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Happy Holidays (12/21/2001) Write to CD Shakedown
HeartHeart Presents A Lovemongers' Christmas (Beyond Music 2001) - Sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson - known to the world as Heart, of Dreamboat Annie fame - have released a gentle holiday nugget in A Lovemongers' Christmas. The ten-track collection leans toward the acoustic side, highlighted by "Ave Maria" (written by Franz Shubert).

Nancy Wilson and Cameron CroweAnn and Nancy Wilson started in Seattle, and broke big with such hits as "Barracuda" and "Crazy on You." Nancy has been married for 16 years to Cameron Crowe, the director of Jerry Maguire and the new Vanilla Sky, and is the mother of twins.

A Lovemongers' Christmas was originally an indie release, and finds the sisters working in an acoustic quartet with songwriting collaborator Sue Ennis on keyboards and performer Frank Cox on mandolin, guitar and piano. Also appearing are Ben Smith on drums, Brad Allison on flugelhorn and piccolo trumpet, and Mary Frank on concert harp.

HeartHalf the songs are new compositions, including "Here is Christmas" and "How Beautiful." But holiday albums are about traditional music, and A Lovemongers' Christmas reaches deep into the traditional bag with such songs a "The Last Noel" and "Oh Holy Night!"

A Lovemongers' Christmas evokes images of a gentle Christmas night in London, with snow falling and hundreds of years of traditions. Go easy with A Lovemongers' Christmas.

Michael McDonaldMichael McDonald, In The Spirit: A Christmas Album (MCA Nashville 2001) - Former Doobie Brother Michael McDonald (his five Grammy Awards include the 1979 Record of the Year for "What a Fool Believes") has assembled a Christmas collection on In The Spirit. McDonald has an endearing voice and a taste for big productions, so you'll get a full serving with In The Spirit.

Now age 49, McDonald was raised in St. Louis and moved to Los Angeles in the 1970's, where he started picking up session work with his keyboard playing and vocals. McDonald teamed with Steely Dan in 1975, and appeared on such albums as Royal Scam, Aja, and Gaucho.

Michael McDonaldMcDonald found himself in the right place at the right time when he was contacted by Jeff "Skunk" Baxter, the former guitarist for Steely Dan who had joined the Doobie Brothers. The Doobies' Tom Johnston was ailing, and McDonald joined the band, making his debut before 18,000 fans at LSU.

Since the 80s, McDonald continued his work as a session player and solo artist, including a hit duet with Patti LaBelle, "On My Own."

While In The Spirit is a holiday collection, McDonald favors a soulful pop sound, with Big Band elements on songs like "Children Go Where I Send Thee." The opening "Angels We Have Heard On High" is a gentle number, in which McDonald is joined on vocals by his daughters Amy Holland McDonald and Scarlett McDonald.

Michael McDonaldMcDonald provides vocals and keyboards, and is joined by Marc Harris on acoustic piano, Hammond B-3, and synthesizer, Andrew Ramsey on electric guitar, Jim Horn and Sam Levine on saxophone, Mike Haynes on trumpet, and Barry Green on trombone. Also appearing are Tommy Sims on bass and Rick Jordan and Dan Needham on drums.

That's a lot of musicians. And that's what you get on In the Spirit - big Christmas productions. While most of the songs are written or co-written by McDonald, he also includes a cover of "White Christmas/Winter Wonderland" (with guitar work by Jonny Lang) and "On Christmas Morning," written by David Foster and Kenny Loggins.

For a full holiday serving, look to In The Spirit.

Jann ArdenJann Arden, Blood Red Cherry (Zoe/Rounder 2001) - Canadian singer Jann Arden is not one to shy from striking imagery. With her fifth album, the Calgary-born singer develops a sound that is best described as graceful - witty and wise, infused with guitars and texture, yet ultimately centered on Arden's poise.

Which makes Jann the most unlikely of buskers. Jann has brought home six Juno Awards (two for her debut, Time For Mercy, and four for 1994's Living Under June), and has record sales exceeding two million. Yet Jann remains rooted, and can often be found behind the counter of the famous Calgary eatery, the Arden Diner.

Jann ArdenJann is not afraid to try to understand the big picture, as on songs like "Sleepless," in which she sings, "Four billion people surround us/So many souls lose their way/All that we have is each other/And that's all I've ever wanted."

Jann is the flipside of the Alanis Morissette experience - a voice sweet and beguiling, yet not torn by angst. Witness the elegiac "I Only Wanted Sex," or the sultry "Best Dressed," with its line, "Puttin' on a kiss that will last until dawn/I'm going to town with my best dress on."

Jann ArdenOn Blood Red Cherry, Jann again teams with producer Ed Cherney, who has assembled a host of able studio hands, including David Faragher on bass, Russell Broom on electric guitar, acoustic guitar, moog, and e-bow guitar, Mark Goldenberg on keyboards and drum loops, and Gregg Bissonett on drums. Also appearing are Dillon O'Brien on backing vocals, Rami Jaffee on Hammond B-3 organ, and Allison Cornell on violin.

Jann's strength comes from within. Says the artist, "One tends to really think about life and death when they get a pacemaker installed at twenty years old. I kept wondering what people would say about me at my funeral. I even wondered what I would say about myself."

Jann ArdenComments producer Ed Cherney, "It occurs to me, looking back on all her work, that Jann is one of the purest sounding female pop singers walking the face of the earth."

That's an accurate assessment. Zoe Records continues a hot streak, focusing on pop with folk leanings (including the Nields). The problem is that their albums get a little long - at almost 58 minutes, Blood Red Cherry could stand a little trimming.

Yet Jann Arden is an honest artist, and builds without artifice.

Head EastHead East, Millennium Collection (A&M Records 2001) - Let's go back to a time long ago, when a band didn't need mega sales to obtain label support, and when FM radio celebrated diversity. That's the time that cultivated Illinois rockers Head East, who get their first greatest hits treatment on Millennium Collection.

Head East was formed in 1969 by a group of University of Illinois students. By 1974, the roster had solidified as Roger Boyd on keyboards, Steve Huston on drums, John Schlitt on vocals, Dan Birney on bass, and Mike Somerville on guitars.

Head EastTheir homemade debut album, Flat As A Pancake, was initially released in the Midwest. Through tireless touring, the albums' first cut, "Never Been Any Reason," became the most-requested song at an FM station in Kansas City, Missouri, which led to a contract with A&M Records.

Head EastMillennium Collection features tracks from all of the albums released by Head East during their run on A&M records in the 70's, including "Monkey Shine" from Get Yourself Up (1976) and the Top 100 Single, "Since You've Been Gone" from Head East (1978).

Now, a Top 100 Single doesn't count for much these days. But back in the day, a Top 100 Single could still get plenty of radio air play. And so succeeded Head East with "Since You've Been Gone."

Head EastMillennium Collection concludes with "Take A Hand," a Rick Springfield-penned cut from their 1979 double album, Head East Live!

The homogenization of rock radio is a crying shame. Yet Head East stood alongside such 70's arena acts as REO Speedwagon and Styx. A hit away from the big time, Head East recalls a different era.

- Randy Krbechek © 2001

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