Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmas albums 15-21 know you've been waiting for it...numbers 15-21 of my favorite Christmas albums:

15. Harry Connick, Jr. "What a Night!"

Ok, so it's obvious by now that I love jazz reflected in many of my choices here for these favorite albums.  Yet another great album by Harry...he just puts such great New Orleans flair in every song.  Love listening to both his albums.

16. Sarah Mclachlan, "Wintersong"

I'm normally not a fan of Sarah McLaclan.  I'm sorry!  I think she has a unique voice and some pretty songs, but I find her music...well...boring.  Maybe because I tend to like extremely singable music...which I guess hers is, but I don't like singing it.  Anyway...this album is hauntingly beautiful and I think entirely appropriate to the seriousness of the occasion of Christ's birth.  She also does some rarely done Christmas hymns like "O Little Town of Bethlehem."  It took me a while, but now I enjoy when the songs from this album pop up on my Pandora station. 

17. Eddie Higgins Trio "Christmas Songs"

Great album.  I love jazz trios, and this album does a fantastic job.

18. The Skaggs Family, "A Skaggs Family Christmas"

I was given this album by a good friend years ago...and hated it.  It is country...and I like country, but this is country.  Know what I'm saying?  However, the day came last year when I found myself harmonizing with slightly twangy vocals and realizing it was very easy to blend with this family of musicians...and then I was hooked.  The banjo, the fiddle, the pureness of the child's "Christmastime is here"...give this one some time and you might find it enjoyable too.

19. Tchaikovsky, The Nutcracker Suite

Of course, right?  What a beautiful ballet.  I have seen this a few times, and know many of my students go every year to see it.  When Tchaikovsky originally wrote this, it was not well received, but grew in popularity starting in the 1960s. 

20. Andrew Peterson "Behold the Lamb"

I have been blown away by this album.  This man is an amazing really pricks your heart and brings home the message of God's grace and love for His people in sending Jesus.  It's brand new...check it out.

21. Ella Fitzgerald "Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas"

And the First Lady of Song!  My favorite is "Have yourself a Merry Little Christmas."  Swing, swing swing!

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Merry Christmas all!  May you be blessed with peace these next few days.  I aim to get back to some more thoughtful and less frivolous posts soon...but my brain and psyche can't really handle much more than this at the moment.  :)  Family is here, good food is being eaten, spiked drinks is good.  We have been having some wonderful advent sermons at church which have challenged and comforted me in the past few weeks.  It feels much weightier in the best way this year - more conviction about the materialism and more focus on God's sacrifice and incredible love for us in providing a way to Him, after all humans had done to spite Him.  What an amazing God we serve.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Christmas albums 8-14

So, here's the next installment of can't-do-Christmas-without albums (at least for me!)

8. Amy Grant, A Christmas Album

An oldie but a goodie.  I know every chord and lyric to every arrangement by heart.  I even made one of my church choirs at one point do "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" like her arrangement.  And Smitty is playing background at this point in his career. 

9. Chris Rice: The Living Room Sessions, Christmas

Simple, beautiful piano arrangements of Christmas carols.  It is understated and perfect for the background of someone coming over for a talky visit, or just reading/studying.  It is not really that distracting of a cd, but still is beautiful to just sit and listen to.

10. Michael W. Smith, It's a Wonderful Christmas

I know...Smitty again.  It's Jon's fault...he loves this guy.  We have a good amount of his cds, as well as the piano books.  Anyway.  This second Christmas cd of Michael W. Smith is a bit more serious than the first one, but no less beautiful.  In fact, I would say this one is downright awe-inspiring, in the best possible way.  More than once have I been caught by Isaac or Jeremiah with my hands raised singing Alleluia's to my God for His precious gift to us.  I do wish his voice was not so tinny, but other than that, this album is wonderful.  He is a gifted arranger and composer.

