It’s Christmas Eve night, so for once, I’ll keep it short and to the point. Here’s an absolutely beautiful song by Courtney Cotter, a talented singer-songwriter from the Mesa area (who I know from high school). I highly recommend you pay special attention to the lyrics of the song…it’s a very profound message, and one that helps me, at least, really feel the true spirit of Christmas. So here’s tonight’s Holiday Song of the Day…
“I Believe In Santa Claus” by Courtney Cotter!
A Merry Christmas to all of you wonderful readers, whoever you may be. Thank you for visiting, and stay tuned for some fun end-of-year festivities to come.
Remember when I said I was going to go all out for the Christmas season this year on Harmony Avenue? In fairness, I’ve done much more than I did last year. Still, it hasn’t been quite all I’ve hoped…but that’ s OK. Since it’s only two days before the big day (and I still haven’t wrapped any of my gifts for my family…hey, at least I’ve got them all in the first place…), my planned Christmas Cover Stories series will be condensed into one wild, crazy post. Basically it’s going to be me sharing some intriguing holiday covers, in a disorderly, unorganized, possibly rambling fashion. In other words…business as usual. Let the Christmas cover-sharing commence!
Andrew Belle — “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”
This is one of my all-time favorite Christmas songs, so on paper it wouldn’t quite make sense that I love this cover so much, since it ends up changing a great deal of the melody and whatnot. However, Andrew Belle (the artist of a previous Song of the Day earlier this year) makes the right changes, in my opinion, and is a distinctive, talented enough singer that it really works. It’s both a subtly daring new reinvention of a classic tune, and a warm, heartfelt homage at the same time.
Feist — “Lo, How A Rose E’er Blooming”
With little more than a guitar (or two?), what sounds like a tambourine, and a small horn section, along with of course her delicate, gorgeous voice, Feist takes on a 16th century German Christmas carol and turns it into something altogether beautiful and new. It’s contemporary but traditional, soft but bold, and above all, peaceful and full of life. A chorus of humming and “ah”-ing atop a classy trumpet solo comes in in the last part of the song and ties it all up in a lovely, almost ethereal bow.
Grace Potter & the Nocturnals — “Please Come Home For Christmas”
I’ve never quite been a fan of this song, mainly because every time someone covers it, it’s done in almost exactly the same style…an inauthentic blues template. Not to be a Scrooge or anything, but it always seems like whoever is singing it is totally phoning it in against a background accompaniment that’s been passed on through the years or something. This version is the first in years that I’ve been able to get behind…there’s something about the energy that firecracker vocalist Grace Potter brings to the song that helps it feel fresh and new, even if it indeed sticks pretty close to the original on the surface. She really digs deep into the song, it seems like, and it comes through in her vocal. It’s fresh, dynamic, and I really love it.
The Puppini Sisters — “Last Christmas”
This actually isn’t the first weird jazzy cover of “Last Christmas” (the cheesy but lovable 80s heartbreak-at-Christmas hit by Wham!) I have, to be honest with you. I also own a version by an obscure…Danish? (don’t quote me on that…) jazz vocalist named Anders Blichfeldt. (It’s highly recommended, but I could find no way whatsoever to embed it. Just search for a compilation called “A Sound of Christmas” on iTunes, in the dead of night under cover of darkness, on the fifth Monday of the second week of…OK, never mind, just search for that compilation and you should be good.) This year (to save me from tears?), however, I found a great cover by a group I’ve loved for a while now, the Puppini Sisters. They’re kind of a throwback act, in a way…they specialize in close-harmony style music (much like the Andrews Sisters in the 1940s…the group was actually named in honor of them, from what I understand), but as a modern twist, they usually apply said harmonies to more recent fare. This is a great example of that technique, and it’s a slowed-down, fun, and also fairly gorgeous cover of a song that you can’t help but love.
Mormon Tabernacle Choir — “Carol of the Bells”
It may be the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, a group that’s been around since the mid-1800s, but this isn’t your mama’s “Carol of the Bells.” Well, I suppose it’s not THAT crazy. But it is a bit of a departure from many arrangements of the tune, in the most wonderful way. I had the great privilege of hearing this version of the tune (by Barlow Bradford, a former associate director of the Choir) for the first time live in the Conference Center, attending the Choir’s annual Christmas concert with special guest Renee Fleming back in 2005. I remember my mouth quite literally dropping open as the key changes kept coming, the piece kept growing, and it all just exploded into a beautiful crescendo at the end that took my breath away. Just when you think it’s going to calm down, it swells even more. Of course, this being the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, it’s all pulled off brilliantly. This is one version of “Carol of the Bells” that you simply have to hear.
Alice Smith — “Silver Bells”
This song, off the excellent “Hotel Cafe Presents Winter Songs” compilation from a few years ago, is stunning. There’s simply no other word to describe it. Alice Smith, a soul-influenced singer-songwriter with a jaw-dropping voice and songwriting skills to match, takes on this tune and makes you forget about anybody else who’s sung it. It’s that powerful, and that effortless.
