except for wishing a Merry Christmas to kids from one to 102 (a ten year improvement over most people's versions), it's basically a standard version.  Pretty good stuff.

8.  "Deck the Halls"  Not a huge fan of this song, but this is a nice rendition of it.  Very mellow.

9.  "Some Children See Him" Like the "Bleak Midwinter" before it, I had some major reservations about this song in the beginning.  It's about how different colored-children see Jesus in a way that's just like them.  And it's interesting and kind of pretty.

10.  "Who Comes This Night" I didn't know this song before owning this cd, and it's another Baby Jesus song.  It's very JT-ish.  I'm glad I know it now.

11.  "Auld Lang Syne" Though not a Christmas song, this is a very welcome addition to my Christmas soundtrack.  And as the last track, it's a fitting benediction to end the album.

I'm feeling like my buddy James got a bit short-changed.  I like this album quite a lot, and it has several songs I wouldn't have otherwise.  There are no stand-out knock-you-down spectacular ones, but it's solid and special and overall very peaceful.  And there's something to be said for peaceful.

I'm going to try and get the last actual cd written up today, and then there's just the digital stuff left.  Remind me never to start an eleven-part series on a deadline ever again.

Monday, December 21, 2009

meet my christmas album: christmas remembered

I'm excited about this one.  Thinking about this cd and wanting to talk about all the perfect songs contained therein may have been the real reason that I birthed this blog a couple weeks ago.  So pack a lunch because I've got some stuff to say.
I like to call this cd "every Christmas song you want to hear by the people you want to hear singing them."  That's going to turn out to be a slight exaggeration, but seriously, good things are in store.

I bought this cd at Hallmark a few years ago.  I was there buying my moma the singing snowman thing for that year.  It wasn't this one, which was the absolute cutest.  It's the one I can't find a photo of.  I think it was a snowman, a dog, and a penguin on a sled.  But don't quote me on that.  My mom is a big fan of these things, and the handful sure is crazy about them too, so they're a part of the tradition up in these parts.  Anyway there's always some deal on them that you get them at a cheaper price when you buy 3 cards, so I was in Hallmark picking out cards, when I saw that they had Christmas cds that were cheaper when you bought 3 cards.  I left the store that day with nine cards, a Jingle pal, and two new Christmas cds.  I think that year's jingle pal died before it's prime, I actually had birthday cards for way more people than usual that year, and the cds?  Two of the best musical choices I've ever made.

Here's what all the hype is about:

1. "A Holly Jolly Christmas" Burl Ives:  Burl Ives has the voice of Christmas . . . seriously, he's the snowman narrator in the Rudolph Christmas special.  I never felt my Christmas music was incomplete without this song, but it was only because I didn't know any better.  It's essential to my Christmas happiness.

2. "Sleigh Ride" The Andrews Sisters:  I have a relationship with this song that mostly stems from Holiday Band chapel while I was at Harding.  For the uninformed, during the playing of "Sleigh Ride" the audience jingles their keys and slams their songbooks closed at the appropriate moments to be the whip-crack-type sound.  It's such fun, and it is the crowning glory of Holiday Band chapel, which is the best recurring chapel program.  So I love this song, but I didn't have an active relationship with it outside of Holiday Band.  But this version is also awesome.  One of my favorites.

3.  "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer" Gene Autrey & the Pinafores:  For some reason, I thought Gene Autrey wrote this song.  According to the liner notes and Wikipedia, I was wrong.  He did do the first formal recording of it, so maybe that's why I think he owns this song.  Anyway, Gene Autrey does the definitive version, and I have it here on this perfect cd, just as it should be.

4.  "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)" Mel Torme:  So my official policy on this song is that it should be sung by Nat King Cole.  That's just how I feel, but since Mel Torme co-wrote it, I suppose he can have joint custody of it.  This is actually a really good version.

5.  "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas" Bing Crosby:  Clearly if Bing only gets one song on this cd, in a perfect world it would be "White Christmas," but I can't even be mad about that because this song completes my life.  Much like "Holly Jolly," I had no idea what I was missing by not listening to this song over and over prior to owning the perfect Christmas cd.  But now I know, and my life before was a pathetic shadow of what it is now.  Rob has this song done by the Chipmunks, and that's pretty awesome too, actually.

6.  "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" Johnny Mercer:  This is a fairly jazzy little rendition of the song, but I actually prefer my Santa rockin'.  Still the back-up singer girls sing "fat man's a comin'" at the beginning which is funny and charming.  Plus there's a piano solo that makes me pretty happy.  Plus there may or may not be a verse in this one that I've never heard in other versions.  So it earns its keep.

7.  "Dig That Crazy Santa Claus" Ralph Marterie:  Let's talk about the name of this cd for a second, just because I haven't.  I'm pretty sure that the remembered Christmas to which the title refers isn't one I'm capable of remembering.  All of these songs are from well before my time.  I don't have a time in my memory where anyone would have said (with a straight face, anyway) dig that crazy anyone.  And perhaps for this reason, I think this song is just about as sweet and precious as can be.  The term "hep-cat" is also used, which practically makes me swoon.  The song is jazzy and horn-heavy, and the lead singer is a lady, clearly not someone named Ralph.  My journalistic integrity wouldn't allow me to leave that mystery unsolved, so I can now report that Ralph Marterie was a band-leader and trumpet player.  But don't ask me who that is singing, because I don't know, and all my journalistic integrity was used up on solving the mystery of Ralph.

8.  "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" Brenda Lee:  I didn't know this song before it showed up in my level 2 piano book all those years ago.  But I learned to play it, and I must say, I played it well.  A couple years later I would hear Brenda Lee's version in Home Alone and fall in love with it even deeper.  It's maybe my favorite upbeat Christmas song.  Yummy.

9.  "It's Christmas Time Again" Peggy Lee:  Let's bring things down for a minute, because this song is soft and slow and quite a change from the previous track.  This was a song I didn't know prior to owning this album, and I like it fine, but it's not a stand-out favorite.  It is a sweet little song, though it comes off sounding depressing even though the words aren't.

10.  "Caroling, Caroling" Nat King Cole:  So I will now officially forgive the makers of this album for letting Mel Torme sing "The Christmas Song" instead of Nat King Cole because now I get to have this little treasure of a song.  Love it, not for any special, expressible reason, just because it's lovely.

