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Old 11-29-2012, 03:12 PM   #1611 (permalink)
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Manowar:
Just finished looking at your Hail to England Manowar review but I do actually think this is their best album along with the Triumph of Steel. Their first two albums are great stuff as well but Hail to England was their peak achievement and was the album the band were always leading upto. This is in your face heavy metal with a cranked up volume, that only Manowar really know how to do. It's one of the great metal albums of its type, but I appreciate that's it's mostly going to appeal to lovers of power metal only.
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Old 11-30-2012, 11:30 AM   #1612 (permalink)
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Another great band passes by in virtual obscurity...
Guardians --- The Winter Tree --- 2012 (Self-released)


It's rare you come across an album like this by accident, so I'm grateful for the fortunate happenstance. Formerly known as Magus, The Winter Tree have only been in existence in this form since 2010, with this their second album, though they have had several under the name of Magus. They have also undergone lineup changes, though the driving force behind both bands, and founder of both, remains Andrew Laitres (who for some strange reason is also known as Andrew Robinson), multi-instrumentalist and composer. For the new band (or second incarnation of the old one, if you prefer) he has enlisted the aid of a husband and wife team, Mark Bond on guitars and vocals, and his wife Deb on keyboards.

The overall sense you get from this album is soft, gentle, pastoral, even acoustic. It's laidback music, though not always; soft-focus and mesmerising, with some amazing musical talent behind it. The opener, “Visions”, is a short instrumental, which features dramatic, ethereal keys and some fine guitar from Mark Bond, almost Gilmouresque at times, leading into the first real track, “Voice on the wind”, in which we get to hear that not only does Mark Bond play a fine guitar, he has a great voice too. With a funky, almost Alan Parsons-style melody and rhythm, it's punctuated by rippling piano almost reminiscent of the Doors on “Riders on the storm”. The guitar gets a bit harder and punchier, and Deb Bond's keyswork is at times quite Genesis-like, particularly in the arpeggios and runs.

“The sparrow” then has a long, atmospheric instrumental introduction, about two minutes of the six the song runs for, and when Bond's vocal comes in it's on the back of a solid piano line, the tune itself a little rustic and gentle, with some fine brass effects on the synth from Andrew, quite Van Der Graaf Generator in tone. Nice sort of uptempo folky feel to the song, taking us into the title track, which has shimmering keyboard effects and some bright piano from Deb Bond, almost vibraphone-like, then solid percussion cuts in and with some rising keyboard and some guitar touches this becomes the second instrumental, much more boppy and uptempo than the previous track. It fades out, leading into a lovely acoustic guitar opening for “Elune”, another folk-tinged gentle tune where again Bond's voice shines as the main light.

Beautiful violin or violin-effects on the synth add drama to the proceedings, with soft sprinklings of piano, the whole thing evoking a scene from “Lord of the Rings”. A superb little guitar solo from Bond sets the seal on the song, while “The woman and the dragon” is yet another instrumental, revisiting the very best of early to mid-seventies Genesis, but in a very good way, almost a tribute, with a sort of marching/breathing rhythm to the keyboards and soft but insistent piano very redolent of Banks at his best. There's a whistling keyboard and soft acoustic guitar intro to “Beautiful world”, a lovely little ballad where Mark Bond really comes into his own as a vocalist, his voice gently bitter yet without any rancour or recrimination as he talks to the earth and asks for forgiveness: ”Have we poisoned your waters/ And ruined your air/ We're just killing ourselves/ So many don't care.” The theme fits in perfectly with the organic nature of the music of The Winter Tree, and it's topped off by a searing guitar solo. Another long instrumental intro to the longest track on the album, “Good times”, led by Bond's classical guitar under which his wife's keyboards ripple and chirp like birds. As the drums punch in, backing vocals with a very Pink Floyd/Roger Waters feel join the song, but it continues to ride on the main guitar line.

