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Music reviews - 12-13-06

Untitled Document


Watkins and the Rapiers
It’s Christmas, Baby

Goddamn, this record is good. Watkins and the Rapiers deck the halls with acoustically rooted Americana . Not one to flog the yule log, the band came up with 12 original Christmas ditties that appeal to the socially conscious smart aleck in all of us. “Christmas On The Border” discusses whether illegal immigrants should be sent back to Mexico after doing such a good job here all year long. Porno funk serves as the backdrop to impending disaster on “Wildfire,” about Boy Scouts sneaking cigarettes behind dried-out Christmas trees. There’s a nod to Johnny Cash, who’ll no doubt get re-packaged to death like Dean and Frank from here to eternity. Then out of nowhere it’s as if John Prine shows up with “Where Angels Fall From The Sky.” It’s Christmas, Baby will crack you up, but the instrumental beauty and lyrical irony keeps the hilarity in check so no eggnog comes shooting outta your nose.

--- Frank De Blase



Aimee Mann
One More Drifter in the Snow
Superego Records

Aimee Mann and Christmas seem kind of incongruous. Christmas is all “Fa la la la la la” and Mann’s all “Wah wah wah wah wah.” (Note: I love La Mann; she makes misery catchy, which requires genuine talent.) But actually, the disc kind of works. It’s odd to hear some of the more traditionally upbeat songs like “Winter Wonderland” recast so somberly. And this isn’t the album anybody will be listening to while trimming the tree, unless they’re following the decorating up with a stiff vodka and vicodin chaser. But Mann’s style synchs nicely with the more melancholy tunes, like “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” And I might be wrong, but I suspect she might even be having a little bit of fun on “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.” Don’t worry, Aimee. It’s the holiday season. It happens to all of us.

--- Eric Rezsnyak



Now That’s What I Call Christmas Vol. 3

The Now series --- the leading musical purveyor of pop cheese --- puts out its latest two-disc collection of Christmas ditties culled from yesterday and today. As with the two earlier, superior collections, the draw here is the classic cuts. The Jackson 5 gives up a funky “Up On the Housetop”; Dianne Reeves delivers a luxurious and hopeful “Christmas Time Is Here”; and there are superb mall-soundtrack staples like Brenda Lee’s “Jingle Bell Rock,” Burl Ives’ “Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town,” and Tony Bennett’s “My Favorite Things.” Ultimately, those songs speak for themselves. The newer pop stuff, however, largely lacks a voice. The Pussycat Dolls trot out the predictable “Santa Baby,” and fail miserably; stick with the Eartha Kitt or Madonna versions. Christina Aguilera cannot hold a note for longer than two seconds on “Merry Christmas, Baby.” (Seriously, lady --- we get it; you can sing. Put it away.) And Cyndi Lauper, God love her, eviscerates “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” by recasting it as some calypso hybrid. Girls may just want to have fun, but some things are sacred.

--- Eric Rezsnyak



Various Artists
Joy! Celebrate Upstate Holiday Vol. 1
Much More

Man there are a lotta jazzers in this town. Some of them got together to make one fine Christmas platter. Joy! Celebrate Upstate Holiday Vol. 1 is a gift that’ll keep on giving, with a portion of the proceeds going to Hochstein School Of Music And Dance.

Hard Logic has an interesting phase-shifting trick going on “The Christmas Star” that’ll sway you if you’re sporting headphones. The Ann Mitchell Jazz Quartet give “Jingle Bells” some righteous jingle and bop. Gary Quinn rocks one of my favorites, “Blue Christmas,” and Jon Seiger & The All-Stars conjure Satchmo Clause with “Cool Yule.” Mitzie Collins’ “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” sounds like a life-sized music box, with its lilting cadence and jazz departure. Prime Time Funk makes “Silent Night” anything but with the rafter-busting gospel of The Spiritus Christie Gospel Choir.

Overall Joy is a peaceful, mellow affair in the spirit of the season that seems to get trampled too often in lieu of “more important” things.

--- Frank De Blasé

Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra
A Holiday Celebration
Rochester Philharmonic Inc.

Jeff Tyzik masterfully leads the Rochester Philharmonic through A Holiday Celebration --- a beautiful collection of Christmas standards. Tyzik’s reverence is apparent in arrangements like the lush string interlude on “Silent Night.” It’s the perfect marriage of joy and sadness. But the imp in the man shows up as well when he swaps his baton for a matador’s red cape, giving “Little Drummer Boy” a subtle goose with just a hint of “Bolero.” The RPO plays magnificently and flawlessly throughout. It might just re-kindle your love affair with Christmas music. I know it did mine.

--- Frank De Blase

Vince Guaraldi
A Charlie Brown Christmas

It’s that time of year again, when Christmas music can drive you crazy. It’s on the radio, in the stores, and blaring at countless parties. But when I was sent a new, enhanced CD of Vince Guaraldi’s A Charlie Brown Christmas (featuring four alternate takes), I put it right on. If there’s a more delightful song than “Linus and Lucy” I haven’t heard it. And no tune captures the melancholy side of the holidays as touchingly as “Christmas Time Is Here.” And there’s much more of Guaraldi’s masterful piano style. He turns “O Tannenbaum” into a bluesy jazz composition with brilliant improvisation. And his “Christmas Is Coming” instrumental is another uplifting ride. It’s no wonder Charles Schulz selected Guaraldi to produce this music. There’s lots of competition, but this could be the best Christmas album of them all.

--- Ron Netsky


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