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Here are few more reviews before I put this holiday music review concept "to bed" for 2005.

Mariah Carey - "Merry Christmas"

This CD came out in 1994 but it is somewhat timeless in its unique sound and character.

While a few of the songs on this album sound very reminiscent of the "girl groups" of the 50's & 60's (thanks to the background vocals of Melonie Daniels and the Price sisters, Shanrae & Kelly), most of the album has a "spiritual" sound.

Spiritual in the gospel sense; music you would hear in the Southern Baptists churches of the deep south ... singing praises of the Christmas season.

Mariah does a quiet, lovely interpretation of "Silent Night" but rocks the room with "All I Want for Christmas is You".

This album is well done and worth giving a listen to especially if you enjoy the sounds of a Gospel Choir and the clear, complete voice of Mariah Carey. The tenor sax on "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" is terrific!

Mannheim Steamroller

This is not a review of one specific album, but instead homage to a legend in the genre of Christmas instrumentals: Mannheim Steamroller.

I cannot imagine anyone saying that they are not aware of the music of this trio with 20+ years of releasing acousticly synthesized Christmas music that is endlessly played in stores, elevators, and on commercial radio.

Listen to one selection and you will instantly recognize their style and sound; Mannheim Steamroller is a must have ... it is the perfect background music for any type Christmas gathering.

Turning Point - "A Jazzy Christmas"


Turning Point is a Phoenix based jazz group that features the amazing guitar work of Demitri & Thano Sahnas. This band has made a name for themselves in the southwest USA by playing at many of the jazz festivals and concerts but I do not think that this Christmas CD has been recognized for the outstanding music it offers.

I love this CD. It is Christmas instrumental jazz guitar (my favorite) at its finest and I would encourage those that enjoy jazz instrumentalists (such as Craig Chaquico or Boney James) to buy this wonderful CD before it is no longer available. By the way, listen for the remarkable keyboards of Steve Culp; this is no "local guy" simply hammering away at the piano.

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Before I get into my next reviews, I want to say a "thank you" to Theresa, Sue & Khevor for hangin' in there ... checking back to see if I have updated ... and always lending a comment or two. You are indeed appreciated. [You three may be the only ones visiting nowadays!]

Also, I mentioned below that I actually did not own the Chris Isaak "Christmas" CD; well, I do now. A client who recently asked me to "jump through hoops" sent me a wee gift certificate to Amazon.com and I purchased two new Christmas CDs ... Chris Isaak's "Christmas" and Johnny Mathis' "The Christmas Music of Johnny".

Johnny Mathis? Yes indeedy. One of my favorite Christmas albums (and we are talking vinyl) is a Johnny Mathis recording. I could not find the actual album I used to own, but the CD I purchased has most of the music I remember as being on that song list.

So, I promised reviews of more "traditional" Christmas music. While the song selections may appear to be traditional in selection, the artists are remaining creative in their own interpretations:

Michael Bolton - "This Is The Time"

Putting this Christmas CD in the "traditional" category may be pushing the musical envelope a wee bit. The music is indeed traditional and completely recognizable as holiday sounds, but Michael does import a bit of liberty on a couple of the cuts. I guess that is why I have enjoyed this CD since 1996; it is Christmasy without being choral music ("Not that there's anything wrong with it").

I am a fan of Bolton's voice and as such, do enjoy this CD as great background music while entertaining or doing holiday chores.

Especially impressive is the duet "Ave Maria" that is performed with opera tenor Placido Domingo.

Harry Connick Jr. - "Harry For The Holidays"

Traditional eh? Well, perhaps this too, is stretching "traditional" a bit. Let's just say that the song choices are indeed traditional but Harry lends his swingin' sense of style and great orchestrations to these classics. His rendition of "Silent Night" features organ accompaniment that, in my opinion, you would find in the churches of New Orleans: sweet & bluesy without losing respect for the nature of the song.

On "I'll Be Home for Christmas", Harry truly shines both in his vocals and his Big Band orchestrations.

I like this CD. It, by the way, offers a 2-fer: a CD of Christmas music and a DVD of Harry's 2003 Holiday Special filmed in New York City.

Clay Aiken - "Merry Christmas with Love"

This has to be one of my all time favorites Christmas CDs. Yes, Virgina ... there is a Santa Claus and there is a traditional Christmas music CD by a current artist.

"Merry Christmas with Love" oozes with class, integrity and sophistication. Yep, an American Idol with sophistication!

I bought this CD last year and listened to it every time I got into my car. It simply IS Christmas music to me. Clay's "O Holy Night" is a perfect gem in a sparkly bracelet of recordings. His "Mary, Did You Know?" is remarkable [so well done that it is played constantly on all-Christmas-music-commercial-radio].

Am I gushing? You betcha. I love this young man's voice, love his timing, love his stylizations, and love his choices.

