Music Review: Rod Stewart “Merry Christmas Baby”

Merry Christmas Baby CDI admit that my CD collection has an excess of 100 Christmas albums. I am a Christmas music junkie. Despite my considerable musical collection, and the fact that I have been preparing for the Edmonton Singing Christmas Tree since April, I still get excited when new releases come out each year.

This year’s top Christmas pick is Rod Stewart’s “Merry Christmas, Baby”. Stewart’s first-ever Christmas album is my top choice to make spirits bright come December.

Just like he did for the “American Songbook”, the two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, adds his raspy, well-seasoned voice to holiday classics like “White Christmas,” “Silent Night,” “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, along with “Auld Lang Sine” . Throughout the album, Stewart, cleverly, takes the traditional melody and turns just a couple of notes around to keep your attention wrapped. In my opinion, the album’s most noteworthy moments are the duets.

On “Winter Wonderland,” Stewart, partnered with Michael Bublé, croon to set the seasonal mood by stirring up images of blanketed, snow-covered streets, snuggling by a cozy fire, hot chocolate in hand. The flamboyant Cee-Lo Green joins Stewart on the title track adding a Motown flavor to the Christmas classic. While, producer, David Foster plays the Rhodes piano, adding to the retro vibe.

“We Three Kings” was a surprise selection to me. Mary J. Blige infuses her soulfully passionate vocals along with a gospel choir, to this dynamic arrangement. “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” features a virtual duet with Stewart and Ella Fitzgerald, showcasing one of my favorites trumpeters, Chris Botti.

Merry Christmas, Baby” includes one original track: “Red-Suited Super Man” composed by Stewart, David and Amy Foster and featuring Trombone Shorty. It is a light-hearted, fun tune worthy to be included among all of these gems.

“Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow” is punctuated by the incomparable Dave Koz on sax, giving the composition a little more sass than this seasonal standard usually receives. Stewart offers a touching cover of the Disney favorite “When You Wish Upon a Star” as a perfect fit to a collection of songs conveying the innocence of childlike faith, hope and joy.

If you’re looking to add some joyful sound to your Christmas festivities, or if you have a Christmas music junkie in your circle of friends, this is worth the investment.

Music Review: Dig That Crazy Christmas: The Brian Setzer Orchestra

dig-that-crazy-christmasChristmas music in August?! I know it is summer, but I’ve been listening to Christmas music since April, in preparation for this year’s Edmonton Singing Christmas Tree. “Dig That Crazy Christmas” by The Brian Setzer Orchestra, was one of the many albums (why do we still call them that?) that I listened to in selecting music for this year’s show. Setzer and his ruckus band, roar and swing through 11 holiday classics, along with two originals; the horn-driven stomper "Hey Santa!", spiced with some sizzling vocal and instrumental interchange, and a roaring blues mélange: "Santa’s Got a Hot Rod", complete with blaring horns and a fine, growling vocal from Setzer, describing the wonders of Santa’s new souped-up ride, which has replaced a "rusty old sleigh."

"White Christmas" gets a gently rocking arrangement, graced by honking sax and robust guitar punctuations, while a mid-tempo instrumental version of "My Favorite Things" provides Setzer with a showcase for his serious guitar chops. There are plenty of jazz-tinged solos, ahead of fanciful flights of brass and woodwinds. For comic relief, Setzer brings his mock spooked-out vocal on "’Zat You Santa?", and his generous serving of ham on "You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch," to which he adds a reverberant top-strings solo that pays homage to "The Munsters" theme song.

“Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow!” drives just like you may expect a big band ought to do. Towards the end, it takes a turn with a short bass trombone solo catching you off guard. One of the most ambitious charts is, "Angels We Have Heard On High”. Setzer puts everyone out there at breakneck speed. Starting with the orchestra, trumpets at terminal velocity, then and a full-bodied church choir, with enough room for a burst of blaring horns and trebly rock guitar solos. Setzer ties up this holiday gift with a lush, dreamy rendition of "What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve”, which, like the rest of the disc, rings true both in content and spirit.

Though it was released several years ago, the music is anything but dated. Each tune is sure to put a smile on your face. If you’re up for a holiday sound amidst the sun, pop this in a let the grinning begin.

Speaking of “Crazy Santa Claus”, take a look at this promo video for the Edmonton Singing Christmas Tree


Music Review: Michael Bublé – Christmas

Michael-Buble-Christmas-2011-front-coverI just found a Christmas album that will give you the warm festive feeling of the season. Michael Bublé is the consummate crooner, with a voice tailor-made for performing merry, holiday numbers. He is a hybrid of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin for the modern generation. He is at once a throwback and current—that’s not easy to do—but Bublé does it with grace, class, and most of all, infinite style! Bublé is the entire Rat Pack rolled into one.

