Just in time for the holiday season, Sing Off: Songs of the Season comes along, offering very contemporary a capella versions of Christmas songs.
If you are not familiar with Sing Off , it is a hit series from NBC in which groups Songs of the Seasonfrom across the country compete in a capella competitions. This CD features contestants from the third season of the show.
It is refreshing to have the emphasis placed on the voices and on harmony alone on these songs, so that even songs like “We Three Kings,” “Up on the Housetop,” and “Carol of the Bells” get new life.
To me, the first two songs, “All I Want for Christmas is You,” and “Santa Baby,” were the weakest. They are not bad, but they do not have the rich harmonies and innovative arrangements of the others, and just aren’t that different from all the other versions I’ve heard in the last few years.
I was not immediately that impressed by “We Three Kings” by Pentatonix, but the more I hear it the more it grows on me. The next song, the more obscure “Infant Lowly, Infant Holy” by Vocal Point, just stopped me in my tracks with its beauty and the purity and power of the voices.
“Christmas Time is Here” is a lovely, jazzy version of the classic from A Charlie Brown Christmas, but not particularly new. That cannot be said of the next song, the beautiful “Coventry Carol.” While preserving the haunting quality of the lyrics, this version gives an urban touch to the song along with an amazing layering of voices, almost fooling the ears into believing there are more instruments there. This is also true of the University of Rochester YellowJackets’ version of “Carol of the Bells,” which is just an amazing, breathtaking exercise in voices as orchestra.
My favorite song on the recording is “Up On the Housetop” by Dartmouth Aires. Who would have thought that anyone could do something new and different with this classic children’s Christmas song? This one is a sheer joy in the tradition of the doo-wop groups of the late 50’s and early 60’s, guaranteed to put a smile on your face. What an incredible voice that lead singer has!
The next song, “Winter Wonderland,” from North Shore,continues that great doo-wop vibe and makes this song I’ve known all my life sound bright and new. “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” also gets a fresh treatment from the University of Delaware Deltones. The lead vocal reminds me very much of Christina Aguilera, while the background vocals give a very urban sound to the familiar carol.
“In the Bleak Midwinter,” a song written in the mid-1800’s by the poet Christina Rosetti, is beautifully rendered in a suitably subtle and touching arrangement by Kinfolk. It begins simply, and builds to a powerful and complex weaving of voices before returning to simplicity at the end.
Possibly the most impressive, innovative and certainly the least familiar song on the CD is the fascinating “I Saw Three Ships” from Urban Method, which is totally different from any other version I have ever heard. What an impressive use of hip-hop and urban style!
There is a bonus track on the CD, “Jingle Bells”, By Committed, which also gives a bit of an urban edge to a light-hearted version of one of the best-loved of all Christmas songs.
Overall, this is a different, delightful Christmas CD that is sure to impress you,your friends and your guests when you add it to your collection this year!
I originally wrote this review for Blogcritics at: http://blogcritics.org/music/article/music-review-sing-off-songs-of/#ixzz1dsr8Ghnr
Bobby Messano’s name is not yet immediately recognizable to most people, but it should be. For years, he was a sought after studio musician and toured with many national acts, including Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood. His CD Live From Madison was nominated for a Grammy award.
That’s Why I Don’t Sing the Blues, Messano’s latest CD, is getting a lot of airplay and considerable buzz, and so it should. This is the best blues/rock CD I’ve heard this year.
Not only does Messano have a great blues/rock voice—it is strong, and just weathered enough and capable of delivering his lyrics with sincerity—but he is backed by an excellent band. From the pounding drums that open up “More Than Meets the Eye” at the start of the CD right to the album’s end, they keep the sound tight. Band members Steve Geller, Joey B. Banks, Jimmy Voegel, Pete Ross, Chad Whittinghill, and Bryan Husk, along with Messano on electric and acoustic guitar and dobro, set up a wall of sound reminiscent of the classic Memphis sound or even of Motown.
All of the songs on the CD were written or co-written by Messano except for one, an excellent version of the Jimi Hendrix classic “Gypsy Eyes.” I can’t really pick a favorite, but I love the humor of “That’s Why I Don’t Sing the Blues,” the jazzy “Blue Freddie,” which puts the spotlight on the band, “Pride of the Cockney Rebels,” and the heavy, rocking “No Soul City.” There is not one bad song on the CD though.
