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
Ann 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.
Half 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 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.
McDonald 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
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.
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
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.
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."
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."
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.
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.
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.
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."
Millennium 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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