I love Christmas cds. I used to have a tradition: I would buy myself one new Christmas cd every season. I had to stop doing it. Too expensive… not enough storage space… and people were beginning to put out cds that didn’t interest me.
Today I was listening to a couple of cds that a friend gave me that I put into my Ipod for examination.
I didn’t like them. Well. I didn’t like all of them. I had to delete some of what I was listening to. That’s the bummer. The first one I tried to listen to was A HOLLYWOOD CHRISTMAS. Oh my gosh, it made me crazy. I had to skip most of the tracks after just a few seconds. I don’t know who produced it but the arrangements were so saccharine that it hurt to listen – almost all the sincere emotion was stripped from every track by synthesized orchestrations and over production, not to mention often schmacty performances by the singers. Not a total loss, though, the cd left me with a recording of Baby It’s Cold Outside by the great Karen Morrow and the equally great Charles Nelson Reilly (and, yeah, it’s schmacty – but it is the best version of schmacty you can get because of these two legendary talents). Also, there is great forgiveness for me in the acceptance of the super sweet arrangement on My Christmas Tree, just because it isn’t every day you get a Diana Canova recording. The recording of Twiggy singing Christmas Children is (I believe) from her own album and it’s completely lovely – but I haven’t checked to see if the arrangements are by the same person; I don’t think so. There is a lovely recording of Silver Bells by Linda Purl and I am always happy to have a new recording by Linda Purl in my Ipod. The loveliest thing on this cd is a song called Winter Was Warm by Jodi Benson that is so heartfelt and so sincere that it really touched me – and it sounds like she is singing with an actual piano and not some synthesized karaoke track. This track is a treat, one worth keeping in your Ipod. I found the rest of the cd to be a heartbreak because I admire so many of the exceptional singers/actors on the recording – I just can’t listen to them, here. Fooey.
Directly on the heels of listening to A HOLLYWOOD CHRISTMAS (and deleting 50 % of it fro my Ipod) I turned my attention to NBC CELEBRITY CHRISTMAS. Not as irritating as the first of these Los Angeles created Christmas cds, there are actually some wonderful recordings here! Of course, not the Baby It’s Cold Outside recording by Bebe Neuwirth and John Lithgow. I found myself remembering the story about how Laurette Taylor would (often) say to actors appearing with her “Just say the line.” Well. I think that is a big problem with a lot of actors these days. Everyone is so afraid to be honest, so afraid to let the authors’ work do its’ job, so afraid of not being different, not being noticed, not being the star, that they (the actors) completely go over the top in their performance, ruining the creation with over production. I happen to love Mr Lithgow and I have affection and admiration for Ms Neuwirth. This cut, though, had to be cut from my Ipod. Listening to it was like having my molars ground down with a nutmeg file. Some other recordings were deleted – not because I didn’t like them but because I won’t play them. Dave Koz is lovely but I don’t need an instrumental version of The Christmas Song; ditto the recordings of Coventry Carol and Let it Snow! What I DO need in my Ipod, though, is the remarkably gorgeous recordings of O Holy Night by Marie Osmond and Silent Night by Megan Mullally. WONDERFUL and heartfelt – the best cuts on the cd. There’s a lovely The First Noel by a person called Jane French. I don’t mind Wendie Malick’s Santa Baby, though there certainly are better; the same goes for Jane Leeve’s sort of charming Winter Wonderland. I actually do, quite, like Katey Segal’s Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas and I take bizarre pleasure in the Wonderful Christmas Time done by Martin Sheen, Stockard Channing and John Spencer – but I also like the musical film Lost Horizon. All in all, not a great offering; but not as bad as Hollywood Christmas… certainly worth a buck or two to hear the Osmond and Mullally tracks.
HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS is a cd of Broadway stars singing Christmas music; it was put out as a BCEFA production. Natch, I should love this cd because the people performing on it are my peeps. No, I don’t know most of them, personally; but we are all members of the New York arts community and I look on them as family, no matter what. The slight (SLIGHT) Problem here is that some of the arrangements are somewhat over the top – but it isn’t as obvious as the Hollywood Christmas cd or the NBC cd; so if you just lighten up and go with it, you’re ready to roll. In fact, it’s really kind of enjoyable. So let’s talk about what I like most of all on this cd… Christine Ebersole singing Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas – and that’s saying a lot because I usually only like the Judy Garland version. It is sublime and gorgeous. Sam Harris doing Merry Christmas Darling –same thing; usually I only want to hear Karen Carpenter sing this song –but it’s Sam Harris, dudes. Mwahvelous. Jane Krakowski’s Santa Baby is sweetly understated and crisp while my darling Alan Cumming does a festive (if a bit silly) duet with Liza on Baby It’s Cold Outside. The Callaways do O Holy Night and to no like that is to not like anything. Daphne Rubin-Vega’s Feliz Navidad is FAB. There’s some lovely and wistful work from Anthony Rapp on Little Drummer Boy and Adam Pacal on New York State of Mind. Patrick Wilson’s We Need a Little Christmas: a delight. Victor Garber’s I’ll Be Home For Christmas is actually the most heartfelt one for me – AGAIN, strange to say because Nancy LaMott’s absolutely destroys me.. but the other day I had my Ipod on and this track was playing as I strolled Manhattan and it just struck a chord in me. It was so honest, so raw. I just love it. Audra McDonald’s White Christmas. Need I say more? It’s White Christmas and it’s Audra McDonald. So you see, this is a cd worth buying. Some good stuff here, thank heaven! Especially after those last two cds. OY.
