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Old 12-18-2012, 03:28 AM   #1651 (permalink)
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This week's planned reviews
With only two weeks remaining of 2012, I've still a pretty large list of outstanding albums of this year to be reviewed, so I've had to choose carefully. After some deliberation then, here are the penultimate selections, which I will be tackling this week.


Momentum by Neal Morse
Former member and founder of Spock's Beard with an ambitious solo album, with only six tracks!


Bag of bones by Europe
"It's the fin-al count-down!" Shut up! Europe are more than just that one song, and they prove it on their latest album.

Ampersand by Villebrad
Look, I don't know how to categorise this band. Just stay tuned for the review, ok?

Cauldron of the wild by Witch Mountain
Doom metal band from Oregon with their latest release. Yeah, I said "doom metal". Don't miss this one!
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Old 12-18-2012, 10:26 AM   #1652 (permalink)
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Spock's Beard? No. Spock's Beard? No. Spock's Beard? NO! Good though? Oh yeah. But not Spock's Beard? NO! Sounds like it.. Yeah...
Momentum --- Neal Morse --- 2012 (InsideOut)


It's a pretty amazing feat, but Neal Morse has had, with the release of "A Proggy Christmas" this year, twenty solo albums in addition to being founder and member of progressive rock stars Spock's Beard. Two of these were released while he was part of the band, but are not really what you'd call progressive rock. Having left the band in 2002, Neal joined Translatlantic but also concentrated on his solo career, and having rediscovered his faith and become a born-again Christian, he wanted to write music that would better reflect his beliefs, which he believed would not fit well into what Spock's Beard were doing. His faith would, it might seem, be justified, as his daughter, who was suffering from a potentially life-threatening condition, was mysteriously cured after he and his church prayed for her. Me, I don't know: could be coincidence, but I would not be so churlish as to say there could be nothing else to it. I am however not here to discuss Morse's faith, nor anyone's, but just thought that little bit of information was important. Whether it was related or not to his rediscovery of his Christianity, it certainly would have reinforced his faith, and in fairness I think most of us would tend to think the same thing in his shoes.

In any case, as I say, this is his nineteenth solo album, with his twentieth also released this year, and as I mentioned in my preview it has but six tracks. Now normally I would be inclined to point out that this is shocking value for money, until you look a little closer and see that one of the tracks --- indeed, the last one --- is over thirty minutes long! More about that later, but we open on the fast, rocky, keyboard-driven title track, with some fine sharp guitar and pounding drums, vocals shared between Neal and Rick Altizer, but it's the former voice of Spock's Beard that I certainly recognise. The song has a lot of Supertramp about it too, and the inevitable SB influence as well as early Genesis. The resemblance to his former band is something I'll come back to over the course of the review, but "Momentum" is a good opener, and to be fair, every track here really has to be good, because if the closer is terrible, or just weak, even thirty-plus minutes of length is not going to make it any better. And if it's bad, then all you have to rely on is the five other tracks, so with only six in total there's no margin for error and no real excuse for weak songs.

Thankfully, all the above is moot as the end track is a stormer, of which again more later. But as I say the album opens really well, and there are some perhaps slightly indulgent moments from Neal on keys and guitar, though Mike Portnoy does a great job on the percussion, almost another Nick D'Virgilio in this case. Great guitar work too from Paul Gilbert, and even Wil Morse (his other brother? Alan, his most famous sibling, stll being part of Spock's Beard) helps out on the vocals, though I certainly hear Neal's as the dominant voice. The track ends on a nice little bass and piano part, then we're into total Spock's Beard territory with jerky guitar, Yes-style multi-tracked vocals as "Thoughts Part 5" begins, and here is where the problem begins for me. Although this is a great album, and I like it a lot, it sails so close to Spock's Beard territory that it almost feels like one of their albums. Peter Gabriel was always identified as the voice of Genesis, yet when he went solo his music sounded very little like that of his parent band, and less as he developed his own style. The same goes for Phil Collins, Jon Anderson and even Freddie Mercury: they all developed their own individual sound that took pains --- whether intentional or not --- to distance itself from the music it had become associated with. No point, after all, in going solo if all you're going to do is transplant the music of your band to your own albums.

