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THE VERY BEST OF BING CROSBY CHRISTMAS (1999)
The Very Best of Bing Crosby Christmas - Click to view!To some, he's the symbol of everything wonderful about Christmas--simple thoughts of home, family, and snow. To others, his songs reek of outdated styles and sentimental excess. Whether you're Scrooge or Santa, Bing Crosby is unavoidable in December, the elevator music of choice for shopping malls big and small. Prepared at the close of the twentieth century, eighteen tracks of 100% pure, blue-eyed Bing were collected for The Very Best of Bing Crosby Christmas. Don't be fooled by the dozen or more labels who release knockoff CDs, the result of poorly-handled copyrights; The Very Best is not only longer than others (at 51 minutes), but authorized by Bing's label home, Decca Records--now owned by MCA. Deep-toned and easygoing, a suite of peacefully delivered classics opens the record, including "Adeste Fideles," the Latin refrain that was Crosby's very first Christmas hit back in 1942. The Andrews Sisters, his longtime studio partners (from the film White Christmas), and the jazzy Vic Schoen Orchestra break up the record with "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," a bebopping cut that illustrates the fluid way Bing deals with melodies ("you'd better na-ot cry..."). "That Christmas Feeling" and "Christmas is A-Comin" are lesser-known tunes where the ringing echo and entirely simple delivery of one of America's greatest personalities pictures "the holly in the window ~ and the birds begin to sing." Choirs in four-part harmony, often "la-la-laing" or humming in the background were certainly a preference of Bing's, heard on "Christmas Carols (Medley)," "The First Noel," and briefly on any number of the selections. Blasting horn sections, an acoustic bass, frisky vocal performances, and even a toy piano intro give "Jingle Bells" an enjoyable, even timeless appeal; "Silent Night" suffers from a too-predictable dependence on orchestral strings. After hearing them for decades, no one's surprised to see included "The Christmas Song" and a frivolous, rememberable "Sleigh Ride"--yet in the 1950's, it was considered risky for a big star to record nearly-untested Christmas songs. Most of the corny, showy bits on The Very Best of Bing Crosby are forgivable, simply common to the big band era, but "Rudolph" goes too far in its obnoxious gaudiness. Elegant harp solos and signature Bing coloring give "Here Comes Santa Claus" that extra oomph, while Carol Richards does a winning alto harmony on the classy, introspective "Silver Bells." During a good many of these songs, listeners could easily flashback to Bing's immortal roles in Going My Way or White Christmas...and the versatile actor's greatest performance isn't forgotten. Comforted by his pipe, wooing his blond love interest, and flanked by a perfectly-trimmed evergreen, the proprietor of Holiday Inn (aka Crosby) introduced "White Christmas," penned by film director Irvin Berlin and included here in a new digital transfer. If nothing else, The Very Best of Bing Crosby proves that songs done right--sung with confident vocal caliber, and dwelling on universal hopes--can outlive the artist by generations. May your days be merry and bright...

CHRISTMAS IS JESUS - BRYAN DUNCAN (1995)
Christmas is Jesus - Bryan Duncan - Click to view!He has never been really popular, yet he's never lost his fans. Back to the 70s, Christian crooner Bryan Duncan had blown off the standard of accepted Christian music and sought for something better—or at least different. His more recent projects, Blue Skies, and the newest, Last Time I Was Here, both dissapoint me with their bland pop sound and hearing Duncan's awesome, soaring voice subdued. I guess you're gotta get the Slow Revival CD to hear what i mean—that release was so popular here, it started the slogan, "There's a little Bryan Duncan in all of us." On Christmas is Jesus, from Duncan's glory years of four years ago, we find an exciting portrait of God's love poured on us in the holiday season. Little-known carols and beautiful renditions make this the #1 choice for classic Christmas music. Though the choir, the strings, and backup are nice, it's Bryan Duncan's emotional, strong, contemporary, hard-hitting voice that is the main attraction. and these arrangement utilize it as much as possible, which adds to the holiday cheer on this record. The opener "I Heard the Bells/Angels We Have Heard on High" medley blends so elegantly as do the other medleys, "What Wondrous Love/Child is This?" and "Away in a Manger/O Come to My Heart". Standards like "Chestnuts Roasting", "Grown-Up Christms List" and "First Noel" are given so much more meaning and depth—again due to Duncan's expressive voice. Now with all these great tracks, no one really cares what happens to the originals. But Bryan Duncan and company go the extra mile and deliver solid, catchy pop with a strain of the season mixed in. "The Form of Man" says it all with "He wrapped His love in flesh and blood and took the form of man," as well as the title cut that looks beyond the surface of snow, candles, and thoughts of home to celebrate JESUS. Don't miss hearing Christian music's greatest male vocalist Bryan Duncan and his greatest masterpiece that states simply Jesus is Christmas.

