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Kelly Clarkson – Wrapped in Red [Review]

Kelly-Clarkson-Wrapped-in-Red

Kelly Clarkson – Wrapped in Red
2013, RCA Records
Buy the album

1. “Wrapped in Red”
2. “Underneath the Tree”
3. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”
4. “Run Run Rudolph”
5. “Please Come Home for Christmas (Bells Will Be Ringing)”
6. “Every Christmas”
7. “Blue Christmas”
8. “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”
9. “Winter Dreams (Brandon’s Song)”
10. “White Christmas”
11. “My Favorite Things”
12. “4 Carats”
13. “Just for Now”
14. “Silent Night”

This will be the first time and probably only time (unless she releases another Christmas album) I’ll ever review a Kelly Clarkson album. I actually don’t mind Kelly Clarkson. She’s adorable, seems much more down to earth and girl-next-door than your normal pop star and her songs aren’t terrible and some even have a rock edge to them. I don’t own any of her albums but she’s tolerable. My only issue is she keeps dying her hair blonde! I don’t think it suits her. She’s much prettier as a brunette.

Anyway…

Five of the songs here are originals: “Wrapped in Red”, “Underneath the Tree” (which was released as the lead single), “Every Christmas”, “Winter’s Dreams (Brandon’s Song)” and “4 Carats”. They’re all pretty good songs. “Wrapped in Red” has an upbeat 1960s vibe to it. Reminds me of The Ronettes. “Underneath the Tree” is a modern holiday classic that brings to mind Mariah Carey’s Merry Christmas album. “Every Christmas” seems like a modern retelling of “Baby, Please Come Home for Christmas” while “Winter’s Dreams (Brandon’s Song)” is what I call “American Eagle music”. Something that you’d hear playing at hipster stores like Old Navy or Aeropostale. “4 Carats” is a modern pop number.

The rest of the album is mostly comprised of old standards that are dusted off by Clarkson’s powerful vocals. We already know these songs are good. The question is always does the vocalist and does the arrangement do them justice? The answer is yes. Everyone else agrees too because the album was a success right out of the gate. It debuted at #3 on the Billboard Top 200 and has already been certified platinum.

With Wrapped in Red, Kelly Clarkson has turned in a classy holiday album that I’m sure I’ll revisit over the years. She is truly the only good thing to ever come out of American Idol.

Highlights: “Wrapped in Red”, “Underneath the Tree”, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, “Every Christmas”, “White Christmas”

http://www.kellyclarkson.com/
http://www.facebook.com/kellyclarkson

Trans-Siberian Orchestra – Upon the Winter Solstice [Review]

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Trans-Siberian Orchestra – Upon the Winter Solstice
2013, Atlantic Records/Rhino Custom Products

1. A Mad Russian’s Christmas
2. Promises to Keep
3. The Christmas Day
4. First Snow
5. Midnight Christmas Eve
6. Dream Child (A Christmas Dream)
7. Music Box Blues
8. The Snow Came Down
9. Faith Noel
10. Remember
11. What Child Is This?
12. Wish Liszt (Toy Shop Madness)

Upon the Winter Solstice is a compilation album that was released exclusively at Kohl’s Department Stores during the 2013 holiday season. 100% of the proceeds go to the Kohl’s Cares charity to support kids’ health and education. Copies can be bought here and for only $5, you can’t go wrong by purchasing some TSO music while helping out a charity.

This is not to be confused with the recently released Tales of Winter: Selections from the TSO Rock Operas compilation which covers all five TSO albums and one EP. So far, that’s an album that’s only been released in Europe anyway. Upon the Winter Solstice focuses solely on the group’s first three Christmas releases (known as the Christmas Trilogy): Christmas Eve and Other StoriesThe Christmas Attic and The Lost Christmas. Each album is represented with four songs.

Some of the band’s most famous tracks like “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24” and “Christmas Canon” are not included but you still get fantastic numbers such as “A Mad Russian’s Christmas” (one of my favorite TSO tracks), “First Snow”, “What Child Is This?” and “Wish Liszt (Toy Shop Madness)”.