Neal has had, as I mentioned, ten years to perfect his own style, and in fairness I've not heard all his material: some is very Christian/worship-oriented, and I'd probably be unlikely to listen to that, or want to, but he has released prog rock albums and if they're all like this then I think I'd rather just buy the latest Spock's Beard. For what it is, "Thoughts Part 5" is a good little song, but it could have been performed by the band, so where is the individuality on this album? Where are the new ideas? Where is the difference between this music and the music of the parent band? That's not to say the guys on this album can't play, because they obviously can, and very well. Neal does a lovely early-Genesis mellotron and Portnoy is excellent as ever, Gilbert's a capable guitarist, though I'm not that familiar with the work of Mr. Big, and Adson Sodre helps out too. But I don't see the spark, the creative individualism I expected to see, or hear, here.

"Smoke and mirrors" is a nice little laidback acoustic ballad, with some fine piano and organ (alright, not acoustic, but it has that air about it) and a lovely little piece of classical guitar. There's a powerful keyboard solo about halfway through, and the lyric hints somewhat obliquely at Morse's faith and beliefs, but that's okay. Another short track then is "Weathering sky", though in contrast this is much bouncier, more uptempo and with those squealy, squeaky guitars and talk boxes so identified with Spock's Beard. The song has a touch of the Beatles about it too, and it's a good one, but again too close to SB for my tastes. I have grown to love Morse's old band, after something of a struggle, but I prefer a solo artist to do his or her own thing, and if you just sound like your band, well, what's the point is what I'm saying. Again.

There's a great sense of pathos and tragedy about "Freak", perhaps a song about the dangers of seeing people in terms of one dimension, but it's very similar to other songs I've heard from "The light" although there's good use of violins and cellos, with pizzicato strings and some interesting bass work. Good lyric too: "I'm not welcome where the work is/ Not in your homes or in your churches". I like the not-so-obvious rhyming scheme in this a lot. Good powerful orchestral passage firms up the melody, and the final warning "Maybe an angel's come between us/ Who knows? I may be Jesus!" is particularly effective. Probably my favourite on the album.

And that takes us to the long-awaited closer. "World without end" runs for a total of thirty-three minutes and forty seconds, and the first six of these are taken up by an instrumental intro, opening with celestial keys and winding up hard guitar, with a melody very reminiscent initially of "The Lamb lies down on Broadway". I guess you have to admire Morse's confidence and courage: putting a track on an album that is longer than some albums are on their own is a bold step, but by god it had better be good, because this makes up seventy percent of the album and like it or not it's on this one track that the album is going to be judged. I do have to report that for such a long track it doesn't lose my attention, much. The powerful instrumental introduction is great and sets the scene well, though it goes on for so long that when I first heard it I worried that the entire half-hour plus could be like this, no vocals at all. I guess that would have been a step too far!

So it's full of the usual you'd expect from Morse/Spock's Beard: twiddly keyboards, trumpeting organs, fanfares and short, stop-start guitar, different parts and themes, and in fact the song is broken into six parts (again, a bad move really as it's so like the construction of his former band's songs it almost feels like he's copying the structure) of which the first is called, not too surprisingly, "Introduction", and though there's no actual way to work out what's what, I assume the instrumental to be the first part. When the vocal comes in it's on to part two, which is titled "Never pass away", a concept and theme that recurs throughout the long work. The melody and indeed the lyric comes back later in slightly different form, but here it's backed by fast piano, guitar and strong keyswork. It's quite rocky and uptempo, compared to the introduction, which is more dramatic and cinematic really. I'm not sure I could ever see him playing this live, but if he decided to take parts from it, this second section would go down really well on its own, I feel.

