Norah Jones

America has enjoyed many blessings.  Two of the more obvious ones are extraordinary national parks and exceptional women singers.

On the latter category:  if you haven’t already done so, give a listen to the Norah Jones CD The Fall.  Sure, I know it’s been out there for a while.  So has Zion National Park.  That doesn’t make it any less amazing.

You could spend days talking about incredible female voices in American music.  Judy Garland.  Rosemary Clooney.  Aretha Franklin.  Patsy Cline.  Janis Joplin.  Linda Ronstadt. Gladys Knight.

In The Fall, Norah Jones holds her own with this impossible competition.  Her smoky voice, with its deliberate pace and terrific lower register, adds an incredible depth to her songs.  Listen to I Wouldn’t Need You and December if you don’t believe me.

Friday night, after a great night out catching up with old friends and a few cold Blue Moon Beligian Wheats, is just about the perfect time to listen to Norah Jones.

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Following In Bing’s Footsteps

Let’s say you are a successful modern recording artist.  Your agent or manager or record company comes to you and asks you to do a Christmas CD.

A Christmas CD sounds attractive for lots of reasons.  You wouldn’t need to write any new songs.  Flip through the pages of the American Christmas music songbook, pick out the songs you want to record, hire some studio musicians, book a week of studio time, and you’re set.  It’s cheap, and straightforward, and your dedicated fans will probably buy just about anything you produce.

And yet . . . if you were a real artist, and not just a fad act looking to make a quick buck, doing a Christmas CD should fill you with trepidation.  It’s daunting to follow in Bing Crosby’s footsteps and sing the same songs he put his stamp on.  And unless you want to go to the fringes of Christmas music and fill your CD with novelty numbers like All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth and Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer, that’s exactly what you’re going to have to do.  How do you bring something new and fresh to songs that have been sung thousands of times by different artists and are as familiar to listeners as Happy Birthday?

I love to listen to Christmas music when December rolls around, and one of the things I like about it is hearing how different artists have tackled the standards.  You wouldn’t think anybody could produce a White Christmas that could contend with Bing Crosby’s definitive treatment, but the Drifters’ doo-wop version, Oscar Peterson’s jazzy take, and Linda Ronstadt’s duet with Rosemary Clooney are each as enjoyable and memorable, in their own way, as Crosby’s rendering.  In fact, you could argue that the very familiarity of Christmas songs has caused artists to experiment and push the boundaries of the music — often to good effect.  Christmas music is flexible enough to work with the Windham Hill approach, jazz stylings, choral backing, rock ‘n’ roll, and other genres.

We should applaud artists who release Christmas CDs.  Some of them will suck, for sure . . . but every now and then someone will rise to the challenge and hit upon an arrangement or approach that gives a new perspective to an old favorite, and add to the long roster of holiday classics that we can enjoy, again and again, in holidays to come.

Back In The U.S.A.

I’m pleased to report that Russell has returned to the United States from his trip to Vietnam, safe and sound and no doubt enriched — personally, culturally, and artistically — by the experience.  For now, however, he may be mostly glad to get back to the land of serious air conditioning.  In recognition of that likely fact, I offer Russell the following amazing performance of Back In The U.S.A. by Chuck Berry and Linda Ronstadt, with a wicked guitar solo from Keith Richards tossed in:

Holiday Mix

Christmas is less than two weeks away and the signs of the approaching holiday are everywhere.  The Christmas decorations have been taken from the basement and put in their familiar locations.  This weekend we will get our tree, trim it with the ornaments we have collected over the years, and hang our stockings on the chimney with care.   At the office, Christmas cards are arriving and being displayed on doors, and people have started to add seasonal touches to their clothing.  Women get to wear festive sweaters and scarves; men make do with holiday ties and socks (of which I have a decent assortment).