If you’re not familiar with Trans-Siberian Orchestra, this is a great way to get introduced to them while doing some good in the process. This is also a great pick up for someone such as myself who doesn’t (yet) own their first three Christmas albums.

www.trans-siberian.com
www.facebook.com/TSO

Rod Stewart – Merry Christmas, Baby [Review]

Rod Stewart – Merry Christmas, Baby (Deluxe Edition)
2012, Verve Music Group

1. Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas
2. Santa Claus Is Coming To Town
3. Winter Wonderland
4. White Christmas
5. Merry Christmas, Baby
6. Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!
7. What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?
8. Blue Christmas
9. Red-Suited Super Man
10. When You Wish Upon A Star
11. We Three Kings
12. Silent Night
13. Auld Lang Syne
Bonus Tracks
14. What Child Is This
15. The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire)
16. Silver Bells

Producer: David Foster & Rod Stewart

For the past decade Rod Stewart has been content to become a crooner covering the “great American songbook” as well as Motown and rock ‘n’ roll staples. Despite having said in the past that he would never do a Christmas album, it was really only a matter of time before he did just that. Rod isn’t a rock star or a pop star anymore. He’s a crooner in the tradition of Crosby, Sinatra and Martin (just as Michael Buble is). You can’t be a crooner and not do a holiday album.

Rod has not been taking any chances in the past decade when covering the materials of others. The songs are played faithfully and in their traditional big-band fashion just with Rod’s raspy vocals laid over. A few exceptions would be songs like “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” or “Winter Wonderland” where the tempo is a bit slower. It’s easy listening background music at a Christmas party. Not that I’m complaining.

These songs are classics for a reason and in my opinion they don’t need to be remixed or refashioned into flamenco, country and dance songs. Just give someone with a great voice the mic and let’em sing. That’s exactly what’s been done with Merry Christmas, Baby.

As standard, there’s a few cameos on this album. Michael Buble appears on “Winter Wonderland”, Cee-Lo Green lends a hand on “Merry Christmas, Baby” and Mary J. Blige duets with Rod on “We Three Kings”.

While I can’t say I’ve ever really followed Rod’s career, he’s always had a great distinctive voice so it’s wonderful to hear to him put his vocal stamp on these timeless classics. There’s a couple of songs I didn’t really care for though. “Red-Suited Superman” being one and I felt the inclusion of “When You Wish Upon a Star” was out of place. Why not just save that for the next volume of his Great American Songbook series? That’s not really a Christmas song at all.

In any event, this is a good easy-listening Christmas album that’s well worth picking up for Chrirstmas traditionalists.

Highlights: “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”, “Winter Wonderland”, “White Christmas”, “Silent Night”, “Auld Lang Syne”, “What Child Is This”

www.rodstewart.com
www.facebook.com/rodstewart

Buy the album at Amazon.com

John Travolta & Olivia Newton-John – This Christmas [Review]

John Travolta & Olivia Newton-John – This Christmas
2012, Universal Music Enterprises

1. Baby It’s Cold Outside
2. Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree
3. I’ll Be Home for Christmas
4. This Christmas
5. Silent Night
6. The Christmas Waltz
7. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
8. Winter Wonderland
9. White Christmas
10. I Think You Might Like It
11. The Christmas Song
12. Deck the Halls
13. Auld Lang Syne/Christmas Time Is Here

Okay, this project sounded too campy to pass up. I mean, just look at that album cover! It’s a complete sugar overload of Christmas cookies and they embrace it. The pull is that you’re getting to hear John Travolta & Olivia Newton-John sing together 34 years after they first teamed in the movie Grease. And they’ve chosen to reunite over an album’s worth of classic Christmas songs. Somehow, it seems right.

I wasn’t sure what exactly was going to be going on with this album. Would the songs be played traditionally or would they shake things up? Well, it’s a bit of both. For example, for “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” the male & female roles are reversed. Nice twist. “Silent Night” starts off with a flute and features some nice violin work as well.

There is only one song on the entire album that I am not a fan of and that’s only because I’ve never been a fan of this song: “This Christmas”. I just don’t like that song, no matter which artist is playing it. There is one original song here: “I Think You Might Like It”. It’s Christmas meets Grease. I think I might like it. It’s a true guilty pleasure.

There’s a few guest spots as well: Barbara Streisand (“I’ll Be Home For Christmas”), James Taylor (“Deck The Halls”), Kenny G (“Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”), Cliff Richard (“Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”) and Tony Bennett (“Winter Wonderland”).

I’m a fool for Christmas standards and as long as you don’t stray too far away from the traditional versions, I’m going to like what I’m hearing. Olivia’s voice is just as good as ever and John does a good job as well. They both really seem to be enjoying themselves on this project.

If you ever wanted to hear Danny & Sandy singing Christmas tunes, pick this album up. It’s a fun kitschy romp.