11. "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" Ella Fitzgerald:  So on this cd where all my Christmas song dreams are coming true, you would expect the ultimate version of this song, one of my all-time favorites.  But to show that I don't need perfection, I love this cd despite the fact that Judy Garland doesn't sing this song here.  The Judy Garland version (from the movie Meet Me in St. Louis, which you really must see) is slow and melancholy and beautiful and achingly perfect.  This Ella Fitzgerald version is a bit more upbeat and quite nice in its own way, but it doesn't make me want to cry, which in this case, is actually a failing.

12.  "Cool Yule" Louis Armstrong with The Commanders:  Is there anyone in the world who doesn't love Louie Armstrong's voice?  I didn't know this song before, so I have no idea if it's been recorded elsewhere by other folks, but I'll go ahead and declare this the ultimate version.  Here's a sample lyric to fill up your soul with Christmas song joy: "you're gonna flip when ol' St. Nick plays a lick on a peppermint stick . . ."  Seriously, how am I supposed to have defenses against a song with that line?

13.  "Mistletoe and Holly" Jack Jones:  So a lot of the songs on this album have a jazzy, full-band thing going, and it helps them all to fit together nicely, as well as being a bit of a change of pace for me listening to them 40-60 years after they were recorded.  This one makes me think of a lounge lizard though.  I like it, but it's hard to take it seriously, because though I don't know Jack Jones or what he looks like, I'm picturing him wearing a smoking jacket and singing accompanied by the tinkling of ice in his highball.  After I typed that sentence, I got curious about what he looked like, so I googled him, and I learned that he sang the theme to The Love Boat.  Awesome.

14.  "Winter Wonderland" Connie Francis:  As upbeat as most of the songs on this album are, it's surprising to have this mellow rendition.  It's fine.  And frankly, I don't have any words to spare on it because a brilliant closing song is coming up, and I'm too amped about it to waste time here.

15.  "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" Andy Williams:  Amen, Andy.  It certainly is.  Also my friend Josh is spending Christmas in Branson, and I'm strongly encouraging him to go see Andy Williams.  What a great end to the perfect Christmas cd.  This song is just awesome.  And you should listen to it at least once a day during the whole month of December.  It would make you a better person.  Seriously.

I'm starting to feel concerned that I'm not going to get all my music reviewed before Friday.  It seems while I've been blogging away, my presents haven't wrapped themselves and my suitcases didn't magically fill with clean, folded laundry.  I guess I have to do everything around here.  But bringing you the joy of my Christmas soundtrack is still a priority, so I'll manage to get the cds done this week, and I'll tackle the digital collection next week, if I must.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

meet my christmas album: the sweetest gift by trisha yearwood

The third and final country artist in my Christmas cd collection is one that I received along with the Vince Gill as a Secret Santa gift in 2001.  The cd was released (with a different cover) in 1994.  I have been a huge Trisha Yearwood fan at various points in my life.  She might even be a voice twin, so I was terribly excited to receive this cd I didn't even know I wanted.  On the first few listens, it didn't necessarily live up to the hype.  There are several songs I hadn't heard prior to owning this cd and quite a bit of baby Jesus, and I don't know if you've heard this or not, but I kind of like my Christmas music traditional and familiar.  But there was just enough going for it, that I kept it in my rotation, and eight years later, the songs are all familiar and part of my own Christmas tradition.  Funny how that works out.
Here's what you need to know about this album:
1.   "Sweet Little Jesus Boy"  So I know I've mentioned before that I don't like too much Baby Jesus in my Christmas music, so to lead off a cd with a song called "Sweet Little Jesus Boy" that doesn't have the benefit of being a time-honored carol with formal, stately beautiful language is risky.  But you know what?  The words of this song are completely worth hearing.  Completely.

2.  "Reindeer Boogie"  I mentioned the other day that it can be particularly jarring on a Christmas album to go from a slow, reverent Jesus song to an upbeat, boisterous tune.  Just a comparison of titles would demonstrate that we find ourselves in just such a situation here.  "Reindeer Boogie" is twangy and annoying all on its own, and it sort of smacks me in the face.  I will unashamedly skip this song.

3.  "Take a Walk Through Bethlehem" And back to Jesus . . . This song is all anti-commercialism and Jesus is the reason for the season, and even though it might be a little preachy, I really like it.  And I like singing along with it.

4.  "Santa Claus Is Back in Town" Faithful readers may recall that I heartily disapprove of anyone singing this song besides the King.  People that know me should be familiar with my tendencies to exaggerate and speak in absolutes and then to later back down on those absolutes, but this isn't one of those times.  I hate that this song appears on this album.  Hate.

5.  "It Wasn't His Child" This was the song I was really excited about when I got this album.  I first heard it when a music video of it was released in the mid-90s.  It's the only Christmas song I know about Joseph, and he's a guy that I think doesn't always get enough credit.  Besides the message, which I love, the music is beautiful.  Winner.

6.  "Away in a Manger" This song is all right.  I feel like I've talked about it dozens of time already, and it's not a song for which I have many words.  I'm sorta fading here, so I don't feel like saying more than that.  There sure is a lot of Jesus on this cd.

7.   "The Sweetest Gift" The title track here is not especially Christmas-y.  It's a story song about a mother who goes to prison to visit her son.  Sometimes it makes me feel weepy but also a bit manipulated.  Sometimes that's okay with me.

8.  "There's a New Kid in Town" This song is in no way related to the Eagles' song "New Kid in Town."  I know you were thinking it.  Spoiler alert:  the new kid is Baby Jesus.  I will say that I prefer this wise men song exponentially to "We Three Kings."

9.  "Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow" Finally, an upbeat, non-Jesus song that I don't hate.  This is nice.

10.  "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)"  Lovely song, lovely version.  Great familiar ending to a cd of mostly lesser-known Christmas songs. 

