For more than a year, some of my friends and I have been sharing music. We’re supposed to review/rate what gets shared with us, and share those reviews with the group, but that doesn’t always happen.
I’m having a really hard time coming up with a Christmas album to share. I’ve thought of a single mash-up tune, but I think I’m going to save that for next week. The closest thing to a wintry album I want to share is the soundtrack to World of WarCraft: Wrath of the Lich King. But that’s 2.5 hours long, and while there is some great stuff on there, I totally understand that score-type soundtracks aren’t everybody’s cup of tea. Not that I won’t share some in the future, but I think I am out of favorite vigigame soundtracks of reasonable length.
So, I’m moving forward with something not thematic in any way. Unless you consider that throughout this whole game, I’m trying to share music that has influenced me as a musician, then it’s totally thematic. But first, here’s what my friends shared:
Here is a nine song playlist Spencer put together last year of some of his favorite, less-heard Christmas songs. He said, “you probably don’t think of them when you think of Christmas music. That’s the point of the mix. And all of these make me smile.” So…
Please Come Home for Christmas off the Eagles’ single
I know I had heard this song before this Christmas season, but it’s not one I had ever sought out. Every year both my family and my wife’s family have separate, but similar Christmas Eve traditions of doing a little musical program where everyone (or family) performs a song. This song was our No. 2 choice for this year, but ultimately lost out to a Hawaiian version of Little Drummer Boy (because what says Christmas more than a ukulele and a lap slide guitar?) because we felt like the two of us couldn’t do this tune justice. Their country rock style fits great with the bluesy jazz style of the song. It’s a good song. I think the worst part about it was that I wanted more guitar solo. 4/5
Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer (Mambo) off some Billy May single or compilation
This is one of the more … unconventional Christmas covers I’ve ever heard. And I really like it. It’s familiar but not boring, and it’s not too out there to be just weird. It’s one of those thing I wish I would have thought up. Or at least knew about back when I was playing in a big band and could have suggested we cover. 5/5
Joel, the Lump of Coal off The Killers [feat. Jimmy Kimmel]’s single
Does this sound like Puff, the Magic Dragon to anyone else? I’m not complaining. I think both songs have an interesting chord structure. And I liked the guitar noodles and backing strings, etc. which pushed the boundary of sounding too busy without actually getting there. But the highlight for me was the message of the story. Especially the climax, when almost everything drops out, letting you really pay attention to the lyrics. It’s a quirky little tune (par for The Killers) with a lot of heart. 5/5
Christmas Time is Here Again off The Beatles’ single
I have heard a few of The Beatles’ fan club Christmas offerings before. Lyrically, it’s pretty boring and kind of hard to get past. It’s a pretty basic blues rock structure. I feel like it could have been a great song, but was just alright. Musically better than either Paul’s or John’s post-Beatles Christmas tunes, but lyrically between the two. 3/5
And is that John reading a Scottish poem? That was a bit weird, but it seems like it would be right in line with British humor (humour?), which I’m sure was what they were going for.
Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy off the David Bowie/Bing Crosby single
I’ve heard this arrangement before, but I don’t remember it being David Bowie and Bing Crosby. And I think I would have remembered that. It’s a good arrangement and their voices sound pretty good together, but I don’t really love it. It’s mostly kind of meh to me. 3/5
Maligayang Pasko, one of Siakol’s contributions to the Sa Araw Ng Pasko compilation
Since I don’t speak Tagalog, I can’t really offer commentary on the lyrics. But I really like the music and melody. The voice the key boards are using sounds a little cheap, but I think it compliments the upbeat, jazzy feel of the whole tune. I’d like to hear an English-language version. 4/5
Don’t Shoot Me Santa off The Killers [feat. Ryan Pardey]’s single
I like The Killers, but I’ve never really been a fan of this song. It has musically interesting moments, but it’s mostly just a little weird (which is how I feel about some of their earlier stuff, so it didn’t come as a surprise). And the lyrics don’t do anything for me like their other tune earlier in the playlist. 2/5
Santa Claus is Back in Town off Elvis’ Christmas Album
I like Blue Christmas more, but possibly just because I grew up listening to it. This sounds like a pretty cookie cutter, blues rock Elvis tune with a lyrical Christmas overlay. It’s not bad, but I’m not really a fan of the backing vocals. There were some “Ooo”s on a verse that were alright, but an organ could have done it. 3/5
Frankincense off The Prog World Orchestra’s A Proggy Christmas
Just like the original, the best part is the opening riff (and the same riff they come back to at the end). The middle lost me until the sax came in just before the Have a Holly Jolly Christmas quote, which is also true of the original (albeit without the Christmas reference). It’s a cool song, and it reminds me of this Christmas mash-up I covered once:
In both cases, they’re sweet songs, but I think their legend inflate how good they are.
Spencer’s final score? 33/45
The Osmonds – The Osmond Christmas Album (1976), although on Spotify the album title is The Osmond Family Christmas where they’re missing seven tunes and added one (from what Wikipedia had listed anyway).
