Top-placing burger makers to be celebrated June 20 to 27
Inquiring minds want to know: What’s your favorite burger in Burque? Weekly Alibi is hosting our first ever Burque Burger Week, which will showcase the city’s favorite burgermeisters as nominated by you, our lovely readers. The winning restaurants will each craft a special burger that they’ll only serve from June 20 to June 27. Nominations are open now, from May 23 to June 6. Flame on!
UNM leads a psychedelic renaissance
The city is crawling with bicycles …and it’s fabulous!
Ultra Health devotes to budding potential
The Outpost Performance Space will present its Kids Variety Show on Saturday, Dec. 6 at 1 p.m. Such shows have become a tradition at the Outpost, featuring dance, music, comedy and theater conceived and performed by and for children. Call the Outpost at 268-0044 for information and to reserve a performance slot for your child or children. Admission is free! ... Also on Saturday, Dec. 6, it's time for the New Mexico Jazz Workshop's annual Yule Struttin' Holiday Fundraiser Party. This year's event will take place once again at the Albuquerque Museum (2000 Mountain NW) from 7 to 11 p.m., and will feature live music, art, food and a silent auction. Pianist Steve Figueroa and Friends will deliver straight-ahead jazz, Linda Cotton's ensemble will serve up funky jazz grooves and Guajira will spread the Latin and salsa love. Complimentary hors d'oeuvres and desserts, along with a variety of beverages, will be served throughout the evening courtesy of the Cooperage, and all guests will be able to enjoy the many exhibits currently on display at the museum. The silent auction opens at 7 p.m. and boasts more ticket packages, fine art and unique gifts than ever before. The auction will close promptly at 9:30 p.m. and all proceeds will benefit the New Mexico Jazz Workshop's educational programs. Those of you who haven't attended Yule Struttin' in the past have been missing out on one of the premier parties of the year in all of Albuquerque. Tickets are $35 and available from the NMJW. Call 255-9798 for reservations and more information.
Luciana Souza Quartet
Saturday, Dec. 6; Outpost Performance Space (all ages, 8 p.m.): You won't find Brazilian composer and singer Luciana Souza's name in most of the exhaustive and homogenous books on jazz that line the shelves of your local bookstore. Yet, that is. With a musical background that extends into early childhood visits with Milton Nascimento and Hermento Pascoal and an upbringing by a family of bossa nova innovators, followed by a formal education at the New England Conservatory of Music and four years on faculty of the Berklee College of Music, Souza's stars are aligned in such a way as to ensure that she'll eventually be a household name.
She's released four albums as a leader, the latest of which, North and South (Sunnyside), completes a trilogy she began by putting the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop to music (The Poems of Elizabeth Bishop and Other Songs) and continued with 2001's Brazilian Duos. The trilogy, says Souza, was meant to underscore the fact that she could leave her native country only to find that it would never leave her. North and South is composed of some of Souza's favorite jazz and Brazilian tunes—several of them standards—along with a pair of her own works. The resulting album is a spacious rendering of her Brazilian roots that traces a graceful arc through contemporary jazz. Her choice of songs, from Jobim's "Corcovado" to Carlos Lyra and Ronaldo Bôscoli's "Se é Tarde me Peroda," and her treatment of them paint a sort of musical self portrait of Souza, whose artistry is almost unimaginably broad in scope and steeped in visceral understanding.
Five years and a new guitarist later, singer-songwriter Raul Malo has revived the Mavericks and ushered in a new album that retains much of the rock-infused country magic that made the band an early '90s platinum-selling sensation. Malo, who during the Mavs hiatus spent time recording with Los Super Seven, has become an elemental songwriter, able to capture the classic Nashville sound, then soup it up using Cuban folk and Orbison-era rock. His Chris Isaak-like vocals and ability to put a pop twist on just about everything he writes provides us once again with a glistening Mavericks effort.
Release date: out now
Friday, Dec. 5; Route 66 Casino (21 and over, 7 p.m.)
