New York Christmas Mood (Music Thoughts: Christmas Eve, Kevin Dozier)

HolidayCover-e1575127592709Kevin Dozier is very active in the cabaret community in New York City and I knew when I saw that his Holiday album, ‘Christmas Eve;’ will be thoughtfully sung. Coupled with Alex Rybeck’s arrangements, Dozier’s vocals soar without making the songs sound overdone, and he gives them just the right amount of warmth and theatricality. I always say that ‘O Holy Night’ is always a good barometer of what kind of singer one is when they sing it. In here, he is able to put the songs cross without histrionics – there’s no hard sell her,  just honesty. And My favorite track is a medlette of ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas’ with Sondheim’s ‘Goodbye For Now’ (from Rags) The counterpoint is fitting, and touching, and makes the former sound like a brand new song. Rybeck himself composed the title track and it’s a nice sweet ballad from a child’s point of view. The rest of the album is good, but those three tracks stood out best for me. If you want an album that has a Manhattan Cabaret sound, then this one’s for you .

The Homophobe’s Holiday (Music Thoughts: Rejoice!, Calee Reed)

81jv5ybkx6L._SS500_Yo, I got duped. One look at the album cover of Calee Reed’s ‘Rejoice!’ album and I thought it was one of those fun frothy Christmas albums. But I find out she is one of those Christian Contemporary artists who for sure is homophobic and regularly eats at Chick Fil A because of the company’s values. Yikes. In all fairness, I listened to all the songs and now I need to take a shower to take the grime off me.

Somewhat Fab (Music Thoughts: A Fabulous Christmas, John Barrowman)

JohnBarrowman_FabulouChristmasThere’s nothing really extraordinary about John Barrowman’s ‘A Fabulous Christmas’ but it’s a pretty solid and well-sung Christmas album and sometimes that’s a;; you need. I wish there was something truly ‘fabulous’ about it, but the arrangements are expertly done, if a bit familiar. Barrowman’s has a good theater voice, and he injects his singing with enough character and authenticity that you will be able to enjoy the songs as you listen to them. My Holiday album renditions admittedly skew towards female versions, but maybe knowing that Barrowman is openly gay made me relate to his versions more? I wish I was in the UK to see his concert tour to promote this album as that would probably be a great show.

Canadian Rock Holiday (Music Thoughts: Christmas EP, Bryan Adams)

Bryan-Adams-Christmas-EP-album-cover-820I love Christmas albums that do not sound like every other one out there. Bryan Adams has released a Christmas EP this year, titled ‘Christmas,’ and the best thing about it is that it sounds just like a Bryan Adams album. He penned a new song, titled ‘Joe and Mary,’ and it’s a great pop-rock song that I couldn’t get out of my ears after listening to it. The other new track here is ‘Must Be Santa,’ which I know from the Bob Dylan version from a couple of years ago.  The rest of the EP has all previously released Holiday songs from Adams, and all in all, the recording has a very cohesive feel, and I have to say that even if I am not normally a ‘rock’ person I appreciated this.  Your mileage may vary.

Merrily We Roll Along (Music Thoughts: Sugar & Booze, Ana Gasteyer)

91vOsi45SrL._SY355_Like most everybody, Ana Gasteyer is known for her stint at Saturday Night Live.  But I also know she is a pretty good singer, one who skews towards traditional Mid-Century Swinging arrangements. I should listen to her one other standards album called ‘I’m Hip,’ named from Blossom Dearie’s fun song, so you know she knows what she is singing about.

My initial impression from listening to her new Holiday album, ‘Sugar and Booze,’ is that it is really a fun album. Most Holiday albums contain one or more ‘sad’ Holiday songs but there is just joy in ‘Sugar & Booze.’  Looking at her track listing, the only traditional melancholy song here is ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,’ but in Gasteyer’s hands, the meaning is just pure joyous greeting. And there’s a lot of celebration elsewhere in the album, from the title track, which celebrates the best Holiday traditions: the time where people freely eat a lot of desserts and drink alcoholic beverages. I also loved ‘In The Market For A Miracle,’ which is a humorous take on Jewish people and Hannukah. And you would think that ‘Blue Black Friday’ would be melancholy, but it is hilarious – it’s about someone missing her love because she has no one to buy for during the Black Friday sales. There is so much original things in this record, like a salsa arrangement of ‘Sleigh Ride,’ and an updated take on June Christie’s ‘The Merriest.’ Her duet with Maya Rudolph, the tongue-twisting ‘Secret Santa’ is cute, but I wanted more (or maybe I had Everest-level expectations?) But all ina ll, this is a great Holiday album, topical but will prove to be timeless.

In Martel’s Holiday (Music Thoughts: Christmastime Is Here, Marc Martel)

51-nq6UeJyL._SS500I have no idea who Marc Martel is, but Spotify ‘recommended’ his Christmas EP to me, so I listened.  And it was okay – very live and bright. I found out that Martel provided some of the Freddie Mercury vocals in the film ‘Bohemian Rhapsody.’  I had the impression that Rami Malik did those vocals, but apparently they also used Martel’s voice and they made everything sound seamless.  I am by no means a Mercury expert but apparently Martel has a voice that is very similar. And then I found out that Martel is a Christian, and writes and sings religious music. But I guess if he consented to singing Freddie Mercury songs, then he probably isn’t the very preachy kind.

The EP is okay, and as I said, it has a lot of rhythm and the songs and arrangements are nice enough to make an impression on me. And it;s not as overtly religious as I thought – he even covers Mariah’s ‘All I Want For Christmas.’  It’s all nice and good very alive, and could be good pick=up music for the Holidays. You can listen to it in the car on the way to seeing relatives you don;t want to see.

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.