Deb's keys set up quite an orchestral sound in the final minute, and her hubby comes back with again a guitar solo worthy of the great G himself, the album closing on “City of light”, an almost incongruously uptempo, thumping tune driven on solid keyboards and of course heavy percussion. Another instrumental, it features a very rock-and-roll guitar solo from Mark Bond, slowing down about halfway before kicking back into life again and taking off at full speed under Debs' trumpeting keys. It's an interesting, unexpected way to end the album, and while I think I might have liked to have heard more of Mark Bond's singing, The Winter Tree have crafted a fine album here that is probably going to remain quite obscure and unknown, which is a real pity.

TRACKLISTING

1. Visions
2. Voice on the wind
3. The sparrow
4. Guardians
5. Elune
6. The woman and the dragon
7. Beautiful world
8. Good times
9. City of light

(Footnote: This is the first album I've come across where there are no samples at all on YouTube. Not one. And due to legal complications I'm reluctant to make any more Yts myself, so the best I can do is direct you to some sound samples here Home or you could decide to buy the album from either of the links on that page.)
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Old 12-01-2012, 01:18 PM   #1613 (permalink)
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Stick THIS in your stocking!!!!

He's makin' a list, checkin' it twice... ooh yeah, we're into the final runup to that favourite of department stores and advertising executives, for some the most important birthday of the year, for others a chance to get the family together and have a big fight. The month credit cards dread, and which trees live in fear of. That time of the year when you look despairingly at your budget and wonder if the kids would still believe in having an “imagination Christmas”?

Twenty-four days to go to the big one; Santa Claus is gearing up his sleigh, Rudolph is desperately trying to clean up his act again this year, and everyone from Argos to Boots, from Walmart to PC World have ideas for “the perfect Christmas gift”, but you know you're going to end up with either a voucher or some badly-needed socks and underwear, or maybe aftershave, the latter of which is even worse to receive if you're a guy! But here at Music Banter we all know what we're going to hope to get for Xmas, and whether it's hardcore punk, freestyle jazz, depressive suicidal black metal or progressive rock, we're all pointing to our favourite albums online and hoping our parents/friends/significant other/anyone who has money is watching, and taking note.

But this is a selection of albums nobody in their right mind is going to want to see in their stocking come Christmas morning!

I'm not talking about “Santa's Greatest Hits”, or “Now that's what I call Christmas”, or any of the other many, many compilations or collections of dubious Christmas songs that get churned out every year. They're bad enough, but hey, we all want to hear Christmas songs at the party, don't we? And there have been some decent ones down the years, from the perennial favourites like Slade's “Merry Xmas everybody”, Lennon's “Merry Xmas (War is over)” and Wham's “Last Christmas” to the downright awful, with songs like Mud's “It'll be lonely this Christmas”, Brenda Lee's “Rockin' around the Christmas tree” and, er, Wham's “Last Christmas”, to say nothing of timeless gems like Bing's “White Christmas” and Mathis's “When a child is born”. No, these songs all have their deserved place in the season, and Christmas without them would be like Christmas without Santa or the cold silence following the argument at the dinner table, or pretending to like that horrible pressie your aunt just gave you. Again. For the fourth Christmas in a row.

No, I'm talking here about artistes who make one-off Christmas albums; people who have no business doing so, some who in fact have no business making albums at all, and are only cashing in on the Christmas market in order to sell some units and beef up their already healthy bank balance. Albums with titles like “A [insert artiste name here] Christmas” or “Christmas with [insert artiste name here]”; albums that you know are either going to be filled with the artiste's interpretation of carols and Christmas songs, or which, even worse, are going to contain original Christmas songs, written by them (or for them) “especially for this festive season”. Ugh!

So anyway, these are not in order, as I would never have the time nor the stamina to listen to them enough to be able to rate them, but they are without question some of the worst Christmas albums ever recorded. They will in no way be the usual in-depth reviews I write --- you'll hear no mention of “a rippling keyboard melody backed up by growling guitar” --- and will in fact be very short, whimsical and satirical reviews, mostly focussing on the possible reasons why someone would record such a thing, apart from the obvious.

I'll be doing one a day, right up to Christmas Day, so no matter how awful that Christmas gift is, be thankful no-one thought to get you any of these turkeys!