Other than Donny’s version of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, I’m not sure I’ve heard anything any of the Osmonds have sung. That being said, I know the highlight of the album should be their harmonies. And they don’t really disappoint. As would be expected, their voices blend well together, and while none of the harmonies really stood out to me as particularly interesting, they were all very lush. The Christmas Song and Silent Night had particularly tight harmonies. Actually, I’d like to hear their version of Silent Night stripped of everything but the vocals. That could be really cool.
I’m not sure if they wrote it or if it’s traditional, but I had never heard What are You Doing New Year’s Eve. This was something new to me and so one of the more interesting tracks. It’s Beginning to Look a Lot like Christmas was one of the stronger tracks, despite the Pine Cones and Holly Berries part which was a little campy.
And I’m partial to Elvis’ version of Blue Christmas (as stated above). The Osmonds’ version has admittedly better vocals, but I feel like they went half-way country, but didn’t get quite there. It almost feels like I’m riding on a horse, but instead of a mustang it’s a the equine equivalent of a poodle.
Christmas Waltz was a bit of a snoozer for me, but really the only low light. While the album is good, it is mostly vanilla. Sometimes I want vanilla, but when I’m being bombarded by so much Christmas music, I probably won’t turn back to this. 3/5
Phil Spector – A Christmas Gift for You (1963)
I really liked this. All of these tracks had a bit more energy behind them than the more traditional versions, but it wasn’t over the top. I’ll chalk it up to being 50 years old, but the whole album seems a bit muddy in the percussion. In general, the whole album was more driving than other versions I’ve heard of these songs.
In particular, I really liked the idea behind Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. I think it could have been executed a little better, but I really think most of that comes from this being an old recording. The Bells of St. Mary’s was also pretty good, although I didn’t like Bob B. Soxx’s vocals as much. And I tried to listen to the words, but I’m not sure if I’d call it a Christmas tune.
I know I’ve heard The Ronettes Sleigh Ride before, but never knew who it was. As a rule, I tend prefer the instrumental versions, but I really like this one. I mostly like the “ring-a-ling-a-ling-a-ding-dong-ding”s, but they get a little repetitive.
I think I’ve also heard The Crystals’ version of Santa Claus is Coming to Town, and The Ronettes’ version of I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus before – although both without the non-musical intros (and I think I like it better that way). Similarly, the only low light for me was Silent Night. I don’t care about you Phil Spector. You’re creepy and weird, and your little “thank you” speech is taking up room on the album. Shut up and put it in the liner notes. And while you’re at it, turn down the bass on this tune.
If I ignore that closer, I can say I really like this album. 4/5
Twisted Sister – A Twisted Christmas (2006)
Last week I had a little rant about how lazy Tim was in his album choice. So this week he shared one of the Christmas albums he shared last year. I listened to it again, just out of respect for the game – as well as a bit of completion-ist pride. But I didn’t review it again. If you want to read my review of this album, check out last year’s post.
A quick recap: do I need a hard rock version of any of these songs? No. I do not. Are they still enjoyable? Yeah, I guess so.
Jake White – In Reality (2001)
While I’ve never had a lesson per se, watching and listening to Jake White is how I learned how to play guitar. Much of this album is just Jake and his guitar. That being said, one of his instruments is a guitar/bass hybrid he designed and built (which he calls “The Machine”) as a high school woodshop project.
He has this mostly unique style of tapping the strings instead of picking or strumming. And he sometimes uses the body of his guitar for his percussion needs. It’s cool to hear but it’s way cooler to see.
I was introduced to him (literally) because of my sister. She knew his bass player and played violin (and sang harmony) with them at live shows. A couple of times I filled in on bass. Then he went to grad school in Seattle and although he has since moved back to Utah, in the last 10 years or so I’ve only heard that he’s played a few benefit shows, but I haven’t been able to go.
This is his second (or third, if you could a demo) album. In 2007 he came out with an album of hymns he arranged, but this is the last of the original stuff. You may recognize the song Memory Lane, which seemed to be popular locally around 1999/2000. Other than that, this should be a pleasant mix of technical guitar wizardry and pop rock, with sometimes Christian lyrical overtones and a little wit.
Here’s what my friends thought:
“So I thought this was a Jack White album at first till I read your description. The music probably would have clued me in too. Fingerstyle guitar can be very impressive. I like it, but usually in smallish amounts. It starts to sound the same to me. I can easily sit through a whole concert of it though, but not always an album. Anyway, I’ll listen to it before saying anything else.
Now that I’m listening to it, its pretty average acoustic singer/songwriter stuff at first glance. Nothing caught my attention. I wouldn’t even call this fingerstyle guitar, most of it is typical picking and stumming. So I was fairly underwhelmed.” 3.1/5 – Spencer
“Beautiful acoustic sounds. I enjoyed the song Tight Rope the most. This is a killer song compared to the rest. I have never heard of him before this review- I enjoy listening to new artists for the first time. He has an “Iron and Wine” (which is really Samuel Beam) thing going on- just not as interesting as Sam’s stuff.” 3/5 – David
“Jake is an incredibly talented guitarist. But I don’t know if he is equally talented in songwriting. I mean I was really blown away by his skill while playing at times, but ultimately I felt the songs were forgettable. They didn’t really have a story, and story is what people remember. So while I do think he is an amazing guitarist, I don’t think the album is better than average as a whole.” 3/5 – Tim
Feel free to share your thoughts about any of these down in the comments.