The Twelve Essential Tracks of Christmas, Day 7: “Lo, How a Rose”

And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.

For this selection, I was torn between two stirring acappella performances of the Michael Praetorious arrangement for this German carol. One is by an authentic Austrian quartet called Schnittpunktvokal:

The other is by the British quartet The King’s Singers. The startling purity of of David Hurley’s counter-tenor instantly leapt out and caught my attention in this version:

I couldn’t decide. So, naturally, I consulted Terry Franklin. Meanwhile, knowing that the German text has many variants and a bajillion verses to choose from, I compared rough translations of both texts used, which aren’t quite alike. Read on to find out which version I ultimately chose and why… Continue reading “The Twelve Essential Tracks of Christmas, Day 7: “Lo, How a Rose””

Monday Morning Humor: Duck (Dynasty) Buffet

We interrupt our “12 Essential Tracks of Christmas” series to bring you a special message… from Duck Dynasty.

In the wake of the Phil Robertson flap (as it were) over his blunt remarks on homosexuality to GQ Magazine, followed by A & E’s tantrum and suspension of the Duck Commander, followed by a national uproar, followed by a family statement to the effect that they are happy to take their show elsewhere (but before A & E’s recent, cowed decision to bring Robertson back)… I finally watched my first Duck Dynasty clips. Because I don’t have a television and never bothered to check out the show online, I hadn’t experienced the phenomenon of Duck Dynasty firsthand.

Until now. Herewith, a selection of my favorite Duck Dynasty clips (so far!) Note: One or two mildly coarse expressions. Note 2: I have more to say on l’affaire Duck Dynasty as a whole, but it’ll have to wait until after break. Continue reading “Monday Morning Humor: Duck (Dynasty) Buffet”

The Twelve Essential Tracks of Christmas, Day 5: Bing Crosby & the Andrews Sisters’ “Jingle Bells”

This track is one of my earliest memories of jazz music. The close harmonies and shimmering big band sound slipped comfortably into my toddler ears and have never gone away since. I still regard it as a model of the class and polish that epitomized jazz playing and singing. Later attempts to mimic this style have never measured up to the real thing. Where Buble and the Puppini Sisters come off smarmy and contrived, Crosby and the Andrews Sisters exude that natural, artless grace which separates a musician of his time from one merely copying what’s gone before. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s…

Bing Crosby & the Andrews Sisters’ “Jingle Bells”

The Twelve Essential Tracks of Christmas, Day 4: Matthew Ward’s “What Child Is This”

Note: I’ve noticed views are down for this series, possibly because it’s Christmas but possibly because readers might understandably feel like all they need is to find the song for themselves somewhere else. However, I’m going to be providing commentary and extra tidbits on some of these tracks, so pay attention! In particular, I’ll tease you with a promise of some performance analysis by Terry Franklin. On which day? You’ll have to wait and see.

When I first discovered that Matthew Ward had done this song, I did a happy dance. Truly, it’s difficult to do a bad version of such a great carol, but Ward does have a habit of putting lesser singers in the shade. 50-some at the time of this recording, his voice amazingly hasn’t aged a day. No further introduction is needed. Enjoy…

Matthew Ward’s “What Child is This”

The Twelve Essential Tracks of Christmas, Day 3: Mannheim Steamroller’s “Good King Wenceslas”

Happy St. Stephen’s Day, and Day 3 of our 12 Essential Tracks of Christmas! Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without this next group. Today we are climbing into our Delorean and going back to the 1984 debut of (drum roll) Mannheim Steamroller! Although they gradually ran out of, er, steam and became essentially a parody of themselves, Mannheim Steamroller Christmas remains a classic. Truth be told, I could have put half of that album into the essentials kit, but I didn’t want the list to slant too heavily towards one artist. However, this group is still the only one who will be featured twice. They had several hot contenders, but their “Good King Wenceslas” is unquestionably a must. Cranking this at full blast in a loop while doing dorky dance moves around the CD player has become something of a tradition in my family. That’s just a sign of how timeless it is. Or maybe it’s just a sign of how weird my family is. Anyhoo, here is…

Mannheim Steamroller’s “Good King Wenceslas”

The 12 Essential Tracks of Christmas, Day 2: Michael W. Smith’s “All is Well”

On this Christmas day, let the American Boys Choir’s original cut of this contemporary classic bring rest to your soul.