Only 3 more Christmas cds to go.  Stay tuned.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

meet my christmas album: let there be peace on earth by vince gill

Let me get this out of the way right off the bat:  I've owned this cd for eight years, and I had never noticed until I was finding the cover art for this blog entry that Vince Gill is sporting a mullet in this photo.  I was completely full of mocking about this, but then I did some reading to discover that the cd was originally released in 1993, fully eight years before I owned it, and much closer to the peak of the mullet heyday, if such a thing existed.  But I'm not going to let that poor hair choice dampen my enthusiasm for this album.  I received this cd as a gift from my Secret Santa person the first year that I taught school.  I also got another Christmas cd (that will be the subject of my next post) and a monkey figurine thing that had three monkeys sitting one on top of the other doing the hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil thing.  As odd as that sounds, I think it's kinda cute, and it's usually displayed somewhere in my home, but I think it is in that box of house junk that never got emptied after the last move.  But we were talking about Vince Gill or Christmas music or mullets or something, so let's just try to stay on topic from here on out, shall we?
The other day when I was reviewing Amy Grant's version of "I'll be Home for Christmas," I made some comment about her leaving her husband for Vince Gill tainting the song for me.  I never meant to imply that I cared one bit about who she was married to and not married to anymore.  I don't know her life.  I like that song; I don't have a problem with Amy Grant, and I love Vince Gill.  None of that has anything to do with their music or my enjoyment thereof.  My comment was more about how when I hear that song, I'm reminded of that brouhaha because that was going on or at least still fresh in people's minds when I first got that cd.  So it became one of those memory-associated songs for me.  It's kinda like when I hear the Dixie Chicks song "Travelin' Soldier," and I am reminded of the whole Bush feud and the radio boycott.  I love Dixie Chicks music and that song especially no matter who said what about whom, but when I hear that song, it makes me think of that other thing.  That's all I'm saying.
So can we talk about Vince Gill now, please?  Thank you.  I love Vince Gill.  And this cd is interesting.  Wanna know why? 

1.  "Do You Hear What I Hear" It strikes me as odd that this song is the first track on this cd and on the Martina McBride cd from the other day.  This song was so far off my radar until I got these cds (which happened to be in the same year), and suddenly it was front and center, squared.  And I love it.  And I love Vince Gill's voice, which was specially made to sing slow, meaningful Christmas songs.

2.  "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"  I've written about this song bunches of times so far, and I'll be writing about it at least one other time.  We already know that it's important to get this one right.  I'm happy to report that Vince Gill does not disappoint.  It's not the ultimate version (I'll get to that next time, I think), but it's lovely, and it's a song I never tire of hearing.  Good show.

3.  "One Bright Star" This was a new song to me when I got this album.  Clearly it's about baby Jesus, and it sounds like a Vince Gill song--funny how that works out.  It's pretty and has nice words and stuff.  I recommend it.

4.  "What Child Is This?" Oh, this song is beautiful.  Only four songs in and we've already hit two of my all-time favorites.  One of the things I love about this song is the language of the lyrics.  So many fun words that don't occur in modern language.  Don't you love the word "laud"?  How could you not?

5.  "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" There's a thing that sometimes happens on albums, that I've particularly noticed during this Christmas music journey.  It's the juxtaposition of slow, mellow ballads played back-to-back with upbeat, boisterous songs.  On a Christmas albums this also usually means mixing up Baby Jesus and Santa, which almost always bothers me.  (Speaking of mixing the infant Christ with Jolly Ol', have you seen those yard decorations where Santa is kneeling at the manger?  I think they're creepy.)  This particular Santa song is a purely instrumental version, and it's as upbeat and boisterous and country as can be.  It makes me think of Chet Atkins, so I love the song, but it just sounds kinda funny coming right on the heels of that stately Baby Jesus song on track 4.

6.  "I'll Be Home for Christmas" When I set out on this Christmas soundtrack sharing adventure, I didn't stop to think about how many songs would be repeated on multiple albums, and how many times I'd have to talk about them, if they did.  So I love this song.  It's well-documented by this point.  And I love Vince Gill, which has been well-documented so far in this post.  So I feel completely boring and repetitive.  But it's just charming and full of longing for home, and that speaks to me. 

7.  "Let There Be Peace on Earth"  This song is a giant gamble for me.  It's a duet with his daughter Jenny, and I think children singing on professionally recorded albums is dicey.  Yeah, it's sometimes cute and often sweet, but it's a little too sweet for me, usually.  I have no idea how old Jenny Gill was when they recorded this, and I'm okay with letting you down by not finding out right now.  She's not a tiny kid, by the sound of her voice, and ultimately, she does a fine job on it.  But it's a gamble.  The words of this song are beautiful, and not necessarily just a Christmas message.

8.  "White Christmas" Though he eventually does sing this song, it's instrumental only the first time through.  Unlike the instrumental track 5, this one is slow and not terribly country, and still altogether pleasant.  And then he sings, which I certainly don't mind either.

9.  "Till the Season Comes Around Again"  This song was unknown to me prior to this cd also.  It's a family and love and being together kind of Christmas song, which is probably my favorite niche of Christmas music, because that's the best thing about Christmas for me.

10.  "It Won't Be the Same This Year"  If you know much about Vince Gill, you may recall a song called "Go Rest High," which is about Keith Whitley but also about VG's own dead brother.  Apparently this cd came out fairly soon after his brother died, and this song is one that he wrote about the first Christmas without him.  I could cry just from the backstory, so the song has the potential to turn me into a big ol' bawl-bag.  I can typically resist the urge to weep, but it's an emotional song.  That's all I'm saying.

 This is by far the most slow and contemplative cd I've covered so far, and honestly I'd never even noticed that until I started going through the songs one by one.  So I guess it's a good thing that they threw in that lively "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" before things got to depressing or people were lulled to sleep by Vince Gill's sweet voice.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

a break

Apparently some of my more discerning readers are ready for something besides Christmas music.  Never let it be said that I don't listen to my adoring public.  (Though I will be back to the Christmas series next post--so don't fear, faithful fans)

So now I have to talk about other things . . . hmmm.

Let's talk about tv shows for just a second.  The season finale of So You Think You Can Dance was tonight, but I haven't watched it yet.  I'm going to be decently happy with any outcome, as I pretty much like all the remaining dancers.  My prediction is Russell, which might be the choice of my heart.  But you won't hear me crying if Ellenore, Jakob, or Kathryn win.  I think it would be weird if either Ryan or Ashleigh won, and I think they're definitely not the strongest dancers, but it won't break my heart either.