A warbly keyboard solo with accompanying piano takes us into what I assume to be part three, "Losing your soul", where everything slows down against just piano and percussion, joined by a keyboard run which will eventually become the closing section/theme of the song. Choral voices rise in the background, and really, the song is now eleven minutes old, and for anyone else this would indeed be the end, but not our Neal! There's another two-thirds of "World without end" to go, as we push on with a hard guitar riff and faster, tougher drumming from Mike Portnoy moving into part four, "The mystery", with Morse's voice run through some sort of effects pedal to make it sound distorted and mono, as if talking on the radio. It's a very Zep groove now, with some pretty wild guitar and organ stabs punctuating the fretwork. Hold on, no: this is still "Losing your soul", as it's just been mentioned in the lyric. Well, it's hard to judge where one part ends and the next begins unless you're given timings or it's very obvious, which is isn't.

Well we're now almost halfway through on the back of a fine guitar solo which then changes time signatures in a very tried and trusted progressive rock manner, a thick bass taking the melody as it changes to a sort of reggae/caribbean style, Morse's voice back to normal now as the song trips along on a bouncy, happy line accompanied by flutes and it seems we're now into part four. Things speed up then as we head towards the twentieth minute on mellotron joined by bright keys and guitar, a big instrumental passage that runs for almost two minutes and ends dramatically, almost stopping dead before it picks up again on soft, slow synth and piano, gentle whispering percussion and I guess this is then part five, "Some kind of yesterday", confirmed indeed as Neal sings the lyric. Very Genesisesque keys and the drums get a bit harder and more pronounced now, sprinkles of piano joining the melody, Neal's voice more relaxed and softer.

A return then to the basic theme of "Introduction" on buzzy keys and piano, fanfares breaking out all over the place in triumph as we no doubt move towards the final part, the conclusion, but not before some boogie guitar and organ get in on the act. Nice little bass solo too from Randy George before the keys swamp everything again, though in a good way it has to be said. This is certainly a keyboard-centric track, indeed album, not that surprisingly. We head into the twenty-fifth minute on a rushing, busy keyboard solo before part five, for which the entire track is named, hits, and it's a retracing of the theme from "Never pass away", with soft piano accompanying Neal's voice, also soft for the first minute or two, until sweeping percussion from Portnoy and strong organ intensify both the tune and Morse's vocal. Again very Genesis-like keyboards draw the curtain down, choral vocals and backing vocals joining, and a strident flourish on keys, guitar and drums brings the mammoth composition to a triumphant and very satisfying conclusion.

It's pretty obvious from the title, lyrical content and tone of this song that Neal Morse is talking about God and the Kingdom of Heaven ("that shall never pass away") but it doesn't come across as preachy, rather joyful and hopeful; it really sounds like Neal is saying God will save us all in the end; whether you believe or you don't, there's a place waiting for you at his table. Even for a hardened old cynic like me, I have to admit that's comforting in a way. As for the track itself being the centrepiece of the album, which it undoubtedly is: is it worth it? Does it stand up to close scrutiny and does it make the album purchase worthwhile? Yes, yes it does. It's a great track, and as I said, if you can listen to over half an hour of music in one track and not get bored, the guy has to be doing something right.

TRACKLISTING

1. Momentum
2. Thoughts Part 5
3. Smoke and mirrors
4. Weathering sky
5. Freak
6. World without end
(i) Introduction
(ii) Never pass away
(iii) Losing your soul
(iv) The mystery
(v) Some kind of yesterday
(vi) World without end

My only problem with this album is that it sounds so very much like Spock's Beard, as I have already stated many times over the course of this review, and which you're no doubt sick of hearing me say. But it's true: there's really nothing here I wouldn't expect to hear on one of their albums, and if I heard this on the radio (unlikely) I would probably think it was them. I'm sure Neal Morse has many more strings to his bow, and I would just have preferred if he had tried to be a little different, take a step back from what his fans are used to hearing from the band he left ten years ago now. That said, his gentle and pretty unobtrusive insertion of his Christian message into his music must be applauded: whereas other artistes might try to ram their message down your throat, he just puts it out there; if we want to listen we can, if we don't he's not telling us we're going to burn in Hell. As I say, his message seems to be that there is a place for all in the Kingdom of God.

