Ho Ho Ho! (12/22/2000)
Various Artists, Yule B' Swingin' Too! (Hip-O 2000) - The title says it all - holiday music, presented in a swing and jazz style.
The album opens with Louie Armstrong and his gravely-voiced version of "Christmas in New Orleans," and continues through "White Christmas" by Ella Fitzgerald, "Jingle Bells" by Duke Ellington & His Orchestra, and "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" by Tommy Dorsey & His Orchestra.
There's also some lounge-oriented swing: Louis Prima's "Shake Hands with Santa Clause," Ann-Margaret and Al Hirt teaming on "Baby, It's Cold Outside," and Dean Martin warbling "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer."
You'll B' Swing' Too! is exactly as advertised. One person said "I like that - it reminds me of my grandma."
The Irish Rovers, Songs of Christmas (Hip-O 2000) - Here's the biggest surprise of the holiday lot. The Irish Rovers, an Irish-Canadian group, deliver a charming collection on Songs of Christmas.
Songs of Christmas works because the six-member group stays within its strengths. The combo works from a Celtic tradition, which comes across in songs like "Away in a Manger," "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen," and "Silent Night."
With such instrumentation as accordion, mandolin, drums and bones, and flute, the Irish Rovers have a distinctive style, which they play to its fullest on Songs of Christmas. Enjoy this heartfelt collection.
Says George Miller (one of four vocalists in the group), "As the century comes to a close, we are looking forward to our 36th year of roving together. We've had the most amazing fans since we started all those years ago, and we would like to thank everyone of you for your loyalty, and sincerely wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Millennium."
Ally McBeal, A Very Ally Christmas (Epic 2000) - Marking the third release from the Fox Network show "Ally McBeal," honey-haired songstress Vonda Shepard heads a 14-song holiday collection. With Shepard appearing on half the songs, the album has its share of winners.
Shepard produced the new collection herself, and shows great reserve on such standards as "Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." The highlight of the album is her delightful reading of "Silver Bells," clocking in at under two minutes.
Also appearing are cast members, including Calista Flockhart performing a brief version of the Eartha Kitt favorite, "Santa Baby," Jane Krakowski (who plays legal secretary Elaine Vassal) on two cuts, including "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus," and troubled guest star Robert Downey Jr. on two songs, including a duet with Vonda Shepard on "White Christmas."
I don't care as much for the non-traditional holiday songs, like "This Christmas" and the big-band arrangement on "The Man with the Bag." Also appearing is Macy Gray on a previously-unreleased 1998 recording of "Winter Wonderland." Macy Gray has a love-it-or-leave-it voice - put me in the second camp.
All told, A Very Ally Christmas is a fun collection, lighthearted but not lightweight.
The younger crowd will be jammin' with such hot teen acts as 'N Sync ("Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays"), Spice Girls ("Sleigh Ride"), SheDAISY ("Deck the Halls"), and Disney's own Myra ("Frosty the Snowman").
Also included are vintage favorites, such as Burl Ives ("A Holly Jolly Christmas"), Alvin and the Chipmunks ("The Chipmunk Song"), and Brenda Lee ("Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree").
Holiday Jams is fun for children of all ages. And, you can get a slice of "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer" by Elmo & Patsy.
Linda Ronstadt, Merry Little Christmas (Elektra 2000) - Linda Ronstadt weighs in with a new holiday collection on Merry Little Christmas. The album is long on schmaltz and heavy orchestral arrangements.
It appears that Linda has relocated back to her original hometown of Tucson, Arizona, and enlisted the University of Arizona choir to assist her with the second half of Merry Little Christmas.
Tracks like "I'll Be Home for Christmas" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" are pleasing arrangements. Yet Ronstadt delves into the obscure on songs like "Lo, How a Rose E're Blooming"and "Oh, Magnum Mysterium," both delivered in a choral arrangement.
Maybe you need to be in the right mood for this album. I found Merry Little Christmas to be too much on all counts.
Jewel, Joy: A Holiday Collection (Atlantic 1999) - 26-year-old Jewel has achieved superstar status with only two albums to her name. A Holiday Collection finds Jewel delivering a dozen Christmas favorites, together with an overproduced "Christmas version" of her hit, "Hands."
A Holiday Collection was produced by Arif Marden, and includes such Yuletide staples as "Silent Night," "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing," and a Hawaiian-tinged version of "Winter Wonderland" (which works better than it sounds).
Says Jewel, "Working with Arif was great . . . I got to use my voice in a way I don't get to in my own music. Like 'Ava Marie,' for instance. I also got to sing gospel music, which I haven't done since before I got signed."
Jewel has a sweet voice, and is always a pleasure to listen to. My gripe is the lack of precision in her work. For example, A Holiday Collection was rumored to have been recorded in just three days. Jewel would do well to work with a more exacting producer, who could harness and refine her theatrical visions.
Yet Jewel remains a charming presence, and A Holiday Collection is an album you will listen to after the Christmas season.
- Randy Krbechek © 2000
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