New Music Reviews – Early-October Christmas Releases

New Music Reviews – Early-October Christmas Releases

Click HERE to stream all of these Chrismas releases on YouTube Music.

A Jazzy Little Christmas is a concept recording by Ernie Haase & Signature Sound with Billy Stritch and Wayne Haun handling production duties. (Stritch was Liza Minelli’s piano player for 23 years and is known for his work on Broadway productions.) There are 14 tracks, with most of the song titles being familiar standards. Two new titles are “Christmas In Manhattan” (Haase/Haun/Lindsey) and “Love You Remember” (McGlamery/Black/Smith). There’s also a new recording of “Sometimes I Wonder” which appeared previously on their 2012 release, Here We Are Again.

Pros: The production quality bar is set high from the very first track on A Jazzy Little Christmas, and what makes this collection particularly unique is that each of the other selections meets the same standard. Vocals are balanced perfectly with instruments, and there’s always something interesting happening. I could carry on for a while about every track on A Jazzy Little Christmas, but for the sake of space, I’ll limit my comments to six.

Tight vocal harmonies on tall chords (9ths, 11ths, & 13ths) are set over swing rhythms on ” I Like A Sleigh Ride.” “Love You Remember” is a nod to doo-wop. Paul Harkey shines on “I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day,” singing the same melody as the 1965 Burl Ives arrangement. Just when I finished marveling at the vocal harmonies on “We Three Kings,” Stritch added a classy piano solo. I don’t remember hearing “Snowfall” before, but it’s been around for almost 80 years. Click HERE to hear the 1941 instrumental version by the composer and his orchestra. I’m glad EH&SS didn’t only go for the most obvious classics. “Mister Santa” is set to the same tune as “Mister Sandman” (1954) with alternate lyrics written by the original composer, Pat Ballard. It was first recorded in 1955 by Dorothy Collins.

Cons: There really are no cons, but a couple more original songs would have been nice to contrast with the familiar fare.

Producers: Billy Stritch and Wayne Haun
Label: Gaither Gospel Series
Song Titles: Happy Holidays/It’s The Holiday Season; O Holy Night; Christmas In Manhattan; I Like A Sleigh Ride (Jingle Bells); Love You Remember; I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day; It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas; We Three Kings; Snowfall; Winter Wonderland; Sometimes I Wonder; Christmas Time Is Here; Mister Santa; Peace On Earth (with Silent Night)
Rating: 5 Stars (scale of 1-5 Stars)
Release Date: October 11, 2019
Version Reviewed: YouTube Music


The Season To Sing by Master’s Voice includes 11 tracks. Of these, 2 are cover songs (“Reaching”/GVB and “Come Make A Place”/EH&SS) and 5 are well-known classics. The track for “Go Tell It On The Mountain” is the same arrangement Mark Bishop recorded in 2012 (an alternate key from the companion Crossroads performance track), and is also used by 11th Hour on their release reviewed below.

Pros: The top two tracks are the dramatic “How Many Kings” and the smooth “From Bethlehem To Calvary.” I’m also glad to see “Come Make A Place” recorded again.

Cons: The arrangements are a bit too frantic for my personal taste on “The Season To Sing” and “Still Makes Me Sing.” The vocal is oversold on the latter.

Neither Pro Or Con: The final five tracks are performed well enough, but there’s nothing especially unique that sets these versions apart from those recorded by others in the past.

Producer: Jeff Collins
Label: Sonlite Records
Song Titles: The Season To Sing; How Many Kings; Reaching; Still Makes Me Sing; From Bethlehem To Calvary; Come Make A Place In Me; Beautiful Star Of Bethlehem; Silent Night; Go Tell It On The Mountain; Sweet Baby Jesus; I’ll Be Home For Christmas
Rating: 3 1/2 Stars (scale of 1-5 Stars)
Release Date: October 11, 2019
Version Reviewed: YouTube Music


The Down East Boys’ Christmas release is a 6-song EP titled Comfort And Joy. The title track is new. The rest are songs you’ll recognize with the possible exception of “Glorious Impossible” (recorded previously by the Gaither Vocal Band and the Oak Ridge Boys).

Pros: The Celtic flavor of the title track is one I’d love to hear explored more by Southern Gospel quartets. I was very pleased to hear a sure-enough, actual drum break on “Little Drummer Boy.” I’m not typically a fan of songs that have very few chord changes and keep stretching the same verse with a number theme like “Children Go Where I Send Thee,” but the Down East Boys’ version has a good driving energy. The vocals trade off verses and mix it up on the harmonies, so every verse doesn’t sound exactly the same. A touch of Celtic flavor returns for “Wexford Carol” which is a nice nod back to the first song.

Cons: It’s too bad this is an EP. I wanted to hear more.

Label: Sonlite Records
Song Titles: Comfort And Joy; Glorious Impossible; Little Drummer Boy; Children Go Where I Send Thee; Wexford Carol; Carol Of The Bells Medley (God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen/We Three Kings)
Rating: 4 1/2 Stars (scale of 1-5 Stars)
Release Date: October 11, 2019
Version Reviewed: YouTube Music


11th Hour’s new Christmas recording The Greatest Gift comes just two weeks after the release of their mainline album A Lot With A Little. Only the title track is a new song.

The remaining 9 songs are well-known holiday classics. Tracks for those come from the Crossroad Label Group’s archives, including some released by other artists. For example, the track for “Go Tell It On The Mountain” is the same arrangement Mark Bishop recorded in 2012 (an alternate key from the companion Crossroads performance track), and is also used by Master’s Voice on their release reviewed above.

Pros: “The Greatest Gift” is an excellent Country-flavored song written by Allan Eppinette. The lyric that contrasts the importance of God’s Holy Gift with the temporal elements of the Christmas holiday we sometimes hold in too-high esteem.

Cons: Considering their excellent track record to date recording creative songs that capture our attention, it’s rather disappointing to see a release that is lacking in originality from 11th Hour. To their credit, their vocals do match their usual standard.

Producer: 11th Hour
Label: Sonlite Records
Song Titles: Angels We Have Heard On High; What Child Is This; Home For The Holidays; The Christmas Song; Christmas Waltz; Joy To The World; O Holy Night; Christmas Medley (Winter Wonderland, Sleigh Ride, White Christmas); Go Tell It On The Mountain; The Greatest Gift
Rating: 3 Stars (scale of 1-5 Stars)
Release Date: October 11, 2019
Version Reviewed: YouTube Music

Ernie Haase & Signature Sound
5 out of 5
Master's Voice
3.5 out of 5
Down East Boys
4.5 out of 5
11th Hour
3 out of 5

4

Good
4 out of 5

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Category CD Reviews, Reviews

David Bruce Murray

David Bruce Murray is a church music director in Ellenboro, NC. He is the author of Murray's Encyclopedia Of Southern Gospel Music and the owner of both SGHistory.com and MusicScribe.com. David plays piano for Southern Sounds Quartet and the Foothills Community Choir.

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