We'll see how that shakes out, but at the moment, I'm watching tonight's episode of The Sing-off, hosted ever-so-uncomfortably by Nick Lachey.  This show is hardcore lame, and I love it.  I'm pretty sad that Noteworthy went home last night, but I think Nota is my favorite.  If Maxx Factor doesn't go home tonight, I'll probably hurt someone.  Also the purple argyle sweater that Boyz II Men Shawn is wearing is perfection.  I love him, I mean, it.
And while I'm thinking about tv, if I ever meet the inventor of the DVR, I will probably kiss him (or her) fiercely.  DVR is brilliant.  Just sayin'.

I think I made Jess uncomfortable in Kroger tonight.  I was on a hunt for Flipz chocolate-covered pretzels.  They've been on the sale 10 for $10 for the past couple of weeks, and I may or may not have consumed several bags so far.  Anyway, I was looking for them in hopes that they were still on sale, and I was filling the silence by talking about how much I love them, and I said, "I want to have little chocolate-covered pretzel babies."  Apparently that was taking things just a bit too far.  Sorry.

I've been running the dishwasher up a storm this week.  I did all that Christmas baking (Jess's sampling pictured at right) over the weekend, and by the time I got finished with all the batches of whatever late Saturday night, I didn't have it in my heart to do dishes.  So it's been a gradual process tackling the mess.  Plus I made soup for ornament exchange on Sunday and actually cooked dinner for myself last night, and Jess eats and dirties dishes on a fairly regular basis herself.  Yes, I'm trying to justify why it's taken me days to clean up the mess.  But why not waste several sentences on something I could have summed up in a word:  lazy with a capital Z.

I think I was supposed to cover current events somewhere in the break blog, but reality tv is going to have to be good enough.  I've got tv to watch and that amazing cream cheese thing to make for work Susan's birthday.  I have this overwhelming need to bust out the camera and do a Pioneer-Woman-style cooking post about it, but then people might see the background mess of my kitchen and never eat anything I make ever again. Plus I'd also have to find the cable for my camera, and that's as lost as my address book.
Did I tell you that one?  I went on a lengthy hunt for my address book so I could work on my Christmas cards.  And though I'm practically famous for not being able to find my butt with both hands, I did a thorough but fruitless job of looking.  But thanks to the miracle of internet stalking, I was able to get almost all the addresses I needed.  No, your information isn't safe.  Just thought you should know.

meet my lost christmas album: christmas with bing crosby & frank sinatra

This album is "lost" in a couple of ways.  It's the missing college-era cd that I couldn't blog about on Monday.  I still haven't found it, which makes me worry that I discarded it in the last cd purge I did.  Don't think me heartless--there are very solid reasons for not owning it.  Plus I realized today at work that I had the songs on my old computer, so they're not completely lost (Until a few minutes ago when I fired it up to listen to Bing & Frank, my old computer had been sitting unused and ignored since I got my laptop a month ago).  Eventually the music on the old computer is going to need to come off it and onto the new computer or that external hard-drive I've been eying with my amazon gift certificate in hand. (Do you know the part where I won a $75 amazon gift certificate in a contest on  Because I did, and it was awesomely timed, in that I won it the week after I'd placed a huge amazon order of Christmas presents, so now I have to use it on myself.  Score.)
So what was I talking about?  Christmas music?  Hmmm . . .
Oh, the other reason this cd is lost is that I can't find accurate cover art for it anywhere.  I found a couple cds online with the same creative title, but the art isn't just right, and for the ones with track lists, they're not the right ones in that respect either.  I can describe the cover, if you want.  It's white with a red border and individual pictures of Bing & Frank, and has the name of the cd on it somewhere.  I'm amazed I can remember that much detail.  But I can't direct you to a website for you to purchase your own copy, once you're inspired by my insightful song critiques because I can't find it.  Sorry.
It had been a while since I listened to this one, so it's been playing while I've typed the above paragraphs, and I'm still not feeling too guilty for misplacing this one.  It's not that the songs are bad--it's a standard mix of Santa songs and Jesus songs, mostly songs I've got in some form or other on other cds.  The problem with this cd has always been the sound quality.  I didn't buy this one--although based on the artists involved and the song selection, I would have, so I can't fault the person who gave it to me.  Did you ever record songs from the radio onto cassettes back in the day?  It sounds kinda like that, only maybe it sounds more like you had a handheld tape recorder that you were holding up to a record player.  It's a shame.  But given the top-notch quality of my other Christmas albums, it's just not worth it to me usually to listen to this one, though it does contain the only recording I possess of the ultimate version of "White Christmas."
Anyway, I'm not going to go too in-depth on the track-by-track here.  I've discussed most of these songs before--or I will be on future albums.  I've covered my feelings for Sinatra singing Christmas songs.  I've made no secret of my adoration of Bing and a certain snow-themed Christmas tune.  This won't be the last time I have occasion to talk about these two in relation to my Christmas soundtrack.  So I'm going to run through the playlist here, lament the sound quality once or twice more, and call this one finished.
1.  "The Snowman" This is the one unfamiliar song on the album.  It's less than two minutes long and not noteworthy in any particular way. (Speaking of "noteworthy," is anyone else watching the show The Sing-Off on NBC this week?  Noteworthy is/was one of my favorite groups on there.)
2.  "Jingle Bells" Brief and tinny-sounding, though the song itself is charming and lively, just as it should be.
3.  "Deck the Halls" blah, blah, blah, bad sound, some background singers here.  Nothing special.
4.  "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" I used to absolutely hate this song because of some childhood trauma.  I don't mind it as much anymore, but it'll never be a favorite.  I can't think of another cd I own that has this song.  That doesn't break my heart.
5.  "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" I may not have this one anywhere else either.  I kinda like it--makes me think of It's a Wonderful Life, especially this version that has a group singing it--not just Bing & Frank.  I haven't watched George Bailey yet this year.  Maybe if I ever get around to wrapping presents, I can take care of that.  I should watch White Christmas while I'm at it.  Then it will really be Christmas.
6. "O Come All Ye Faithful"  Mac loves for Bing to sing this song in Latin.  It's all English here.  Not bad, but for the sound quality.
7.  "It Came upon a Midnight Clear"  I like this one.  Very slow and stately, but man, it's practically static-y, and that part's not so cool.
8.  "Away in a Manger"  I like this song better than this normally. 
9.  "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town"  It's definitely not a Springsteen version--it's not even a Michael Bolton version.  This song is going to appear at least twice more on my Christmas soundtrack.  Better not waste all my words on it here.
10.  "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer"  I only have two versions of this song in my collection, and I can't wait to talk about the other one--which means I don't need to talk about this one, though if I could just briefly mention the poor sound quality on this album once again, I'd feel like you were getting your money's worth.
11.  "The Christmas Song"  There's something annoying going on with this version.  I can't even talk about it because it makes me not even like Frank & Bing, and I don't need those thoughts in my head.
12.  "White Christmas" Oh, Bing.  It's your song.  Sing your song.  I guess on the second time through, you can even let Frank sing too.  Then you can wish us all a merry Christmas at the end.  And I can die happy--or I could, except for the sound.  Too bad about that sound quality.
The end.  You're welcome.  See you tomorrow or whenever.