Josh Groban — “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear”
Before Michael Buble’s outstanding piano-ballad version of “All I Want For Christmas Is You,” there was this similarly styled, but still quite unique take on the Christmas hymn “It Came Upon A Midnight Clear.” It’s a beautiful reworking of a timeless song, and it really brings a new angle to the song that’s very nice to hear. The gospel choir, and Josh’s excellent voice, really help anchor the cover and keep it moving, and even though it’s fairly radical a rearrangement, it feels natural, like this is the way it’s been done all along.
Pentatonix — “We Three Kings”
And to close it all off, it wouldn’t be a December post on Harmony Avenue without a subliminal “Sing-Off” reference. This track off the “Songs of the Season” collection released a month or two ago, by the Season 3 champions Pentatonix (you may have heard of them…), is both a fearlessly inventive resurrection of a Christmas carol I didn’t think could ever be this incredibly addicting to listen to, and proof positive of why Pentatonix has a bright recording future ahead of them. It’s the best of both worlds…the rock-solid a cappella sound that Pentatonix fans know and love, and the little additions that enhance the studio-recording experience. (I was delighted to find that this didn’t really fall into the overproduction trap…it’s certainly slickly produced, but in ways that bring out the a cappella element, rather than hinder it.) It’s a forward-thinking, infectious version of the unlikeliest of songs.
And…of course I end up closing my post with a thinly veiled manifestation of my Pentatonix love. Ah well. It’s only fitting. I’ll likely post one more Holiday Song of the Day before Christmas comes upon us, and after that, some end-of-the-year festivities await. I’ll make a “best songs” post much like I did last year (once again scientifically produced by way of iTunes play counts and the like), and also…I’m venturing into the “best albums” field as well! I’ve actually picked, all by myself without help of technology, 15 fine albums released this year that I’d like to proclaim my favorites of 2011. What will they be? Stay tuned in the final days of the year to find out. For now, thanks for reading, and in case this is the only post you get around to seeing while you’re here, a very Merry Christmas (or other lovely winter holiday) to you.
Remember last week when I said I’d get this post out “today or tomorrow”? Or earlier this month when I planned a grand round of Christmas-themed festivities (aside from the Holiday Songs of the Day that I’ve thankfully already posted, for your reading & listening pleasure)? Ha. Like I can be expected to hold to some crazy, unattainable blogging standard like posting regularly. Posting regularly is for the little people. I scoff at people who update their blogs regularly. Ready? Do it with me. Scoff in disdain. SCOFF, I SAY!
OK, so most of that paragraph was kind of ridiculous. Moving on…I’ll do my best to make this week of Christmas Eve/Christmas a lovely one, at least blogging-wise. Look for some Christmas Cover Stories to come before Saturday, something I’m holding myself to. You saw it here. If I do not deliver on my promise, feel free to send me copies en masse of particularly distressing rap albums or something. Unless, of course, you don’t know my address, in which case I shall be able to escape unscathed.
And I have now spent two paragraphs spouting nonsense. What else is new? Anyhow, this post is a (hopefully concise and pithy) exploration of a few of my favorite holiday albums. They’re not even close to touching even part of my Christmas music tastes (and they’re even farther from covering all of the wonderful, even definitive, holiday albums there are out there)…but they’re records that have touched me, inspired me, or warmed my heart in some way. It’s not a Christmas season for me without them, that’s for sure.
Harry Connick, Jr. — “Harry For The Holidays” (2003)
I’m a huge Harry Connick, Jr. fan, so when I got this album back in the day (early 2000s ftw!), it was pretty much a given that I’d enjoy it. However, years later, I probably never could have expected I’d still love it this much. Harry has recorded 3 holiday albums over his career, and while I like what I’ve heard of his first one (which came out back in 1993), and I own and enjoy his latest one (2008), this is the Christmas album of his that I keep coming back to. The selection of songs is top-notch, a great balance of holiday classics both secular and sacred. He includes an outstanding selection of original tunes (my favorites include his buoyant “The Happy Elf” and a heartstoppingly touching ode to the Savior’s life, “I Come With Love”). And best of all, his arrangements and voice are in peak form. From the opening trombone wails of “Frosty The Snowman,” I’m always absolutely hooked. Harry doesn’t phone anything in on this album…he brings a daring sense of reinvention and life to a fine collection of Christmas melodies, all while keeping the innate charm that made them chestnuts in the first place. You really can’t get much better than this, whether it’s Christmastime, or anytime in the year.