With a pair of Grammys, seven American Music Awards and 31 gold and platinum albums to show for their 30-plus years together, few would argue that Kool and the Gang are one of the most important funk-soul groups of all time. The hits—there have been 25 in the Top 10, including "Celebration," "Jungle Boogie," "Too Hot," "Ladies Night," "Fresh" and others too numerous to mention—haven't stopped coming, and brothers Robert "Kool" Bell and brother Ronald haven't stopped bringing on the funk, touring almost ceaselessly throughout their long careers.
with S.T.U.N., Armor for Sleep and Pris
Friday, Dec. 5; Launchpad (all ages, 8 p.m.)
Think of Seattle's Vendetta Red as pioneers of what will one day (very soon) be referred to as post-grunge. The five-member band have as much in common with Fugazi and early Smashing Pumpkins as they do with StonePearlGardenJam and the like—stadium rockers with feet firmly planted in the fertile garden of punk and hardcore of days gone by. If Screaming Trees had merged with the Pixies, you'd have the template for Vendetta Red.
Sounding more confident than ever, James Mercer appears to have grown into his spectacular voice on the band's second release for Sub Pop. Chutes is impressive for its evenness—rather than relying on a handful of miraculous hits like their first record's "New Slang" and "Know Your Onion!," Chutes rests balanced on Mercer's increasingly introspective lyrical genius and his ability to craft melodies to envelope it. The result is classic '60s pop fed through a kaleidoscope of contemporary indie rock. Chutes isn't quite the gold mine that is Oh, Inverted World, but it's a subtle masterwork in its own.
Aside from being my personal favorite jazz pianist, George Cables is largely responsible for defining modern jazz piano as we now know it. His latest recording offers a pleasing variety of post-bop up-tempo swing numbers and hushed ballads, all recorded with his "classic" quartet (Gary Bartz, Peter Washington and Victor Lewis). Eight of the 10 compositions are Cables' own, and the pair of covers, Carol King's "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" and Eric Satie's "Gymnopedie," prove to be excellent choices for the ensemble. Cables' lyrical style coupled with Bartz' equally enchanting soprano sax work makes for incredibly satisfying listening.
The New Mexico Gay Men's Chorus and the New Mexico Women's Chorus
There's no merrier way to get into the Christmas spirit than by catching annual holiday concerts by the New Mexico Gay Men's Chorus and its sister chorus, the New Mexico Women's Chorus. Every year the groups put on accomplished, eclectic shows to ring in the season. This year, I'm happy to say, will be no different.
This silent night might not be a holy one, but since it's filled with great art, who the hell cares? The University of New Mexico's Graduate Art Association will host its Seventh Annual Silent Art Auction on Friday, Dec. 5, from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Harwood Art Center. You can come for the excitement of bidding on fantastic art by local artists. You can come for the tasty edibles provided by Albuquerque Catering. You can come for the live music by Casadimanza or for the print by an artist from the Tamarind Institute that will be raffled off.
The Cell Theatre
The Cell's famed multimedia cabaret returns on Wednesday, Dec. 10, at 8 p.m. with an evening of film, music and comedy. Alan Arkin debuts a short digital film called "Blood," starring local actor Tom Schuch. Tenor Jay Hill performs some Spanish songs with guitarist Julia Peterman. Julia Thudium and Catherine Haun play for laughs in a sketch called "Feminism for the 21st Century and Beyond." And there's plenty more where that came from, all for the bargain price of $5. Have yourself A Little Nightcap. For more information, call 766-9412.
It's that time once again. For the past 20 years, the Arts Alliance has honored the best of the best of Albuquerque's arts community by bestowing worthy organizations and individuals with Bravos Awards. This year nominations must be post-marked by Friday, Dec. 19. Nomination packages should include an official form, two letters of support, and an address, phone number and (if available) an e-mail address. Categories include dance, music, visual arts, theater arts, literary arts, outstanding arts volunteer or philanthropist, arts education and outstanding arts organization. I'm sure you know a person or organization that deserves some credit for their creative efforts in the community. If so, get off your duff and get busy. For more details, and to get your hands on a nomination form, call the Arts Alliance at 268-1920. Winners will receive their awards at a ceremony at the Albuquerque Marriott on Saturday, April 17.