Monday, December 14, 2009

meet my christmas album: white christmas by martina mcbride

Note:   You may not have realized this, but I'm doing this little jaunt through my Christmas music collection chronologically.  I promised one more college-era post last time, but I can't exactly find the cd in question at the moment.  So enjoy this out-of-order post.  
I was raised on country music (and Elvis and Lionel Richie and Journey but mostly country music), and though I'm not all that into current country music (or any current music, if I'm being truthful), I still honor and embrace my rural roots.  So there's a fairly strong representation of country artists in my Christmas collection.  Jess and I were coming home from a family grocery store run the other day, and she, who is far from a country music fan, concluded after discovering that what we were listening to Vince Gill, "I guess I like country Christmas music."  I don't blame her.  In my experience, country artists tend to take fewer liberties with Christmas music.  That's not written in stone, but the familiar songs and carols on my country Christmas albums are much more reliably traditional.  And I'm a traditional sort of girl.
Here's what else I will tell you about this particular cd:  I sometimes consider Martina McBride to be country music's answer to the diva, not so much in dramatic lifestyle choices, but when it comes to a powerful voice and a tendency to show off an impressive vocal range, she's all diva.  On country night on American Idol, some powerhouse of a girl (or Scott) always sings Martina McBride.  And while I always admire her talent and range and all, I sometimes think she's too much.  So this whole Christmas cd experiment could have been just as traumatic a mess as Mariah Carey over-singing "O Holy Night," and I know none of us are likely to forget that fiasco for a while.  But praise the Lord, country music artists just have more sense than that.  Martina McBride does have a strong, amazing voice, but I think the songs here are powerful yet simple.  So this little gem of a Christmas cd is a triumph, one that crosses musical taste boundaries and brings people together in the spirit of Christmas and piracy--I know this because Jess took it hostage last Christmas and may or may not have illegally made herself a copy.
So here's what I love about it:
1.  "Do You Hear What I Hear?" I haven't always loved this song.  I do now, and I have to give at least a measure of the thanks for that to this version.  It's definitely the reason I know all the words in the right order.  And though I'm no Martina McBride, this song is easy to sing along with.  (I just ended that sentence with a preposition.  I'll miss you when you cannot in good conscience continue to visit this blog.)
2.  "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" This song seems to be cropping up on lots of my cds, but careful readers will recall that it's a personal favorite.  This is a great version.  Not the best ever by anyone, but definitely enough to fill my heart.  Thank you, Martina McBride. (I don't feel Martina McBride and I are close enough to be on a first name basis, but typing out her full name is tedious.  Just sayin'.)
3.  "Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow" Martina McBride is not my voice twin (pop quiz:  who is my voice twin?), but when I listen to this cd, I almost believe she could be.  I love singing along with it, and it doesn't hurt that I really love almost all the songs on it.
4.  "O Come All Ye Faithful" When I was kid, I had no idea that Christmas songs had verses.  I knew lots of Christmas songs back then, but I had no idea that some of them were so long.  Later in life, when I would go to a church that sings Jesus-y Christmas songs in season, I would discover them in the back section of the song book with all sorts of verses that I'd never known.  I really love that.  And since the birth of my Christmas-music obsession which begat my collecting Christmas cds, I have discovered that some artists, like Martina McBride for instance, actually sing those verses.  So the point I'm trying to make is that she sings verses to this song (but no Latin), and it's good.
5.  "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)" I'm starting to feel like all my song comments in this post have are repetitive.  I've talked about most of these songs at least once before, I like them all.  Martina McBride does really solid, traditional performances of them all.  She has that powerful voice but resists the over-singing temptation.  I feel like I'm not being enthusiastic enough about the cd because it really is one of my favorites.  But when you love ever song (or at least, every song so far), it's hard to keep the hype alive.  Please infer the hype.
6.  "O Holy Night" Bless Martina McBride's beautiful voice, I love this song.  Singing this song, or at least singing it well, is not for the faint of heart.  It's serious, but when it's done well . . . I could weep.  Are you feeling the hype now?  Because seriously, this song.  I die.
7.  "Silver Bells"  Don't quote me on this, but this may be the only version of this song that I own.  And this song is one that I forget about until I hear it again and remember how much I love it.  Love.
8.  "Away in a Manger"  Did you know this song has verses?  It does.  Did you know Martina McBride can take even the most mediocre, played-out Christmas carol and make it beautiful and meaningful?  What--you didn't?  Have you not been reading?  Why do I bother?
9.  "White Christmas" This song has been on every cd I've reviewed so far.  Maybe it just occurred to me that at the end, I should go through and rank in order the different versions that appear on multiple cds.  That's obsessive.  And I haven't wrapped any presents yet. 
10.  "What Child Is This?"  Seriously, Martina McBride hit all the big ones for me.  If only she'd done "O Come, O Come Emmanuel," though at the time that I got this cd, I didn't realize that I loved that song as more than a friend.  I did know that I loved this one times a million.  And it's beautiful.
11.  "I'll Be Home for Christmas"  Martina McBride, you are killing me.  That is all I can say.
12.  "Silent Night" Well, we all make mistakes, right?  And it's very difficult to hold this one less-than-perfect song choice against my friend Martina and this delightful cd.  See that?  We're on a first-name basis now, just to show you that I'm not mad at her for the whole "Silent Night" thing.