It's not such a bad message really, when you think about it. I just hope he manages to shake off the cloying effects of Spock's Beard for his next album. Even if he doesn't though, this music is so intrinsically good that there'll always be room for him in my record collection.
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Old 12-18-2012, 01:09 PM   #1653 (permalink)
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Christmas in the Stars: Star Wars Christmas --- Meco Monardo --- 1996 (Rhino)


Quite possibly outright winner for the "weirdest Christmas album" goes to this one, in which producer Meco Monardo, at the time famous for his disco treatments of the famous Star Wars tunes, turns his hand to celebrating the festive season in the company of Chewbacca, C3PO and R2D2. With songs like "What do you buy a Wookie for Christmas (When he's already got a comb)?" and "The odds against Christmas", not to mention the title track, you're unlikely to come across another offering of this, well, weirdness, anywhere.

It even has Threepio retelling "The night before Christmas", while his shorter, rounder companion whistles and bleeps his way through an interesting rendition of "Sleigh ride". Most of the songs were written by a Yale Music Professor, just to add to the esoteric nature of the album, and produced by Meco, with all the songs running into a general overall theme and story that threads its way through the album, as droids working for Santa slowly come to learn the meaning of Christmas.

Only one meaning for George though: gimme that foldin' green! This album is only for Star Wars fanatics, or someone who wants a good laugh at Xmas time. To anyone else, it's just going to seem -- what's the word? --- oh yeah: weird.

TRACKLISTING

1. Christmas In The Stars
2. Bells, Bells, Bells
3. The Odds Against Christmas
4. What Can You Get A Wookiee For Christmas....
5. R2-D2 We Wish You A Merry Christmas
6. Sleigh Ride
7. Merry, Merry Christmas
8. A Christmas Sighting ('Twas The Night Before...)
9. The Meaning Of Christmas
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Old 12-18-2012, 11:43 PM   #1654 (permalink)
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I really like the Christmas album reviews, you're doing the lord's work. I'm ashamed to admit it, but I have a soft spot for "All I Want For Christmas is You", mainly because Love Actually made me cry like a little bitch.
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Old 12-19-2012, 05:17 AM   #1655 (permalink)
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Christmas time again --- Lynyrd Skynyrd --- 2000 (CMC International)


Oh guys! How could you? Of all the people I expected not to succumb to the lure of a Christmas album...!

Yep, at the turn of the millennium the boys who brought you "Sweet home Alabama" and "Free bird" sold their souls, and not for rock and roll either. With songs like "Santa Claus wants some lovin'" and "Hallelujah, it's Christmas!" though, you know this is not going to be just another tired collection of carols and hymns, and Xmas favourites. But it finds its way into this list due to my sheer disbelief that the godfathers of southern rock would even consider releasing such a thing.

There are contributions from Charlie Daniels on "Santa Claus is coming to town", two Rudolph songs --- "Run Rudolph run" and the perennial "Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer" --- and even 38 Special put in an appearance. Oddly enough, there's a version of "Greensleeves" --- not sure why that seems to be associated with Christmas these days --- and the opener "Santa's messin' with the kid" is great fun, but overall you have to wonder why a band of Skynyd's calibre would get involved in something like this. Surely they couldn't have run out of whisky money already?

TRACKLISTING

1. Santa's Messin' with the Kid
2. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
3. Christmas Time Again
4. Greensleeves
5. Santa Claus Is Coming to Town
6. Run Run Rudolph
7. Mama's Song
8. Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin'
9. Classical Christmas"
10. Hallelujah, It's Christmas
11. Skynyrd Family
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Old 12-19-2012, 12:49 PM   #1656 (permalink)
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An angel amongst demons?
Cauldron of the wild --- Witch Mountain --- 2012 (Profound Lore)


Anyone who knows me or has read my journal knows that doom metal and I go together about as well as Hitler and pacifism, or bank managers and frugality, but I was pleasantly surprised by this album. There I was, perusing the new releases from my usual music vendor (No, not itunes! You think I'm made of money?) when I came across this album called "South of Salem" by a band called Witch Mountain. The only genre shown was "metal", so I hit the preview button and was disappointed to hear slow, grinding, doomy guitars and bass with drums that sounded like they belonged on a slave ship. Everything about this sound pointed towards sludge or doom metal, and I waited with sinking heart to hear the vocals, expecting growly, raspy or unintelligible singing. Imagine my surprise then when I heard a female voice, and not screaming or spitting fire, but just singing quite what I would call normally. Not even over-the-top operatic or dramatic, like some of the female singers in the bigger progressive metal bands.