Check out a track from the album, “Frosty The Snowman”:
Ella Fitzgerald — “Ella Wishes You A Swinging Christmas” (1960)
It took me a scandalously long time after I fell madly in love with Ella’s voice in her music to discover this Christmas gem, but rest assured that after I did find it (and buy it on eBay) a few years ago, I have cherished it completely since then. Recorded at what was in many ways during the height of her career, this is a holiday album that’s darn near perfect. Accompanied by Frank DeVol’s orchestra (his arrangements are both thoughtful and timeless), she doesn’t do as much scatting here as her other work, but her improvisational skills are still on full display, and what’s more, her warm, captivating voice is an effortless fit with the Christmas music canon. You’d be hard-pressed to find lovelier versions of oft-covered songs like “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” (done here with a bit more swing than most takes on the song), “Sleigh Ride” (featured in the hilarious Will Ferrell film “Elf”), and “Jingle Bells” (the album’s jaunty opener). Check out the 2002 reissue and you’ll also find a wealth of bonus tracks, including a lovely holiday obscurity, “The Secret of Christmas,” and 3 intriguing alternate takes of songs on the album that would have fit inperfectly had they been released instead. All in all, if you don’t have this album in your Christmas collection, you’re seriously missing out.
Want to hear a taste? Here’s Ella’s spin on “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”:
Any Mormon Tabernacle Choir & Orchestra at Temple Square Christmas album (2000-2011)
A bit of a cop-out, I know, but they’ve released eight Christmas recordings since 2000 (a majority of them being live recordings from their long-standing annual Christmas concerts, a practice they experimented with in 2006 and began in earnest in 2007), and if I went over all of them individually, they’d overtake this list in a hurry. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Christmas have long been synonymous for many, but thanks in part to Mack Wilberg’s stunning arrangements (and since taking over the baton as director in 2008, his conducting), along with the richness that the Orchestra at Temple Square provides, plus a cornucopia of great guest artists (Angela Lansbury, Bryn Terfel and Frederica von Stade, Audra McDonald, Renee Fleming, Sissel, the King’s Singers, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Natalie Cole, and David Archuleta, oh my!), they’re better than ever when it comes to holiday music. Their performances of Christmas classics new and old are vibrant, dynamic, and full of warmth and heart. It’s bigger than a choir, than a song, than a season. They give us pure, beautiful, enduring music.
Just one of the many highlights of their Christmas repertoire…their traditional Christmas concert closer, a rousing arrangement of “Angels From The Realms of Glory” (Special Note: I was in attendance for this specific performance):
Jane Monheit — “The Season” (2005)
Jane Monheit’s vocals are rich, smooth, and dare I say sexy, but distinctive, top-notch vocals do not a great Christmas album make on their own. But when they’re paired with an excellent collection of songs and fine arrangements ranging from gorgeous to fun to everything in between, you’ve got a recipe for a holiday classic. From her delicious opening take on Donny Hathaway’s seminal “This Christmas” to a hauntingly spare rendition of “I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day” done with just guitar, this album is captivating, warm, and beautiful, and I really can’t get enough of it. Jane’s vocal skills are close to peerless, and here they’re certainly very well showcased. She includes a nice selection of uptempo numbers as well as ballads, and the result is an album I’m very proud to have in my holiday collection.
Jane’s sizzling rendition of “The Christmas Waltz,” coming right up:
She & Him — “A Very She & Him Christmas” (2011)
Seeing as I’ve only had this album since the end of October, I’ve been kind of asking myself whether it really belongs on this list yet. However, even considering the short time it’s been around, I think it’s worthy of inclusion. Yes, my great admiration for Zooey Deschanel is a big factor, but that aside, this is a lovingly crafted throwback to days of Christmas past that still has a lot to offer to the holiday music world today. Zooey’s voice has a real classic quality…I remember when “Elf” came out and she sang in it, that it reminded me a bit of Judy Garland’s in a way. It’s soft and fragile at times, but also very rich and distinctive as well. And the new spins on holiday tunes Zooey crafts with M. Ward are gorgeous and smooth. The only clear misstep is an awkward rush through “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” that seems like it was included only because this is a Christmas album done by a duo, but otherwise, this is a piece of Christmas gold that will last for years to come.
Haven’t checked out the album yet? Hear Zooey & M. Ward take on the Beach Boys’ sunny tune “Christmas Day” here:
Diana Krall — “Christmas Songs” (2005)
Backed by the incomparable Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, along with her own top-notch piano playing, Diana Krall is an absolute delight singing a lovely assortment of Christmas tunes here. The album’s opening track, a firecracker of a take on “Jingle Bells,” is one of the best holiday tunes I’ve ever heard, and things rarely let up from there. Diana’s well-known for having a very sultry voice, but it fits like a glove on songs like “Let It Snow” and “Sleigh Ride,” as well as tender ballads like “The Christmas Song” and “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?”. The big-band arrangements are vibrant and dynamic (thank one of the best arrangers and musicians of all time, John Clayton, for those), and the intimate combo settings for the ballads work beautifully as well. There’s even a tune included at the very end that’s not often associated with the holidays, but closes the album nicely…a tender version of “Count Your Blessings Instead of Sheep.” This is a treasure of a Christmas record, a heartfelt homage to the past and a full-on embrace of the future, full of holiday warmth and spirit.
