December 10, 2007 3 Comments
My next Classics Corner profile is of the Cathedrals acappella Christmas album. Recorded in 1985, this album features Danny Funderburk, Mark Trammell, Roger Bennett, Glen Payne, and George Younce. Some have called this the greatest Christmas recording of all time, and I tend to agree with the assessment. The arrangements are all done by Lari Goss, and are performed impeccably. Each side of the recording opens with a unison “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” and closes with a slightly modified tag of “White Christmas” that is other-worldly in its beauty, but I am not going to count these as tracks. So without further adieu, let’s get to the real tracks.
- Angels We Have Heard On High – A fairly traditional first verse and chorus lead to a gorgeous bridge/modulation. The second verse is sung in a round style, leading to a broadened final chorus and a high power ending. What a great arrangement, and sung perfectly.
- Silent Night – This track features a terrific group vocal on the first verse of this familiar carol, with a thrilling cascading harmony on the line “Sleep in heavenly peace.” George Younce performs a recitation with background oohs from the rest of the group during the second verse. The song ends with the “Sleep in heavenly peace” tag being reprised. Stunning in its beauty.
- Hark The Herald Angels Sing – Uptempo rendering of this carol. Effective uses of unison and two part harmony in the first and second verses. The second chorus inverts the harmony up on the last line which really closes the song out in a nice way.
- It Came Upon A Midnight Clear – A very straighforward first verse leads into a great vocal by Danny on the second with some really nice chords behind him. This is a bit of a pattern on this album, with a very traditional first verse leading to a more adventurous second verse. This song has a great bridge to a tag with Glen singing the lead on the end. Nice, tight harmony.
- God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen – A basically unison first couple of lines to the first verse lead to traditional four part harmony on the rest of the verse. The next verse has some nice point-counterpoint singing, leading to a round on the next section, building to a power high ending. A great arrangement, that the group actually continued to stage for years after.
- Joy To The World – Brilliant arrangement with some canon sections, solo and two part sections that lead to a very broad, majestic performance of the last verse that ends very sweetly.
- We Three Kings – Great minor key arrangement with a great bass vocal by George Younce. George especially shines on his solo performance of the second verse. The third verse really ratchets up the harmony with an incredible modulation into the chorus. Another brilliant modulation into the tag is a perfect ending to the song. Great arrangement and performance.
- Oh Little Town Of Bethlehem – Beautiful arrangement. This song hearkens back to some of the harmonies on the “Voices In Praise” album with Kirk Talley. Some nice unison and two part lines that cascade into four part. The ending of this song always puzzled me though. They build through the last verse, with great vocals, then Glen repeats the last line solo, which always just seemed odd to me.
- Kids Medley – A fun conglomeration of Christmas Time’s A Comin’ wrapped around Santa Claus Is Coming To Town and Jingle Bells. A nice modulation and repeat of Christmas Time’s A Comin’ lead to a power high ending again. This is short, but has some really nice harmony and unexpected chords even through the fun songs. On a personal note, my 2 year old son LOVES this song, and when it comes on while we are driving, we are forced to repeat it numerous times for him. At just over a minute and a half in length, it doesn’t last very long, which means lots of repeats…. .
This is a short, but incredible album filled with great arrangments, nice harmonies, and thrilling performances from the version of the Cathedrals that many people count as their favorite. This is what Christmas music should sound like. Is it the greatest Christmas album of all time? That is most definitely open for debate, but I can’t find much to argue with here. Aside from the strange ending to “Little Town”, this is simply perfection from start to finish.