I'm sure you've already got Thursday, Dec. 4, marked on your calendars. That's the evening of Nob Hill's much-anticipated Shop and Stroll, when most area galleries and shops will open their doors to folks who want to get a jump on holiday gift buying. One of the cooler events will be the Coleman Gallery's reception for its Second Annual Invitational, a show featuring work by 10 contemporary abstract artists from New Mexico. The reception starts at 5 p.m. and lasts until 10 p.m. If you can't make it that night, the exhibit will run through Dec. 31. 232-0224.
Our resident chemist explains why locally produced Valley Garlic Oil is indeed safe
I've heard warnings about garlic-infused oil, but I never really got to the bottom of it. My question for you is: Is there any validity to the claim this gentleman makes in the e-mail I've attached? Is the oil dangerous?
This week columnist Robert L. Wolke tackles the subject of whether or not garlic oil is dangerous. I think it's his most interesting and relevant column yet. Professor Wolke lives and works in Pittsburgh, Pa., but self-syndicates this column through The Washington Post. A few weeks ago he informed me that he was giving up on syndicating his column because it was more work than it was worth. Disappointed but understanding, I asked him to give me some quick advice on an e-mail I'd recieved. A garlic juice manufacturer had sent me a message about a story that appeared in La Cocinita, the food magazine we used to publish and of which I was editor. He claimed that the Valley Garlic Oil we wrote about was dangerous. Suspicious that his claim was untrue but realizing that if it were true I'd be obligated to do something about it, I forwarded the message on to Wolke. In the true fashion of a scientist, the professor investigated fully and revealed that the oil is, in fact, safe. But if you've ever considered making your own garlic-infused oil then you should definitely read his column and find out why it could be deadly. Meanwhile, look for Valley Garlic Oil at La Montañita Co-op. I wasn't lying when I wrote to Bob that I love the stuff and use it all the time.
Beer and hockey go together like ice skating and getting the crap beaten out of you by guys missing one or more front teeth. Good times! Next time you're out at (S)Tingley Coliseum for a Scorpions game check out the brand new team beer: Scorpions Ale. Rio Grande Brewing makes the team's official beverage, which debuted two weeks ago, and brewer Scott Moore describes it as, “a hoppy California-style pale ale with a rich, copper color, hoppy nose and clean finish.” Scorpions Ale is available at all of the beer stands at Tingley and costs $5.50 per cup (Budweiser costs $4.50). It is also on tap at O'Niell's Uptown and other sports-friendly bars. Look for 22-ounce bottles of the brew in retail stores early next year.
No fuss, just food
When I left home, one of the things I most looked forward to was being able to cook what I wanted, when I wanted. The problem was that I had never made any of the meals that my mom specialized in; after a decade or so away from home, I started missing them. There were several winners in my mom's repertoire, but the one I miss the most is her pork chops and rice. The same way that waffles are just an excuse to dip your bacon into maple syrup, the pork chops are merely a prop for the rice. Too creamy to be a pilaf, but not quite a risotto, this is classic southern rice and gravy, the kind of side dish that sits perfectly next to a mess of stewed greens and a perfectly seared then braised pork chop.
"And another one's gone/And another one's gone/Another one bites the dust." That's right, yet another local club has expired as of last week. Empire, formerly located at 4310 Central NE, has closed its doors and will apparently file for bankruptcy in the coming weeks, according to correspondence with club owner Hudson Holmes. Considering that both Banana Joe's and Club Rhythm and Blues closed within the past three months, it may seem as though Albuquerque's nightlife is suffering a considerable slump. But keep in mind that, nationally, nightclubs have about a 70 percent failure rate as business ventures. Owning and operating a club in any town is a difficult, mostly thankless occupation, so please support the clubs whose doors currently remain open and keep your fingers crossed for new blood. ... Congratulations to Red Earth, whose latest CD Zia Soul won "Best World Music Recording" at the Ninth Annual Native American Music Awards held two weekends ago at the Isleta Casino and Resort. ... Winter Ball 2003 will be held again this year at OPM on Dec. 15 at 8 p.m. Formal attire is encouraged, but the only prerequisite for attendance is that you donate a packaged but not-gift-wrapped toy to benefit Youth Development Incorporated. This year's bill includes The Eyeliners, Black Maria, The Dirty Novels and Obenjyosan. Tucanos will provide food for those who show up early.