Hear the album’s ebullient first track, “Jingle Bells”:
Johnny Mathis — “Merry Christmas” (1958)
And I’ve saved the best for last. By “best,” I don’t necessarily mean that I enjoy this more than all the other albums I’ve listed…on the contrary, true to form, I love them all the same, for the most part. However, this album holds a special place in my heart, and that’s all thanks to my dad, who made it a Christmas tradition to have it played frequently each December. I’ve grown up with this album…it’s a holiday institution in our house (well, now it’s technically houses, but you get the point), and I haven’t gone a year without listening to it fondly. The nostalgia is a huge element in my love for this record…but it’s more than that. There’s a perfect storm of song selection (there’s not a bad track on the album), vocal delivery (Johnny was in peak form, and his singing is beautifully heartfelt and tender), and instrumental backing (Percy Faith & His Orchestra provide gorgeous, rich arrangements that stand the test of time, yet never seem phoned in) at play here. It’s the quintessential embodiment of Christmas spirit. When I hear the opening strains of “Winter Wonderland,” when I hear Johnny’s soaring high notes in “O Holy Night” (a song that you really can’t get wrong*), when I hear the tinkling sounds of “Silver Bells”…I’m home, and I feel Christmas in my heart. When it comes to holiday music, you really can’t ask for anything more.
Just one of the many terrific songs of this album…a lush version of “The Christmas Song”:
And there you have it. Just a taste of the Christmas music that soothes my soul. Feel free to take to the comments to share your favorite holiday music, or comment on my choices. I’ll see you later this week (remember…hold me to it!) with some more Christmas music goodness. Hope your holidays are going splendidly so far!
(*For someone who DID get it wrong, in the most awful but oddly wonderful way, click this link if you dare. You may have heard it already.)
So, I lied. I was planning not to recap this, but I knew that I’d probably end up doing so anyway. And I did. Blame the live-tweeting I started doing spur-of-the-moment, and ended up continuing throughout the whole show. It was my gateway drug. And now I’ve mentioned drugs in the first paragraph. Go me?
Anyways, since this wasn’t a competition night, I plan to keep this concise and fairly short, since I don’t have any who-should-win/who-shouldn’t-win related rants to make for the most part, and well, otherwise there’d be quite a lot of gushing. And in the case of certain groups and soloists (you know exactly who), some heavy criticism. So let’s “Sing-Off Christmas” it up…
Nota, Committed, & Pentatonix (“Christmas [Baby Please Come Home]“): I’m not really going to bother too much with listing the original artist this time around, since this is meant to be a low-key blogging affair, and also I’m going off my live tweets/short-term memory for song titles and group combos. (Watchful commenters, if there are any of you out there, feel free to correct any mistakes.) Pairing the 3 champion groups was a killer way to start the show. All 3 reminded us why they’re champs, and it was great to see them all do their thing.
The Backbeats & Delilah (“All I Want For Christmas Is You”): It’s hard to beat the iconic Mariah Carey original, or Michael Buble’s recent game-changing cover, but this powerhouse duo of groups delivered a terrific version of this song anyhow. It was great to see some of my old favorites like Joanna (the amazing Backbeats soloist from last season), Amy (well, I guess she hasn’t been gone for long, but I still missed her), and of course, she-who-can-beatbox-and-sing-like-nobody’s-business, the amazingly talented Courtney Jensen. (She got a solo! She got a solo!) Witness the following tweet below (the Backbeats retweeted me! And a bunch of other fans too, but still…):
Impulsively deciding to live tweet #SingOffChristmas . Yay, Backbeats and Delilah! Great to see Joanna back. And Amy! And COURTNEY!!!— Brandon Randall (@barandall800) December 06, 2011
Dartmouth Aires (“All You Need Is Love”): Wherever Paul and Ringo (and for that matter, George and John) are right now, if they’ve heard even a whiff of this, they’re probably weeping. (With their guitars. Gently.) The arrangement was cutesy and lightweight, so on its own that wouldn’t have been too much of an affront to the Fab Four’s legacy, but then…Michael had to open his mouth, and deliver a vocal that neither fit the song nor sounded appealing in any way, shape, or form. The good news was that they spread the love and let some lesser-known group members have some solos during this song as well, but the bad news was that they all failed to rise to the occasion. All in all…a performance that made me very, very happy that after tonight, the Aires will be off my TV for good, and I won’t have to hear them ever again.
