Music Morsels

December 2007

by Mark Waterbury
  Mindy Smith

Mindy Smith - My Holiday
Vanguard Records - 79838-2

Singer/songwriter Mindy Smith spins her vocal magic with this delectable collection of classic and original holiday music. Her passionate vocal work is breathtakingly beautiful, whether fueling the acoustic title ballad, or crooning the piano graced take on “The Christmas Song.”  The emotively reverent duet with featuring Alison Krauss on “Away in A Manger” will tug at your heart strings. This is music that is as pure and glistening as a new fallen snow on Christmas morn.


  Danan Healy

Danan Healy - Christmas Time Rocks

Danan Healy turns a bit of her Brooklyn born sass loose on the original title track that kicks off this wonderful disc with a bit of reggae and a touch of scatological humor regarding the holidays. “The One” is another excellent original, telling the story of Mother Mary in touching fashion. Along with entertaining versions of classics including “Oh Holy Night” and “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” is the highly enjoyable snappy lounge jazz groove of the nugget “Lo, How A Rose E’re Blooming.” Danan’s original vocal perspectives will keep you enthralled throughout the disc.



Sacred Chants of Ancient India

Sacred Chants of Ancient India (Box Set)

Kosmic Music
Every culture has their own musical expressions to celebrate the holidays. This lovely mosaic of new age music fueled by the ancient chants of India will charm people no matter what their beliefs are. This is far from “musical wallpaper” as some of the music is quite intense considering the instrumental prowess involved. Although the lyrics are in Hindi, the choir handling the vocals convey the emotions with stunning inflections and harmonies. A great disc for one to relax to during the hectic holiday season.

Chakra Dhyana
Kosmic Music
Maybe a lot of people don’t think of meditation during the holidays. Sometimes people lose the true meaning of the season, no matter how their faith celebrates. Discs such as this can help you get in touch with your feelings, not just about the holidays but life in general. As far as meditation music goes, this is truly inspirational, with lush backdrops augmented by traditional Indian meditative chants. A beautiful way to gain introspective to help survive the holidays and keep an even keel throughout the year.

Dhyana Mantra
Kosmic Music - 874830000154
The third in Kosmic’s collection of holiday meditation discs is the most gripping, and therefore the one most likely to ensnare your mind. There is this underground intensity both from the throbbing. mystical music and the passionate chanting from Ananda Giri. The music tends to give you an uplifting sense of empowerment while at the same time soothing your soul and clearing your mind of clutter. Isn’t feeling this way what the holidays should be about, no matter what you believe? This music is a great way to bring you back to earth and rediscover the true meanings of your beliefs.


  Rosa Minstrels

Rosa Minstrels - Celebrons la Naissance
Chicken House Records

The mother/daughters trio of Pat, Lynn and Amy Humphrey have produced a unique holiday treat, featuring holiday music from around the world, sometimes sung in different languages. Even the songs in foreign tongues convey the joy and passion of the season thanks to the astounding vocal harmonies. The musical backdrops reflect the festive and indigenous international flavors, augmenting the themes to wonderful effect. An excellent reminder that the world is one, especially at this time of year.


  Vanessa Van Spall

Vanessa Van Spall - Merry Christmas Song

If this Christmas single by San Francisco singer/songwriter Vanessa Van Spall is any indication, she is going to have a solid music career. An operatic voice that has a nice edge merged with a wonderful tonal quality liberally sprinkles this original song with emotion and heartfelt cheer. Musically, it is a comforting mid-ground between traditional carol and subtle pop-fueled rock. This is the kind of song that entices you to enjoy the holidays, while wanting to check out her other music as well.



Heathersong - Yo, It’s Christmas

With all the negative rap and hip-hop that has been done, it is always refreshing to hear people go in positive directions. These are very entertaining songs collected, produced and performed by Heather and Kurt Pahl. Funk and R&B infuse a lighthearted crackle into classics like “Feliz Navidad” and “Deck The Halls” as well as mutated versions “Rock The Jingle Bells” and “Good King Hip Hop.” A delectable urban twist on holiday music that can be enjoyed by anyone.


  Sister Hazel

Sister Hazel - Santa’s Playlist
Rock Ridge Music - RKM2-61124

Gainesville, FL’s alt rockers infuse a bit of their own style with other flavorings for this killer holiday collection. “Merry Christmas Baby” gets jazzed up, complete with a horn section, while “White Christmas” is kissed with a touch of reggae. Not to leave those celebrating Hanukkah out in the cold, the boys crank up a foot stomping rockabilly version of “The Dreidel Song.” Capping the CD off with a fervent version of “Oh Holy Night,” this is holiday music at its best from a group of rockers who prove again how deep their talent pool lies.



