Tuesday, December 23, 2008

What's Christmas without music?

Welcome to my third annual Christmas music CD review.
I like to think I've begun an annual tradition by reviewing Christmas CDs.
I sure hope it isn't something that only I enjoy, but that everyone enjoys.
And whether or not this is true, I do have a bunch of CDs to review this year.
Let me review my criteria:

1. I buy new Christmas CDs
2. I listen to them
3. I tell you my opinion
4. I base it on 1-4 stars

That's about how it works.
And I have quite a few this year, so it will take a while.
Go get a drink, hot tea, coffee, cocoa, whatever you desire, and sit down and read for a spell.
Here we go!

First up is Faith Hill with Joy to the World.
No particular reason to start with her, other than I just decided to.
Listening to this CD is like hearing a soundtrack to a television special.
Faith wouldn't do that, though, I'm sure.....wait.....she's what?...got a tv special coming out?
Oh, my bad.
I guess she would.
It's a good thing she's not doing a charity holiday show solely for the purpose of plugging her latest CD.
Her CD, however, really does sound like a soundtrack.
It's okay, but nothing great.
Would I allow it to be music that would accompany as I shop through the mall?
Sure, because that is about what it sounds like.
Highly produced Christmas songs, with an original one, "A Baby Changes Everything," and she does a so-so version of "O Holy Night."
It's passable, but like most of her songs they are reverential without being inspirational.
And if you can understand what I mean by that, then more power to you.
P.S. Next time, Faith, don't pull your hair back so tight when you're on tv. The whole "big ear" look isn't working for you.

Number of stars: 2
(I'd give it a 1.5, but I don't want to be cruel. Well, not after the "big ear" remark.)

Next CD is A Lovely Way to Spend Christmas by Kristin Chenoweth who, surprise, surprise!, also happens to be on the same Christmas special with Faith Hill.
Boy, I will just never understand how these record companies time these things so perfectly.
Guess there's a reason why I don't work in marketing!
Oh Kristin, I really wanted to love, Love, LOVE! your CD, but instead I only Like it, and really only about half of it.
I adore Kristin, she's got so much talent. And even more importantly, she can go from singing opera to pop to Christmas tunes, and she always sounds good.
Reminds me of another singer I know.
It's like this lady at my church who just can't sing a song in a simple manner, and she always has to show off, even for the kid's Christmas play.
Enough of the flourishes!
It irritates me so.
Yes, we know you can sing, but sing with the group, not over them.
Kristin - man, she can transcend.
She can be perky, or reverential (and inspirational), and operatic, but not always on this CD.
It starts off goofy as hell.
Reminds me slightly of that whole helium/Marie Osmond thing.
And the first half of the CD is kind of weird, like, why are you using a Carpenter's tune on a Christmas CD - one that is clearly of television commercial quality and not for the holidays.
Which one?
Sure, you remember that one - it goes, "Sing, sing a song, Make it simple, to last your whole life long...."
Running through the words in my head I just can't seem to recall anything in there that conjures up Christmas.
Nope, not getting it.
So why is it on here? (I ask, acknowledging that I do love Karen Carpenter, and actually have a Carpenter's Christmas CD, and that song is not on there! How about that?)
After listening to this CD I've come to the conclusion that Kristin is trying to be too many different types of a singer on the first part. She's from Oklahoma, so there's a bit of a country twang, then there's the big bang sound, and the whole "Sing" debacle which, just by throwing in some words about Christmas still doesn't make it a Christmas song, especially one that started out as a Sesame Street song!
Again I digress.
I've lost focus, just like Kristin, but on the second half of the CD, she really finds out who she is and performs the last few songs in a truly lovely manner. If we could capture that half and dump the first part, we'd be good to go.

Number of stars: 2.5

I swear it is not my mood this year that is causing me to review (or spend money on) all these halfway passable CDs, but alas, here is another one.
Amy Grant's The Christmas Collection.
A greatest hits - who knew?
Not me; well, not really.
I do have, I think, two other Amy Grant Christmas CDs.
And I like Amy Grant.
So I have to ask - what happened here?
This CD is so blah, that it's the color beige, it's vanilla ice cream, and it's like mashed potatoes with no seasoning.
Get the point?
There's nothing on here that excites me, and remember - I've heard most of these songs before!
Would it be great accompaniment in a mall?
Sure, that's where it belongs.
Bland background music that is unobtrusive.
Good, without ever being great.
A regurgitation of supposedly greatest hit songs onto a disc that doesn't bring anything new to the table.
Okay, that's not true. There are several new songs on here, but nothing that makes me want to pull it out and listen to it again, and again, and again.
On the liner notes Amy writes, "Personally, I never grow tired of Christmas music which compels me to record new songs whenever I get the chance."
Well honey, hold off for a few years, would ya?

Number of stars: 2
(I'm feeling kind this year.)

If you like your Christmas classical, and by classical I mean authentic, and by authentic I mean Olde English (and in Latin and some French), then this is the CD for you. I admire Loreena McKennitt's talent - she has an amazing voice and the fantastic ability to arrange songs in fresh, new ways, while retaining their authenticity. Her CD, A Midwinter Night's Dream, is hauntingly lovely, and exactly what you want to listen to when arranging the holly by the doors and windows (keeps out evil, you know). I remember being in 5th grade music trying to sing "Bring a Candle, Jeannette, Isabelle" and just not getting the melody. Loreena McKennit sings the song in French, "Un Flambeau, Jeannette, Isabelle" and retains the beautiful simplicity of this lovely forgotten song. Much better in the original language. Doesn't make me want to go back to 5th grade and try again, but I'm glad to rediscover this song.
DN2 wanted to listen to "Emmanuel" because she thought it would be like the version with which she is familiar. Well it is, but it's in Latin. She was little confused, but it's worth a listen (Gaude!). Okay, that link is not to Loreena, but to something else, but you can hear this song and find lyrics to other songs in tons of different languages (or at least 85).
I digress.
As always.
I like this CD.
I like it quite a bit, and it suits this time of the year.
I will listen to it again next year for sure.