Sadly, she only got a few seconds to sing before the one-minute preview faded out, but I had heard enough to decide I liked this, and hit the purchase button. That album was from last year, so I wondered if they had anything current, and it turned out that they did, and do, and this is it. Although they have been together since late 1997, they only recorded their first EP in 2000, and released their first album proper the following year. Witch Mountain have only had the three albums in that time: this one, the one I mentioned and their debut, called "Come the mountain". This appears to be due to the fact that, for reasons unknown to me, the band went on hiatus in 2002 and didn't return to performing until 2005, and even then it took them another six years to record their second album. Not ones to rush things, then?

Hailing from Portland, Oregon, Witch Mountain are a four-piece, with Ula Plotkin, that female singer I told you about, the only woman in the quartet, and in fact she's only been with them since 2009. Prior to that, vocals were handled by guitarist Rob Wrong (I don't know if that's his real name, but I hope he never marries!) In addition to this album, Witch Mountain have also released a two-track EP, perhaps wanting to make up for lost time, or perhaps to soften the blow when you realise this album has only six tracks, although in fairness two of them are pretty long.

"The ballad of Lanky Rae" starts us off and it's as you'd expect from a doom metal band: big heavy pounding guitar going about four miles an hour, punching drums at about the same speed, with Ula's voice rising from the miasma like summer mist, clear and powerful. Of course, the only real experience I have with this sort of music would be the greats like Black Sabbath, and therefore I find this quite similar, but Sabbath did their best work over thirty years ago and this is much more up to date. Nice backing vocals too, and the music, though skull-crushingly heavy, does not turn me off. Wrong proves he's one hell of a guitarist, with a blistering solo halfway through, but the music soon slips back into that sludgey, heavy, thick metal groove that plods along like an elephant caught in a swamp. It certainly is powerful though, and it doesn't depress me as I somehow expected a genre or sub-genre like doom metal to. It's not what you'd call uplifting, but still enjoyable. It's what I feel Nick Cave would sound like if he decided to do metal.

There's a big growling, grinding guitar opening to "Beekeeper", with Plotkin's voice a little further down in the mix, singing in almost a kind of medieval way, with elements of progressive metal vocals in there too. Nathan Carson makes sure he's heard behind the drumkit and drives the heavy rhythm, but for me he's nothing special. Then again, as I admit, I know next to nothing about this sub-genre, so he could be a leading light within it. What is clear is that for my money Rob Wrong and Ula Plotkin carry the music between them, and I'm pretty sure he's adding semi-gutteral backing vocals in this song --- he used to be the singer, after all, so would be the natural choice for a backing vocalist. The song's very intense, perhaps moreso than the opener, but as to what it's about, well you got me. Another short solo and Wrong makes his guitar sound amusingly like a swarm of bees at one point near the end. Nice touch. Plotkin proves she can really hit the high notes when necessary, but never descends (ascends?) into screaming.

Somehow contriving to be slower than its two predecessors, "Shelter" opens on a great bit of fretwork from Wrong, Neal Munson's bass crashing like thunder behind him, then carrying the basic melody as Ula sings, much clearer now and more to the front. Having nothing else to base my opinion on, I fall back on the Sabbath comparison and say this sounds like their title and signature track. It has a slow, doomy feel with guitar punching like a fist, in, out, in, out, and the drums, well, they're there, is all I can say really. The best and most effective parts of the song come when Ula's voice sings with just the bass backing, again like the beginning of "Black Sabbath", a bit of strumming from Wrong in the mix too, but when it breaks out into a full-on heavyfest it gets just a little bit overwhelming and confused. I'm not sure this song needs to be over seven minutes long though, as it sort of follows the same routine all the way through. Well, hold on, I take that back: there is a breakaway guitar part about five minutes in and the tempo increases noticeably, the slow, doomy, broody aspect somewhat changed to a more upbeat, faster melody. More male backing "death vocals" and the song finishes strongly on a powerful vocal from Ula.