Afro-Blue & Committed (“Ooh Child”): Oh sweet mercy, was this incredible. I love this song (Nnenna Freelon’s spirited cover is pure musical gold), and the killer combo of two of the show’s greatest groups (you’ve got that right, Nick Lachey!), Afro-Blue & Committed, was a perfect choice to take it on. The performance moved, it grooved, it proved (hey, just warming myself up for the Grinch song later) that jazz is alive and here to stay. Heck, I was quite literally bouncing around on my couch with the music. The arrangement was daringly intricate, fearlessly vibrant, and full of the perfect balance of complexity and accessibility (along with a sense of fun and joy) that made Committed the champs last season, and Afro-Blue such favorites this season. Ben was spot-on when he noted that Afro-Blue & Committed really have set the “Sing-Off” standard.
Street Corner Symphony (“Hallelujah”): How great it is to see Street Corner Symphony back! As noted above (and in my Season 2 recaps), I was thrilled to see Committed take the crown last year, but I would have been just as tickled to see it go to the endlessly terrific SCS. With an assist from killer lead Jeremy Lister’s older brother Jonathan (of the Collectives, a bit more on their performance later), they delivered a beautifully poignant, gorgeously intimate take on “Hallelujah,” a song that’s been covered by everyone and their dog, and at this point, probably even their dog’s dog, but when done right is still breathtaking to listen to. Jeremy’s vocal was emotional and direct, and the arrangement was top-notch. If this is what “unpracticing” brings for SCS, we all need to try it out, methinks.
North Shore (“Little Saint Nick”): A classy, solid take on the Beach Boys’ holiday classic. It was great to see North Shore get a performance of their own (they’re pros through and through), and like many of their previous performances, this was kept simple and direct, and that really helped hit it home. These guys may not be completely fresh or innovative, but they’re full of heart and have years of valuable experience, and I always really enjoy seeing and listening to them. Here’s hoping we see more of them soon.
Sara Bareilles, Ben Folds, & ‘The Sing-Off Five’ (“Baby, It’s Cold Outside”): The pre-performance video segment was worth the price of admission itself (Sara Bareilles & Ben Folds are secretly comic geniuses…I want to see them pretend they don’t like each other and talk behind each other’s backs more often), and had me in stitches. However, things got even better…the song that followed was equally brilliant. I noted on Twitter that this is one of the freshest versions of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” I’ve heard in years, and I stand by that. There’s a lot of nice covers of this song, but in pretty much every one of them, the vocalists play it safe. Sara took some great liberties with the melody that really put a new spin on the song, while keeping the appeal it’s had for decades. Ben also rocked the vocals, as well as some top-notch piano work, and the addition of The Sing-Off Five (a little vocal backing band stocked with five talented guys) was a nice touch. Sweet mama, was this both entertaining and musically delicious. Another tweet break, with an amusing post-song exchange between the awkward-as-always Nick, and charming-as-always Sara:
Pentatonix (“Under The Mistletoe”): Ha, remember when I said I was going to try to keep this short? Silly Brandon. Brevity is for kids. Anyways, this performance made me realize two things: 1) This is quite possibly one of the most badly written holiday songs ever recorded. I never, ever, ever, ever, EVER want to hear the Bieber’s original version of this, because hearing it done well was lyrical torture enough. (Did the bridge honestly combine a reference to the wise men and the Christmas star with a line about how [s]he followed his heart to a girl, or was I hallucinating? If either of these are the case, gag me now.) 2) Pentatonix can make anything sound terrific. You’d think after a season’s worth of cutting-edge arrangements that they’d run out of steam, especially with such subpar material, but they brought their signature Pentatonix sound to this lump-of-coal-esque number, and I loved it.
Jerry Lawson & The Sing-Off All Stars (“Sweet Soul Music”): It was a little bit strange that the Talk of the Town was absent tonight, but I wasn’t complaining…the collection of singers that were assembled to sing with Jerry was quite breathtaking. Jerry, as always, was pure class, and it was a celebration of the classic and the new, all at the same time. Sweet soul music, indeed.
I don’t want to talk about this next one.
I really don’t.
OK, fine…The Devil Children Beelzebubs, On The Rocks & Darmouth Aires (“Santa Claus Is Coming To Town,” supposedly): Here’s one of my tweets after the song in question. It captures my thoughts pretty succinctly (though you know me, I’m going to type more anyways):
I think I'm done with collegiate male a cappella groups that aren't named Vocal Point. Their schtick is just so tired. #SingOffChristmas— Brandon Randall (@barandall800) December 06, 2011
(continued) So yeah. I just couldn’t get into this performance at all. Even On The Rocks, who I enjoyed last season for the most part, really bugged me here. The ‘fun’ seemed all manufactured. The pitch and intonation…well, let’s not even go there. The solos ranged from depressingly weak (Michael, obviously, and Brendan, though the latter’s vocal was a step up from his usual fare) from OK (the Beelzebubs’ middling soloist) to pretty good, but not enough to save the whole performance (Peter Hollens, the frontman of On the Rocks would fit that description). From what I can see, almost all male collegiate a cappella groups are turning into this utterly affected frat party-esque goofy mess, and it’s not something I enjoy at all. The music is supposed to come first, and the fun second. If you truly pay attention to the music, it’ll often be entertaining on its own. When you take it the other way around like these three groups did tonight, the performance, and the ensemble as a whole, ends up being neither truly musical, nor truly fun, and it’s a real bummer to see that this is a large part of the future of a cappella music. Thankfully it’s not the only part.
