Essential Christmas Music: SG and Non-SG

Yes it’s been forever, but I have been in the Christmas spirit and still swamped at a new job.  I’m thankful for both of those things, but blogging time has still been slim.  I don’t want to go without posting SOMETHING for you for Christmas, so I decided I’d join the crowd and post my essential Christmas music.  Here’s a list of essential SG albums, and essential non-SG Christmas albums, trying hard to balance classics with “hidden gems” in both lists.

5 Essential SG Christmas Albums:

5. Ball Brothers – Christmas
4. Martins – Light Of The World
3. Gaither Vocal Band – Still The Greatest Story Ever Told
2. Gold City – Voices Of Christmas
1. Cathedrals – A Cathedral Christmas, Acappella

5 Essential Non SG Christmas Albums

5. Take 6 – He Is Christmas
4. Imperials – Christmas With The Imperials
3. Michael Buble – Christmas
2. 4Him – Season Of Love
1. Carpenters – Christmas Collection

Whatever your taste, I hope you’ve enjoyed the Christmas Season, and I wish you all a very Merry Christmas!  I have a special Christmas post in the queue for tomorrow that I hope you will all enjoy.

MERRY CHRISTMAS FROM THE BURKE FAMILY!!!!!

Christmas Classics Corner: Gold City – Voices Of Christmas

Since I haven’t done of of these in a couple of years, and since I’ve inexplicably never done a classics corner on this album, let’s get into the Christmas season by highlighting an absolutely stunning Christmas album from Gold City.  Released in 1988, this CD features the super-group lineup of Brian Free, Ivan Parker, Mike LeFevre, Tim Riley, with Garry Jones and Jeff Hullander comprising the Band of Gold at the time.  Jones, as always, produced and arranged this project.

Tracks:

  1. Awake My Soul – The quartet gets things going with an incredible, though short acappella song right out of the gate.  There’s two verses with a key change between them with a nice power tag, and Tim Riley dropping an octave on the last note.
  2. Angels We Have Heard On High – I featured this as a Christmas Hidden Gem several years ago.  It’s a tremendous arrangement that features a stinging hot keyboard intro and fuses the traditional with the contemporary better than any arrangement of this song I’ve ever heard.  It is absolutely my favorite arrangement of one of my favorite carols.  It’s energetic, driving, and sung expertly by the group.  The tag is exceptionally powerful as well.
  3. Merry Christmas With Love – The only “newer” song on the album, this is essentially a Brian Free cover of Sandi Patty’s popular Christmas song.  Brian even sings this in the same key as the original.  It’s a touching song that speaks of one who has suffered the loss of a loved one since the last Christmas and the comforting tendencies of the message of the Christmas story found in the visit of carolers.  Beautiful and touching.
  4. O Little Town Of Bethlehem – Returning to an acappella arrangement, this carol starts with a solo by Tim Riley.  The group then uses some two part harmony that then diverges into 4 part harmony.  The trademark blend of this lineup is in full display here, and the group weaves its way through the complex chord changes and progressions found in this carol.
  5. Silent Night – Ivan Parker steps up to take the lead on this ballad interpretation of many people’s favorite Christmas carol.  The first verse is totally solo, with a few surprising changes to the chording behind the familiar melody.  The key changes for the second verse and the rest of the quartet joins in for the remainder of the song.  It’s a very pretty arrangement that really accentuates the timeless lyric.  A particular is the mini-cascading harmony toward the tag and the sustained chord before Ivan repeats the last line to finish the song.  Simply gorgeous.
  6. It Came Upon The Midnight Clear – The group performs this carol acappella as well, which tends to highlight all the moving parts in the harmonies.  There’s a really neat key change at the end of the first verse with the tempo slowing down for the second verse.  There’s a great use of unison that gradually splits back into 4 part harmony.  They change keys one more time before the tag.  It’s a sparkling arrangement that the group pulls off deftly.
  7. Away In A Manger – This carol features Tim Riley singing the first verse solo.  The group enters on the second verse in full 4 part harmonies, which creates a nice contrast from Tim’s solo verse.  There’s some nice chords and suspensions in the harmony.  They change keys a half step up halfway through the second verse.  Tim then sings the first half of the third verse solo, then they go up another half step and the quartet enters again for the final lines of the verse, with Tim repeating the last line solo to close the song.  Another very pretty arrangement.
  8. Christmas Medley – I’ve done a hidden gem post on this track as well.  This may very well be my favorite track on any Christmas CD.  They start with Good Christian Men Rejoice, first in unison then splitting into parts.  They move on to “Joy To The World” in full harmony that ends up on a unison note.  It gives the medley to that point a feeling of swelling then coming back together.  Mike LeFevre then turns in what I still consider one of his strongest Gold City features with the first verse to “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”  The group hits power harmony on the chorus, then after a piano interlude they close the medley with the most powerful version of “O Come Let Us Adore Him” you will EVER hear.  The power tag to the medley is one of my favorite musical moments ever.  Wow.  It’s almost enough to make a Baptist shout.
  9. Merry Christmas All Year Long – The disc concludes with a brief acappella benediction with layers of lush harmonies.  It’s a perfect ending to the album.

Summary:  This is one of my absolute favorite Christmas albums.  I look forward every year to being able to pull this album out and listen to it.  “Angels We Have Heard On High” and the “Christmas Medley” are absolutely stunning.  This was in the middle of Gold City’s heyday of the mid 80s through early 90s, and this project is a great example of why.  Garry Jones’ stunning arrangements take these carols that everybody sings every year, and breathes fresh life into them.  “Angels” has a wonderful driving, almost contemporary feel to it.  The depth and feel of the “Medley” just consumes you and catches you up into the true spirit of Christmas.  The acappella pieces just wash over you in waves of tight harmonies.  This is one of those albums that is just what Christmas music should sound like.  It’s long out of print these days, but I have a copy of this on a double CD with the equally as good A Cathedral Christmas, A Cappella album from the Cathedrals.  You can still find copies of this floating around, and believe me it’s well worth the price.  Both albums are absolute gold (pun intended, of course).  The Gold City album alone was re-released a couple of years ago, so copies of it shouldn’t be too difficult to obtain.  If you don’t have a copy of this, you need to get one, today!

Lest You Think I’m A Scrooge…

I posted a while back my indignation about a certain Memphis radio station starting their all-Christmas music format a week and a half before Thanksgiving. To show that I’m not a total Ebeneezer, we will be heading to Morgantown, WV this weekend for a wedding, and I have the iPod loaded with several hours worth of Christmas music to listen to while we travel. I don’t think it’s 15 hours worth, but I could be wrong. I really do love Christmas music, just not before Thanksgiving! (Christmas Cantata rehearsal/demo CDs excluded, that starts in Sept. or Oct.)

Christmas Music On The Radio

We have a station here in Memphis that plays continuous Christmas music during the Christmas season.  They started their all Christmas music format last week.  Really?  A little early don’t you think?  I love Christmas music too, but a month and a half worth will get old.  Granted they play everything from Clay Aiken to Alabama to Andy Williams to The Beach Boys and everything in between, but still.  Do any of you readers have radio stations that do the same thing (an all Christmas music format)?  Have they started it yet?

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