Holiday Harvest 2007 -- Various Artists
Each year, as the holiday season arrives and Christmas music starts invading the airwaves, there's one local release you can count on being good and it's back again with the "Holiday Harvest 2007" compilation. Not only does it deliver some quality holiday music from local artists, it's also an easy way to support a good cause as all proceeds go to the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma.
This year's edition is no exception with 11 artists of various backgrounds adding to the compilation, making it one of the most diverse "Holiday Harvest" releases to date. Not only do the artists represent a broad span of musical styles, they also give the disc an international and cross cultural appeal.
The disc opens with a strong traditional reading of "O Holy Night" by this year's "Gimme the Mic" winner Angela Hendrix, as she shows off the vocal range that made her a local star. The disc quickly diversifies itself with an original Hanukkah song, "Keep the Flame Alive" by Rebecca Ungerman & the Frank Brown Trio, before reverting to a classic pop reading of "Santa Baby" with Christy Hanewinkle taking the spotlight for The Red Alert.
The international flair is added courtesy Citizen Mundi's contribution of the instrumental "Despierta" and Cairde na Gael's "Come Fill Up Your Glasses," both of which stand in contrast to The Pendleton Family Fiddlers (with George Hill) country/bluegrass addition of "Every Day is Christmas in the West."
Tulsa's jazz community is represented well again this year with Pam VanDyke-Crosby's reading of "The Christmas Song" and The Good Intentions' "Just Like That."
The true highlights of the disc, however, are a trio of songs that hit three different genres. First up is "Hey, Mr. Santa Claus," an original tune with a garage rock vibe that captures all the fun of Christmas by Team Galaxy. Although this one was lifted from last year's best local Christmas disc, The Sled Chronicles, it's always a blast to hear again and adds to the strength of this compilation (You can still get a copy of The Sled Chronicles at Starship if you missed it last year).
Jeff Graham's instrumental delivery of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" is a real treat with his jazzy, almost surf-guitar tone, but clocking in at only 1:42, it's far too short and leaves you wanting more. It does, however, make you want to find out where Graham will be playing this season so you can enjoy more of his guitar work.
Finally, the real surprise of the disc is the rootsy reading of Robbie Robertson's "Christmas Must Be Tonight" by Sparkplug, featuring the vocals of local blues diva Cindy Cain. This one grows on me with every listen and has become my favorite tune on the disc as the warmth of the lyrics opens up at each pass.
Overall, this year's Holiday Harvest disc gives perhaps the best cross-section of local musicians to date, even if it could have used two more songs to make it feel more complete. Nevertheless, it's a more than worthy addition to your Christmas collection.
"Holiday Harvest 2007" can be found at all local area Akins Natural Food Markets and Borders Bookstores, as well as a few other independent merchants. Be sure to look yours up and help out the Food Bank of Northeast Oklahoma with every purchase. -GH
Christmas Songs -- Jars of Clay
Gray Matters / Network Music Group
With "Christmas Songs," one of Christian music's premier pop/rock acts, Jars of Clay, delivers the genre's leading contemporary Christmas album of the season.
Alternatingly moody and poppy, Jars didn't want to deliver the same old Christmas album as everyone else and took liberties with rearranging some classic Christmas carols and writing their own songs for the holidays.
The end result is a more modern, yet ultimately rewarding look at the holiday season. While Christmas pop standards like Paul McCartney's "Wonderful Christmastime" and Vince Giraldi's "Christmas Time is Here" receive fairly straight forward readings with only a few adjustments, the traditional carols get complete facelifts with startling results.
"O Little Town of Bethlehem" is driven by a change in cadence and electronic beat and takes on a darker tone with its modernized delivery. Ultimately, however, it draws more attention to the vocal arrangement and gets you to listen to the lyrics more closely than a traditional reading.
"God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" benefits from a more stark musical delivery as well, building on a lone keyboard before building up with acoustic guitars and strings. Again, the lyrics take front and center as the expanded instrumentation fills the interlude between verses, ultimately making it a very passionate and dynamic highlight of the disc.
Unfortunately, "Drummer Boy" doesn't fare as well. The electronic beats and new dynamics added by the band make it an interesting diversion, but it doesn't have the same impact as the other rearrangements.
Jars of Clay have always shown a hint of Beatles, at least to my ears, and they indulge in it this time around. The most obvious is the joyous reading of McCartney's "Wonderful Christmas Time," but the group also shows its colors on "Hibernation Day" with a sing-songy vocal line and string arrangement that that starts into late Beatles territory and flashes a McCartney-esque vocal delivery before morphing into a jazzy standard that you could envision Dean Martin, Sinatra or even Andy Williams singing in the late '60s or early '70s.
Although the record has the potential to become overly introspective and melancholy, the band also latches onto the fun and joy of the season, effectively balancing the disc. An airy, atmospheric reading of "I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day" closes out the record with an emphasis on the lyrics "peace on earth, good will to man."
Also of note is the band's take on "Love Came Down at Christmas," built around a traditional Irish melody with a modern, pop arrangement. This is a song that should make itself at home in radio's Christmas rotation for years to come.
While Jars' contemporary take on Christmas music won't appeal to everyone, those looking for something outside of the standard delivery of Christmas carols and classics may find rewards in this disc.
Tip: Jars of Clay performs at Rhema Bible Church with First Day as part of their co-headlining Christmas Tour on Sat., Dec. 15. Tickets are available for $31 at Mardel, Banc Café and KXOJ studios in the Citiplex Towers.
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