Sunday, December 16, 2012

Christmas Countdown = Finale

This is the Top 3 of my suggested Christmas Cabaret list. There were plenty of offerings that did not make the 12 selected, but that does not make them shortcomings in the least. Natalie Cole, Sheryl Crow & Barry Manilow put it out there in their own way. Even surprises by LeAnn Rimes. And classics like Doris Day & Tony Bennett cannot easily be forgotten as timeless. It just gives me something more to add a year down the road.

3) Kristin Chenoweth - A Lovely Way To Spend Christmas - with her theatrical background, she brings character to everything she sings. A voice instantly recognizable, but also full of surprise just when you think you have her figured out. Her kewpie doll take on Christmas Island is expected. The duet with John Pizzarelli on Marshmallow World is sugar candy. But don't forget her classical training on Do You Heart What I Hear? And the title cut is meant for a fireplace and cocoa. The disc changes gears on every track and makes it hard to get bored.

2) Melissa Manchester - There's Still My Joy - was probably my biggest revelation when I first heard it. I have always enjoyed her, particularly her early work as a singer-songwriter, until she veered into pop princess territory. This is her intact with her best qualities. Smoky, smooth and sultry. I think I fall for it because it sounds as if it was recorded in a living room live. Arrangements are simple and direct; usually only a piano or guitar with an occasional sax or vibes. The title cut by Mellisa & Beth Neilsen Chapman is the most heartbreaking carol one will ever hear about loss and healing during the holidays. Gentle blues and jazz on Please Come Home For Christmas & Christmas Angel. On familiar classics there is comfortable coziness - which is a great thing for a holiday time out.

1) Maureen McGovern - Christmas With Maureen McGovern - like Kristin - her range is all over the place. When you start to wonder why, I guess the answer is "because she can." She swings and scats with ease on new originals (a rarity) like Our First Christmas. Who has ever heard Santa Claus Is Coming to Town in a jazz 9/4? Crazy. A melancholy Toyland with the entire verse? Christmas Eve setting a Robert Frost poem to a simple English Horn - exquisite! And her O Holy Night is a gem that can be easily butchered and she gives it absolutely certainty with a simple cello. The first disc I play every year and the last to put away. Rare if you can find it - I will gladly burn you a copy.

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