Number of stars: 4
I almost gave it a 3 or 3.5, but it really is So much better than Faith Hill's that it needs to have the rating boosted up.

I'd really love to rate Enya's And Winter Came but I can't seem to find it.
This is nothing new for me.
I lose Christmas presents too, and then don't find them until after the holiday.
Sometimes years later!
So I know I've listened to this CD, but it didn't really make that much of an impact on me, otherwise I think I would remember it.
And I do listen to these CDs more than once, thank you very much.
I sacrifice for my readers.
Enya is always calming, soothing, but really she carries the same tone throughout the CD.
I'd write more about it, but dang if I can find it.
Number of stars: ???
And I reserve the right to change this if I ever find the CD.

Well, remember when chanting was all the rage? And remember when Irish music was cool? Yeah, it still is, although not cool in the annoying way Kathie Lee Gifford insists it is to Enya (click on link for KLG's insulting interview with Enya). I bought this next CD thinking, well yeah, Irish, chanting, Christmas - what's not to like? Celtic Joy by Noirin Ni Riain is interesting, and beautifully done, but certainly does not put me in the mood.
It didn't really put me in any mood.
I paid a lot of money for this CD (it's all for you, dear readers), and wanted a GREAT chanting CD, but unfortunately, this one is not it.
The songs have Christmas titles, but they just don't evoke a Christmas mood.

Number of stars: 3 (for authenticity, recording in a monastery, great liner notes, and pure vocal talent - Amazing)

I have never bought anything by Melissa Etheridge before. I have nothing against her, I just haven't spent money on her music. So I surprised myself by buying Melissa Etheridge's A New Thought for Christmas where she is keeping Christmas kind of bluesy. And that's not necessarily a bad thing. She does a fine rendition of "Blue Christmas," and reworks many of the songs to remove any sense of over-religiosity and insert common thoughts about peace, for each other and for the world. It was entertaining, and certainly didn't sound distinctly like a Christmas CD (except for "Blue Christmas," of course).
This CD might not be for everyone, so if you want Christmas music that is not SO Christmasy, then you will like this CD.
Although please note that the word "Christmas" is sprinkled liberally throughout many of the titles, so clearly this is some kind of Christmas = peace CD.
Melissa changes "O Holy Night" and remakes it into "O Night Divine" which is an interesting take on the song.
The best song on here is really "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" which fits Melissa's range perfectly.
She sings it better than Bono.
I said it.
Now don't sue me, please, I don't have the money.
This is an innovative take on Christmas songs, and songs for the season, and I enjoyed listening to it.

Number of stars: 3.5

I've talked before about how much I like classical music, and I'm not going to insert links, because you should just go back and find it if you're really that interested. Trust me, in another year I'll forget I've talked about it and write about it again. So let's just keep moving forward, and don't call me a story repeater.
So, classical music.
Great stuff!
I know that Yo-Yo Ma has done plenty of study into the anthropology of music (that's what I'm calling it), by releasing his CD Appalachian Journey, so it really should come as no surprise to Yo-Yo Ma fans that he would do the same again with Christmas. Songs of Joy and Peace quickly became my "go to" CD for listening. It has everything you would want, singers, music, classical arrangements, and modern remastering of traditional songs. I don't think my kids appreciated it, but what the hell do they know - they listen to screamo music which I HATE.
On this CD you'll find James Taylor, Diana Krall, Allison Krauss (who is truly a musical genius), and Chris Thile from Nickel Creek (any bluegrass fans out there?).
There are a ton of other performers on here.
Actually there are 22 songs on this CD, so you can do the math, right?
Definitely a CD that can go from being party music, to cookie baking music, to folding the damn laundry music.
And it's not all instrumental; there are songs on here that you can sing along to as well.

Number of stars: Initial listen gave this a 3, but it quickly eclipsed that and became a 4

Have you ever sat in a room at twilight, and experienced the peace that comes as the light segues into the dark? If you have, and you want to evoke that feeling through music, I recommend Mary-Chapin Carpenter's Come Darkness Come Light: Twelve Songs of Christmas . It is peaceful, without being overly preachy; it is the same tone throughout the CD, without every song being annoyingly similar. It is that peaceful, magical time we experience as a day comes to an end, and the calm filters through our bodies and rests our minds.
There are some original songs on here, some remakes, and really, I just enjoy the hell out of it.
And while this CD is perfect when you're calm, if you're looking for something to listen to when you're cleaning your house, this CD is not it.
I'm afraid this CD might not transcend all times of the day, so I have to take that into consideration when assigning a rating.

Number of stars: 3.99
Because really, when do I ever clean?

If you've come this far, I thank you.
There you have it, folks, my third annual Christmas CD review.
That's a lot of listening, but it's just so much fun!

Merry Christmas!


Kat said...

You know, that song by Faith Hill is annoying... A baby changes everything? Isn't that an ad campaign for Johnson's baby powder or Planned Parenthood or something? I also love Kristen Chenowith (which I'm sure I spelled wrong) and I am really upset that Pushing Daisies got canned. I think she is amazing.

Love your list, and it is a tradition in my house! :)

Jennifer said...

Oooh - thanks. I haven't purchased and CDs in awhile. I listen to the cable Sounds of the Holidays channel... but of late I've been disappointed. Not a single Silent Night, Joy to the World, or Oh Come All Ye Faithful. Even I'm getting sick of the The Little Drummer Boy. I'm going to pick some of these up.