Christmas

All posts tagged Christmas

Sometimes you wait a while to review a really good Christmas album and sometimes two come along together.  A couple of weeks ago I told you about Gareth Malone’s Great British Christmas album and now I’d like to share Angry Baby’s review of Prayer to a Snowflake from Mary-Jess.

At this time of year, it’s easy to write off music as tacky or overly-sentimental, especially when the shops are blasting out Slade and Chris de Burgh as though there’s been nothing new since the 70s. Thankfully, in Prayer To A Snowflake, UK-based classical-crossover artist Mary-Jess has released an album that cuts through the cynicism and provides a perfect selection of seasonal songs. Whether you’re looking for something to play when the in-laws come round for turkey, or a playlist for romantic evenings in front of the fire when all the crazy-madness is over, this could be the top choice for the holidays.

Mary-Jess catapulted to international attention when she won a singing competition live on Chinese TV, in front of 70 million people. Her popularity in China continues, which is why her website blends text in English and Mandarin. Back at home, she is known to TV viewers as the voice of the theme to Downton Abbey. That’s quite a CV, but behind it all is a crystal-clear voice, perfect phrasing and deliciously emotional delivery. Add to that the writing skills and musicianship to create seasonal songs which sit comfortably alongside traditional standards on this album, and there can be no doubt that Mary-Jess’s success is well earned and well deserved.

Opening with two traditional carols, Prayer To A Snowflake ticks the box as something to please the vicar. Silent Night may have been done a million times, but Mary-Jess tingles the spine with her precise soprano, produced with the acoustics of a vaulted chapel. Similarly stripped-back and simple, In The Bleak Midwinter warms the heart. Grab a cup of hot chocolate and gather the little ones around to create the holiday memories we all crave.

I Fell In Love With A Snowman provides a theme-song for falling in love this year. Softly reminiscent of fun in the snow, this track will have everyone wrapping up warm and pulling their significant other out to play like kids. Hold On To Me continues the romantic theme, joining Mary-Jess’s charmingly engaging vocals in musical-theatre-ballad style with Jaden Cornelious’s rich tenor.

Opening with acoustic guitar, In December reveals Mary-Jess’s country style. A consummate story-teller through her song, Mary-Jess paints vivid mind-pictures of winter people “…wearing crimson and evergreen” and pain “I see you in the dark, all bruised and broken”. The story-telling continues as When Summer Comes creates a soundscape of loneliness. Exploring the relatable experience of break-up at holiday time, “I’m finding it hard to sleep alone, Table for one all on my own” Mary-Jess reaches out to anyone facing the festive season newly-single.  If you want to add this to your collection, Angry Baby and Mary-Jess are giving a free download of this song as an extra special Christmas present – just click here to get your free music.

Inserted between these tracks, the story of Christmas is told through the eyes of the biblical Mary, from magnificence and submission in The Angel Gabriel, to fear and and confusion in the classical-pop ballad Breath of Heaven. Simple arrangements support Mary-Jess’s vocals – controlled and exquisitely expressive – every note perfectly placed.

Rhydian is one of the X-Factor’s success stories. Breaking the mould of the popular artist with his classical style when he appeared in 2007, he strides across the boundaries of pop, classical and musical theatre, maintaining the integrity of his own sound. Performing a duet with Rhydian is likely to expose the weakness in any partner, so it’s a testament to Mary-Jess’s technique and talent that their voices blend effortlessly throughout The Sound Of Christmas . This is no trick of a clever producer; each singer maintains a refreshingly natural range and pitch within the mix, providing beautifully blended harmonies that beg to be heard in live performance.

Quirkily titled, closing track Prayer To A Snowflake brings something fresh to the seasonal catalogue. Easily the stand-out piece of a stand-out album, Mary-Jess’s juxtaposition of Chinese musicality and classical European vocals creates an addictively melodic offering. This deserves to become a seasonal standard.

Prayer to a Snowflake is available by clicking here.

It’s December and for what seems like weeks now all the shops have been playing Christmas music – by this time, you’re either totally fed up or thoroughly enjoying every shopping trip.  Either way, odds are that at some point, you’ll find yourself singing along with the majority of songs you hear, from familiarity if nothing else.  Let’s face it, Christmas is a time of year when we look back and reminisce and for most of us, Christmas songs play a huge part in our festive memories.  Interestingly, despite the numbers of Christmas albums released each year, it’s the much loved songs of yesteryear that still mean the most.  Nostalgia plays a big part in this but might it also be a national reluctance to move away from the sounds we know and love?  If the latter is the case, then the new Christmas album from Gareth Malone might well reverse the trend and become a future Christmas classic.

