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Hum for the holidays: CD Reviews
Jane Stevenson, The Toronto Sun (Canada)
Sunday, December 19, 2004

ALLISON CROWE

Tidings

(Festival)

**** (four stars)

On this expanded version of a 2003 holiday EP of the same name, this 22-year-old Nanaimo, B.C., singer-pianist evokes a lot of emotion with her strong, trembling voice that suits rock, gospel and blues. Check out the opening a capella version of It Came Upon A Midnight Clear. Otherwise, a mostly unadorned Crowe plays piano -- she's joined by bass and drums on three tracks -- and expertly tackles both Christmas classics and less traditional homegrown songs like Joni Mitchell's River, Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah and Sarah McLachlan's Angel and makes them her own.


and... for further fun, here's the full roster of holiday albums reviewed:

Sun, December 19, 2004


Hum for the holidays

It's our annual look at the best and worst Christmas music on the
shelves

By Jane Stevenson


CHRISTMAS music is a little like opening that Tiffany box under the
tree, only to discover a diamonelle ring from The Shopping Channel
inside. Disappointing, to say the least.

Here's an overview of the latest holiday crop (all rated out of five):

SEASONAL SCHMALTZ

JESSICA SIMPSON

Rejoyce: The Christmas Album

(Columbia-Sony)

*

Simpson has never met an overwrought vocal she didn't like on her
first -- and hopefully -- last holiday CD. She either sounds like she's
about to implode or goes in the complete opposite direction and
breathlessly whispers her vocals. Keeping it (the money) all in the
family are duets with hubby Nick Lachey (Baby, It's Cold Outside) and
lip-synching little sis Ashlee (The Little Drummer Boy).

CLAY AIKEN

Merry Christmas With Love

(RCA-BMG)

**

The Claymates must be salivating in their sleep over Aiken's first
Christmas album. Somehow, the American Idol runner-up is not nearly as
irritating belting out holiday classics as he is singing pop music.
Maybe it's his boyish charm. Maybe not.

VANESSA WILLIAMS

Silver & Gold

(Lava Records-Warner)

***

The title track isn't one of Williams' finest moments, in terms of
material. She fares better on a gospel and R&B-infused duet with Brian
McKnight on Joy To The World and similarly warm versions of other
holiday classics like Silent Night and The Little Drummer Boy.

COOL YULE

FRANK SINATRA

The Christmas Collection

(Reprise-Warner)

****

The Chairman Of The Board set the standard for memorable holiday
collections over the last 40 years and this 18-song disc is no
exception. Of particular interest is the last Christmas song -- Silent
Night -- a frail-sounding Sinatra ever recorded in 1991, which has been
augmented with new orchestration and arrangements in 2004. There are
also three songs from a 1975 holiday special with Bing Crosby: The
Christmas Song, White Christmas (both duets) and Santa Claus Is Coming
To Town, featuring a solo Sinatra.

MATT DUSK

Peace On Earth

(Decca-Universal)

***

So what if his big break in the U.S. on Mark Burnett's failed reality
series, The Casino, never materialized? This Rat Pack-inspired
Torontonian just keeps chugging along and his latest effort is a
seven-song holiday EP that features one promising original, Christmas Is
Finally Here, alongside such Christmas standards as Peace On
Earth/Little Drummer Boy with another local boy, Hawksley Workman,
following in the formidable footsteps of Bing Crosby and David Bowie.

CHRIS ISAAK

Christmas

(Warner)

***1/2

Given his sweet and sexy croon, it's surprising Isaak took this long to
record a holiday collection. Equal parts balladry and rockabilly,
Isaak's album is mostly Christmas classics -- including a duet with
Stevie Nicks on Santa Claus Is Coming To Town -- but there are also five
originals that should stand the test of time, particularly the
melancholy Washington Square, Christmas On TV and Brightest Star.

LUMP OF COAL

WILLIAM HUNG

Hung For The Holidays

(Koch)

1/2

Just when you thought this failed American Idol's 15 minutes were up,
along comes this Christmas collection featuring the hilariously off-key
Hung butchering holiday classics. Especially enjoyable are his
spoken-word Christmas greetings and the bonus track of Queen's We Are
The Champions.

Best heard after plenty of rum and eggnog.

BAND AID 20

Do They Know It's Christmas?

(Universal)

*

Given this wimpy remake, Bob Geldof is probably wishing he had just
re-released his 20-year-old famine relief anthem.

The new version features a piano opening and Coldplay's Chris Martin --
and the song just gets progressively worse. Still, it's worth picking up
for the financial support it provides plus the inclusion of the
infinitely better original version and the 1985 live version featuring
David Bowie and others at Wembley Stadium during Live Aid.

CAN-CON CHRISTMAS

BARENAKED LADIES

Barenaked For The Holidays

(Desperation-Warner)

***

On BNL's first holiday CD, frontman Steven Page shows off his
exceptional voice on a stripped-down version of Jingle Bells before the
song suddenly goes completely off the rails.

Meanwhile, this Toronto pop-rock act contributes seven originals to a
mix of Christmas and Hanukkah material, including a cover of Do They
Know It's Christmas?, which Bob Geldof should have considered releasing
instead of that awful remake. Special guests include Michael Buble
(Elf's Lament) and Sarah McLachlan (God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen/We Three
Kings).

BNL play Massey Hall tomorrow and Tuesday.

ALLISON CROWE

Tidings

(Festival)

****

On this expanded version of a 2003 holiday EP of the same name, this
22-year-old Nanaimo, B.C., singer-pianist evokes a lot of emotion with
her strong, trembling voice that suits rock, gospel and blues. Check out
the opening a capella version of It Came Upon A Midnight Clear.
Otherwise, a mostly unadorned Crowe plays piano -- she's joined by bass
and drums on three tracks -- and expertly tackles both Christmas
classics and less traditional homegrown songs like Joni Mitchell's
River, Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah and Sarah McLachlan's Angel and makes
them her own.

ALT-HOLIDAY HELPINGS

VARIOUS ARTISTS

Maybe This Christmas Tree

(Nettwerk-EMI)

***1/2

Alternative acts ranging from The Polyphonic Spree to The Raveonettes
put their distinctive spin on both modern and classic holiday songs like
Happy Xmas (War Is Over) and The Christmas Song respectively. It sure
beats the pop schmaltz that normally pervades holiday compilations.
Other highlights include Belasana's Bittersweet Eve, Ivy's Christmas
Time Is Here and homegrown act Pilate's Fairytale Of New York.

VARIOUS ARTISTS

Music From The O.C., Mix 3: Have A Very Merry Chrismukkah!

(Warner)

***

Both this modern-rock collection -- named after O.C. character Seth
Cohen's hybrid holiday -- and the one above contain The Raveonettes' The
Christmas Song. Otherwise, the inclusion of singer-songwriter Ben
Kweller's Rock Of Ages, The Long Winters' Christmas With You Is The
Best, Leona Naess' Christmas and Torontonian Ron Sexsmith's Maybe This
Christmas help elevate a decent compilation.

VARIOUS ARTISTS

A Winter's Night: The Best Of Nettwerk Christmas

(Nettwerk-EMI)

***1/2

The doubling-up quotient continues here as this rock-pop compilation
includes both the Barenaked Ladies' Green Christmas and God Rest Ye
Merry Gentlemen with Sarah McLachlan -- see Barenaked For The
Holidays -- and Sexsmith's Maybe This Christmas, also on The O.C.
collection. Elsewhere, Lisa Hannigan's starkly beautiful a capella
rendition of Silent Night -- with dark new lyrics -- is breathtaking, as
is Neil Finn's original Sweet Secret Peace.