Categories
Commentary Uncategorized

My Favorite Christmas Recordings #2 The Carpenters: Christmas Collection

Bitter, cynical, and borderline misanthropic for most of the year, I reform for the holiday season and from mid-November to the last minute of Epiphany I’m all about the season.  Readers of Old Road Apples will find themselves under a constant barrage of holiday fare this season–from themed essays to book reviews to a countdown of my very favorite Christmas recordings.

51w7a+LpflL

So, this isn’t a perfect album–it’s a wildly self-indulgent attempt by Richard Carpenter to create a sort of Christmas Magnum Opus, a collection of songs that range from orchestral to pop.  Much of it is brilliant, a bit of it isn’t–but all of it features the incredible, heart-breaking voice of Karen Carpenter.  And let’s be a little honest here.  I grew up on new wave and punk rock, but I am utterly and unapologetically in love with the tragic Karen Carpenter.  I’m two steps removed from fantasies of traveling back in time to try and save her from herself–two small steps.

The centerpiece of this record is “Merry Christmas Darling,” and that’s sort of like saying the centerpiece of the solar system is the sun.  It matters.  A lot.  In my mind, it’s the perfect Christmas song–romantic, sentimental, nostalgic, and a little sad.  Combined with Karen’s honeyed voice, it’s a mind blowing creation.  Pop music perfection.

Carpenter 2 Carpenter 3

Categories
Uncategorized

My Favorite Christmas Recordings #3 Ella Fitzgerald: Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas

Bitter, cynical, and borderline misanthropic for most of the year, I reform for the holiday season and from mid-November to the last minute of Epiphany I’m all about the season.  Readers of Old Road Apples will find themselves under a constant barrage of holiday fare this season–from themed essays to book reviews to a countdown of my very favorite Christmas recordings.

hqdefault

So, it’s Christmas Day, I’m busy with family stuff, and I’ve still got 3 album entries and the second part of “Christmas Traditions” to write and post–go ahead and call fumble, I’ve clearly dropped the ball.

If there is a singular voice of Christmas in our home, it is Ella Fitzgerald–what can I say about this legendary singer that hasn’t been said before, and by people who actually know what they’re talking about.  She’s slick, she’s deep, but still accessible in the way the very best of these holiday records must be.  Literally, I’m short of words, and there’s no hyperbole that can tell you how rarely that happens.  It’s just a perfect album, everything you want, and like several others it could (and almost was) the number one choice on this list, falling short only on sentimental value–the two records ahead of it simply evoke more memories and traditions.  No Christmas collection should be without it.

Ella

 

Categories
Commentary Uncategorized

My Favorite Christmas Recordings #13 Peggy Lee: Christmas

Bitter, cynical, and borderline misanthropic for most of the year, I reform for the holiday season and from mid-November to the last minute of Epiphany I’m all about the season.  Readers of Old Road Apples will find themselves under a constant barrage of holiday fare this season–from themed essays to book reviews to a countdown of my very favorite Christmas recordings.

hqdefault

Peggy Lee’s voice just cuts right through me, and my favorite style of Christmas music is swing, so you can guess where I’m headed here. The only problem is that this album is pathetically short–less than half on hour, on a format that permits twice that, and I know that other Peggy Lee Christmas recordings are out there.  Alas, until something more ambitious appears this one is is super-heavy rotation–a little funky, a lot smooth, and that beautiful, beautiful voice.  There is a nice mix of familiar and not so familiar, with the arrangements neither tired nor so unique that they’re distracting, but at the end of the day it’s about that voice.

I may try this one next year–it’s got a lot more songs on it.

Anyone heard it?

Categories
Commentary Uncategorized

My Favorite Christmas Recordings #14 Barenaked Ladies: Barenaked For The Holidays

Bitter, cynical, and borderline misanthropic for most of the year, I reform for the holiday season and from mid-November to the last minute of Epiphany I’m all about the season.  Readers of Old Road Apples will find themselves under a constant barrage of holiday fare this season–from themed essays to book reviews to a countdown of my very favorite Christmas recordings.