Urban Method (“You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch”): OK, I’m off my soapbox, and from here on out, there should be a minimum of ranting. This performance was a real treat…and a demonstration of how Urban Method has really come into their own. At the start of the season, if Urban Method had put a rap into a song like this, I would have probably hated it. Tonight, however, I loved it. A rap in a song like this? You’d think it wouldn’t work. (Busta Rhymes’ ghastly version with Jim Carrey from the 2001 “Grinch” movie is very convincing evidence to that regard.) However, Myke pulled it off brilliantly, and the arrangement as a whole was pretty exciting and well-played (the samba-style breakdown towards the end was a highlight). The solo by the bass (aargh, I was doing so well with the names this late in the season!) (Troy, whose name I now remember thanks to…ahem, I mean, nothing to see here, nothing at all) was perfect, and it was just fresh and tons of fun.
Nota & Shawn Stockman (“This Christmas”): Shawn got his chance to shine tonight after staying at the judges’ table during last week’s finale, and even with some lines in Spanish to contend with, he did quite well. He was accompanied by the sweet sounds of Nota, and they were all on top of their game, really bringing this song (one of my absolute Christmas favorites) home. I loved the arrangement, and really, I loved everything about it. Nota and Shawn both have still got game, yo.
The Collective (“Santa Baby”): To tell the truth, this was the only performance of the night I didn’t tweet about (I didn’t have much interesting to say about it at the time), and I’m kind of guessing where it was in the night’s order. It was…alright, I suppose. Ruby did a nice job on the solo, but it wasn’t Eartha Kitt (or even Madonna). This is a hard song to reinvent (the basic premise is pretty much set in stone…a sultry, tongue-in-cheek entreaty to Santa for really, really expensive things), and if anything, the Collective, while talented, is still a bit unfocused as a group to really do so. It was good, but nothing to write home about…that said, the group still has tons of potential, and once they start fulfilling it to the utmost, they will soar.
Vocal Point & Nick Lachey (“Let It Snow”): So, so outstanding. THIS is how a collegiate male a cappella group does it. It was all so smooth, so entertaining, so effortless and classy. The surprise addition of Nick into the mix was a fun bonus, and there were even some great staging touches, like the snow falling on the stage (probably because I’m a snowaholic, I LOVE when that happens on TV shows/concerts/etc.), and the group making snow angels afterwards. The following tweet (by the way, did you know I’m on Twitter? If not, you definitely do now…) relays my feelings about this gem quite perfectly:
Vocal Point. Jazz. The solid vocal stylings of Nick Lachey. Snow falling on the stage. Who can ask for anything more? #SingOffChristmas— Brandon Randall (@barandall800) December 06, 2011
Urban Method, Pentatonix, & some clown named Flo Rida (“Good Feeling”): This performance was a tale of two cities musical elements: on one hand, we had some killer harmonies (and deliciously daring reinventions) by Urban Method & Pentatonix, two groups that really should get together more often, because they rocked it here. On the other hand, however, we have the abysmal Flo Rida, who I really haven’t cared for before tonight, and I really didn’t care for tonight either. (I will give him credit, though, he didn’t seem detached from the proceedings like Smokey Robinson did last week…he seemed to actually be performing with the groups and enjoying it, rather than performing and happening to have the groups on stage with him, so that’s a plus.) I might be possessed to shell out money for this on iTunes simply by virtue of the Urban Method/Pentatonix part of the performance alone, but really, Mr. Rida (sorry, just wanted to see how weird it would look if I called him that) added precious little to the performance, other than the fact that this is of course his song.
All The Groups (“Happy Christmas [War Is Over]“): (Programming note: I am aware the official title uses “Xmas” instead of “Christmas,” but I HATE the former abbreviation, since it replaces Christ with an X, so I always write the word out properly. Sorry, John and Yoko, but I have to stick to my guns.) And now that I’ve gone entirely off-topic…this was nice. Not perfect by any means…they just HAD to give Michael a solo, and there was 1-800-Too Much Riffing at the end. Still, it was wonderful to see fourteen (fourteen!) groups from all 3 seasons take the stage together. There’s something really special about that, especially for a series-long “Sing-Off” fan such as myself. It reminded me of exactly why I love this show so much…there’s so much talent, and friendship, and good music, that I can never stay away. (Even when I say I’m not going to recap an episode, and then I do. Ahem.)