Psychostick - The Flesh Eating Rollerskate Holiday Joyride
Rock Ridge Music - RKM2-41125

OK, so everyone out there is not recording reverent versions of holiday classics. That being said, if you like dark humor and thundering metal in the vein of Sacred Reich, it is hard not to enjoy the twisted fun from this Phoenix foursome. With titles like “Holiday Hate,” “Jolly Old Sadist” and “Happy F@&#ing New Year” you almost know what to expect. The lyrics however are so brutally funny and often to the point about the more commercial aspects of the holidays, you will start laughing inspite of yourself. Maybe not the right CD to play for grandma after Midnight Mass, but rockers will love this without having to lower their standards of belief in the true meaning of the holidays.



Offering - Comfort and Joy

Acoustic rock combo Offering unleashes their prodigious talents, flavoring your favorite holiday tunes. The touching voice of Jeanine Guidry adds extra zest to vocal intensive songs like “Angels We Have Heard On High” and “Silent Night.” “Winter Wonderland” has a snappy, feel-good vibe and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” conjures visions of a crackling hearth on a snowy morning. Great versions that are highly listenable for the musical efforts as well.


  Vickie Winans

Vickie Winans - Happy Holidays from Vickie Winans

Gospel Star Vickie Winans shines a sparkling light on originals and classics with his superlative CD. “The Holiday Jam” and “Motown to Yotown Family Song” are R&B fueled delights. “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” and “Joy To the World” are just two of the classics seething with passion graced by Vickie’s unmistakable vocal pyrotechnics. A highly entertaining reminder of the pure joy of the holiday season.


  Jim Bohn

Jim Bohn - What Child Is This

Incredible musicianship and vocal work ranging from bluesy wail to stunning choral arrangements enhance this CD from Grafton, WI's multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Jim Bohn. “O Come Emmanuel” takes you from a church-like setting to a back alley blues bar, with delicious guitar licks from Bohn. “Noel” is a marvelous piano opus. An absorbing collection proving how someone can use his talents to the fullest of his abilities to bring a little holiday cheer.


  The Holidays at Home

The Holidays At Home

The Holidays At Home is a CD with a heart as it benefits Children International. It is also a great gift to those who listen to it, with a plethora of songs by excellent women singer/songwriters. Some of the standouts include the peppy “You Are My Holiday” by Susan Greenbaum, the breathless piano ballad “All Round Me” by Karen Jacobson, and the alt folk groove of “Snow Is Falling” by Pale Beneath the Blue.” This is a great group of talented ladies who are giving their all for a good cause, and providing the listener with a diverse collection of entertaining music.


  Jacqui Naylor

Jacqui Naylor - Smashed for the Holidays

Singer/songwriter Jacqui Naylor presents the unique idea of melding classic rock riffs with classic holiday song lyrics. “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” is merged with Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama.” Zeppelin is the template several times, and “Silver Bells” is crossed with “Every Breath You Take” by the Police. A fresh idea that she pulls off wonderfully with a talented core of musicians and her robust vocals.


  Love’s Holiday

Love’s Holiday - A Gospel Christmas
Time Life - M19530 A715397

Time Life has assembled this marvelous compilation of Gospel classics from stars current and legendary. Christina Aguilera lends surprising depth and vocal wonder to “Angels We Have Heard On High". The late great Luther Vandross will almost bring you to tears with his reverent “O Come All Ye Faithful.” Patti LaBelle blows the roof off with her high level vocal register on “Reason for the Season.” There is so much pure talent this could almost be a general “Christmas Greatest Hits” collection. However you assess it, it is hard not to be moved by the stunning music here.


  D-E-A-R S-A-N-T-A

D-E-A-R S-A-N-T-A - Whit Hill & John Latini
Embassy Hotel Records

This folksy, country, blues and bluegrass tinged collection of original holiday songs is a foot stomping hoot. With lyrics that are often sardonic, and downright sidesplitting at times, the music is somewhat secondary even though there is some excellent musicianship here. You can snicker just thinking about the song titles; “Merry Christmas From the Holiday Inn,” “Going With My Cousin to See Santa At the Mall,” or “The Waltz of the Walnutz and Plumz.” Something that is quite original and very enjoyable what may be best enjoyed while hitting the eggnog (the SPIKED eggnog of course!)