Disclaimer: Oh come on! I shouldn't have to write this, should I? Oh very well then, my lawyers insist... This section is meant to be for fun only, so any jokes made here at the expense of any artiste should not be taken as overly critical of them. No insult or disrespect is intended, and please try to take everything said here with a pinch of reality (or cop-on, as we say here in Ireland) and in the spirit of Christmas.

And so.. on, Dasher! On, Prancer! On... er, the other ones! We've got twenty-five terrible albums to feature, and Christmas Day is fast approaching!

Now, few things in life are as scarily wholesome as the Waltons! The image George H.W. (no, I don't think it stands for “huge wank---”) Bush wanted America to emulate, they were for decades the most sickeningly sweet family on TV. I much preferred the Ingalls. But this is their album, and you're going to be subject to the full force of their “Mom and Apple Pie” (TM) brand of Americana on it.


A Waltons Christmas: Together again --- The Waltons (cast) --- 1999 (Page Music)


To get us “in the mood” (for slitting our wrists, perhaps?) we have the famous (or infamous, depending on how you remember it) theme from the show, followed by a spoken narrative about how great life was on Walton Mountain, where time always seemed to stand still and no-one hated anyone, on into some bluegrass on “Christmas time's a-comin'” --- yeah, we know, guys. There are no less than four “intros”, which are basically a minute or less of spoken material, and much of the rest is what you'd expect from the Waltons: hillbilly, thigh-slappin', toe-tappin', I'm-in-Hell country downhome uptempo tunes, with some Christmas favourites thrown in. But hold on, cos even those Xmas standards like “Sleigh ride”, “All I want for Christmas” and “Have yourself a merry little Christmas” are all dang-fired countryfied, y'all! Yeah, everything comes with a double-thick helping of country and bluegrass, making me almost wish I was listening to “Now that's what I call Christmas” --- yeah, that bad! Christ, we even get “John Boy” reading a poem! Shoot me now!

Ah, if you loved the Waltons, you'll love this. Probably. If, like me, their unpalatable, unreal over-niceness stuck in your throat, you're gonna think you've got a turkey bone lodged there if you are unlucky enough to have to listen to this. Me, I'm for headin' up that thar mountain trail with a loaded double-barreled and a few mean dogs: who's with me?

TRACKLISTING

1. Waltons theme
2. Earl Hamner's narrative
3. Christmas time's a-comin'
4. Intro to mama's applesauce cake
5. Mama's applesauce cake
6. Sleigh ride
7. Follow that star
8. That's what Christmas means to me
9. Intro to Have yourself a merry little Christmas
10. Have yourself a merry little Christmas
11. Intro to Snowmanland
12. Snowmanland
13. Twas the night before Christmas
14. Little drummer boy
15. Home for the holidays
16. Santa's big parade
17. Intro to All I want for Christmas
18. All I want for Christmas
19. Good night

PS Luckily for you good folks I was unable to track down any videos from this album, but on for the other albums, where I can, I'll feature one video. You have been sufficiently warned; click on future YouTubes at your own risk...
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Old 12-02-2012, 05:08 AM   #1614 (permalink)
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Country Christmas Party --- Various Artists --- 2000 (Planet Song)

Yeah, I know Country music has its detractors, and is well placed to be the butt of many a joke about farmers, hicks and steel pedal guitars, but come on! This has got to set their cause back by fifty years at least! You have the likes of John Denver singing “Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer”, accompanied by a very annoying children's choir, Charley Pride crooning about “Christmas in my town”, and Gene Autry, “the Singing Cowboy” himself, belting out a cracked version of “Frosty the snowman”! And that's without enduring “The 12 days of Christmas” in the company of the Nashville Session Singers, listening to Liberace (Liberace?) doing “The little drummer boy” STOP IT (wasn't he a pianist? Oh, right: it's an instrumental piano version. Of course!) while Glen Campbell wishes you should “Have yourself a merry little Christmas”. Not bloody likely, Glen!