To close, a farewell tweet from a devoted “Sing-Off” fan, Twitter buddy, and fellow #AiresHater, which expresses a sentiment I share:
Chances are you’re already pretty familiar with OneRepublic, even if you don’t know it. They’re fronted by pop hitmaker Ryan Tedder (who’s produced and co-written songs for huge artists like Beyonce, Kelly Clarkson, and Adele), and they’re the band behind the megahit “Apologize” (I prefer their slightly more stripped-down album version than the overproduced/overplayed collaboration on it with Timbaland), and ubiquitous recent pop radio staples like “All The Right Moves,” “Good Life,” and of course, “Secrets.” (AKA the song with the electric-sounding violins at the beginning, that’s been in everything from “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” to, memorably, “30 Rock.”) Sadly, because those songs are all so prevalent on the radio, or have been at one time, their credibility as a talented, unique band has kind of suffered. However, I absolutely love both their albums, and they really have a lot more to offer than their poppier, hit-making stuff. Case in point: this gem of a holiday tune right here. The production is very intimate and piano-driven, and it’s a nice kind of shift in feel for the band. Ryan sells the vocal perfectly, and there’s some delicious pop-soul style backing vocals that really add to it in a great way. And of course, even though it’s a song more about missing someone than the Christmas season specifically…it still brings a palpable, warm sense of holiday spirit, while still sounding like the kind of song you’d be comfortable playing year round.
See you in a bit with a short but sweet “Sing-Off Christmas” recap. It ain’t over til it’s over!
Lest you forget that I actually make posts on this blog that actually aren’t about that one “Sing-Off” show, here’s a quick Song of the Day to kick off the Christmas/Kwanzaa/Hanukkah/whatever holiday you choose to celebrate season. Last year I kept Harmony Avenue’s Christmas festivities kind of low-key, but this year I plan to make them a bit more, y’know, festive. If you’re left cold (ba dum cha…) by the holidays, no worries, as I’ll be continuing some general posting throughout this lovely month of December. Now, to an absolutely stunning song that, coincidentally enough, is a bit “Sing-Off” related now that you mention it (the artist is of course a judge on the program)…
“Love Is Christmas” by Sara Bareilles!
Sara delivers a truly heartfelt, warm message of hope and love with this song, and it’s uplifting and tender without being too sweet or cliched. Backed primarily by just her own piano, she sings beautifully about the true meaning of Christmas, and the peace that we can find with those we love, during the holidays, and really, anytime in the year. It’s a sentiment that’s been expressed in countless Christmas tunes, but Sara finds a gorgeous, genuine new spin on it here. It’s the kind of Christmas song that will make you want to cry without you even realizing. It’s the kind of Christmas song that you don’t feel guilty for playing over and over and over again. And best of all, it’s the kind of Christmas song that’s truly timeless.
Coming up on the blog, since I haven’t done a to-do list in a while, and it will keep me honest at any rate:
A few Christmas-themed Cover Stories. Think you’ve heard all there is to hear when it comes to your favorite (and least favorite) carols and chestnuts? I’ll be posting some top-notch versions of Christmas classics.
An explanation of why it’s not Christmas for me without Johnny Mathis, and more personal Christmas music thoughts, memories, etc., via a Sketches post.
An Artist Spotlight or two (it’s not Harmony Avenue without them, really)
Two album reviews! One of the Christmas variety, and one of…not the Christmas variety.
And of course, “The Sing-Off.” (Go Pentatonix!)
Thanks for reading (and thanks to the amazing a cappella blogger Warren Bloom for posting a link to my last “Sing-Off” recap on his Facebook page!), and see you on Monday with a finale recap!
Better late than never, eh? I’m cutting it a bit fine posting a Christmas-themed Song Shuffle Game on…Christmas Eve, of all times, but I’ve been meaning to post this for a while, so I might as well do it now. This time I’m coming up with the questions before I choose my songs, so it will be slightly less…crazy? Something like that. I’ll be picking 10 songs from my iTunes shuffle setting…5 from a search for “Christmas,” 5 from a search for “holiday.” (P.S.: Since my shuffle keeps trying to go back to MoTab, Ella Fitzgerald, or Harry Connick Jr., I’ve instituted a one-song-per-artist rule for my list this time. )
Once In Royal David’s City–Mormon Tabernacle Choir
Sleigh Ride–Ella Fitzgerald
Auld Lang Syne–Harry Connick, Jr.
Carol of the Bells–Natalie Cole
Deck The Halls–Pomplamoose
The Christmas Song–Diana Krall
Winter Song–Ingrid Michaelson & Sara Bareilles
Wish List–Neon Trees
The First Noel–David Archuleta
Silent Night–Sarah Brightman
1. When was song 6 added to my iTunes library?
December 20, 2008. So wow, a little more than 2 years ago.