HAPPY CHIRSTMAS 2 - VARIOUS (1999)
Happy Christmas 2 - Various - Click to view!This sixteen track collaborative features nearly all the bright artists of Volume One recast in a resplendent Christmas play, along with some new faces. To start this second helping of Happy Christmas, smashing rockers MxPx present "Christmas Day," a fast-paced punk-styled single attacking the Scrooge mentality. "You're A Mean One, Mr. Grinch" continues Volume One's knack for perfect covers, Sixpence combining all the incoherent intellect of Seuss with their equally diverse mix of strings and electric. Purposefully smiley, All Star United has as much fun as usual with "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday." New verses added to "Let Us Adore Him" give Plankeye dynamic on "Jesu Bambino." Fooling with distortion and time signature, new act Hangnail supercharges "O Little Town of Bethlehem." Antithetical to the guitar/bass/drums setup, electricians Joy Electric lead the "Lollipop Parade" with a mysterious computer-generated originality. Eight-piece ska group Flight 180 jazz up "O Come All Ye Faithful," while Starflyer 59 transform a carol usually associated with Sesame Street's Christmas Eve and Home Alone into a rich meditation of what truly matters with "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas." Track 10, "Peace Child," gleams with The Normals acoustic brilliance - it's one of many cuts proving Volume 2's superiority over the first installment (in terms of originals). Laugh again at the premise and perspective of "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" as Fanmail spins a killer solo and a sixties outro for effect. Norway turns in a dud with "White Christmas," a pitiful detraction from Bing Crosby. Thankfully, female-fronted Element ameliorate the project with "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree," which gratulates the season "in the new old fashioned way." The hokey rockabilly of Deluxetone Rockets make you wonder if Elvis is still alive...and working as a trucker. "The Chipmunk Song" is an impromptu, talk-over track that follows the Lost Dogs through the dilemma of laying down the tracks for this cut, with hilarious dialogue and repeating gags. All said, the strengths of Happy Christmas Volume 2 far outweigh any weaknesses--the rock fortitude seeing past sentimentality to the unconditional love and relationships that the holidays stand for.