Even the class acts get roped in, with Crystal Gayle, one of the first ladies of Country, contributing a song called “Whose child is this?” set to the air of “Greensleeves” (must admit, it's quite nice), Lynn Anderson giving her rendition of “Joy to the world” and even the mighty Johnny Cash drawling “Hark the herald angels sing”. Oh yeah, and Charley Pride, not content with the one contribution, has to pop up near the end for an encore with “O little town of Bethlehem”. O dear, say I!

Now, before anyone asks “Well have you actually listened to this album before damning it?” I check and see my ears are still attached and functioning, and I say no, not all the way. I've sampled some of the albums in this list; listened to a few tracks, as many as I could bear, but in the end they're essentially the same material, perhaps with the odd slant on one or two, but generally they're the Christmas songs, carols and hits we all know and either love or loathe.

Sure, there will be the odd original composition, and in those cases I'll lend them an ear, but otherwise it's just a quick hop-skip-and-a-jump through these albums to get a feel for them. How then do I feel justified in criticising something I haven't bothered to listen to? To that I say, it's Christmas, it's a bit of fun, and I don't have the time or desire to actually listen to all of the music here. I'm happy just to slag it off. You have a problem with that, here's a linkGoogle Image Result for http://dorrys.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/flip-the-bird1.jpg you can use...

(Don't worry, Country fans: I'm sure there's a “Metal's Greatest Christmas Hits” in there somewhere too, and if so it'll be getting just such a pasting. You are not alone!)

TRACKLISTING

1. Hark! The herald angels sing (Johnny Cash)
2. Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer (John Denver)
3. Virgin Mary (Lonnie Donegan)
4. Christmas in my home town (Charley Pride)
5. I heard the bells on Christmas (Eddy Arnold)
6. Holy night (Ronnie Milsap)
7. The twelve days of Christmas (The Nashville Session Singers)
8. Frosty the snowman (Gene Autry)
9. I saw mommy kissing Santa Claus (Bobby Sherman)
10. Christmas lullaby (Melanie)
11. The little drummer boy (Liberace)
12. Have yourself a merry little Christmas (Glen Campbell)
13. Jingle bells (Pat Boone)
14. Pretty paper (Willie Nelson)
15. What child is this (Crystal Gayle)
16. Joy to the world (Lynn Anderson)
17. O little town of Bethlehem (Charley Pride)
18. Sing we Noel (The Kingston Trio)
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Old 12-03-2012, 10:21 AM   #1615 (permalink)
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This week's planned reviews
Ooh, we're into the last month! I'm so excited about Christmas! Not. When you get to my age there's little left to get excited about, other than that you wake up not dead every morning. But as we move into December and there are now only four weeks left to go in 2012, we're pushing ahead with our reviews of albums released this year, hoping to get through the lion's share of them.

Here's what we have for you this week, all going well... By the way, from now on I'm going to give a little information about each, just so you know what I'm rabbiting on about (sorry Big Ears, I know you have that phrase trademarked: my people will talk to your people)...

The calling by Neal Schon
Solo album from the Journey guitarist and driving force behind the AOR giants. Neal was also briefly in Santana before forming Journey.

Ouroboros by Status Minor
A totally unknown band, so far as I'm aware, outside of their native Finland, Status Minor have only been together since 2006 and released their debut in 2009, but have the talent to be one of the big progressive rock bands of this century. This is their second album.

Heresy and creed by Ten
A favourite band of mine, Ten released their first album in six years last year. Now, a year later, they have another. This one is far superior to "Stormwarning", which I reviewed a while back.

On the air tonight by Colin Blunstone
Most people will know Colin, if at all, as the voice behind such Alan Parsons Projects hits as "Old and wise" and the Zombies' mega-smash "She's not there". This is the first of his solo albums I've reviewed, though it's his twelfth overall.