11. Christmas with The California Raisins

Sorry for the grainy picture.  This is actually The Temptations, pretending to be raisins for some reason...I guess it was an ad thing they did in the 80s?  But...really fun motown arrangements of classic Christmas songs.  I clearly remember my dad turning up the TV when their version of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" came on during one of my Christmas specials.  He loved these songs.

12. Mariah Carey, Merry Christmas

Ok, so this album is fantastic, and I know not everyone's cup of tea (including my husband's)...but you cannot deny her vocals.  Great diva moments and really fun cd overall.  Great for belting out some Christmas cheer when you need to blow off some steam.  :)

13. Lady Antebellum, On this Winter's Night

I just discovered this album, and the harmonies and arrangements are so comforting and clear.  In general, I like this group (I am a fan of country music) because they tend to do the whole story-telling thing well in a modern setting.  They also make great music that is not too over-the-top (unlike Ms. Carey above...).  It keeps popping up on my pandora, and I find myself improvising harmonies over the top of their arrangements more often than not.

14. The Messiah, G.F. Handel

There are so many renditions of this work...I can't begin to claim enough knowledge about which would be the best cover to portray here.  So, I chose to a part of the original scribblings of G.F. Handel himself.  This part is the soprano recitative "And the Angel said unto them, "Fear not!"  I sang this many moons ago with a string quartet and full choir when I was a junior in college, and it was a blast.  This work is full of such beautiful composition - a true treasure to listen to at Christmas.

Ok, more next week!

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Christmas albums, days 1-7

Christmas music.

I think I like these types of songs better than almost any other type of songs.

The anticipation...
The joy!
The silliness.
The awe.
The memories the songs evoke.

No other time of the year is quite like it.

Here are some of my favorite albums (will be added to each week):

1. Michael W. Smith's Christmastime

Every year (and it seems to get a little bit earlier each time) my husband will suddenly put this cd on while we're all driving somewhere, and...there it is!  It's Christmastime!  No other cd gets us in the mood quite like this one.  It is beautifully orchestrated, awe-inspiring, and has a good dose of Christmas silliness in there too.

2. Harry Connick, Jr., When my heart finds Christmas

This is one that keeps popping up on my pandora, and I would listen to it for the "(must've been ol') Santa Claus" - so fun!  This cd is full of New Orleans big band style, and just makes me so happy every time any of the songs come on.

3. Whitney Houston, The Preacher's Wife soundtrack

This is not technically a Christmas album per se...but the movie is set at Christmas time and many of the songs are christmas songs.  Primarily gospel, with a bit of Houston pop thrown in there...I think it's fabulous sing-your-heart-out kind of music.  Her "Joy to the World" is phenomenal.

4. Michael Buble, Christmas

Another one that I don't actually own, but am trying to create a Pandora station exclusively of his songs...this guy has great style with classic songs.  I love his "I'll be home for Christmas"'s these little vocal stylings he does so effortlessly that are subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) wonderful.  In my humble opinion, he really is a Sinatra of our time.

5. The Carpenters, Christmas Portrait

I grew up listening to this every year, when my dad would throw the tape in our cassette deck while we decorated the tree.  Before I knew anything about vocal technique at all, I knew this lady had something different and special.  Her rich sound was like none other I had heard, and I spent much of the Christmas season trying to imitate her sound.  I hear this album and feel like I am in my parents' living room and unwrapping all our old ornaments again.

6. Vince Guaraldi trio, A Charlie Brown Christmas

What needs to be said?  I feel like I just saw a bunch of you out there nod your head in approval.  This is quintessentially Christmas.  Everyone can hear this jazzy, light-hearted  music and think of the special scenes from this show that they love.  It is just fabulous.

7. Straight No Chaser, Christmas Cheers

I have loved this group for years, and they have a great Christmas album.  Spectacular, original harmonic structure under traditional carols and christmas songs, clear vocals, a lot of whimsy and flair - this album is so fun.  You won't be able to help but sing along and smile real big.  :)

Another 7 next week!  What are some of your favorite Christmas albums?