517C225DZ0L

Okay, let’s get a few things straight–where holidays are concerned, or any days really, I have historically been all about barenaked ladies; though for quite some time I’ve focused on one lady in particular  I remain, philosophically speaking, an enthusiast.  I wasn’t sure about this recording when I received it as a gift–as it turns out, these Ladies are neither naked nor, in fact, are they ladies.  At first listen I suspected this would be a little too lite and witty and, frankly, new for my tastes.

It turned out to be a wicked good album full of funny originals & time-honored classics. Great for perking up spirits when seven hours into an all-day cookie-baking extravaganza.  From the opening track, a warp-speed rendition of Jingle Bells, to the closing song–the first interpretation of Auld Lang Syne I’ve ever heard that doesn’t make me want to crawl into a bottle and cry myself to sleep, the Ladies are a blast.  Elf’s Lament, a song about North Pole labor strife and a rebellious push for long overdue unionization, is hilarious, and they include not one, not two, not three Hanukkah songs that are catchy enough that even Pat Robertson might find himself humming it on the way to a Daughters of The Confederacy shindig.  Best of all, or most audacious, is a totally straight-faced cover of Do They Know It’s Christmas that has proven to be a gateway vice to my teenage daughter’s full-bore melodramatic sing-a-long in the style of the original, overwrought form–

There’s a world outside your window
And it’s a world of dread and fear
Where the only water flowing
Is the bitter sting of tears
And the Christmas bells that ring there are the clanging chimes of doom
Well tonight thank God it’s them instead of you…

“The clanging chimes of doom.” Right.  You should hear my daughter screech along, at the top of her lungs.  Worth every penny.

1. Jingle Bells
2. Green Christmas
3. I Saw Three Ships
4. Hanukkah Blessings
5. O Holy Night
6. Elf’s Lament
7. Snowmen
8. Do They Know It’s Christmas?
9. Hanukkah O Hanukkah
10. God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman/We Three Kings
11. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
12. Carol of the Bells
13. Footprints
14. Deck the Stills
15. Christmastime (Oh Yeah)
16. Sleigh Ride
17. Christmas Pics
18. I Have a Little Dreidel
19. Wonderful Christmastime
20. Auld Lang Syne
Categories
Commentary Uncategorized

My Favorite Christmas Recordings #15 Ray Coniff Singers: Christmas With Conniff

Bitter, cynical, and borderline misanthropic for most of the year, I reform for the holiday season and from mid-November to the last minute of Epiphany I’m all about the season.  Readers of Old Road Apples will find themselves under a constant barrage of holiday fare this season–from themed essays to book reviews to a countdown of my very favorite Christmas recordings.

61rtmC+4dCL

Ray Coniff: Christmas With Conniff

Here’s another super nostalgic choice from my childhood, hammering home how much of Christmas is, for me, a sort of hazy-around-the-edges sentimentalism–a striving for “that feeling.”  I guess that Ray Conniff was some sort of chorale director–all of these songs are sung by a chorus, a really good chorus.  When I hear these songs, I still imagine a bunch of really happy, healthy, clean-cut 1960’s Americans singing on the back of a hayride–or sleigh ride–and it turns out that I’m sort of right.

This stuff is just timeless, and the more that our holiday celebrations devolve into a morass of sectarian conflict (between normal Americans and right-wing Christian jihadists… http://nation.foxnews.com/2013/12/12/war-christmas ) and commercial overkill, the more I enjoy reaching back for the seemingly unspoiled, can’t we all just get along, kind of music I heard when I was a little kid.  Of course, when I was a little kid it was the height of Viet Nam, and my first memory of watching television was sitting around my grandparents’ house while the Watergate trials played out on every channel–so it’s pretty safe to say that this nostalgia thing is more about idealization and selective memory.  I don’t think it’s necessarily bad to imagine a better past than present, as long as we use that idealized past as a touchstone to build a better future.