As mentioned in the Journals Update thread last night, I missed the deadline to include

Wolfsbane save the world by Wolfsbane in last week's reviews, but it's going up tonight.
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Old 12-03-2012, 01:08 PM   #1616 (permalink)
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Upto Page 134

Manowar:
Just finished looking at your Hail to England Manowar review but I do actually think this is their best album along with the Triumph of Steel. Their first two albums are great stuff as well but Hail to England was their peak achievement and was the album the band were always leading upto. This is in your face heavy metal with a cranked up volume, that only Manowar really know how to do. It's one of the great metal albums of its type, but I appreciate that's it's mostly going to appeal to lovers of power metal only.
Ah yeah, I love Manowar! Just can't take them seriously is all. Personally I rate "Into glory ride" as their best, but then, I really only got the first three albums and at the time they were something really different, so I like them all. (Just as an Irish person, it sort of stuck in my throat buying an album that was called "Hail to England", y'know?)
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Old 12-03-2012, 01:10 PM   #1617 (permalink)
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Christmas in Gracelands --- All American Karaoke --- 2010 (Conway International)


I can't think of anywhere I'd like to be less. You know when people say "I'm a huge Elvis fan"? Well, I don't say that. Elvis has never appealed to me, and as for karaoke: well, give me a choice between the two Japanese "art forms", as it were, and I'd be climbing into a Zero every time. I bloody hate the whole phenomenon! Why is it funny when people who can't carry a note in a bucket or follow a melody to save their lives attempt to sing? Isn't that what we have "The X Factor" for? But put the two together, and I'm tellin' ya, I'm in Hell.

I suppose if you're having a party, as I've heard does happen at this time, then maybe --- maybe --- you might be interested in this. Or if you're a fanatical Elvis junkie. But come on: the King doesn't even sing here! It's just the music without his voice. What's the point? Well anyway you end up with the standards --- "Silent night", "The first Noel", "White Christmas" etc, alongside a much larger percentage of Elvis's own material --- "I'll be home for Christmas", "Holly leaves and Christmas trees", and of course "Blue Christmas". But to me it's all soulless, empty pop pap --- I think I'd even rather hear Elvis himself than this, and that's saying something!

To be played only when everyone is sufficiently drunk that no-one is going to care what's on the stereo, then put away and forgotten about until next Christmas, or perhaps given away to a charity shop when you sober up and realise what you've done. That is, if any charity shop will take it...

TRACKLISTING

1. Santa Claus is back in town
2. Blue Christmas
3. Here comes Santa Claus
4. Holly leaves and Christmas trees
5. If every day was like Christmas
6. If I get home on Christmas Day
7. I'll be home for Christmas
8. It won't seem like Christmas without you
9. Merry Christmas baby
10. O little town of Bethlehem
11. Come all ye faithful
12. On a snow Christmas night
13. Santa bring my baby back
14. Silent night
15. Silver bells
16. The first Noel
17. White Christmas
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Old 12-03-2012, 03:48 PM   #1618 (permalink)
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(Just as an Irish person, it sort of stuck in my throat buying an album that was called "Hail to England", y'know?)
I guessed that was the reason
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Old 12-04-2012, 11:35 AM   #1619 (permalink)
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Ouroboros: the ancient symbol of a snake eating its own tail, symbolises eternity, rebirth and continuance.

Ouroboros --- Status Minor --- 2012 (Lion Music)


Status who? I had never heard of this band until a few months back, when I bought their debut album, "Dialog", and liked it so much I hopped on this as soon as it was released. They're a progressive rock/metal band hailing from the mecca of prog rock, er, Finland. They are, in fact, the only band I know of in that genre who come from that country, though as I say I've been having something of a resurgence in interest in Finland with bands like Human Temple coming out of there. Status Minor is the brainchild of guitarist Sami Saarinen, and his work is stamped all over the music like an indelible fingerprint.

The album opens on a big heavy number, quite metal with screeching guitars and rolling drums, the latter courtesy of sticksman Rolf Pilve, and vocalist Markku Kuikka is certainly up to the task, with a strong powerful voice that easily handles all the registers. Some great keyboard work from Jukka Karinen too, and the opener "The wind" definitely sets the tone for the rest of the album, as we move into "Hollow", another fast powerful puncher, with a somewhat dramatic feel to the melody, Karinen's piano playing this time a greater role and a great guitar solo from Saarinen, with quite an eastern tinge to it.