Like Otis Taylor, slide master Corey Harris is able to channel the raw emotion of the Delta blues. But Harris, unlike Taylor, has been known to approach the raw goods from a kaleidoscopic perspective, mixing in everything from New Orleans brass to hip-hop. His latest release, though, recorded in Mississippi and Mali and with a list of sidemen that includes Ali Farka Toure, Bobby Rush and others, attempts to trace the connection between African folk music and American blues. The results are so satisfying that you won't need to buy another blues CD until well into 2004.
Release date: out now
Sunday, Nov. 30; Outpost Perfornance Space (all ages, 7:30 p.m.): Prior to teaming up with renowned vocalist Susan McKeown, Celtic fiddler and master storyteller Johnny Cunningham helped found and establish legendary groups like Silly Wizard and Relativity, in the process spearheading the Celtic folk movement of the '70s.
Then, a decade ago, after a four-year stint with Windham Hill recording artists Nightnoise and subsequently completing the score for his award-winning stage adaptation of Peter Pan, "Peter & Wendy," Cunningham went in search of a singer for the production, eventually selecting McKeown, who has been called one of the most powerful and distinctive voices in Irish music. It was a pairing that Cunningham once described as "pure magic." Since then, the pair have toured both as a duo and as a trio with guitarist Aidan Brennan.
Friday, Nov. 28; Sunshine Theater (all ages, 8 p.m.)
In case you haven't noticed, the Shins have become a ubiquitous presence in music, fashion and softcore porn mags across this great nation and all over much of Western Europe. Everyone seems to be echoing the sentiments Burque scenesters began making back when the Shins were known as Flake: something along the lines of, "These guys are destined for greatness." And that's just the path the Shins appear to be on.
Thursday, Nov. 27; Atomic Cantina (21 and over, 9 p.m.)
There are plenty of bands made up of emaciated, ratty haired boys (and sometimes a girl named Karen O) in skinny ties and high-waters rehashing '70s garage and post-punk these days to more acclaim than most of them probably deserve. But none of them manage to balance their drunken swagger and snobbery with matching power chords and simple, no-frills shout-rock as well as New York City's Star Spangles.
with Kimo, Susan Gibson, Stoic Frame and more
Saturday, Nov. 29; O'Niell's Uptown (21 and over, 5 p.m.): NM Brewfest presents another great beer tasting/competition with six of New Mexico's premium breweries. NM Brewfest has been offering this type of event all year long, but this is the most promising yet.
After the success over McLachlan's breakthrough, Fumbling Towards Ecstasy, her albums have been packaged with an enigmatic sense of obligation on the part of the listener to be captivated. Truth is, her last record, Surfacing, was mediocre at best. But six years is a long time for fans to wait between albums—time enough to forget things like the mediocrity of past works. Afterglow has its bright spots to be sure—"Fallen," "Perfect Girl"—and its production quality is tops. Unfortunately, though, most of the material comes off as journal entries overly wrought into songs that drown in self-actualization. Bummer.
Release date: out now
The legendary Mekons have dusted off 15 songs written during their brief flirtation with punk rock back in the '70s and recorded them nearly 30 years later, professing a new interest in one of rock's most misunderstood, over-hyped and, sadly, tired genres. The resulting album sounds dated, of course, but deliciously so. Punk Rock is essential listening for punk fans who gracefully bowed out of the cultural phenomenon before commercialization and lame-ass hyperbole killed the music, which is to say shortly after the Clash released their last great record, 1982's Combat Rock: four years after the Ramones' last great gasp.
Release date: Jan.11
Nutcracker on the Rocks at the Rodey Theatre
For the last seven years, the Keshet Dance Company has gloried in injecting a heavy dose of straight-up rock and roll into Tchaikovsky's classic ballet The Nutcracker. Innovation, of course, comes naturally to this award-winning dance company. Keshet's specialty of placing its own professional repertory dancers and acclaimed guest artists on stage with beginning dancers and dancers with disabilities has gained it well-deserved national renown. No arts organization in Albuquerque can claim to more successfully meld fun with philanthropy, and Nutcracker on the Rocks, in many ways, celebrates this essential spirit better than any other Keshet production.