Categories
Commentary Uncategorized

My Favorite Christmas Recordings # 16 Pittsburgh Symphony Brass: A Christmas Concert

Bitter, cynical, and borderline misanthropic for most of the year, I reform for the holiday season and from mid-November to the last minute of Epiphany I’m all about the season.  Readers of Old Road Apples will find themselves under a constant barrage of holiday fare this season–from themed essays to book reviews to a countdown of my very favorite Christmas recordings.

burgh

I’ll tell you this–it isn’t Christmas without some brass.  Our heavy Christmas rotation list is full of orchestral cheer, and this one is a favorite–a nice, crisp recording, a spirited performance, and nice volume–I have several classical Christmas CDs and some of them are recorded with very low levels, which seems like a ridiculous criticism, but we slot 25 CD’s into our massive 200-disc sony CD changer and let the machine play them, picking randomly, and it’s a downer when one or two records are so quiet compared to the others that you can’t hear them.  Not this one.  These folks can blow.

Also, don’t overlook the value of an album with over 29 songs–that’s bang for the buck, baby.  Nor easily ignored is that since Pittsburgh is the greatest city in North America, it’s Symphony must be as well. (imagine grinning emoticon here.)  You won’t see brass from effeminate cities like Dallas or Miami–wine and cocktail cities–in my house.  This is shot and beer brass.  Because, dare I say it, the Pittsburgh Brass plays like they have brass ones.

You know.  Instruments.  Brass instruments.

burgh 2 burgh 3

Categories
Commentary Uncategorized

My Favorite Christmas Recordings # 20 Joan Osbourne : Christmas Means Love

Bitter, cynical, and borderline misanthropic for most of the year, I reform for the holiday season and from mid-November to the last minute of Epiphany I’m all about the season.  Readers of Old Road Apples will find themselves under a constant barrage of holiday fare this season–from themed essays to book reviews to a countdown of my very favorite Christmas recordings.

519mNGAVNTL

A lot of folks don’t know Joan Osbourne–she flirted with mainstream success a couple of decades ago with a couple of pretty great singles, Spider Web and One of Us from a really great album “Relish”…you might remember the latter: what is god was one of us/just a slob like one of us/just a stranger on the bus….

She didn’t disappear after that, but kept making a series of remarkable blues-soul-rock-whatever albums, touring, and making fans happy wherever she landed.  Because she’s not well known, this record is a bit of hidden Christmas treasure–a nice mix of traditionals, interesting covers, and even a few originals.  The attraction here is Osbourne’s voice–smoother than smooth, smokier than smokey, sexier than sexy.  A great recording for staying inside on a cold winter night.

1. Christmas Means Love
2. Santa Claus Baby
3. Away In a Manger
4. Christmas Must Be Tonight
5. Cherry Tree Carol
6. Christmas In New Orleans
7. Children Go Where I Send Thee
8. Angels We Have Heard On High
9. What Do Bad Girls Get?
10. Great Day In December
11. Silent Night
Categories
Commentary Journal

My Favorite Christmas Recordings # 21 Elvis Presley: If Every Day Was Like Christmas

Bitter, cynical, and borderline misanthropic for most of the year, I reform for the holiday season and from mid-November to the last minute of Epiphany I’m all about the season.  Readers of Old Road Apples will find themselves under a constant barrage of holiday fare this season–from themed essays to book reviews to a countdown of my very favorite Christmas recordings.

Elvis

Elvis Presley: If Every Day Was Like Christmas

Okay, now we’re getting into the meat of the order.  I owned this on vinyl when I was in college, along with albums by Nat King Cole, The Beach Boys, Big Crosby, and The Chipmunks. (Alvin? Alvin!) That’s why I was so popular with the ladies, know what I mean?

Neither do I–but it was a better, more extensive Christmas collection than most undergraduates, circa 1986.  The Elvis album is a blast–some classics here, including the title song (try not to sing along with the refrain really, really loudly!), Santa Bring My Baby Back To Me, and one of my all time favorites, Blue Christmas–listen to The King in full on growl, the dude is bringing it.  Big time.  Not a bad performance on the album, and this is another one you can pick up for a dollar or two if you keep your eyes open.  Just make sure you get the one with all 24 songs–there’s at least one version out there that mimics the vinyl record and only has about half as many cuts.