Things continue to rock along nicely with "Glass wall", then gentle piano from Jukka Karinen introduces the ballad "Like a dream", which features female vocals but I can't find out whose they are. They lead in the first verse, then Markku Kuikka comes in to take the lead while Sami Saarinen racks off some powerful riffs to add teeth to the ballad, with a great solo about halfway through. A strong and emotional duet takes the song out on the back of Karinen's piano, ushering in darker, more sombre piano as "Confidence and trust" gets going with a very classical intro, and again those female vocals (why aren't they credited?) frame another ballad, though this one is quite short, just over two minutes.

We're back to rocking then with one of the standouts, "Stain", opening on a termendous guitar solo then giving way to sprightly piano from Karinen, Kuikka's voice a bit harder and more ragged here, the song quite Threshold in feel. Those female vocals are back to add something of an ethereal timbre to the song, and she stays with it as the track picks up again and rockets off. There's no slowing down either as we head into "Smile", which just pounds along with hammering drums and churning guitar worthy of any headbangers' ball --- kind of reminds me of Kamelot in places.

Nice acoustic guitar opening to "Flowers die", with a very gentle and clear vocal from Kuikka, almost folk in feel until the percussion hits in on the back of the synthwork and the song gets a little heavier, yet I'd still count it as the third ballad, which is quite unusual on an album of this nature. It has a lovely swaying rhythm, which I would think would go down very well on stage, and indeed marks it as another standout. Kuikka's voice rises to match the change in if not tempo then intensity in the song, and Saarinen racks off another fine solo without actually taking over the track completely.

The perhaps expected epic comes in the closer, the ten-minute-plus "Sail away", opening on powerful drumming and hard guitar, then some very proggy keyboard --- maybe Hammond? --- and a Yes-style guitar riff that takes the song into almost the third minute before it breaks down to soft rippling piano and what sounds like violin, and finally the vocal comes in on the back of a mighty bassline and sprinkly piano. Once it gets going properly then, the song rocks along in fine style and is indeed a great closer, even featuring some more contributing vocals from the mystery lady who added vocals to some of the other tracks, and it's yet another standout.

TRACKLISTING

1. The wind
2. Hollow
3. Glass wall
4. Like a dream
5. Confidence and trust
6. Stain
7. Smile
8. Flowers die
9. Sail away

Bands like Status Minor are too easily overlooked. There's a danger in coming from a country not generally associated with rock music or even a particular genre --- Poland has recently established itself as something of a musical "Silicon Valley" with the emergence of bands like Riverside, Amarok, Mordor and Abraxas --- but if you look in most countries you'll find bands of quality. They don't all have to hail from the UK or USA, or indeed even Germany or Sweden. Expand your horizons geographically and you could vastly expand them musically too.

As for Status Minor, with an album of this calibre I would be very hopeful that their status is very soon due to change.
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Old 12-04-2012, 01:19 PM   #1620 (permalink)
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Sounds of the season --- Lionel Ritchie --- 2006 (Island)


Well, let's at least credit the ex-Commodore with one thing: his album is short. Well, two things actually, as our Lionel goes for the path of least resistance and just records a bunch of Christmas songs, giving them the old soul treatment, rather than try to reinterpret, rewrite or (God help us!) write some original material for this short album. Picking liberally from the tree of obvious songs he takes the likes of "Little drummer boy", "Come all ye faithful", "Joy to the world" and "Silent night", and adds his own rich baritone to the arrangements, making the songs at least pleasant to listen to, in smooth, soulful way.

Mostly carols, with a few others like "Have yourself a merry little Christmas" and "Winter wonderland" thrown in, and only eight songs in total, you'd have to say the album would be poor value for money were you to go mad and buy it, and not too much of a present were you to receive it, but for review purposes here it does at least get marks for keeping it short and simple, and not tampering too much with an extremely tried-and-tested formula that stretches all the way back to the greats like Como, Crosby and Williams.

TRACKLISTING

1. Little drummer boy
2. Silent night
3. The first Noel
4. Joy to the world
5. The Christmas song
6. Come all ye faithful
7. Have yourself a merry little Christmas
8. Winter wonderland
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