Choirmaster extraordinaire Malone is releasing his first Christmas album on 2 December which aims to bring an essential British sound to the festive music scene.  The album, A Great British Christmas, is a mix of traditional and new which concentrates, unsurprisingly, on voices. Along with a number of community and school choirs, Malone’s own professional choir features on almost all tracks, with the exception of Only You – this features just the voice of Malone himself, albeit layered to form a one man choir.  Although as a nation we have listened to Malone teaching countless people to sing, we haven’t really heard his own voice before, something that is remedied on two songs, the other being an original composition, Restless.

Christmas albums don’t usually lend themselves to new music, perhaps because as alluded to earlier, tradition is everything at this time of year and nostalgia reigns.  However, A Great British Christmas features, in addition to Restless, a new song written by Malone and Kaiser Chiefs front man Ricky Wilson.  Paradise Street isn’t actually very festive but fits in perfectly to a Christmas album as it instantly calls to mind the magnificent Fairy Tale of New York that has been a Christmas staple since Kirsty MacColl and The Pogues took it to number one.  Wilson is of course an extremely talented wordsmith and his bittersweet lyrics combine effortlessly with the melody to take the listener on a musical journey; for me, Paradise Street is the stand out track.

A Great British Christmas features several traditional carols, of which O Come All Ye Faithful is the (appropriately enough) most faithful interpretation; Silent Night is the carol I favour most, not only because it has a beautiful arrangement but it’s still my favourite Christmas carol of all time.  As a regular member of a congregation with a large number of children in attendance, I’m quite used to hearing new carols and one such has been included on this album.  In fact, A Child Is Born was Malone’s very first composition and with its traditional arrangement makes an excellent addition to the already full band of Christmas carols.

Of the remainder of the tracks, Keeping The Dream Alive is the best, not least because it had me up dancing along although A Spaceman Came Travelling is also great.  I wasn’t taken with the Frozen song but then again I think I’m the only parent who’s never seen the film.  Overall, Malone’s first Christmas album is a delight with something for everyone – Christmas albums can usually be divided into two camps: those that have a Christian feel and those that don’t.  It seems entirely fitting that an album celebrating a British take on Christmas should firmly plant itself in the middle of those two camps and successfully embrace them both.  At the end of a turbulent year, this album is just what we need for Christmas.

A Great British Christmas is available here:

british-christmas

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…a Christmas medley with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir:

This is the second of our Twelve Days of Christmas posts to feature this series of Christmas concerts from 2012 and this newly released video from MoTab themselves has been edited from the longer Home for the Holidays video that shows the whole medley, not just Alfie’s songs.

Home for the Holidays was written in 1954 and initially released by Perry Como, who again recorded the song for release in 1959.  Since then, it has been recorded by amongst other, Cyndi Lauper and Norah Jones but the version here shows off the evergreen voice of Karen Carpenter:

The Carpenters also recorded I’ll Be Home for Christmas, along with practically everyone else who’s done a Christmas album but the video below features an Alfie favourite, Elvis, who recorded it in 1957:

Bing Crosby recorded the original in 1943 and it has of course been a standard Christmas song ever since.

The MoTab album, Home for the Holidays is available here (click here for the DVD):

home for the holidays

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…away with a tin of Roses!  For our friends in other parts of the world, Cadbury’s Roses are a selection of chocolates that are often bought at Christmas – and they mostly come in a tin as can be seen here (thanks Jayne for sharing):

This clip is from 18 December 2011 in Nottingham and precedes the clip from the Third Day of Christmas in which Matt refers to the chocolates he didn’t have.

Anyone had a tin of Roses this Christmas?

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...Hark the Herald Angels Sing at the Mo Tab Choir Christmas Concerts in Salt Lake City:

This was back in 2012 and was part of that year’s Christmas series of concerts featuring the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.  Just glorious!

Hark the Herald Angels Sing as we know it today is quite different to how it was originally written.  Charles Wesley wrote the words in 1739 but the tune as know it today was written a hundred years later by Felix Mendelssohn.  However, it was not specifically written as an accompaniment to Wesley’s words – an adaptation by William H Cummings made it into one of the most well known carols we have today.

Here is a pared down snippet from Alfie at Abbey Road’s Carols by Kindlelight in 2014:

Those sexy specs are starting to make me feel like the buttons on my blouse!

The Home for the Holidays album is available here:

home for the holidays

Click here for the DVD.

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White Christmas with Matt Lucas and the result was magic – thanks to Jayne for sharing:

The actual date was 18 December 2011 and the venue was Nottingham on the first leg of the Bring Him Home tour.  There’s a lot of banter to start with and throughout which shows the great bond Alfie and Matt have.

Like the song from the Second Day of Christmas, White Christmas has become one of our best known and loved Christmas songs after being written for a film.  Irving Berlin wrote the song for the 1942 film Holiday Inn, which is a great Christmas film and of course Bing Crosby made the song his own.  Since then, pretty much everyone has recorded or performed it – the version I’m showing you is by one of my favourite singers, Otis Redding.  His version is on the soundtrack from one of my favourite films ever, certainly my favourite Christmas film, Love Actually.  Yes, it’s unashamedly a rom com chick flick but it’s fabulous and funny.  And it’s Christmas, so soppy films are just what we want.

