Sunday, May 26, 2013

Music Review: Holiday Spirits by Straight No Chaser

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Fun a cappella arrangements of classic Christmas songs
Cons: None
The Bottom Line:
Break up your Christmas
With these fresh sounding classics
And laugh at "Twelve Days"

Straight No Chaser's Debut Will Definitely Put You in the Holiday Spirit

I don't need any more Christmas music.  Really!  I've got enough Christmas music that I don't even get through it all in December.  But that doesn't stop me from buying more.  This last year, I discovered the a cappella group Straight No Chaser and just had to get their first CD.  Holiday Spirits is a collection of Christmas songs that you are guaranteed to love.

Straight No Chaser rose to fame based on a You Tube video of a live performance of "The Twelve Days of Christmas."  That live version is included in this disc.  Now just in case you are thinking, "I've heard this song a million times," trust me, you've never heard it like this.  Yes, the first 45 seconds or so seem fairly normal.  But then they start going crazy, throwing in such songs as "Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer," "Carol of the Bells," "The Boar's Head Carol," and even "I Have a Little Dreidel" and "Africa."  The audience loves it, and frankly listening to their reactions is half the fun.  I know where all the jokes are, and I still don't get tired of it.

The rest of the songs are more traditionally done, although the group still puts a distinctive touch to them.  "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" starts things off, and don't let those first few seconds of slow harmony fool you.  This is an upbeat, toe tapping arrangement.  Or, if you prefer, you can snap your fingers along with the guys.  It really gives you a good feel for the joys you can expect for the rest of the disc since the harmonies are tight.

"Jingle Bell Rock" does slow things down a little, but it feels like the traditional speed for the song.  You can still definitely tap along with it and those amazing harmonies.

Everyone seems to do their own version of "The Christmas Song," and the guys take it on here.  It's appropriately slow.  This is mostly a traditional version of the song with one of the guys singing and the rest humming the instruments in the background.  It's not the best version of the song or the best song on the disc, but it is pleasant.

Despite my extensive Christmas music collection, there are several songs on here I'm not that familiar with.  "This Christmas" is one of those.  It's a nice mid-tempo song about how special a first Christmas with the one you love is.

That song is followed by one of two completely original songs.  "Christmas Wish" hits home a little as a single guy asks for a woman for Christmas.  It's another mid-tempo song with a really catchy melody.  I found myself singing along after not too many times through the disc.

The other original song is "Indiana Christmas."  While the song is original, the sentiment is familiar as it sings about the longing to be home for Christmas.  Listening to it makes me long for those cozy nights by the tree with my own family and friends.

The Beach Boys would be proud of their cover of "Little Saint Nick" complete with jingle bells keeping the beat.  Of course, since the Beach Boys had such great harmonies, this song is a natural fit for Straight No Chaser.

They also cover "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" and include the bells again.  I find the sadness of the lyrics an interesting contrast to the upbeat melody.  I always find myself tapping my toes to this one.

Back on the traditional front, they chose to include "Sweet Little Jesus Boy."  I don't have very many versions of this song, and I thought I didn't like it.  Maybe I just hadn't heard the right version yet.  It's still not a favorite, but the slow, thoughtful version they do here makes me appreciate it more.  Of course, those great harmonies don't hurt things either.

I'm conflicted about their version of "Carol of the Bells."  They spend about half of the two and a quarter minutes with the basses singing "Ding Dong" while other members hum either the melody of this song or "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen."  It's beautiful and haunting.  Then they do start actually singing the song, and I like it even more.  I guess really I just wish the song were longer.  It's dramatic, perfect for this group.

They close things out with a slightly upbeat version of "Auld Lang Syne."  This traditional New Years song is back to the fun of the earlier songs on the disc.  It's still a pretty straight version of the song, and I like that fact since I do like this song.

Really, this whole disc is very fun, and it's a shame to only dig it out once a year.  I have a feeling that I will be pulling it out earlier than December most years.

Yet it is also perfect for mid-December.  I have quite a few Christmas discs that begin to sound the same after a while.  This one definitely stands out and makes you really start listening to Christmas music again.

So if you want something fun and original to add to your Christmas music collection, give the guys of Straight No Chaser a shot.  Holiday Spirits will entertain anyone who likes a cappella music and give everyone a break from the more traditional arrangements.

CD Length: 43:15
1. Santa Claus is Coming to Town
2. Jingle Bell Rock
3. The Christmas Song
4. This Christmas
5. Christmas Wish
6. Hark! The Herald Angels Sing/Angels We Have Heard on High
7. Little Saint Nick
8. The 12 Days of Christmas (Live)
9. Indiana Christmas
10. Sweet Little Jesus Boy
11. Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)
12. Carol of the Bells
13. Silent Night
14. Auld Lang Syne

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