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.

1 comment:

  1. Dude, you forgot to mention killer harmonies. Get with the program.


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