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Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas with Laura Wright and Jason Manford at the Blackpool Opera House.  The actual date was 17 December 2011 and became a staple of the first part of Alfie’s Bring Him Home tour:

The song was written for the 1944 film, Meet Me in St Louis and was sung by Judy Garland.  Since then, it has become one of the most recognised Christmas songs around.  Let’s hear Judy’s version:

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas features on Alfie’s 2011 album, Alfie and is available here:

Alfie (alfie) album

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…free music from Michael Boe and Sean Ashmore!

For a strictly limited time only (the twelve days of Christmas in fact) Michael and Sean’s latest single, O Holy Night is available for a free download – aren’t they lovely?

In order to share this with you, I’m once again partnering with Angry Baby, so to add this free copy of Michael and Sean’s O Holy Night, just click here.  This offer will only be available for twelve days so get it now!

In the meantime, here is the video trailer:

Once you’ve got that and enjoyed it (which I know you will), you might like Michael and Sean’s 2015 album, Along the Way which is available from North Star Opera. I have a few favourite tracks but the stand out for me was the duet with thoughtsofjustafan favourite, Beth Ford.  The new arrangement of Streets of London shows off both voices to their best.

click here to get the free download of O Holy Night

Merry Christmas

and I hope you enjoy the rest of The Twelve Days of Christmas

from thoughtsofjustafan

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Christmas is almost upon us and here at thoughtsofjustafan we’re feeling very festive and listening to lots of Christmas music.  One artist I’ve been listening to is Beth Ford who has already had a phenomenal year and is topping it off with her version of Silent Night:

Beth’s voice, which is always described as ‘hauntingly beautiful’ and ‘mesmerising’ brings a whole new expression to this traditional carol. Even if you think you’ve already heard Silent Night too many times, you won’t want to miss out on Beth’s refreshing rendition -guaranteed to put a tingle in your spine for Christmas!

If you want to get a free download of Silent Night from Beth, all you need to do is click through from the video, or click here and pop your email under the red arrow!!

Beth is also releasing an ecard version of her video, which you can watch below, but if you want to show your friends and family you’re thinking of them this Christmas, you can share this link to give it as an ecard with the extra gift of a free copy of the track – what’s not to like about that?

Both videos feature Beth’s original artwork, which is very beautiful and subtly Christmassy.

This blog originally featured on Angry Baby – thanks Flo!

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Advent is upon us and we are fast counting down to Christmas!  It’s the time of year when we can listen to our favourite Christmas music without feeling guilty that it’s the wrong time of year so I thought that it was high time we revived thoughtsofjustafan’s Alfie Boe album of the month with Home for the Holidays.  In the absence of an Alfie Christmas album, I’ve been listening to the CD and watching the DVD for a good few weeks now – you’re not going to tell me I’m the only one surely?

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s (MoTab) annual Christmas concerts invite world renowned classical singers as their special guests (Bryn Terfel and Katherine Jenkins have appeared in recent years).  The concerts are filmed and shown on TV before being released on CD and DVD the following year – it takes a while to edit and it then makes sense to wait until nearer Christmas to release the finished product.  Alfie appeared at these concerts in 2012 which was made all the more special as he and Sarah have a home in Salt Lake City; one of the most moving parts of the concert was Alfie thanking the audience for “bringing me home”, a neat link in to his most famous song.

A few views for this video…a cool 1.6 million!

As much as I love Bring Him Home, my favourite songs from Home for the Holidays are I Wonder as I Wander and Angels, From the Realms of Glory.  The former features John Rutter’s arrangement (also seen on Alfie’s 2007 Onward album).  A behind the scenes interview with the musical directors of the concert shows that Alfie was initially reluctant to perform this song, but I’m so glad he did.

If you don’t yet own this on CD (and only 37% of fans did in our 2014 poll) then you are missing out.  It’s available here:

home for the holidays

Only 43% of fans owned the DVD which may have something to do with the fact that it’s not readily available in the UK.  Click below to buy from Deseret Books (where Alfie did a signing session the following year).  As far as I am aware, it’s playable in the UK – I bought it from Deseret and it works just fine.

home for the holidays

I have a copy of this album to give away to one lucky reader who can answer this question:

Who wrote I Wonder as I Wander?

The competition is now closed!  The lucky winner (picked at random) is Ann Warren!  Please click here to send me your details.

This competition is open to everyone, not just UK residents (although I can’t say whether you will receive it for Christmas, due to the vagaries of the postal system)!  I’ll even throw in a copy of Sleigh Ride, the Boston Pop album that features Alfie on O Holy Night!

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