A Nancy Wilson Christmas. It’s a well documented fact that I am an ardent fan of Miss Nancy Wilson. My daddy introduced me to her work when I was ten or eleven and it has been a passionate love affair ever since. It was, therefore, a great thrill to discover she had a Christmas cd. It was, though, a heartbreak. You see, all the things that I love about Nancy Wilson are exactly what I dislike about the majority of this cd. I sort of feel like Christmas music should be simple, hearfelt, sincere. There is, for the most part, no discernible emotion at all. That’s the bummer. And I gave this cd more consideration than I would most cds. I went beyond my customary 60 second rule and listened to each track for a full two minutes before hitting the skip button. Every single Nacny Wilson cd is listed in my favourites file, until now. Fooey. I will admit that I kept her jazzed up White Christmas in my Ipod, as well as a lovely ballad called All Through the Night and an appropriately jazzy What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve. Her Christmas Time is Here is alright, though not the best (but, really, is anything better than the original Peanuts version?) and her The Christmas Song is nice, relaxed, jazzy (which, I guess, is the way it should be). The great track on this cd (almost every cd has at least one great track) is her Carol of the Bells. This track will always be on my Christmas playlist – it’s brilliant.
Holiday Soul. I don’t know where this cd came from but it’s in my collection so I played it. It isn’t something I should have liked – like that Nancy Wilson cd; I expected it to be devoid of emotion, of sincerity. Well the first thing I got was an Aretha Franklin Kissing By the Mistletoe and I thought “wow”. Next up: Otis Redding doing Merry Christmas Baby. “wow”. BB King going Christmas Celebration. “wow”. Suffice it to say, as I played the cd filled with wonderful recordings by Louis Armstrong, Lou Rawls, Gladys Knight, Ella Fitzgerald… you know the type. Great artists making great Christmas music. Score!
A Rosie Christmas is another one of those cds somebody gave me and I put it away because I don’t like Rosie O’Donnell. Well, I should clarify. I don’t want to hear her talk. I don’t want to be exposed to her antics. I don’t want to know about her personal life and I don’t want her, in any way, politically active. HOWEVER. I think she has done some lovely acting – I have really enjoyed some of her work. I have loved some of her stand up – I have really enjoyed her stand up. I hate it when she sings. I don’t understand people who want to sing and don’t’ take lessons enough to be able to sing in public without their audience cringing. So I had this cd in my caselogic, unlistened to, except for the track she does with Cher which, natch, went immediately into my Ipod. So when I got it out to play it, imagine my surprise when she created some lovely harmonies with Billy Joel on Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas; or when she does a lovely White Christmas with Sir Elton John. Extremely festive is the duet of Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town with Rosemary Clooney and very fun and twangy is the Santa On the Rooftop with Trisha Yearwood. Not wild about the odd arrangement on Winter Wonderland with Donny Osmond, extremely reviled by the Do You Hear What I Hear duet with Elmo. But I LOVE the track with Cher. I also love that there is a mention in the liner notes that the proceeds from the sale of the cd all went to charity, including the artists’ fees. So. I may not like Rosie; but I respect her.
Elliott Yamin My Kind of Holiday was a gift from my husband last year. A Christmas cd on Christmas day.. well, natch, it didn’t get a lot of play last year. So this year I have been getting to know it. I did so with some trepidation because I did NOT like his debut cd in spite of having loved him on American Idol. So it was with delight that I played this cd and, track after track, found myself grooving around the room. He’s got a great mixture of songs we all know and songs that we will get to know. He went a little over the top on Jingle Bells (I really don’t know why people still record this song) and I admit it outright: don’t like the song Back Door Santa. Don’t like it. Don’t like it. So the bottom line is this is an O K cd. Not my favourite and not one I will listen to from start to finish – but there are some highly listenable cuts on it.
Chris Isaak Christmas – I picked it up for 3 dollars in a bin at the store last year because I love Chris Isaak. Nancy Wilson proved to me that just loving someone isn’t enough. This cd is just a little too specific for me. I know it’s the way Chris Isaak plays, it’s the sound he makes, the music he likes.. I just don’t know how to do Christmas on the beach. It’s so much guitar and so much dudery. It just doesn’t fit the mood that I find myself needing at Christmastime. That being said, I love the song Washington Square and I also have to admit that I love his Blue Christmas (but I love that song anyway…). And for a change of mood, Hey Santa! is really fun, as is Christmas on TV. What I find is this: if an artist does their style, their music with NEW Christmas songs that are new to me, I can get into it. If they put new spins on the classics, I tend to not buy into it. I want Johnny Mathis, Doris Day, Ella Fitzgerald. What is really lovely is his low tempo Mele Kalikimaka and his rather traditional Christmas Song. All in all, I put it higher on my list than Elliott Yamin and, certainly, higher than Nancy Wilson (GOD that hurts me to say) because I do love him, so; his voice is like French silk frosting on a butter cake. So even though it ain’t Nancy LaMott or The Carpenters, I’ll get it out and play it once every Christmas season.