Dayum. I just realized how late in the holiday season it is ... and I have so many CDs that I wanted to write about.

Oh well, Christmas music is eternal and those that I do not write about now may be written about in Christmases to come.

But for now, I give you Straight No Chaser.

This is the all male a capella group that was formed back in the 90's at Indiana University and is dynamic in sound due to the turnover of singers and production staff.

Straight No Chaser's 2008 Christmas album "Holiday Spirits" kicks ass. Traditional sounding Christmas music that totally envelopes you into believing that there is instrumentation accompanying the vocals.   But no ... these classic productions are voice and voice alone.

Straight No Chaser - Holiday Spirits     

Sweetening up the traditional songs is a great rendition of "Little St. Nick" in homage to the remarkable harmonies of The Beach Boys.

Also on the non-traditional side of the menu is a WONDERFUL throwback sounding song by Dan Ponce (the group's founder and first music director) entitled "Christmas Wish".  Even with all of the Christmas music I have been listening to, I find myself singing THIS particular song in the shower!

I personally think SNC's "Holiday Spirits" is the best "Christmas music as a gift CD" I have ever heard.

So, Straight No Chaser has a newly released Christmas CD entitled "Christmas Cheers".

Straight No Chaser - Christmas Cheers     

If "Holiday Spirits" was traditional in theory ... then "Christmas Cheers" is the irreverent delight that takes a cappella to a whole new level.

I listen to the CD and every time I play it, I hear something new ... interesting ... innovative.

Sure, there are some traditional sounding songs ... but the joy comes in the playfulness that these voice masters have brought to holiday music.

Seriously, for anyone who has not listened to a Straight No Chaser Christmas CD ... I challenge you to take the time and listen.

BTW, as a fan of a cappella music done well ... have ya'll been watching "The Sing Off" on NBC?  I channel surfed upon it and truly enjoyed listening and watching these creative people sing without the benefit of musical instruments, or big musical productions, or taped vocal back-ups.

It is a vocal competition and the finale is December 21st.

And besides, Ben Folds is just too cute to miss!  *wink*

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When I purchased Christmas CDs this year, I did not pre-listen to them before making the decisions: I put the choices into my ecart and spun the wheel of chance.

At one time (years ago) I considered myself a country music fan. I actually went to concerts and made country music my primary listening choice.

But times change ... and I lost my interest in country music about the time that Garth Brooks retired.

Are the two changes related?  Nope.  Just timing.

So, it was with a bit of trepidation that I chose the 2008 release of "Joy To The World" by Faith Hill.

Faith Hill - Joy To The World     

I honestly expected to hear "country" but what I got was a pleasant discovery. This album sounds way more mainstream and pop than country. You would never suspect that this album is by a Grammy, CMA and ACM award winning country artist.

The only exception is "Away In A Manger" which is the dead giveaway of the this singer's genre. With the combination of whining fiddles, the tinny mandolin and a nondescript steel guitar, this rendition sounds like a hillbilly anthem to be played in homes of the deep south.

I particularly liked Hill's voice on "Little Drummer Boy" and "O Holy Night" ... her phrasing, while traditional, was pure.

I was taken aback by an original song by Craig Wiseman and Tim Nichols that I had not heard before entitled "A Baby Changes Everything". The lyrics of the song are about Mary, the mother of Jesus and the story of His birth but it obviously was intended to draw parallels with unwed teenage mothers of modern day. The addition to the album, while logical, just felt awkward in the midst of such traditional music.

Would I recommend purchasing this year old album?  Sure.  But not if you are looking for a good, ol' fashioned country Christmas.

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I get up early every day ... seven days a week ... yes, 365 days a year.

It is a habitual pleasure: in the wee hours before dawn, I can get a great deal done in complete silence.

This morning, I had been working quietly in my office for 2.5 hours pausing every now and then to glance at the window to see if the sky was lightening ever so slightly to that miraculous shade of deep azure.

I was shocked to find this:

Sunrise in December     

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Back in December 2005, I "reviewed" some Christmas albums that I was listening to that year.

I love Christmas music. I can listen to the same holiday song sung by various artists ... and enjoy it each time.

So I decided to tell ya'll a wee bit about some of the albums I am listening to this Christmas 2009.

The only thing that qualifies me to write a review is my sheer willingness to do it ... and an extensive (if not oddball) general music collection that shows I am willing to buy and listen to almost anything!

First up ... Andrea Bocelli with his debut holiday album, "My Christmas":

Andrea Bocelli - My Christmas     

If I had one word to describe this album, it would be majestic.

Bocelli has always been a huge favorite of mine ... so when you combine that powerful tenor voice with traditional Christmas music ... well, honestly it is magical.

He sings in German, Latin, Italian and English ... each appropriate for the selection of music.

Andrea sings with The Muppets (yes, THOSE Muppets) doing a charming version of "Jingle Bells" ... and does duets with Reba McIntyre, Mary J. Blige, Natalie Cole and Katherine Jenkins.

So, when I referred to this album as majestic ... it is due to the strength and character of Bocelli's voice, phrasing ... and the incredible production of this entire album.

Producer David Foster's hand is clearly seen in this Christmas release.

One song of note was "The Lord's Prayer" which was backed by The Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Bocelli sings with such intensity and conviction that even the agnostic will be moved.

Although there are many sweet, lyrical and tender moments in "My Christmas" ... you must remember that Andrea Bocelli is a world-class opera singer and this voice is reflected in every moment of the album.

So if you are looking for cute chipmunks singing in harmony, perhaps Andrea Bocelli's "My Christmas" is not the CD for you.

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     WORLD AIDS DAY 2009

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