Buon Natalie (Music Thoughts: A Little Bit Of Christmas, Natalie Williams)

1511488273_folderNever judge an album by its cover. I thought that Natalie Williams’ Holiday album ‘A Little Bit of Christmas’ was a country album, but as it turns out, it is a jazzy one. Williams is an up and coming jazz singer in the United Kingdom and she has already gotten a bit of acclaim. This album will steer her to get more. Williams has a jazz vibe in her singing, and has a soulful voice that is apparent in these tracks. When I heard her ‘O Holy Night,’ for example, I couldn’t help but pay attention – the high notes did not seem forced. And I actually liked her original songs: ‘What Does Santa Get For Christmas,’ was pretty catchy, and there’s a welcome sauciness in ‘Xmas X My XXX.’  All in all, you don’t get a sense of sameness when you are listening to the album, and for me, that is always very welcome.

Jingle Jan (Music Thoughts: Home For Christmas, Jan Daley)

5115lMSEVOL._SS500I put Jan Daley’s new album ‘Home For Christmas’ on this year’s Christmas playlist and I was with a friend when it played and when he asked me who Jan Daley was, I joked that it was Tom Daley’s mother. Of course, she is not  – Daley is a California based singer, and upon further research, this album is not even from this year. It appears to be a reshuffled, rereleased version of her 2012 album ‘There’s Nothing Like Christmas.’ So clearly, there’s a lot going on here even before the music starts.

When it does, the music passes my test. Daley has an old-school kind of 70’s vibe in her singing, sort of like Maureen McGovern. It’s an old soul, but more baby boomer old than mid-century. And she has great taste in her holiday music, singing a lot of my modern favorites like ‘Grown Up Christmas List,’ and ‘A Christmas Love Song.’ And she even does ‘The Best Gift,’ which is of course Barbra’s ode to Jason.  The anal retentive in me is kind of pissed that I was ‘duped’ into thinking this was a new album, but I can get over this since this is a great listen.

This Season’s Stefani (Music Thoughts: You Make It Feel Like Christmas, Gwen Stefani)

gweni-albumI’ve had Gwen Stafni’s ‘You Make It feel Like Christmas’ a while now, but I just played it. I wasn’t to listen to it for some reason. Maybe it’s the Blake Shelton connection – he duets here and is dating her in real life, and by the way, he is also a famous homophobe. I was sure I would not like this album, I told myself. Unfairly, I was already judging it as a bland pop Christmas album. But surprises of all surprises, it is pretty darn good. It sounds more like a Gwen Stefani album more than a pop one. and that is definitely a good thing.

Look at ‘Jingle Bells,’ is it just me or does it have elements of SKA, making the song entirely sound different. And she has a very sexy and different take on ‘Santa Baby,’ where she ditches the coo-coo arrangement and goes for a striptease. Hey, works just as well and is hella sexy. I wish I was more enthusiastic about her original songs – I thought they were serviceable at best. But all in all, this is an album one can listen to and get something from it, instead of just a background music Holiday album.

Swing Jane Swing (Music Thoughts: A Swingin’ Little Christmas, Jane Lynch)

814ukhlfall-_sy355_I had been looking for Jane Lynch’s Christmas album, ‘A Swingin’ Little Christmas,’ all ready to support her, when I found the album in a most unlikely place: Spotify.  I guess I should have known to look there from the very beginning: it’s where a lot of people listen to music nowadays. (People no longer want to own music)

Look exactly at the cover of the disc, and that’s exactly how the album sounds: kitschy mid-century inspired arrangements of beloved Holiday carols. It’s perfect for a cocktail party – creating mood and low-key enough for you to enjoy and not have the songs bombast you. Lynch’s character personalities have always been larger than life – Sue Sylvester in Glee, Miss Hannigan in Annie – so I thought her low-key singing here (along with Tim Davis and Kate Flannery, who sing with her in a lot of the tracks) were very welcome.  Have an egg nog and enjoy this.

Holiday Trumpette (Music Thoughts: Someday At Christmas, Jackie Evancho)

jackieSo it seems like Little Miss Jackie Evancho will be the star during Donald Trump’s inauguration. This begs me to ask – who is this young woman and why is she aligning himself with such a despicable man?  I have to confess I have heard of her before, but have not thought of her much. I think she had already made recordings even before she was a contestant in ‘America’s Got Talent.’ Then I realized I had her new Christmas album, ‘Someday At Christmas’ on my Holiday pile from this year (I had gotten it a while back, even before all this brouhaha) So I played it last night, while I was doing some much-needed house cleaning.

And as much as I want to write that she is a horrible singer, I have to say that she is not. She sings with a competent soprano, with tuneful style in that pop/classical vein – which really is more accessible classical music who are too ADD to listen to real classical music. That said, there really is nothing special about this recording. She sings with minimal feeling, which I will find blame on immaturity. One song blended into another, with not one making any kind of impact. Do I recommend it? not really – there are other better albums out there – Charlotte Church’s for example. Or might as well go for the Renee Fleming one, if you want to hear a real beautiful voice. or the classic Leontyne price one, if you want a real classic soprano album. In four years, jackie Evancho will be as insignificant as the man she will be lauding.

Ong To The World (Music Thoughts, Christmas Songbook, Amelia Ong)

1481036258_amelia-ong-christmas-songbook-2016Who is Amelia Ong and why does she have a Christmas album? Ong is a jazz singer based in Australia but is of Indonesian descent. And why shouldn’t she not have a Holiday album when everyone and their mother has one? I got attracted to the cute cover of her album, ‘Christmas Songbook,’ so I started playing it. And truth be told, it’s not too bad. It’s your standard fare, but I do have to say teh jazz arrangements by Sri Hanuraga here aren’t bad at all. They surprise and entice, and not as predictable. Vocally, she is from the Diana Krall school of singing (I bet she listened to her a lot) and that’s not a bad thing. I see also that she is young and hopefully will listen to more singers so her sound will probably mature and evolve. And I like that she has just a tiny bit of accent that gives her voice an exotic personality. The choices here are your standard Holiday fare, but it’s not as boring as I make it sounds. Could be worse.

Alone On Christmas (Music Thoughts: A Hollens Family Christmas, Peter Hollens)

phpthumb_generated_thumbnailIn this day and age, you can use You Tube as a springboard for your career and apparently Peter Hollens has done just that – he is one of those ‘You Tube Sensations’ who made it big. His specialty is acapella, and he does mostly that in his Holiday album, “A Hollens Family Christmas.” I don’t know if he is considered a Christian singer but a lot of Christian based websites feature him, so ew, a point less for him if that is the case. The album, honestly, is fine enough, even if I am not the biggest fan of acapella. I wish it excited me more, for surely you can sense Hollens’ commitment to the piece. It has a great line up, including ‘December Song,’ which is the most ubiquitous song for 2016 as far as Christmas albums are concerned. This is one of these albums I will just file and may never listen to again, though that really isn’t Hollens’ fault.