Messano delivers on That’s Why I Don’t Sing the Blues. Fans of groups like The Allman Brothers, Derek Trucks Band, or musicians such as Clapton or Winwood will love this CD.
I originally wrote this review for Blogcritics at: http://blogcritics.org/music/article/music-review-bobby-messano-thats-why1/#ixzz1dsqasQcr
The first surprising thing about the Spin Doctors’ Pocket Full of Kryptonite (20th Anniversary Edition) is that it still sounds so fresh and contemporary 20 years after its release in 1991.
It took a year for Pocket Full of Kryptonite to go gold, but after that it just kept growing in popularity, earning triple-platinum status in summer 1993. By 2011, the recording has sold 10 million copies–not bad for a New York bar band.
The second somewhat surprising thing is that my favorite songs from the early Pocket Full of Kryptonite’90s are still my favorite songs; “Jimmy Olsen’s Blues,” “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong,” and “Two Princes” are the stand-out songs, on both CDs of this anniversary set.
But there’s plenty of other great songs on this special edition, with the entire original CD on Disc One. Disc Two contains demos, including 1989’s “Can’t Say No” and 1990’s “Pieces of Glass.” Altogether, the set provides a whopping 27 tracks, all of them interesting and fun to listen to.
While it was very pleasant to realize that I still like the original CD, even after not having heard it for about ten years, Disc Two is my favorite. I always like demos because they let you hear the songs the way the band originally envisioned them being, and they are usually closer to the way the songs sound live. There are songs here that made the cut for Krytonite, like “What Time is It?” “Hard to Exist,” “Two Princes,” and “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong,” and the clever combination of angst and ego that is “How Can You Want Him (When You Know You Could Have Me?).”
Other songs on the demos did not make the cut for the original CD, but ended up on other Spin Doctors recordings, like the danceable “Big Fat Funky Booty” and “At This Hour.”
Also included on Disc Two are a live version of “Little Miss Can’t Be Wrong,” which is my favorite Spin Doctors song, and a great version of concert favorite “House,” with its sing-along chorus of “This is my house, if you don’t like it, just get outta, get outta, get outta.”
Overall, this CD is a great bargain for any Spin Doctors fan. If you loved the original Pocket Full of Kryptonite in the ’90s, you still will. It’s not one of those “What was I thinking?” recordings that sound so much better in your head than they do when you hear them again later in life. And the demos are a whole lot of fun. Go ahead and get this one. You’ll be glad you did.
I originally wrote this review for Blogcritics at: http://blogcritics.org/music/article/music-reviews-spin-doctors-pocket-full/#ixzz1dspq9pRo
I was raised in rural South Carolina, and I love A Skaggs Family Christmas Volume 2 because it takes me right back home!
Ricky Skaggs is a 17-time Grammy winner and he is married to the former Sharon White, who with her father Buck and sister Cheryl comprise The Whites, one of the most popular groups in bluegrass and country music. Buck and Cheryl White join Skaggs and his wife on this CD, along with Cheryl’s daughter Rachel Leftwich and the Skaggs’ children, Luke and Molly. Kentucky Thunder, Skaggs’ group, and The Nashville Strings also participate in the CD.
The recording begins with my favorite cut, “Christmas Time’s A-Comin’,” which immediately evokes the joyous anticipation of an old-fashioned country Christmas. Listening to this song should put a smile on your face and get your feet tapping. It is the only song on the CD that does not have a direct religious connotation.
Next is “Light of the Stable,” which beautifully showcases the voices of Sharon White Skaggs and her sister Cheryl, followed by a stunning a cappella version of “The First Noel,” with perfect high and low harmony well worth listening to again and again. “Silent Night” follows, with a lovely accompaniment featuring mandolin and strings.
Ricky’s daughter Molly sings the next song, “What Songs Were Sung,” and her beautiful, pure voice makes it obvious she is ready to carry on the next generation of the Skaggs and White musical legacy. Her brother then proves he has his father’s musical talent by playing his own riveting instrumental composition, “Flight to Egypt.”
Ricky Skaggs then sings lead on the contemporary “Reunion Song,” and also plays guitar and mandolin..
