By Dave Herrera
By Jesse Livingston
By Dave Herrera
By Cory Casciato
By Jon Solomon
By Jesse Livingston
By Alejandra Loera
By Stephanie March
CHRISTMAS ALL OVER THE WORLD
Narada Records is best known for its new-age excursions, and a couple of discs analyzed in the next section prove that the company hasn't abandoned this area of specialization. But its Latino Christmas collection is spunky almost as often as it is sleepy. Cuba L.A. is the savior here, putting some welcome island rhythms into "Deck the Halls," "What Child Is This?" "We Three Kings" and "Little Drummer Boy," and Spanish guitarist Chuscales assembles a decent "Jingle Bells." Contributions by Chile's Oscar Lopez and Brazil's Nando Lauria aren't as strong, but that's why your CD player comes with a program button.
That device is less necessary when surveying A Real Irish Christmas (Claddagh/Atlantic). Some instances of empty prettiness can be found here, but more conspicuous are pleasantly ominous tunes such as CRAN's "Seacht Suálc na Maighdine Muire (The Seven Joys of Mary)" and mournful tracks like the liquor ode "Come Fill Up Your Glasses," as well as woozy instrumentals from Tommy Potts ("The Ship Comes Home") and Leo Rowsome ("The Old Man Rocking the Cradle"). Get your Irish up. More quizzical by far is Christmas: Rhythms of the Holy Land, from Desert Wind Music in Salt Lake City, in large part because the fifteen cuts on it don't fully embrace its alleged format. Instead of choosing Middle Eastern songs, producer/musician Alan Scott Bachman pastes percussion associated with the region onto old reliables "O Come, All Ye Faithful," "Amazing Grace" and so on -- and to compound the problem, he gives just as much prominence to Western instruments like a Boston Steinway grand piano. It's just a guess, but I doubt Jesus ever took lessons on one of those.
THE GRAB BAG
The Christmas Box, by Paul Cardall, is a more typical project from Narada Records: placid, echoey piano tinkles ("Our Little Angel," "A Change of Heart," "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen") that are about as lively as Jimmy Hoffa. Ditto that for David Lanz, a fellow Narada pianist whose CD The Christmas Album is subtitled "A Musical Gift of Comfort and Joy." More accurately, it's pure product -- selections from previous Lanz holiday discs supplemented by three somnolent tunes ("What Child Is This?", "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" and "Variations on a Theme From Pachelbel's Canon in D Major") recorded during a 1989 concert. Zzzzzzzzzzzz.
A Taste of Chanukah, on Rounder Records, packs much more musical satisfaction. Featuring Theodore Bikel, musical director Hankus Netsky and the extensive New England Conservatory Jewish Music Ensemble, the long-player is culled from a live extravaganza that served up everything from boisterous holiday favorites ("Oy Chanukah," "The Miracle of Chanukah," "I Have a Little Dreydl") to instructions from Chasia Segal about how to make a really fine potato latke. Save room for seconds. Festival of Light 2, on Six Degrees Records, falls short of this mark because of too great a concentration on Muzaky sorts such as Danny Heines ("Singing Flames") and vile saxophonist Dave Koz ("Memories of a Winter's Night"). But there are compensations -- namely, "I'm Going to Take Off My Shoes," by the Klezmatics with Chava Alberstein, the unexpected "Oh Hanukkah Groove," by the Frank London Big Band and "Feast of Lights," by They Might Be Giants. Whose mothers must be very proud.
GOING UP THE COUNTRY
The proliferation of country Christmas discs is an unmistakable sign that C&W sales are down; when the new stuff isn't flying off the shelves, why not set some holiday songs aside for an even rainier day? That's the apparent philosophy behind Garth Brooks's Garth Brooks & the Magic of Christmas (Capitol). Our Mr. Brooks experienced his first career catastrophe a few months back with his cryptic disc Chris Gaines: Greatest Hits, and he seems to believe that the quickest way to get back in the public's good graces is by rushing something innocuous and reassuring into the record stores -- which is exactly what he's done. His previous Christmas offering, Beyond the Season, came out just seven years back, and it shares three titles with Magic: "Go Tell it on the Mountain," "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" and "White Christmas." Furthermore, the oddities that marked Season, like a mini-play in which the animals surrounding Christ's manger were anthropomorphized, have been replaced by standard interepretations of standard yuletide fare: "Winter Wonderland," "The Christmas Song," "O Little Town of Bethlehem," etc. A couple of tunes rise above that level, including Brooks's gospel arrangement of "Baby Jesus Is Born," co-written by former Denverite Randy Handley (who, thanks to the royalties he'll be receiving, will no doubt have a merry Christmas). But in the main, this is the safest CD imaginable; the weirdest thing about it is the cover, on which Garth seems to be holding Woody Allen's Orgasmatron.
George Strait's Merry Christmas Wherever You Are and Reba McEntire's Secret of Giving: A Christmas Collection, both on MCA, are also sequels of a sort (to 1986's Merry Christmas Strait to You and 1988's Merry Christmas to You, respectively), and the performers obviously know the seasonal drill. Strait's usual good taste in material isn't especially in evidence -- the mawkish talkathon "Noel Leon" is just plain embarrassing, and "All I Want for Christmas (Is My Two Front Teeth)" fits Spike Jones a lot more comfortably than it does lonesome George -- plus, the 28:56 running time bespeaks a certain lack of conviction. But Strait's unquestioned reliability and trademark ease shine through on "I Know What I Want for Christmas" and "Santa's on His Way." McEntire, too, pretty much sloughs off her album (it's just 35:06), and because she's a less skillful performer than Strait, her disinterest hurts more. "One Child, One Day," "The Secret of Giving" and "The Angels Sang" (which sports that favorite holiday music cliche, a children's choir) are real teeth-grinders, and "'Til the Season Comes 'Round Again" seems less like a promise than a threat.
Find everything you're looking for in your city
Find the best happy hour deals in your city
Get today's exclusive deals at savings of anywhere from 50-90%
Check out the hottest list of places and things to do around your city