I like to buy new Christmas CDs every year. I love Christmas music, and sometimes you can get some really good music. And then every year I would read the reviews for Christmas CDs in the Washington Post and a lot of time I would purchase these CDs based upon their positive reviews. Well, I don’t get that newspaper anymore and yes, I know that I can read it online, but sometimes finding when they have published the Christmas CD reviews is just too much work. So this year I’ve decided to review some CDs myself.
The first CD I purchased this year was Sarah Maclachlan’s.
I had high hopes for this CD because honestly, who doesn’t like Sarah Maclachlan, and she is always innovative in her interpretations of songs, especially ones that are not her own (which are few). And the primary reason I was excited about this CD was because I had purchased a Christmas CD she produced and released about 4-5 years ago and on which she sang two tracks. This CD featured all Canadian performers, and I have to say it has become a family favorite (Lalique glass or crystal?). But then I listened to her new CD. Well, let me put it this way, there is nothing new and innovative with these songs. They are boring and mundane. And I almost don’t want to listen to this CD again. Blech. She has a Joni Mitchell song on here that everyone wants to sing called “River” (even Robert Downey Jr. sang this song in a movie). If you haven’t heard it I’ll tell you that it’s a sad, soulful song about a woman who is alone at Christmas in California and she’s pretty depressed about the whole thing. Great song, very sad, but great. I thought that Sarah’s interpretation would be outstanding. Well it’s not. It’s actually almost a little too upbeat. Come on – this woman is depressed. And here’s Sarah singing as if there’s no problem at all! It is horrible. At least to me. I made DN1 listen to it and she told me to turn it off, she couldn’t stand it. I’m adding that in just so you know it’s not just my opinion. Now truthfully I believe that Tori Amos has the best version of “River” bar none – and that means her version is even better than Joni Mitchell’s – and I’m comparing these versions to a live, bootleg recording of Tori singing this song! So I’ve set a difficult bar for anyone to overcome, but Sarah doesn’t even come close. Number of stars: 2 (and I almost want my money back)
Next comes James Taylor. You know, what can I say, it is James Taylor. I love him, but let’s be honest, a lot of his music sounds the same. The first part of the CD he tries to reinterpret some old carols, and it’s not too bad. His version of “Go Tell it on the Mountain” is kind of catchy. He too sings “River” and it is only slightly better than Sarah’s. The second half of the CD is just some innocuous singing, sounds original, but doesn’t grate on my nerves. After a bit I find myself singing along. And let me put it this way, if you’re hurriedly writing a paper at the last minute and you don’t care what you listen to as long as it doesn’t interfere with your thought process about Albert Camus (or fill in the blank with whatever you’re writing about), than this CD is for you. Number of stars: 2 ½
The third CD is Celtic Woman. I love this group, or combo, or gaggle of women, whatever they are calling themselves. I have their first CD (a non-Christmas one) and it is a pleasure to listen to. I also had high hopes for this CD and I was not disappointed. It is an excellent CD and what makes it easy for them, besides their obvious talent, is that they can switch around singers and this way none of their songs sound the same. But truly, they have done a wonderful job and even though a lot of the songs are not traditional “Celtic” songs, they are still done very well. Their version of “Carol of the Bells” is one I listen to often and I’ll tell you a funny story about their song “Christmas Pipes.” I was busy writing and listening to this CD and this particular song came on, but I misunderstood what they were saying; I thought they were singing about Christmas Pies. And I just couldn’t understand why someone was so excited about pies, which made me start thinking about which kind of pie and perhaps it is mince. Anyway, it is not a song about food, but I did crack myself up. Definitely one that I will listen to again each year, and sometimes in July. Number of stars: 3 ½