Sharp, echoing guitar that may or may not have reverb on it opens "Veil of the forgotten", the tempo dropping back to the plodding, ponderous gait of most of the album, Wrong adding those sinister death vocals as a sort of evil whisper, Ula singing her heart out and halfway through again the song surprises me by speeding up on the back of Wrong's guitar and the demonic percussion of Carson. The last two tracks are the longest, with "Aurelia" the longest overall, clocking in at almost twelve minutes. Opening on a deceptively gentle guitar, almost acoustic, it's joined by some nice dark bass courtesy of Neal Munson, and it's the slowest --- dare I say laidback, or even utter the "b" word here? --- of all the songs so far, with some almost folky vocals from Ula and Rob Wrong, who for once actually sings rather than just growl gutterally. When he does that, he seems to be a half-decent singer, and this song really changes the game, at least so far.

It's a quarter of the way through now, and though of course it could suddenly explode into a heavy, doomy dirge ... er, as I think it just has, so forget that thought. Heavy pounding guitar cuts in and rearranges the song, though in fairness it slips then into a nice metal bit of noodling, and the basic melody remains intrinsically the same. Ula really outshines herself on this one, giving full vent to her powerful voice, though Rob seems to prefer to slip back into those death growls and mutters that have peppered the album thus far. I'd go so far as to say Ula Plotkin is wasted in this band, because she really is the one thing that makes them interesting and listenable: hook these guys up with any of the usual death growlers and I wouldn't give Witch Mountain a second listen, personally, but she makes their music much more accessible, at least for me.

Rob Wrong's guitar expertise must be remarked upon too, and he really is quite technically proficient. I wouldn't call him a great guitarist --- I'm sure there are many as talented or moreso in other metal bands I have yet to hear --- but he does the job well and considering there are no keyboards or pianos or anything else to help mould the music, and the rhythm section sounding to me quite basic, I think he holds it all together quite well, with occasional flashes of what he could be capable of were he to apply himself more. What do I know? I couldn't play guitar to save my life! But I know he has talent, but is perhaps wasting it slightly in this band.

I did postulate that "Aurelia" could be a ballad; it's not of course --- I'm not sure whether doom metal bands do ballads --- but it's probably the closest you'll get to one on this album and it ends quite gently on softly strummed fadeout guitar, taking us into the closer, "Never know". This comes in at just over nine minutes long and opens on a thick, sludgy bassline that takes almost the first minute of the song before Ula's soft vocal comes in, and that sixties/hippie/folk vibe is back in her voice, again making me feel that she's in the wrong band here. I could hear her on some progressive rock album, or some space or psychedelic rock one, but metal seems a bad fit for her. This is a slowburner, and even by the third minute, a third of the way through its run, it hasn't really got going, just a few clashes of the hi-hats and some toms from Carson, low, muted guitar from Wrong and running through it all the persistent heartbeat of Munson's throbbing bass. That is, until the fifth minute when Wrong decides he's had enough of being in the background and turns his amp up to ten and lets loose.

In response to this explosion, Ula screams almost in ecstasy and the song hits a new level, guitar wailing and grinding as Wrong slips his self-imposed leash. Having been pent-up for so long he lets it all loose in an orgasmic outpouring that lasts well into the seventh minute, the song ending on Ula's anguished wail and his guitar riff.

TRACKLISTING

1. The ballad of Lanky Rae
2. Beekeeper
3. Shelter
4. Veil of the forgotten
5. Aurelia
6. Never know

So has this album been an epiphany for me, changed my mind about doom metal, made me a fan? Er, no. Mostly I don't really like the music here, though I'll admit I don't hate it in the same way I hate thrash/speed metal (well, most of it), as at least here I could make out what was being sung, the music, though slow and mostly depressing (duh!) was listenable and there were moments of light shooting through the dark. Without question, the star of the show is Ula Plotkin, and I also must rate the fretwork of Rob Wrong, but I couldn't see myself becoming a fan of this sort of music, not on the basis of this album. In retrospect, it was a bit of a slog to get through it and in the end I'm grateful there were only six tracks, even if they did total over forty-five minutes of music.