If you didn't stop reading this blog midway to cut over to amazon and order this cd, what are you waiting for? 
P.S. Can you end questions with a preposition?  I sure hope so.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

meet my christmas albums: vanguard acappella christmas

I bought this one in college too, I think, although it might have been in that fresh-out-of-college time when I thought I could buy things like Christmas cds just because I earned a steady paycheck.  Anyway, I don't know Vanguard Acappella.  They're not the Acappella, so don't be confused by that.  I don't know anything about them, really.  Based on the very brief amount of internet research I just did, they never did anything besides this Christmas cd.  So now I'm all intrigued by them.  Are they an acappella group because they just had some killer harmonies and wanted to play around with it?  Are they acappella because of some religious/denominational conviction?  I have striven to maintain a high standard of journalistic integrity so far in my blogging career, so I feel that these unsolvable mysteries are a glaring smear on my record. I'll miss you when you abandon me.
Wait!  Don't go yet.  I just read the liner notes.  Feel impressed at my investigative prowess.  So here's what I know:  they are a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ, International.  And according to the blurb I found on Vanguard through their (CCCI's) website, this Christmas music thing is their (Vanguard's) bit.  And now you know.
So a few more bits of info before I start the track-by-track:  The whole album is bookended in such a way that you're to believe that they're caroling;  there's a bit of warm-up and chatter prior to a doorbell ring at the beginning, and after the final track, they sort of break up, chatter, and go home.  It's kinda cute, if gimmicky, although there's another little gimmick on one track that sort of derails the caroling idea, but we'll get there later.  They're not strictly acappella, as they use some synthesized percussion on some tracks.  I thought my keen ear detected this, but the liner notes (fount of useful info) confirmed it.  I love this cd times a thousand.  It is hands-down one of the best impulse buys I have ever made.  I don't know that they have completely universal appeal, but I've got a high appreciation for good acappella music, and these folks have got some enviable harmonizing skills. 
1.  "Jingle Bells"  Before the actual song starts, there's the aforementioned "caroling" warm-up, which is actually a snippet of the song "Caroling, Caroling," which I also love.  I only own a couple of recordings of "Jingle Bells" on all my many Christmas albums, and this one is definitely the best, and it includes the verse that I don't really know, which is cool.  Great opening track.
2.  "Winter Wonderland" I haven't done any research on this, but this song might the one of which I have the most recorded versions.  I feel like it's everywhere.  Good thing I like it.  This is a really mellow version.  Have I mentioned killer harmonies yet?  Get used to it.
3.  "Glory, Hallelu" I've never heard this song outside this album (I don't think), and it's probably the least Christmas-y of all the songs on this album.  I guess I mean Christmas-y in feel rather than in message because it's all about Baby Jesus, but as I'm fond of saying, I don't like too much Jesus in my Christmas.  I do like this song though.  It sounds very much like the sort of song an acappella group would record.
4.  "O Come, O Come Emmanuel"  For the past couple years, this song has been my favorite Christmas song about Jesus.  The whole "Emmanuel" (God with us) concept is just a powerful idea for me.  And I think the words of this song are beautiful.  This version of it is pretty awesome.  Killer harmonies, dude.
5.  "Carol of the Bells" Speaking of awesome, this song is phenomenal.  We used to play this in band, and I thought it was lovely and fun to play, but I didn't discover until later that, not only did it have words, the original Ukrainian version was meant to be sung acappella.  I don't think I've ever heard it in Ukrainian, but I love the English version, and these guys do a kick-butt version.
6.  "What Child Is This?" I had never heard this song before I had to learn to play it on the piano one year.  My favorite thing about Christmas piano music is that mostly I already knew what the songs were supposed to sound like, so I could concentrate on getting my fingers on the right keys without having to give too much attention to tempo or rhythm or whatnot.  But there were just enough songs I'd never heard in all my Christmas piano books that I had to stumble through the learning process, which was always my downfall.  Anyway, this is the one of only two songs that I had to really learn that ended up enjoying.  I especially like the words, but oddly enough the version on this album doesn't actually sing the words.  It's the tune done in all these dees, dums, baas, woos and whatnot.  Not my preference, but still with a delightful charm.
7.  "Still, Still, Still" Another song I hadn't heard of, though my trust liner notes tell me this one is a traditional Austrian carol.  (Let me pause here to say that I have done triple the amount of research reporting on this album than I've done on any of the others.  Admire my dedication to giving you the best.)  The song is nice, but probably the most forgettable song on an album of stand-out hits. 
8.  Snow Medley "Snow," "Let It Snow," "White Christmas" First, the song "Snow" is that one that they sing on the train in the movie White Christmas.  I'd never heard it anywhere else, and I'm so glad I have it on one of my Christmas albums, though I do miss that Danny Kaye flair.  The whole medley is fun--plus killer harmonies.  I'm a fan.
9.  "Deck the Halls"  Typically, this is one of my least favorite Christmas songs, but they do something so fun with it.  This is that break from the caroling charade that I referenced earlier.  The song starts normally, but when they get to the last "la," these voices cut in, like people in the booth at a recording studio.  They want something a little newer, so they ask them to sing the song in a variety of styles/eras.  The sound booth guys are supposed to be comic, but mostly I find them annoying, but the different song versions are so worth it.  They do it to the tune of "In the Mood," "Blue Moon," "Kiss Him Goodbye" (Na-na-na-na, Hey-hey-hey, you know the one), and "Don't Worry Be Happy" (complete with whistling).  It's just so unexpected and impressive how they make "Deck the Halls" work in all those styles.  It completes me.
10.  "A Son, a Savior" One more song I didn't know prior to this album, and my favorite of the ones that fall into that category.  Very Acappella-ish.  Killer harmonies . . . you know the drill.
11.  "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" I've covered before that this is one of my favorites, and I can be a bit picky about it, but this is a great version.  When I get to a different album in my collection, I'll talk more about who owns this song, but for now I'll just say that these Vanguard guys (and girls) are allowed to borrow it, in my book anyway.  And that's the end, so the caroling breaks up, and the voices fade into nothing.
And then I have to make myself switch the cd out for the next one, or I'd listen to this one the whole holiday season.
I've got one more cd from the college era to recap briefly, and then we're headed for a string of country artist Christmas albums followed by the most satisfyingly comprehensive Christmas album I own, one more mystery guest, and finally the mp3 component of my Christmas collection.  Plus I still owe you at least one more piano story.
I feel like this one got a bit out of control, length-wise, but I know you love me enough to come back for more.