2. How does song 3 convey the spirit of Christmas (to me)?
Bahaha…oh dear, that was probably not the best song to land on spot #3. Well…I guess it talks about being together and having good times as friends/a family. So that goes with Christmas being a time to spend with family.
3. When’s the last time I listened to song 5?
Yesterday, at…well, let’s just say it was at night. Sort of.
4. Name another version of song 7.
Well, I’m definitely proving I really did type these questions and assign the numbers before I chose the songs, aren’t I? There isn’t any other recorded version of this tune, because it was only written a year or two ago. If you were Facebook friends with me, though, you could find a version that me and someone in my dorm at BYU did for a talent show. But it’s probably best you don’t go looking for that too hard.
5. Who would be a good artist to cover song number 1?
Someone classical…or maybe not. I don’t know. Charlotte Church? Sure, that sounds good. (I really shouldn’t use this question next time… )
6. Quote the first TWO lines of song number 2. (That’s one more than I asked myself to quote the last time. I’m movin’ on up… )
Yes, an easy one! I could recite this whole song in my sleep. “Just hear those sleigh bells jingling, ring-ting-tingling too…c’mon, it’s lovely weather for a sleigh ride together with you. Outside, the snow is falling and friends are calling ‘Yoo-hoo!’ C’mon, it’s lovely weather for a sleigh ride together with you.” (That was kind of more than 2 lines. What can I say? I’m cool like that. )
7. Translate song number 8 into Spanish. (And don’t use Google Translate this time…)
La lista de deseos. (K, I totally cheated. My translation without resorting to Google was too badly botched.)
8. How did I find out about song number 4?
I’m a Natalie Cole fan, and once a few years ago (I think way back when I used MSN Music), I checked out her second Christmas CD, and listened to all the 30-second clips. I absolutely LOVED this take on “Carol of the Bells” from the clip I heard, but it took me a while to finally get the song on my iPod. (AKA I just put it on a week or two ago. Yeah. I’m slow sometimes. )
9. Describe song number 9 in three words. (Another upgrade from the last Song Shuffle Game, y’all. )
Pretty, but middling. (David Archuleta is terrific, but I felt his Christmas CD kind of let him down a bit. The arrangements were kind of bland and overblown, and it just didn’t jibe for me with David’s heartfelt, genuine artistic style. And yeah, that was way more than three words, but at least I used only three to start off this parenthetical ramble.)
10. How many times have I played song number 10?
Apparently, only once…in December 2008. Sarah Brightman’s version just isn’t one of my favorites of the song, I guess. It’s beautiful, and her voice is lovely, but it doesn’t really bring anything new to the song. (I have a few other versions that really turn the song on its ear and/or serve it well, and those tend to be a lot more played.)
Well, there you have it. A quick, painless Song Shuffle Game for your Christmas Eve delight. (Or horror. ) Make sure to play along in the comments (pick a few of your own songs, use some of my questions…or your own; etc.), and I hope you all have a very merry Christmas (or whatever holiday you celebrate). See you in a few days with some end-of-the-year Harmony Avenue goodness (I actually make a Best of 2010 list! I give you one more Artist Spotlight to close out the year!), and have a wonderful Christmas Eve.
Howdy once again, Harmony Avenue readers. Rather than a Song of the Day today, I’m going to step it up a bit and do a Music Video of the Day. This is also a little preview of the holiday-tastic goodness I’ll hopefully be diving into later this month. Today, take a gander at the lovely video for…
“Christmas Lights,” by Coldplay!
I’m a huge Coldplay fan, and I’ve stayed that way for years. I love X&Y AND Viva la Vida (a rarity, yes?), and all their other albums to boot. They just keep putting out such beautiful, engaging, well-crafted songs. They definitely don’t deserve all the hate piled upon them for supposedly being a subpar/mediocre/middling band. Anyways, I was excited to hear their new single for the Christmas season, “Christmas Lights.” It certainly didn’t disappoint…it’s a subtly, simply gorgeous song, and the lyrics are a lovely balance between the sadness and hope found in the winter months. But if it was only just a terrific song, I wouldn’t be showing you the music video, would I? The video clip that goes with this song is quirky (Coldplay has become a little delightfully random lately, probably because they’re British and have been together for so long), beautifully shot, and with a really cool progression. The shining lights on the trees…the moving cardboard cutouts in the back (look for what happens to the fish midway through)…the somewhat inexplicable but totally fun string players/Elvis impersonators in the background (the words on top of wooden stage Coldplay performs on also have a connection to this)…a stunning view of the Thames at night (I really want to visit London)…and the soaring touch of a group of fans on the boat chiming along in the video (my favorite part). It’s just a wonderful, soaring, optimstic video, paired with a great song to match. Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, it’s a great way to ring in the holiday season. Enjoy!