Friday, May 17, 2013

Music Review: Christmas with Clay Crosse by Clay Crosse

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Fun Big Band versions of Christmas classics
Cons: Slower tracks don't work that well
The Bottom Line:
Big Band for Christmas
Upbeat tracks are fun to hear
Slow tracks don't quite work

Not Your Typical Clay Crosse for Christmas

Clay Crosse burst onto the Christian music scene in the mid-90's with a breakout hit single.  He wasn't able to turn that hit into a career, however, and after his next two releases bombed, his record label dropped him.  But he has continued to release a few independent projects since then, including Christmas With Clay Crosse in 2002.

The first time I put it in, I was taken aback.  Instead of Clay's normal adult contemporary sound, he went for something completely different.  It's a jazzy take on big band.  At times it sounds more like big band, but there are quite a few saxophone solos that give other tracks a jazzy feel.  For some people, this doesn't work at all.  In fact, some fans are rather hard on him for this disc.  Me?  I love it for the most part, although some of the tracks don't work.

Clay starts things off with "Angels from the Realm of Glory."  Maybe it's just because of various church services, but I find this to be faster than normal, with big sounds from the band.  The horn solos are great, and it hooks me right away.

He keeps the tempo up for "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen."  This is a fairly traditional approach to the classic.  It's very keyboard based, and the only time you really notice any other instruments is during the instrumental bridge.

He pulls out all the stops for "Jingle Bells/Deck the Halls."  After singing through both of the songs, he mixes and matches with the back ground vocalists singing from the other song.  It works well.  The keyboard and horns take over at various points, giving it a jazz edge to the big band sound.

I am a fan of the seldom recorded "We Three Kings," so I was happy to see it included here.  The saxophone really gets a workout here, giving it an unique sound.  He does all five verses, but not always singing the chorus between them, so it doesn't wear out its welcome before it is over.

He really plays up the big band angle for "Joy to the World."  While the piano is the main instrument when he is singing, the horns come in between verses.  It's smooth and charming.

Unfortunately, the disc doesn't completely work.  When Clay tries to slow things down, it can get a little painful.  "O Holy Night" starts out this way.  In fact, it does have the lounge singer vibe that some accuse the entire disc of having.  It's guitar based, and Clay attempts to speed it up just slightly.  It always takes me the first verse to get into it.  Once I do, I don't mind it.  But it's not one of my favorites.

The one slow tracks that works is the only original song, "When I See a Christmas Tree."  Okay, so it really just starts out slow.  When he hits the chorus, it speeds back up, providing a toe tapping number about the joys of the season.

But the true truly slow tracks just don't work.  "O Little Town of Bethlehem" fairs just barely better than "Away in a Manger," mainly because I like it more.  Both songs are too slow with very little music behind them to make them interesting.  I am bored long before the tracks are finished.

But it certainly goes out on a high note.  "Good Christian Men Rejoice" is another song with the saxophone.  The piano behind Clay is minimal when he is singing, mainly just hitting chord changes.  But it picks up during the bridge as the sax comes.  It doesn't exactly play the melody, but it doesn't need to.  The percussion on this song is finger snaps.  I've got to admit I find that rather infection and find myself snapping along as it plays.

Christmas With Clay Crosse isn't for everyone, but I find it enjoyable.  Since it is something different, it stands out to me a bit more, making it something I listen to every year.

CD Length: 32:31
1. Angels from the Realms of Glory
2. God Rest ye Merry Gentlemen
3. Away in a manger
4. When I See a Christmas Tree
5. O Holy Night
6. Jingle Bells/Deck the Halls
7. O Little Town of Bethlehem
8. We Three Kings
9. Joy to the World
10. Good Christian Men Rejoice

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