And, of course, a big part of the holidays is the music.  As I’ve mentioned before, I love Christmas music, and it is well-represented on the Ipod in the Holiday Mix playlist, which is 293 songs and 15.8 hours long.  I like mixing up music and I’ve tried to do that with my Christmas music playlist — instrumental music with vocal, traditional carols with pop songs and James Brown, jazz-influenced treatments with the Salvation Army band, classically trained tenors with ’50s crooners and torch singers.  The first 20 songs on the Holiday Mix playlist are as follows:

Christmas Time Is Here (Instrumental) —    Vince Guaraldi,   A Charlie Brown Christmas
The Christmas Song —   Linda Ronstadt,  A Merry Little Christmas
Gruber: Stille Nacht (Silent Night) —    José Carreras, Christmas Favorites From The World’s Favorite Tenors
Sleigh Ride —    Leroy Anderson,  Season’s Greetings-Disc 1-20th Century Masters The Millennium Colleion
God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen —    Bing Crosby,  White Christmas
Jingle Bell Rock —   Bobby Helms, Season’s Greetings-Disc 2-20th Century Masters The Millennium Collection
O Come, O Come Emanuel —   Robert Shaw Chorale, A Festival Of Carols
The Holly & The Ivy —    Mediaeval Baebes, Mistletoe & Wine: A Seasonal Collection
Blue Christmas —    Elvis Presley, Billboard Greatest Christmas Hits
Go Tell It On The Mountain —   Mahalia Jackson,  Christmas With Mahalia Jackson
II – Redemption : Alma redemptoris —    Edward Higginbottom,  Nativitas
The Spirit Of Christmas —    Rosemary Clooney, Rosemary Clooney: White Christmas
What Child Is This? —    Oscar Peterson,  An Oscar Peterson Christmas
A Holly Jolly Christmas —    Burl Ives, Season’s Greetings-Disc 1-20th Century Masters The Millennium Collection
Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas —    The Carpenters, Christmas Portrait
O Holy Night (Cantique De Noel) —   Mormon Tabernacle Choir,  Christmas With The Mormon Tabernacle Choir
Let It Snow —   Dean Martin, Christmas With Ol’ Dino
Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker Suite, Op. 71A – Danses Caracteristiques: Marche —    Alberto Lizzio: London Festival Orchestra, Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker, Swan Lake (Ballet Suites)
Feliz Navidad —    José Feliciano,  Feliz Navidad
Please Come Home For Christmas —    James Brown,  Funky Christmas

Christmas Music

I am a sucker for Christmas music of all kinds. I like traditional carols sung by choirs, ’60s holiday rock ‘n roll like Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree, oratorical masterpieces like the Messiah, and jazz and Big Band treatments of the Christmas standards. I’m always on the lookout for some new holiday music to add to the Ipod “holiday mix” playlist. The challenge is to find another “Christmas album” that compares to the all-time classics, like Vince Guaraldi’s A Charlie Brown Christmas or, more recently, Linda Ronstadt’s a Merry Little Christmas.

And so, I must give kudos to the Purple Raider, who long ago recommended An Oscar Peterson Christmas. I finally picked it up recently, and it has met my high expectations. It is an excellent, note-perfect jazz tribute to the holidays that has to rank up there with some of the best Christmas albums ever. Its combination of slow and fast treatments, piano and vibes, will allow for an even better mix of tunes for the days of holiday baking.

More on Christmas music later. In the meantime, as we ramp up to the holidays, An Oscar Peterson Christmas gets the Webnerhouse seal of approval.

Walk Away Renee

In one of my recent searches through the library CD section I stumbled across Adieu False Heart by Linda Ronstadt and Ann Savoy, performing as the Zozo Sisters. I picked it up because I’ve loved Linda Ronstadt’s voice since college. Adieu False Heart is a fantastic CD, and Walk Away Renee is representative of the kinds of songs you’ll find on it — acoustic, simple, and pure in tone. This Youtube treatment also features some fine photography that will help everyone get ready for the spring flowers that will be brought by our April showers.