The singer’s latest Christmas offering, simply titled Christmas, is a batch of standards and familiar fare, given the Bublé treatment. It’s a holiday marvel, one you will want to blast while wrapping presents, baking Santa-shaped cookies; sipping cider with a cinnamon stick floating in it; and decking the halls. Buble’s warm voice is worthy of an invite into all of your holiday parties. He doesn’t overdo it with chimes, bells and whistles, either! It’s all about that mellifluous voice with the backing arrangements produced by the genius of David Foster.

"It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas" is as warm and toasty as a mug of peppermint-spiked hot cocoa and is true to Bublé’s Rat Pack style. His "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" is big-band, old world and epic. He partners with The Puppini Sisters (a headline act in their own right) for "Jingle Bells", with its bass-heavy kick contrasting with the female trio voices. Bublé is matched with fellow Canadian, Shania Twain for “White Christmas”. They make a decent team on the classic tune. "Silent Night" is rich and creamy, a true showpiece for Buble’s voice. On "Ave Maria," he shows his spiritual side. It may be the most beautiful he’s ever sounded. He turns "Blue Christmas" into a festive room-filler. The charts are world-class on Christmas.

A surprise song is "All I Want For Christmas is You," a sweeping re-make of Mariah Carey’s bouncy, upbeat original, but Bublé slows it down and gives it a gorgeous, slow and striking makeover. He makes the song fit his strengths. Few artists can take a popular song, cover it and give it such a twist that they reinvent , but that’s just what Bublé does.

The album is rounded out with the standards “Holly Jolly Christmas”, “Santa Baby” and “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”. Christmas, with its 15 strong songs has plenty of music for entertaining this holiday season. If you can’t tell, I absolutely recommend this CD!

Looking For The Christmas Spirit?! We’ve Got It Here!

Music Review: Diana Krall, Christmas Songs

frontFor most of my life, Christmas music was equated to work. As a music director, Christmas concerts were a big part of my job. I rarely listened to songs of the season for pleasure. Along with that is the issue, is that we have a couple of hundred songs getting played over and over and over again, like some demented Santa’s top 40. There are a handful of “must have” disks to tone down the chaos of family dinners, or serenade you during the opening of the presents.

Welcome Diana Krall to this mix. The smoothest voice in jazz hasn’t been a complete stranger to the holiday verse, releasing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and “Jingle Bells” for past compilations. These merely hinted at what was to come from this entrancing songbird. Diana Krall takes on the classics with Christmas Songs. It’s a set that dances between the joyously upbeat (“Frosty the Snowman”) and songs of quiet contemplation (“Christmas Time is Here”). It seems to capture the ebb and flow of the season, wrapped in its tempo changes.

Krall has always been known for her crystal clear pipes, and they’ve never been quite so invigorating as with this collection. It is as if that infectious spirit of the season got her drunk on egg nog and had its merry way with her. The opening track “Jingle Bells” is a perfect example. The horns bob and weave as Krall’s voice punctuates the crescendos, flowing with passion and vigor. She’s just caught up in the rhythm, adding the decorative bow on the end “I’m just crazy about horses.”

The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra accompanies her, and man… do they come to play. They add the kick and charisma to gas up these tunes. Just as importantly, they know their place — backing Diana. Other Christmas albums just completely forget to grab hold of the reins, and the big band just somersaults out of control, bleeding over everything.

Krall has selected a classic set that include all our sentimental favorites without getting a wild hair to take chances with the material. It’s Christmas. We want those familiar favorites we sang carols to as children and listened to those nights when Christmas Eve grew old. Whether it’s “The Christmas Song” or “I’ll Be There for Christmas,” Diana captures all the magic of a child breathlessly waiting for Santa and a family setting aside their differences and bridging the miles that separate them, to come together as one.

The only casualties of this collection await us in the disk’s closing moments. “Count Your Blessings (Instead of Sheep)” and “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve” are fair tracks, buoyed by Diana’s effervescent vocal glow. They don’t necessarily detract from this collection, but sit as fat on the Butterball turkey that could have been trimmed. Her two shining moments are “Christmas Time is Here” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” “Christmas Time,” or the Charlie Brown Song as it tends to be informally known, is quiet and poignant. It just seems to whisper to the night’s sky to lose its grip on the powdered snow while the fire rages from the hearth. It comes draped in that blanket of warm fuzzy feelings. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” starts out so intimate, Diana tiptoeing in with the piano. Then the band nuzzles up beside her, dressing her heartfelt plea. It’s a beautiful piece.

Diana Krall fulfills her tremendous promise that jazz aficionados have sensed was simmering in her for many moons. She’s given us reason to get giddy about Christmas music again, which is a pretty tall order.