It’s also an example of why this list is a big of a crock–Elvis could very well be in the top 5, but I’ve had this album in one form or another for over 30 years and some things just sound fresher.  It’s a sure thing though.

1. If Every Day Was Like Christmas
2. Blue Christmas
3. Here Comes Santa Claus (Right Down Santa Claus Lane)
4. White Christmas
5. Santa Bring My Baby Back (To Me)
6. I’ll Be Home For Christmas
7. O Little Town Of Bethlehem
8. Santa Claus Is Back In Town
9. It Won’t Seem Like Christmas (Without You)
10. If I Get Home On Christmas Day
11. Holly Leaves And Christmas Trees
12. Merry Christmas Baby
13. Silver Bells
14. I’ll Be Home On Christmas Day (Alternate Version)
15. On A Snowy Christmas Night
16. Winter Wonderland
17. The Wonderful World Of Christmas
18. O Come All Ye Faithful
19. The First Noel
20. It Won’t Seem Like Christmas (Without You ….)
21. Silver Bells (Alternate Take 1)
22. Holly Leaves And Christmas Trees (Unreleased Alternate Take 8)
23. I’ll Be Home On Christmas Day
24. Christmas Message From Elvis/Silent Night

Categories
Commentary

My Favorite Christmas Recordings # 22 Diana Krall: Christmas Songs

Bitter, cynical, and borderline misanthropic for most of the year, I reform for the holiday season and from mid-November to the last minute of Epiphany I’m all about the season.  Readers of Old Road Apples will find themselves under a constant barrage of holiday fare this season–from themed essays to book reviews to a countdown of my very favorite Christmas recordings.

Here’s an extra for today.  I’m behind a few…

Diana Krall: Christmas Songs

Krall

People say I’m resistant to change, and maybe that’s true–no way in hell I’ll be buying that Josh Groban crap.  I got this one at the insistence of a friend, who convinced me that Krall’s voice is awesome and I have to admit that it’s pretty good.  Of course, I don’t know the first thing about contemporary jazz, or whatever kind of jazz this is–I don’t know anything at all about jazz, actually, which is funny because I have half a dozen friends who are accomplished jazz musicians in bands, with actual gigs and everything.  The one who is a singer despises Diana Krall, but I never bothered to ask why.  Maybe Krall is really average and is only famous because it seems like she’s always posing like she just had sex and needs to have a cigarette (see above) and some whiskey on the rocks. In case you think I’m exaggerating, here’s another shot–but in this case she appears to be just about ready to have sex.

DIANA+KRALL+seated

Okay, I just did some research–the knock on her is that her music is “like white bread.”  Process that and get back to me.  It’s a nearly perfect Christmas album, however, especially for the jazz non-enthusiast.  The only liability is that she scats a little here and there–not scat, like bears do in the woods, but that “ba-diddy ba boo boo bah bah bah ippity dippity doo dah doo”  business.  Can’t stand that–fortunately, it passes swiftly.

Screenshot_4
Click on image to make songlist big enough to read.
Categories
Commentary

My Favorite Christmas Recordings #23 A Lovely Way To Spend Christmas by Kristin Chenowith

Bitter, cynical, and borderline misanthropic for most of the year, I reform for the holiday season and from mid-November to the last minute of Epiphany I’m all about the season.  Readers of Old Road Apples will find themselves under a constant barrage of holiday fare this season–from themed essays to book reviews to a countdown of my very favorite Christmas recordings.

Note: I forgot to write one of these yesterday, so this is the first of two special Christmas music posts today.

Kristin Chenowith’s A Lovely Way To Spend Christmas

chenowith

Broadway star Kristin is smokin’ hot, has a great voice, and is actually a real, live, genuine elf–which should make you feel a little weird about what you were thinking while noticing how hot she is.  This album couldn’t miss, and it didn’t.

chenosongs