Both Skaggs and the Whites have bluegrass in their veins, and it shows on “Children Go Where I Send Thee,” where Skaggs’ fast fingers and the flawless call-and-response vocals are simply delightful. The children, Luke, Molly and Rachel, then perform their own original arrangement of “O Come, O Come, Emanuel,” with great feeling and emotion, and the disc closes, somewhat surprisingly, with an uplifting, classical intrumental string version of “Joy to the World.”
As a bonus, the CD includes a DVD of the Skaggs family holiday concert recorded in Nashville at the Ryman Auditorium. The family is touring again this year across the country for a series of shows as well.
The Skaggs Family Christmas Vol. 2 is both down-home and polished, and the mix of live and studio recordings give it great balance. All in all, this recording is a true Christmas treasure for any lover of fine harmony, country or bluegrass music.
I originally wrote this review for Blogcritics at: http://blogcritics.org/music/article/music-review-ricky-skaggs-a-skaggs/#ixzz1dspBUkcG
TimeLife has just released the 3-CD set, Hank Williams: The Legend Begins, and what a treasure it is! From the very first (and previously unreleased) recordings Hank made as a 15-year-old, to four other unreleased songs from two years later in 1940, when he was a “kid singer” on the radio, that are on the set courtesy of Hank’s daughter Jett, to the complete collection of the Health and Happiness radio programs, this is not only an unprecedented piece of musical history, but an extremely enjoyable one as well.
While the unreleased material is mainly interesting only from a historical point of view, the radio programs reveal a remarkably at ease, charming performer who treated the audience as his friends and delivered his lines as smoothly as he did his songs. It also reminds us what a great band Williams had in the Drifting Cowboys, especially the spectacular fiddle player, Jerry Rivers.
The sound quality is extremely good, and much better than it would ever have sounded to its original radio audience, I am sure. Each short program is introduced by the “Lonesome Cowboy” theme song, and each features a song or duet by Hank and his wife Audrey, who must have had mixed feelings listening to Hank sing the songs he so clearly wrote about their stormy relationship. Audrey’s voice is not a great one, or even a good one. The songs that she sings are the weak spots on the CD, but they illustrate the amount of power Audrey held in the relationship, and how much she wanted to be a part of Hank’s career.
Many of the best known Hank Williams songs are represented here, done live for the radio with all the depth of feeling that made Williams the great star he was. Most of his songs, even the gospel numbers and the humorous ones, reflect the emotional turmoil that led him to self-destruct at the height of his career at the age of 29, as so many musicians have before and since then.
There are stellar versions here of “Lovesick Blues,” “Wedding Bells,” “Mind Your Own Business” and “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” one of the most evocative songs of loneliness ever written. Each program contained a gospel song, and here Williams’ own “I Saw the Light” is one of the few truly hopeful songs on the set, with its joyful chorus perfect for singing along
Another standout among the gospel songs is “Lost Highway,” which seems to mirror how Williams must have viewed his own journey through life, as he found fame but no lasting happiness. He also received overwhelming love from his fans, but nothing that got him through it all except alcohol. “And now I’m lost, too late to pray,” he would say.
But my personal favorite, and one of my favorite songs on the CD set is the deeply touching, plaintive “Tramp on the Street.” Williams had written an arrangement of this song which was recorded by country singer Molly O’Day. Music publisher Fred Rose heard it and asked her where she found the song. She told him she got it from the late legend, and he asked if he had any more songs.
That was the start of Hank Williams’ career as a songwriter, even though he did not write this particular song, only the arrangement. This is the only known recording of Williams singing the song, and it is just perfect, one of the most compelling parables in song I have ever heard.
Over all, this 3-CD set is the perfect collection for any Hank Williams fan and the ideal introduction to Williams for new audiences. It is also a great chance to get to know more about the charming man behind the music, who could hide his personal problems and be friendly, witty, and imminently likeable in his patter with the band, his wife Audrey, and in the way he addressed his audience. The CDs span over 12 years, from 1938 to 1951, and clearly illustrate that Hank Williams was, in every way, a star and a major influence in many areas of American music.
I originally wrote this review for Blogcritics at: http://blogcritics.org/music/article/music-review-hank-williams-the-legend/#ixzz1dsnuJOt9