  William Fowler

William Fowler - My Favorite Holidays

So this isn’t a CD dedicated to the Christmas holiday season. Still it is a very entertaining collection of original songs written for children that run the gamut of prominent holidays. From the children’s choral joy in “My Favorite Santa” to the whimsical ditties “Turkey Talk” and “Who’s The April Fool” and the slyly poignant “Independence Day,” this music actually is aimed at both the senses of humor and intellects for children of all ages. This makes the music unique and refreshing compared to the typical songs targeted at kids during the holidays.


  Michael Whalen

Michael Whalen - Seasons of Light 
Spout Multimedia

Grammy winning composer Michael Whalen has created a masterpiece of mostly original music from various genres backed by a host of talented musicians. The title tack is a highly emotive ballad that feels a bit like Springsteen. “Me and My Holiday” has a touch of smooth, smokey Bourbon Street blues, followed by the snappy jazz fusion vibe of “Sleeping With My Trees.” For traditionalists, the passionate version of “Silent Night” is awe inspiring. It is easy to see how Michael has won Grammys considering the talent and zeal he injects in this excellent holiday feast.


  Merry X-Mas Dammit

Merry X-Mas Dammit from the Double Down Saloon
Wood Shampoo Records - sham-11

This wild holiday disc primarily from Las Vegas punk bands will help you get through the insane parts of the season considering the craziness it incites. Hard core ska masters Murphy’s Law blow the CD through the roof with the full throttle “Sock It To Me Santa.” Lonesome Spurs lend a cowpunk slant to “Jingle Bells.” The Dirty Panties go brash and brawny with “Santa Baby” and 2 Cents Worth give a Social Distortion jolt to “I’ll Be Home For Christmas.” Actually very good indie music with tongue-in-cheek vocals make this a disc you may spin beyond the holidays for the entertainment value.




DVD Review
Heart - Dreamboat Annie Live
Shout Factory - 826663-10605

As part of the new Legendary Albums Live series, Heart’s classic “Dreamboat Annie” is performed in its entirety before a tenacious crowd at L.A.’s Orpheum Theatre.  When the mega hit “Magic Man” kick starts the show with Heart's signature fiery intensity, you could swear you were back in 1975. Ann Wilson’s robust vocals are as powerful as ever, fueled by the guitar work and backing vocals of sister Nancy, lead guitar from Craig Bartock, keyboards from Debbie Shair, and the driving rhythms of bassist Ric Markmann and drummer Ben Smith. They are obviously not just going through the motions here, as they unleash a serious amount of energy performing the hits including “Crazy On You” and the title track, as well as highly enjoyable deep cuts “White Lightning and Wine” and “Sing Child,” the later featuring a string ensemble. After Heart finishes the album from cover to cover, the appreciative ovation brings them back for encores that include cuts from Ann’s recent solo release cover album “Hope & Glory.” Potent versions of Pink Floyd’s “Goodbye Blue Sky,” Zepplin’s “Misty Mountain Hop” and “Black Dog” are just the set up for a blistering show ending take on The Who’s “Love, Reign O’er Me” where Ann’s sonic vocals could probably be heard all the way over in Leeds. The DVD is visually well filmed and edited, and the sound quality is sublime. With a minimum of special features, including some interview footage with Ann and Nancy before the show and prior to the encores, this DVD is all about the music. Heart is a band that can easily be considered a legend, and when you hear the Wilson Sisters and their cohorts blast out their launch pad album with the same veracity as they did three decades ago, that is all you need.



Carole King

DVD Review
Carole King - Welcome To My Living Room
Rockingale Records - RVD-112008-9

The legendary Carole King truly does invite you into her living room with this highly entertaining live performance. As intimate as one can get looking at a TV screen, you will feel that Carole and her accompanists Rudy Guess and Gary Burr are right there with you. Beyond the sparkling sound and picture quality, Carole’s phenomenal vocal talents will draw you in and keep you glued to your seat as if you were actually in attendance. Including classics like “Beautiful,” “You’ve Got A Friend” and “It’s Too Late” along with nuggets including “Hard Rock Cafe” and a fantastic medley of 60’s hits, this career spanning disc is not to be missed by any fans of this wonderful performer. It also helps remind people that beyond her vocal and lyrical prowess, Carole is an excellent pianist as well. A prime example of this is the dramatically emotive classic “Now And Forever.” Interspersed with anecdotes and occasional humorous stories concerning her songs, by the time the final notes of “Locomotion” fade away, you will find yourself standing and applauding in your own living room. The entertaining special features include interesting interviews during a “making of” segment, as well as some rehearsal footage that is nearly as intimate as the concert itself. When you really think about it, you will be amazed after viewing this DVD that it has been nearly a decade since the last time Carole King toured. She performed like she never stopped, and after “Welcome To My Living Room” we can only hope that she never will stop again.

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