If you are going to buy any one "traditional CD" this year and do not own "Merry Christmas With Love", give a brief listen to the songs online and see if you do not agree.

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I had intended to write a review or two every day up to Christmas, but alas I have gotten sick.

Between the sore throat, earaches, high fever and severe chest congestion ... there simply was no energy left in me to get outta bed and write for ya'll. I must say, I have not been this kind of sick since 1992 when it all turned into pneumonia. This time I saw a doctor on day two of the illness and the strong antibiotics have worked their magic; now I have a lingering cough, headache and runny nose but most of the remaining symptoms are lessening each day.

My physical energy and strength, however, have been severely diminished. Peh.

Okay, so enough of my whining ... let's get on with the reviews.

The Brian Setzer Orchestra - "Dig That Crazy Christmas"

If you like swing band music and are familiar with Setzer's work (he, formerly of "The Stray Cats"), this album will get you "in the mood". There is a mix of swing, toe-tappin' rockabilly and big band. I particularly liked "Hey Santa!" which really highlights the swingin' rock of Setzer's band; it is not your standard Christmas tune! Brian's duet with Julie Reiten, "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve", is very big band sounding and reminds me of the hours I spent as a child hearing my Dad playing the albums of Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Glen Miller, etc.

Setzer released a previous Christmas album, "Boogie Woogie Christmas" last year and I personally prefer it over this latest offering.

Chris Isaak - "Christmas"

I did not actually buy this CD. But I plan to. Without doubt.

I watched a PBS September 2004 Soundstage replay this weekend featuring Chris Isaak doing his Christmas show with guests Michael Bublé, Stevie Nicks, and Brian McKnight. While I am not big on televised "Christmas Specials", I thoroughly enjoyed this show.

I guess however, that I should admit that I am a huge Chris Isaak fan and love his humor, his voice and his approach to showmanship. As such, the Christmas songs on this album are wonderful: many are original to Chris and not your traditional holiday fare. Although Isaak often sounds "too country", his rendition of "Pretty Paper" gave me goosebumps. McKnight and Bublé do not appear on this album but the duet of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" with Stevie Nicks is quite charming.

Anita Baker - "Christmas Fantasy"

Like bluesy, mellow, sexy jazz? A fan of Billie Holiday? If so, you will love Anita's vocal stylings on this album. She has left her more current R & B style at the door and opted for more jazzy vocals.

Does this work in a Christmas album? Well, I love jazz and I love Anita Baker but honestly, this CD could be played in the middle of a Phoenix summer and you would not realize you are listening to Christmas music. There are only nine selections on this CD; the small song choice, the odd choices that are included, and the lack of "holidayness" would indeed prevent me from recommending the purchase of this CD.

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As you can see, I am choosing to review a more non-traditional Christmas grouping of artists. I do own many traditional Christmas CDs: look for those reviews to follow.

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I have purchased some new (to me) holiday CDs and thought perhaps as a wee giftie to those small few who still read this site, I would do "reviews" of the new (and some older) holiday music collection.

Jessica Simpson - "Rejoyce The Christmas Album"

It is completely Jessica. She stylizes her phrasing with the Jessica "slur" (too breathy, not pronouncing consonants, unnecessary riffing and taking stylizing liberties) but stays pretty true to the melodies of the songs associated with Christmas. She does a decent rendition of "Baby, It's Cold Outside" with her newly separated husband Nick Lachey (who sounds wonderful on this song) and puts a nice rock-n-roll style into "Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow".

The most impressive aspect of this album is the high quality studio production on this album; it is stellar.

Diana Krall - "Christmas Songs"

This is one mellow Christmas album. Trimming the tree alone or with that special someone on a melancholy night? This is the album for you. Smooth and well produced, the songs do stick to traditional melodies and Diana lends her instantly recognizable (for those of us who listen to jazz) alto voice to the remarkable Clayton-Hamilton Orchestra.

This album has class and a sophistication that would be perfect for the quiet holiday dinner party. I particularly like the haunting sound of "Christmastime Is Here" and her jazzy torchlit "The Christmas Song".

Barenaked Ladies - "Barenaked for the Holidays"

Whoa Nellie. I am a long time fan of "the Ladies" and this album totally cracked me up! It is a crazy mixture of traditional and off-the-wall nontraditional Christmas music with just enough Hanukkah songs to remind us Gentiles that Christmas is not the only religious holiday celebrated this time of the year. If you are not familiar with BNL, do not buy this album. If you are looking for traditional Christmas music, do not buy this album.

However, if you are looking for a fun, irreverent to the holiday CD to add to a mix of standard Christmas albums, this is the perfect crazy album for you! Be sure to listen to the way the boys change up some of the lyrics and take liberties: they sound as though they had fun making this album!

Stay tuned ... come back ... more reviews coming.

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