Friday, December 11, 2009

meet my christmas album: superstar christmas

I bought this album when I was in college sometime, and I'm pretty sure it's the first Christmas music that I personally owned.  I spent a sizable chunk of time in the Searcy Wal-Mart making this monumental purchase.  I ultimately chose a compilation of artists rather than a cd by a single artist.  When you only own one Christmas album, variety is a nice thing.  I remember specifically wanting something that had "O Holy Night," "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," and "I'll Be Home for Christmas," which were particular favorites of mine at the time--pretty much still are.  Buying the cd was still somewhat of a gamble for me because there were several songs I'd never heard before, most of which were obviously not traditional Christmas songs.  And I'm picky about things like that.  In retrospect, the cd must have been really cheap.

Here's a rundown on how that gamble paid off:
1.  "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" John Lennon & Yoko Ono:  I'm pretty sure I'd never heard this song prior to owning this cd, but it was an immediate hit with me.  Mac put this on his top ten list the other day, and I think, if I ever get around to making my own top ten, this one will probably earn a spot.  Little children sing on it, but not in that too wholesome, manipulative way.  And I just love it.  The end.

2.  "O Holy Night" Mariah Carey:  Love the song, hate the over-singing and ballpark-organ-style accompaniment.

3.  "Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow" Frank Sinatra:  I'm a fan of this song.  We used to play it in band.  I like to sing the wrongs words to it.  It's not a Christmas song, but I don't mind that.  I don't have a strong connection to Sinatra, but I do love to listen to him sing Christmas music.  So, winner.

4.  "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" Michael Bolton:  What better proof do you need that this album is a product of the mid-90s?  Here's a dirty, little confession:  my moma liked Michael Bolton during my formative years, so I like him too.  And this is no Springsteen, but it has that Bolton wail, and perhaps I should have mentioned that I am not a music snob before, but now you know.

5.  "The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)" Celine Dion:  She's no Nat King Cole, but it's not too bad.  As I was listening to it yesterday, it started this whole dialogue in my head about preferring male singers to female ones.  Maybe I'll delve into that another time.

6.  "Merry Christmas, Baby" Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band:  I guess they couldn't have him singing "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town," since they were going to include this one, another song I didn't know before owning this cd.  But it's Springsteen, for crying out loud.  This song makes me happy.

7.  "Early Christmas Morning" Cyndi Lauper:  So I don't think it's a secret by now that I'm all about some nostalgia.  That Elvis post yesterday reeked of sentimentality, and most of my Christmas music love is wrapped up in traditional songs and childhood memories and, occasionally, the birth of Jesus.  This song, like #1 & #6 and a few others we'll get to later, has no sentimental grounding in my past--they don't call to mind special family moments.  But I have owned this cd for something like ten years now, so even the least Christmas-y of these Christmas songs is a part of my personal Christmas tradition.  And now that we're clear on that, I love this song too.

8.  "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" Luther Vandross:  Anyone remember the selling points for this cd?  It contained all 3 songs that were deal-breakers for me at the time.  I've already discussed that this cd's offering of "O Holy Night" is disappointing.  Wouldn't there be a nice bit of irony in play if all the songs I wanted to enjoy on this cd were disappointing?  Two for two, so far, I'm afraid.  It's just okay for me, dog.

9.  "Silent Night" Boyz II Men:  This has nothing to do with Boyz II Men, who I always sort of liked, but I'll skip this song in a heartbeat when I listen to this cd.  Silent Night is just such an over-played, boring song.  The only way I ever like it is when we sing it at church with all the verses.  Plus they sing it really slow--maybe if they'd Motownphilly-ed it up, I'd like it more.

10.  "Winter Wonderland" Tony Bennett:  Not a Christmas song, not really a Tony Bennett girl.  And I love it.  Wait, maybe this is the one I sing the wrong words too, instead of "Let it Snow."  I can't be bothered to figure that out right now.  I get them confused.  But I love them.

11.  "You Make It Feel Like Christmas" Neil Diamond:  Neil Diamond is Jewish, not that there's anything wrong with that.  Makes me giggle when I listen to him sing a Christmas song though.  See the earlier dissertation about song #7, as it applies here too.

12.  "I'll Be Home for Christmas" Amy Grant:  I'm pretty sure I got this cd at about the time that everyone, including my grandmother, was so mad at Amy Grant for leaving her husband for Vince Gill.  That whole situation might have tainted this song a bit for me, but ultimately, it's a pretty decent version.  So no buyers' remorse for me, at least this song was what I wanted it to be.

13.  "White Christmas" Placido Domingo:  If I have a regret about this cd, it's right here.  Worse than "Silent Night," is this operatic version of I song that I actually love.  Youthful mistakes . . . we've all been there.  I usually skip this one too.

14.  "What If Jesus Comes Back Like That?" Collin Raye:  Calling this a Christmas song is a stretch, and it's almost too preachy for me, but then I love it anyway.  I love Collin Raye, and I love the 2nd verse about the baby on crack.  It makes me almost cry.

15.  "Christmas Through Your Eyes" Gloria Estefan:  Well, it's no "Turn the Beat Around," and the Miami Sound Machine doesn't liven it up, but I like this one too.

16.  "The Lord's Prayer" Barbra Streisand:  Despite all the things that should make me hate this song, it's pretty, and I like it--though what business it has being on my Christmas cd, I'll never understand.

Stay tuned for at least six more installments of Meet My Christmas Album as well as bonus stories about Christmas piano lessons (I once had to play "Silent Night" in a piano Christmas recital, where I almost died of extreme cold and stagefright).

 . . . or just come back after Christmas, in hopes that I'll stop talking about cds that I own and talk about something interest--or lose interest and stop talking altogether.  Now there's an item for the wish lists.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

meet my christmas albums: the elvis christmas album

I am mildly obsessed with Christmas music.  I try to confine it to the appropriate seasonal duration because some days it just seems easier to keep the crazy at a manageable level.

So during the season, Christmas music is in my heart and on my mind and my go-to topic for conversational lulls.  And what is this mostly undeveloped blog but a giant conversational lull?

So I'm going to introduce you to some of my favorite Christmas albums and share the stories of why they're in my heart and give you intelligent, unbiased critiques of various versions of various songs.  You're welcome.

