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Music Reviews

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December 10, 1997

Stocking Stuffers

Dwight YoakamDwight Yoakam, Come on Christmas (Reprise 1997) - Christmas will be here soon, and with it come the annual holiday releases. A strong new entry is Come on Christmas by country star, Dwight Yoakam.

With assistance from his long-time producer/guitarist Pete Anderson, Yoakam has a sound that transcends traditional Nashville fare. In fact, were it not for the Elvis Presley elements in his voice, you'd be pressed to call Dwight Yoakam country. (And, considering his chilling performance in Sling Blade, we all see Yoakam in a different light.)

But the ten cuts on Come on Christmas are friendly and accessible. Thus, his covers of "Silver Bells" and "I'll Be Home for Christmas" are sweet readings, while "Here Comes Santa Claus" is a delightful view of Christmas through a child's eyes. An added bonus is Yoakam's cool silver suit (you'll have to buy the album to see the suit.)

Distinctive and heartfelt, Come on Christmas will brighten your holiday spirits.

Superstar ChristmasVarious Artists, Superstar Christmas (Epic 1997) - Another swell Christmas release is Superstar Christmas (part of the proceeds will go to benefit leukemia, cancer and AIDS research). With 16 cuts from bonafide superstars, Superstar Christmas has something for everyone.

Thus, the album mixes fine new Christmas songs, such as Cyndi Lauper's "Early Christmas Morning" and Gloria Estefan's "Christmas Through Your Eyes," against such traditional chestnuts as "Silent Night" (with great harmonies by R&B sensation Boyz II Men) and "White Christmas" (in which Placido Domingo manages to sound like Jim Nabors).

My favorite cuts include "Merry Christmas Baby," a live recording from Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, and the classic, "Happy Xmas (War is Over)" byJohn Lennon & Yoko Ono.

To my surprise, Superstar Christmas contains the first Celine Dion song I've ever liked ("Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire"), which features a lovely three-piece arrangement (piano, upright bass, and drums). On the other hand, Amy Grant's version of "I'll Be Home for Christmas" builds off a similar lounge sound, but is ruined by the fake, piped-in strings. Not to be forgotten is Frank Sinatra, whose big-band version of "Let it Snow" illustrates the dramatic changes in pop music during the last 40 years.

I'm not crazy about most Christmas releases, but I played Superstar Christmasagain and again. A guaranteed crowd pleaser.

Country Stocking Stuffers - Other new Christmas releases include Merry Texas Christmas Y'All (High Street 1997) by the veteran Asleep at the Wheel (with guest appearances from Tish Hinojosa and Willie Nelson), and A Country Superstar Christmas (Hip-O 1997), with performances by Trisha Yearwood, Reba McEntire,and Vince Gill.

Elton JohnElton John, The Big Picture (Rocket Records 1997) - It's been 30 years since Elton John formed his legendary songwriting partnership with Bernie Taupin (who now simply goes by "Taupin"). With the 11 new songs on The Big Picture, our heroes show they can still write a charming song, albeit more subdued than in Elton John's flamboyant heyday.

And Elton John has enjoyed a storied career. Starting with his first U.S. hit, "Your Song" (1970), Elton John charted such memorable singles as "Bennie and the Jets," "Philadelphia Freedom," and "I Guess That's Why They Call it the Blues."

Wearing his age well, Elton held number one for more than two months this year with his Princess Diana tribute, "Candle in the Wind 1997," and also won an Academy Award (together with a Golden Globe and Grammy) in 1996 for the single, "Can You Feel the Love Tonight?", from the soundtrack to the Lion King.

Despite (or perhaps, notwithstanding) his tremendous success, Elton John has found a more steady rudder in recent years. The Big Picture continues in this intelligent, introspective vein. Backed by strings and soaring choruses, Elton John's voice and keyboard skills shine on such new gems as "Love's Got a Lot to Answer For" and the impressively understated, "Recover Your Soul."

If Elton plays live shows to support the new release, I expect "Recover Your Soul" will bring a buzz to the concert hall, much like the awesome single "Too Low for Zero" (from the 1982 album of the same name) was a showstopper in concert.

Both a pioneer and a survivor, Elton John has earned his place in rock history. The Big Picture is a worthy addition, and will please fans new and old.

-- Randy Krbechek

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