HAPPY CHIRSTMAS - VARIOUS (1998)
Happy Christmas - Various - Click to view!Joyously seasonal and randomly spirited, BEC Recordings gathers an unprecedented legion of ska, electronic, rock and pop artists for a holiday party like no other. "Joy to the World" is given an aggressive spin by the Orange County Supertones; Joy Electric follows with an odd and enjoyable "plastic" mix of "Winter Wonderland." In a recording that appeared a season before their debut, "O Come, Emmanuel" realizes the vast, exploring alternative of Chasing Furies. Further on, Starflyer 59's original "A Holiday Song" seems immoderately western for a collection of this caliber. Five Iron Frenzy presents one of the most perfect covers of all time in the late Rich Mullins' "You Gotta Get Up," revamped to fit the band's ska/swing bent. "Away in a Manger"--as recorded by PlankEye—dwarfs most mixes of the carol, adding a "rounds" bridge and a new "So let them praise Him" tag line. "To save us all from Satan's power"—the reason for Christ's coming as interpreted by Almonzo on their interpretation of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," a scathing reply to the argument of Christmas = commercialism. "Holly Jolly Christmas" draws an interesting comparison, as BEC duo Bon Voyage lay down tracks that Burl Ives would likely enjoy. The now defunct band Seven Day Jesus parlay "O Holy Night" into a steady, uninhibited modern masterpiece. No comment whatsoever on Flight 180's Hawaiian sidetrack "Mele Kalikimaka." Switchfoot's contribution to Happy Christmas finds the band pondering a metaphor between "me and the trees ~ losing our leaves ~ falling like blood on the ground"; expounding on life's toll and Christ's call, "Evergreen" surpasses most other seasonal originals for original thinking and sublime musical backdrop. The computed "Do You Hear What I Hear?" is too midi for my liking, but does showcase the novel style of House Of Wires. Swarming guitar and unconventional technique lend interest to Fold Zandura's "Asia Minor." A hectic, adolescent vein of scaled-back punk is evidenced in "Christmas at My House" by the Huntingtons. Pointing out the fickle and undecided faith of us all, Plumb finish off the CD with a didactic vision of the "Savior Of the Fools." A storm of styles, perspectives and approaches, Happy Christmas teaches many hard truths as it celebrates the baby born in Bethlehem's stable.

REPEAT THE SOUNDING JOY - PHILLIPS, CRAIG, AND DEAN (1996)
Repeat the Sounding Joy - Phillips, Craig, and Dean - Click to view!Randy Phillips, Shawn Craig, and Dan Dean are probably the most succesful trio in the Pop genre of Christian music. Their excellent harmonies, great producing, and stellar songwriting have quickly made them succesful in Christian music. The group began in 1992 with their self-titled album, and it was with that album that their fame began. It rose with their next album, Lifeline, which included the hits "Concert of the Age" and "I Want to Be Just Like You." Trust continued their climb in 1995 and the next year they gave the world Repeat the Sounding Joy. Best described as a country Christmas, the three "grown-up" kids once again show us why they are so popular.

All of the songs on this album fit their style perfectly, and the musical arrangements will blow your mind. Paul Mills produced this album which, in my mind, was a very good thing. The album smoothly flows from one song to the next and leaves you wanting more.

The album kicks off with an anthemic melody which turns into "Go Tell it on the Mountain / Amen," a mixture of two classic songs that fit together like a glove. On this song and the next ("How Great Our Joy / Joy To the World") the trio are accompanied by a gospel choir which blends nicely in with one of the Texans' accent. One of my favorite Christmas carols, "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" is the third song on the album which contains some pleasant guitar melodies. Other carols which are well done are "O Sanctissima / O Holy Night" and "Angels We Have Heard on High / Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee."

There is a bit of a "southern" hint on the album, particularly in the two songs "I'll Be Home for Christmas" and "Sleigh Ride." While it doesn't imply a southern Christmas in terms of weather, the tempo of the song reminds me of the hot land down there. Each of the members of the group contribute one original song. Shawn Craig puts his pen to the paper and gives us "Call His Name Jesus," the most anthemic song of the album. "The Kid in Me" is Dan Dean's contribution to Repeat the Sounding Joy, and probably the song which most describes the album's feeling. The most memorable song is "Be it Unto Me," a song written by Randy Phillips and Cindy Morgan, a song which speaks of Mary's call and how she is an example to us in how we must follow God's call. While none of the band members wrote it, "The Chipmunk Song" is another song that is not traditional. A hilarious song, it remains one of my favorites even though the "chipmunk" sounds more like Donald Duck (something which is eluded t o in the song, "Careful with those webbed feet!") It finishes the album off nicely and leaves you wishing that there were more songs recorded by the group.

No matter how hard I looked, I couldn't find any faults with this album. I'm sure that if I sat here listening to it for the next five years I could find something, but it would take a long time. This is an album that I come back to every year and I will definitely listen to it in the years to come. I highly recommend it.
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