Because there's a story for everything (get used to this idea), let's start with my moma (get used to her too--she's pretty dang awesome, and I don't mind telling you).  My moma loves Elvis--without getting too off topic, I'll tell you that my moma's musical taste continues to be a strong influence in my life because I'm just that crazy about her.  So besides just growing up thinking that Elvis, Journey, and Lionel Richie, among others, were the bee's knees, Christmas-time means Elvis.

My moma had the Elvis Christmas Album on record, yep . . . a record.  So when we started to decorate the tree or smear a little Christmas around the house, she would bust it out.  Now in this modern age, you can get any number of Elvis Christmas compilations on cd, but I only accept a version that begins with "Blue Christmas" and ends with "Mama Liked the Roses" with eight songs in between.  The Elvis Christmas Album is Christmas.  And it's one important Christmas tradition upon which I shall not compromise in my own home.  Earlier this week, as soon as I had braved the frigidly cold and often spidery storage closet to bring in the Christmas boxes, I had to go and find my personal version, which is actually called It's Christmas Time.  And fluffing out every single branch on that tree by yourself because, dang it, you're a big girl and your moma lives 300 miles away is only bearable when you've got that piece of your childhood crooning away in your own living room.  And once I get to "Mama Liked the Roses" and contemplate the oddity of its inclusion on the album, I can go on to whatever Christmas tradition best suits me.  Typically I watch a Christmas movie, and as this year is the first time that Jess has ever had a Christmas tree (sad, heartfelt sighs here) I let her pick which movie from three possible choices.  She overlooked the more traditional offerings of White Christmas and It's a Wonderful Life for Love Actually.  This is definitely a Christmas tradition that wouldn't stand in my moma's house--as I was painfully embarrassed the first time I watched that movie because I was watching it with the olds.

Anyway, we're not talking about movies, we're talking about Elvis . . .

So here's a track-by-track analysis of the most important piece of the Christmas soundtrack of my life:

1.  "Blue Christmas" Two minutes and five seconds of magic.  The instantly recognizable "I'll uh have uh," the background "woo WOO wa-woo-oo"s--every happy, wintry thing from my childhood is wrapped up in these syllables . . . there aren't words for how songs like that make you feel.  It is the stories of all my Christmas ornaments; it is Shane decorating only the back of the tree;  it is the image of my moma making Josh & Shane dance with her in the kitchen; it is my precious sister finding the right cd version of it for me five years ago; it is seeing that Elvis-love being passed down to the Handful; it is Christmas morning.  It is home.  And it's just a stinkin' fun song to boot.

2.  "Silent Night" One of my least favorite Christmas songs (please consider the environment by sending hate e-mails rather than actual letters), but Elvis does a slow and soulful rendition that makes it all okay.

3.  "White Christmas"  Well, I'm not going to pretend that Bing isn't better because it's too early in my blogging life to throw credibility out the window.  "White Christmas" belongs to Bing, but since I'm pretty sure that version exists elsewhere on my Christmas soundtrack, I'll just say that Elvis does it a bit more upbeat and with a charming disregard for enunciation, and I like it that way, just fine.

4.  "Santa Claus Is Back in Town" It should be illegal for anyone in the world to sing this song besides the King.  I feel strongly about this.  Also, my moma dances to this one, and it's awesome in every conceivable way.  She got the dancing gene, you know.

5.  "I'll Be Home for Christmas" This used to be just another Christmas song, but in the past twelve years that I've been a pseudo-grown-up who doesn't live with her moma, this song, and this rendition of it, has brought me to tears.  And no, I've never had to be home for Christmas only in my dreams, but I'm a baby like that.

6.  "If Every Day Was Like Christmas"  Since I became obsessed with Christmas music, one of the things I've come to love about this album is that a solid portion of the songs on it aren't just the same carols you hear everywhere else.  I don't think I've ever heard anyone else sing this song, which is fine by me.  "If every day could be just like Christmas, what a wonderful world that would be."  Indeed, sir.
7.  "Here Comes Santa Claus (Right Down Santa Claus Lane)"  My moma dances to this one too.  Did I mention earlier that Elvis has a charming disregard for enunciation . . . because it's charming.  And adorable.  This song is so Elvis-y.  It just fills my heart.

8.  "O Little Town of Bethlehem" So I have a story about the way that I most enjoy this song that I'll tell another day, but this Elvis version is a bit of a punchline in our family.  Thanks to the aforementioned enunciation problems, it sounds like "lattle" town instead of little, which is how we all sing it.  It's a bit difficult to seriously contemplate the birth of our Lord or the "hopes and fears of all the years" when you're mockingly mispronouncing words.  Too bad . . . but still very fun.

9.  "Santa Bring My Baby Back (To Me)"  Remember those dancing/Elvis-exclusive/fun songs I've talked about?  Times ten.  If I was ever going to be an Elvis impersonator, I think I'd have to perform this song, and I think I could totally pull it off.

10.  "Mama Liked the Roses" First off, this isn't even a Christmas song, doesn't even pretend to be.  But there it is stuck on the end of the ultimate Christmas album.  It's kind of mournful and depressing, and it has this bit in the middle where he talks instead of sings.  Weird.  But it's Elvis, so it can't be all bad.  And speaking as someone who's really crazy about her own moma, I can't begrudge him for singing a song about his moma at Christmas-time.  Just sayin'.

Thus concludes my first installment of "Meet my Christmas Albums."  Tune in soon for the rest of the collection.

self-indulgence and rambling and an idea for soon

There are just enough people in the world who don't die of boredom when I speak or write to give me this false sense of encouragement to start this blog.  I can get you names if you want to send hate mail.

Back a hundred years ago, I occasionally blogged on yahoo360, which doesn't exist anymore, and sadly all the desert island entertainment picks and Monday recaps of my life vanished along with interest in 360.  And while I'm full of self-deprecation and faint mocking about starting this up, the fact remains that I am starting this up . . . so that should tell you something about my intense obsession with talking about myself.  If it wasn't already apparent, stick around for a few posts.  I'll convince you in no time.

The burning topic on my mind right now is Christmas music . . . in fact, my desire to talk about Christmas music is THE reason I started the blog tonight.  But I'll have to tackle that tomorrow.

So, imaginary readers, who don't yet know that I'm blogging, stay tuned for the first recurring feature here on "ellen has an opinion":  Meet my Christmas Albums, debuting tomorrow or sometime when I get around to it.  And if that's not a tease to get you coming back for more, I don't know what is.