Highlights: “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”, “Silent Night”, “The Christmas Waltz”, “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”, “Winter Wonderland”, “I Think You Might Like It”, “The Christmas Song”

http://www.travolta.com
http://olivianewton-john.com

Buy the album at Amazon.com

Richard Marx – Christmas Spirit [Review]

Richard Marx – Christmas Spirit
2012, Zanzibar Records/TourDeForce Productions

1. The Christmas Song
2. Christmas Spirit
3. I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day
4. Let There Be Peace On Earth
5. O Come All Ye Faithful
6. Little Drummer Boy
7. O Holy Night
8. What Child Is This
9. Silent Night
10. Christmas Mornings
11. Santa Claus Is Coming To Town
12. White Christmas
13. Alleluia

Musicians:
Richard Marx – Lead Vocals, Guitar, Keyboards, Piano, Backing Vocals
Jerry McPherson – Guitar
Matt Scannell – Guitar
Mark Hill – Bass
Steve Brewster – Drums
Will Sayles – Drums
Michael Omartian – Piano
Jason Webb – Piano
Kenny Loggins – Lead Vocals (“Let There Be Peace On Earth”)
Sara Watkins – Lead Vocals (“Silent Night”)
Sara Niemitz – Lead Vocals (“Santa Claus Is Coming To Town”)

Producer: Richard Marx

I’m a sucker for Christmas albums and Christmas in general. I don’t care who knows it. I’m also a sucker for Richard Marx. Great voice, great songwriter, he’s written some of the greatest rock/pop songs of all time. Everyone should at least own one of his greatest hits compilations.

Anyway, when I found out Richard Marx was releasing a Christmas album, I knew I had to check this out. There are some artists that toss out a holiday album as a cheap & lazy way to cash in on the holiday cheer of an unsuspecting public but that’s not what we get with Christmas Spirit. To be fair though, “Christmas Spirit”, “O Holy Night”, “Silent Night”, “I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day” & “Alleluia” all appeared on Marx’s The Christmas EP in 2011.

The album is named after one of the album’s original Marx-penned songs. And it’s a good one. In fact, “Christmas Spirit” is one of my favorite songs on the album. It’s upbeat and sounds like something that could’ve come from Mariah Carey’s Merry Christmas album. It’s a contemporary Christmas classic, in my opinion. The second original track, “Christmas Mornings”, sounds like a classic Marx ballad to me.

The rest of the album is full of holiday standards which are sometimes played traditionally and sometimes not. “I Heard The Bells on Christmas Day” becomes even more of a haunting ballad in the hands of Richard Marx. There are now two truly great versions of this song: Bing Crosby’s and now Richard Marx’s. “Little Drummer Boy” is another song that has received a soft rock/pop makeover. This is really the only song on the album I find myself skipping over. It’s way too “light” sounding for me (and, yes, I know I’m discussing Christmas songs here).

Other songs such as “The Christmas Song”, “White Christmas”, “Let There Be Peace on Earth” and “O Come All Ye Faithful” are played pretty faithfully but still done quite well. I don’t mind hearing traditional Christmas songs played straight. For me, it has more to do with who is singing the song and it’s great hearing Richard Marx put his stamp on these timeless classics.

Christmas Spirit is a new holiday classic that is sure to get a lot more play in my house around the holidays as the years go on. Even radio seems to agree with me as I’ve already heard “Little Drummer Boy” numerous times on one of the local stations that is playing Christmas songs up until the New Year. I think they’ve played “Christmas Spirit” as well. The album is well worth picking up.

There is also an exclusive edition at Target that includes four bonus tracks: “Blue Christmas”, “Silver Bells”, “Jingle Bell Rock” and “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”.

Highlights: “The Christmas Song”, “Christmas Spirit”, “I Heard The Bells on Christmas Day”, “O Come All Ye Faithful”, “O Holy Night”, “Silent Night”, “Christmas Mornings”, “White Christmas”

richardmarx.com
www.facebook.com/richardmarxmusic

Buy the album at Amazon.com

Trans-Siberian Orchestra – Dreams of Fireflies (On a Christmas Night) [Review]

Trans-Siberian Orchestra – Dreams of Fireflies (On a Christmas Night)
2012, Universal Republic Records

1. Winter Palace
2. Dreams of Fireflies (On a Christmas Night)
3. I Had A Memory
4. Someday
5. Time You Should Be Sleeping

Though TSO has remained a popular and thriving annual holiday season touring group since their inception, it’s been 8 years since they’ve released any new holiday music (their last release, Night Castle, featured their usual brand of symphonic/progressive rock but was a concept album that had nothing to do with Christmas).

As has become standard with TSO, I find myself enjoying the instrumentals much more than I do the songs with vocals. TSO always uses great singers but sometimes I feel like the vocals just make the songs way too pompous for their own good. So, it’s no surprise that my two favorite tracks on the album are the two instrumentals: “Winter Palace” and “Dreams of Fireflies (On a Christmas Night)”. They are classic TSO songs. Great, heavy and upbeat Christmas tunes.