I must also give credit to the band for their sense of humour in titling the album (though interestingly there is no title track) and I would wish them the best in the future, though I can't see a terribly bright one for them on the basis of this offering. Then again, as I say, I am not well-versed in the sub-genre, so this may come to be regarded as a classic, who knows?

But I don't think I'll be taking any more trips up Witch Mountain any time soon.
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Old 12-19-2012, 03:07 PM   #1657 (permalink)
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RoemerMW View Post
I really like the Christmas album reviews, you're doing the lord's work. I'm ashamed to admit it, but I have a soft spot for "All I Want For Christmas is You", mainly because Love Actually made me cry like a little bitch.
Thanks! Glad they're appealing to someone. Just wanted to do my little bit for Christmas, ya know, but in a, well, alternative way. Getting close to the end now. Wish I'd thought of it earlier so I could have rated them, but I wouldn't have had the time for that. Maybe next year. Or on second thoughts, maybe not.
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Old 12-20-2012, 05:17 AM   #1658 (permalink)
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Christmas time is here --- Christopher Cross --- 2010 (101 Distribution)


Now a lot of us like Chris, and those of us that don't at least know his hits, but surely this is yet another unnecessary, unwanted Christmas album by an artist who should know better? Taking into account Cross's considerable songwriting talent, I think (though I can't be sure, despite repeated searches for the answer) that he has written some new songs here. Certainly titles like "Count your blessings instead of sheep" and "Dream of peace at Chrismastime" sound new, and I definitely haven't heard or seen them on any of the other Christmas albums I've so far eviscerated, sorry, reviewed.

He doesn't overpopulate it with "Christmas favourites" either, with just "Have yourself a merry little Christmas", "Silent night", "The Christmas song" and "Little drummer boy" fitting the bill, though he does throw in one or two I haven't heard much, if at all, before, such as "O come, o come Emmanuel", also that one that cropped up on Density, sorry Destiny's Child's offering, "8 days of Christmas", "Do you hear what I hear". So a pretty balanced album all taken as all, and probably not the worst, but again I ask the pertinent and recurring question: why?

Other than the obvious reason, no-one's been able to answer that yet, which means that every album on this list qualifies to be here.

TRACKLISTING

1. Silent Night
2. Christmas Time is Here
3. The Christmas Song
4. Does It Feel Like Christmas
5. Little Drummer Boy
6. I'll Be Home For Christmas
7. A Dream Of Peace At Christmas Time
8. Count Your Blessings instead of Sheep
9. Do You Hear What I Hear
10. The Best Christmas
11. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
12. O Come, O Come,Emmanuel
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Old 12-22-2012, 03:06 PM   #1659 (permalink)
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No update yesterday --- don't you just love Christmas shopping? --- so doubling up on them today. Sorry, sorry, but they are TWENTY-FIVE of the worst Christmas albums! Never mind, it'll all be over soon, just a nasty memory your mind will block for you for years to come, rather than face the awful truth...
Warnng from Trollheart: these are some heavy-duty, seriously BAD selections coming up! If you're not sure you can handle it DO NOT continue. You have been warned...
Christmas for all --- The Kelly Family --- 1995 (Import)


Hah! Nearly wrote "The Jelly Family" there! Ah, wouldn't that be something? A family of gelatin desserts, all singing about Christmas. You think that would be bad? Then you haven't heard this album! The only possible thing worse than if the Corrs were to release a Christmas album (and they may have done; I'm only scratching the tip of the crapberg here) is an album from the Kelly Family, and the only thing worse than an album from the Kelly Family is a Christmas album from the Kelly Family!