Michael W. Smith and Wayne Kirkpatrick’s “All is Well”

All is well, all is well

Angels and men rejoice

For tonight darkness fell

Into the dawn of love’s light

Sing A-le, sing A-le

Sing Alleluia

The 12 Essential Tracks of Christmas, Day One: Straight No Chaser’s “12 Days”

Ho-ho-ho! Merry Christmas! As my gift to you readers, I’m trying something a little different this year. Instead of taking Christmas off, I’m preparing a little series of twelve posts in a row (okay, maybe we’ll take a little Duck Dynasty break in the middle for next Monday’s funnies), but, essentially, twelve posts in a row. I’m calling it “The 12 Essential Tracks of Christmas.” To avoid confusion, let me explain what this series is not. It is not the twelve essential Christmas carols. Nor is it even the twelve essential Christmas songs. Nor is it a comprehensive Christmas collection.

Now for what it is: This series is intended to showcase twelve recordings that I believe no Christmas collection should be without. The main thing I looked for was that extra quality that separates a definitive recording from a good one. A lot of carols and other great songs are missing because I haven’t found what I consider to be a definitive performance. On the flip side, not every song is remarkable, but what the recording artist did with it is. Narrowing it down to just twelve was a tough task. Think of this as your “Christmas survival kit,” your can’t-leave-home-without-’em essential tracks. To be sure, a Christmas collection with these recordings alone is still woefully incomplete. But a Christmas collection without any of them is unthinkable. On day thirteen (or fourteen… whatever), I’ll round up some tracks that narrowly missed the bare minimum cut. That way we can begin to approach something like a complete collection.

Are you ready? Let’s kick it off! This is the twelve essential tracks of Christmas, day one. Read on to see what’s inside today’s gift bag… Continue reading “The 12 Essential Tracks of Christmas, Day One: Straight No Chaser’s “12 Days””

CD Review: He Came (The Gospel of Christmas) by the Boggs Family

Because I have a special treat planned for each of the twelve days of Christmas (!) to come, I wanted to make sure this review went up before the Christmas season was wearing off for everyone. So I’ve decided to bump Monday Morning Humor for the day and give you a look at this worshipful Christmas offering from Davy, Kelly and Odie Boggs. Their live album Havin’ Church received critical praise from both me and Musicscribe. He Came is their first Christmas album.

This CD consists of six vocal tracks, two piano-focused instrumentals by Kelly, and a 17-minute sermon from Davy. In the liner notes, he explains that they included the sermon in the tradition of old-time gospel LPs, which often incorporated spoken tracks with the songs. It’s a classic bit of straight-up, Pentecostal tent-revival preaching that may not be to everyone’s taste but fits very well in the context of the album. Could it have been shorter, thereby saving room for a couple more songs? Perhaps, but then the length of the sermon is part of its charm.

The songs are carefully chosen and arranged with a purpose for a true album experience. For the most part, they are original tunes focused on the theme of expectation. The anticipation builds to a climax with the sermon, which presents the entire salvation story, and then the album closes with the Squire Parsons tune “He Came to Me.” Although not originally a Christmas song, it’s a wonderful choice, movingly sung. The family’s own composition “Until He Came” is a musical and lyrical highlight. I would love to hear a group like the Collingsworth Family pick it up, as it deserves wider exposure.

The production is tasteful and simple, featuring only piano, drums and bass guitar. The tight, jazzy instrumental “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” is worth the price of the album alone, at moments recalling bands like the Vince Guaraldi Trio. It should be noted here that Kelly is a rare talent. What she lacks in flash and flair, she amply makes up for in natural ability and an ear for what sounds fresh, yet feels right. Her musicianship is the glue that holds the group together and makes them stand out among other regional artists.

Although the Boggses are not exceptional soloists, they have a pure, country-tinged family blend in the vein of a group like the Isaacs. This may not be coincidental, as Ben Isaacs is both Davy’s cousin and their producer. As with the live project, it’s refreshing to hear a group who doesn’t sound pitch-perfect, yet still has something to offer vocally. Their sound is rough around the edges, but it’s beautiful in its own humble, unspoiled way.

He Came is unlike any Christmas project I’ve ever heard. It’s a concept album with a clear focus that achieves its goals with minimal wasted space while eschewing nearly all standards, both sacred and secular. It does deliver less music than a comparably priced album of the same length, but it’s a breath of originality in an area where many artists phone it in. For that reason alone, it’s worth checking out. You can listen to samples and purchase it here.

Review copy provided. A positive review was not required.

Christmas Top Fives: “The Little Drummer Boy”

Some people seem to dislike this particular carol with the passion of a thousand Christmas light bulbs, but I’ve always loved it. (No comment on how much of that attachment is due to sentimental childhood memories of that Rankin Bass special!) No matter how many times I hear it, somehow it always strikes me fresh. Of course, it helps if it’s performed well. Read on to find out who we are featuring today… Continue reading “Christmas Top Fives: “The Little Drummer Boy””