The remaining three tracks are the typical somber and sentimental ballads that TSO (over)fill their albums & live shows with. Decent tracks but as I’ve said, it’s the instrumentals where TSO really gets to flex their metal muscles. I recommend this EP for all TSO fans and fans of Christmas music in general. I’m hoping this is just a holdover to help promote the group’s 2012 winter tour and that a full album of Christmas music will be coming in 2013.

Having seen TSO twice (during their 2009 winter tour and again for their Beethoven’s Last Night 2011 tour), I was hoping they would be hitting my area again this year but no such luck.

Highlights: “Winter Palace”, “Dreams of Fireflies (On a Christmas Night)”

www.trans-siberian.com
www.facebook.com/TSO

Buy the album at Amazon.com

Buckcherry – Christmas Is Here

Buckcherry – Christmas Is Here [single] (2010, Eleven Seven Music)

1. “Christmas Is Here” … 3:10

Band:
Josh Todd – Lead Vocals
Keith Nelson – Guitar, Backing Vocals
Stevie D. – Guitar, Backing Vocals
Jimmy Ashhurst – Bass, Backing Vocals
Xavier Muriel – Drums, Percussion

“Christmas Is Here” is an exclusive digital single that was released in November 2010 just in time for the holiday season. I bought my copy through iTunes but it’s available at all major digital music stores.

There’s really not a whole lot to say about this single other than I like it a lot. I’m a huge fan of Christmas music (mostly the traditional tunes sung by crooners like Crosby, Sinatra, Cole, Como, Martin, Mathis and even Michael Buble) so when I found out Buckcherry was releasing a Christmas song I was very excited to check it out since BC is one of my favorite bands.

Honestly though I wasn’t expecting much, thinking this was basically going to be a throwaway track but I loved the song upon first listen. It’s not a rockin’ Christmas song like “Run Rudolph Run” or “Jingle Bell Rock”, instead BC takes a jingle jangle mid-tempo pace. It’s a laid back, feel good Christmas rock ‘n’ roll song. I think a lot of contemporary Christmas songs fall flat but “Christmas Is Here” is a modern classic and a song I’ll be playing for many holidays to come. Makes me feel all warm ‘n’ fuzzy inside and positive about the entire season and isn’t that what a great Christmas song should do? I hope it’ll be issued as a bonus track at some point on a CD.

So, is there anything these guys can’t do? Kick-ass rockers, great ballads and now great Christmas music. Best band from the last 15 years easily.

www.buckcherry.com
www.facebook.com/buckcherry
www.twitter.com/buckcherry

Buy ‘Christmas Is Here’ from Amazon.com

Mass – A Very Merry X-Mass

Mass – A Very Merry X-Mass (2010, Dunbar Entertainment)

1. “Jingle Bell Rock” … 2:49
2. “Grown Up Christmas List” … 4:54

Band:
Louis St. August – Vocals
Gene D’Itria – Guitar
Michael Palumbo – Bass
Joey “Vee” Vadala – Drums

Additional Musicians:
Jeremy Heussi – Keyboards, Strings

Producer: Kenny Lewis

I only knew this existed because Scott at NoLifeTilMetal.com reviewed it and I ordered it as soon as I got done reading that review. It was really a no-brainer to pick this one up: I’m a Christmas freak, I’ve liked the only Mass album I’ve heard so far (Sea of Black), it was only $4.99 and most importantly all the proceeds go to Toys For Tots.

I’m a sucker for amped up rock versions of Christmas classics and Mass turns in a great performance of “Jingle Bell Rock”. “Grown Up Christmas List” was originally sung by Amy Grant and is one of the corniest, starry-eyed Christmas songs around. It’s just too hokey for me to enjoy but I guess Mass’ version is just as good as anyone else’s.

Not really much to say about this. It’s just a fun little novelty single and the money went to a good cause so it all worked out.

http://www.massrocks.com
http://www.facebook.com/masstheband
http://www.myspace.com/masstheband

Adventures at a yard sale: two un-metal purchases and thirteen very metal purchases

Yesterday, I went to a neighborhood yard sale. Though I typically look down on yard sales (the whole idea of owning “used” items creeps me out), I decided to go with my fiancée and her mom just for laughs. I figured at least I would see some very weird & strange things that would make me chuckle (I did) and in a perfect world I would come across some really cool CDs for cheap (I didn’t). It all started at 8AM but we didn’t go until around 12PM, so who knows what I missed out on.

Read the rest of this entry

Merry Christmas to all!

Merry Christmas, folks! I hope everyone’s Christmas is going well.

I got a pretty cool music-related gift this year from my girl — the KISS Kompendium! A massive 1200+ page hardcover collection of KISS’ comics from the ’70s to today! Awesome!

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