The kind of people who give Ireland a bad name, travelling around in a double-decker bus and playing trad music, upping the Paddywhackery factor to ten, and they're not even Irish! I mean, they have Irish blood, but they originate from the USA then came to Spain before finding fame as this travelling musical family, but they rely heavily on celebrating their Catholic faith and family values in their music. However, any band or group who can write a song about bedwetting gets the thumbs-down from me!

This is, in fact, their second Christmas album, and features such glorious Xmas ditties as "Jingle bells", "Ave Maria", "The first Noel" and "We are the world" (?) I say again, ?. Also included is one of my most hated "comedy" Christmas songs, "All I want for Christmas is me two front teeth" (Christ!) and other favourites such as "Silent night" and "Little drummer boy", as well as some of their own material, like "Santa Maria" and "Peces" --- which, given the subject matter of the earlier mentioned song should perhaps be titled "Feces"?

It would certainly describe this collection of annoying, family-friendly, over-the-top happy, pointless, unrealistic and annoying (I know I said annoying twice, but it is that annoying!) Christmas songs. Another album that should have been strangled at birth. Bring on the Corrs, says I!

TRACKLISTING

1. One more Christmas
2. Santa Maria
3. White Christmas
4. Peces
5. Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer
6. Two front teeth
7. The first Noel
8. Ave Maria
9. O holy night
10. Chi-qui-rri-tin
11. Who'll come with me
12. Jingle bells
13. Little drummer boy
14. We are the world
15. Santa Maria (reprise)
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Old 12-22-2012, 03:11 PM   #1660 (permalink)
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Christmas Eve --- James Last with Engelbert Humperdinck --- 1995 (Avalanche)


There's an episode of the TV sci-fi sitcom Red Dwarf where the characters are on a planet where all the world's most evil people have come alive as waxworks (bear with me) and Lister and the Cat, locked in a cell and awaiting their fate, are watching as Lister names off all the bad guys. Hitler, Mussollini, Rasputin... then he gasps, unable to take it. "Oh my god!" he says in disbelief and horror. "That's James Last! I recognise him from Rimmer's record collection!"

If you don't know the series that probably meant nothing to you, but it does serve to underline that to people of my age, when we were young, James Last was the Devil. Not a good Devil, like Ozzy or Alice, who made you want to rebel against society, your parents, whatcha got? No. James Last was the good Devil, the Flanders Devil. He was everything we hated in music, everything we were opposed to. His soulless, feather-light treatment of classics and pop tunes drifted from every lift (elevator) in every shopping centre (mall) and his grinning face could be seen peeking out of every record shelf labelled "Easy listening". James Last was the antithesis of rock; he took safe tunes and made them safer, and we hated him for it. At least, I did, and all my mates did. He was the kind of music your parents listened to, and there was no more damning indictment than that.

I was always a Mantovani man, myself; if you wanted some relaxing instrumental music, the man from Italy was the one to go to. But Last? Ugh! You'd rather listen to white noise than his pre-packaged brand of supermarket soft pop instrumentals. And yet he was mega-popular, selling over seventy million albums --- dude, that's 0.07 BILLION albums! --- and with a discography that takes up three full columns on Wiki. And Christmas was one of the times when he was unleashed upon us with his full, terrible ferocity.

To make things worse, here he's joined by sixties singing sensation Engelbert Humperdinck --- a man who actually changed his name TO this! I mean, he wasn't born with it: when he became famous he TOOK the name! Beggars belief!. Also surely one of the most frequently misspelled and mispronounced names in music history? So he sings while Last plays, and we all promise to do anything the duo say if they will just PLEASE STOP!

There's nothing more to say. The bossa-nova beat was invented for people like Last, and even though I'm now old enough to be a parent (though I'm not one) I STILL loathe his music with a passion. Some demons just never die, y'know? Still, he's getting on in years, can't have much time left ... unless he's signed a contract with the Devil! Oh no! Surely not...?

TRACKLISTING

1. Believe In Love
2. Have I Told You Lately
3. Holly Holy
4. Ave Maria
5. One More Night
6. Your Love
7. Bed Of Roses
8. White Christmas
9. Lean On Me
10. A Whole New World
11. O Little Town of Bethlehem
12. God's Sending Angels
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