Many Nob Hillers were surprised to learn that a church called City on a Hill had moved into the historic Lobo Theatre. To tell you the truth, I was puzzled myself. I could imagine a church moving into Kelly's Brew Pub before I could imagine one inside the Lobo.
December bookstore events
Sure is getting cold out there, isn't it? We're barreling toward the roll-down-the-shades-build-up-the-fire-wrap-yourself-in-a-bearskin-and-hunker-down-with-a-book season. (I believe I just won a prize for the longest adjective ever printed in the Alibi.)
Canyon Road gets a lot of attention as Santa Fe's leading art mecca, but little Baca Street, just off Cerrillos Road, deserves some love too. The Third Annual Baca Street Arts Tour takes place this Thanksgiving weekend, Friday, Nov. 28, through Sunday, Nov. 30, and features more than two dozen painters, printmakers, sculptors, jewelers, photographers and glass makers. As in years past, a percentage of tour sales will benefit First Contact Street Outreach. For details, call Michelle Ouellette at the Box Gallery at (505) 989-4897.
Keep your eye on the swinging medallion. You're getting sleepy, sleepy, sleepy ... Now go wash my car. Flip Orley, master comic hypnotist, sweeps into the Isleta Casino and Resort for two nights of hypnotic humor on Friday, Nov. 28, at 9 p.m. and Saturday, Nov. 29, at 8 p.m. Orley will be dragging a series of volunteers on stage for some good old-fashioned public humiliation. I'm told this guy is for real. Tickets are $15 and $20. 244-8191.
Campy mid-century illustrations and long-lost recipes sure taste great together
From the vintage image-obsessed folks at Collectors Press comes this colorful, fun and funny little cookbook, just in time for the holidays. Sprinkled throughout its pages are more than 80 recipes for both sweet and savory pies. Some of the recipes, like Martha's Cherry Pie are familiar old standards, the kinds of pies that experienced bakers wouldn't even need a recipe for. Others, like Front Porch Sweet Cheese Pie or Mock Mincemeat pie are just kooky enough to inspire you to bake. Even if you're not a baker, though, the campy “modern family” pictures are a real kick in the pants. Happy housewives in A-line skirts, flowery aprons and three-inch heels take joy and pride in baking golden-crusted pies! Rosy cheeked kids grin deliriously when they see what Mom's got in the oven! Dad relaxes with a shiny red apple as Mom whips up something spectacular in her space-age kitchen! Looking for a bittersweet memory pie topped with gleeful optimism? Try one of the recipes below.
On her vegan Thanksgiving menu
The holidays are stressful and difficult for many of us but perhaps more so for vegetarians and vegans who often must fight with family members over the menu or face a dearth of options for dining out. This year, Yashoda Naidoo will serve a full vegan meal at Annapurna Chai House. We spoke about her decision to remain open on Thanksgiving day and about the details of the restaurant's prix-fixe menu.
I was at a party the other night, yapping about food when this guy suggested that we write restaurant reviews so that restaurants could know what they're doing wrong. I told him that the purpose of publishing a restaurant review was not to give a report card to one or two restaurant owners but to give a city full of people an idea of what to expect should they dine at a particular restaurant. I said I thought diners had a responsibility to communicate with the restaurant staff, to help them provide the best possible experience. He looked puzzled. I said, “It's like sex,” and the party got quieter. “You cannot live your whole life disappointed that you never got spanked when you never asked anybody to spank you,” I continued. There were some nervous stares. I told the gathering crowd that just as lovers communicate with each other, so must diners and restaurants. If you ask for a quiet table and get seated next to the front door, then say something. Be kind but honest and you can expect that your server will be eager to please. Whatever you do, don't bite your tongue and leave angry only to be surprised when the same thing happens again. If you're too embarrassed to say something that night, a quick call the next morning should do the trick.
Several calls and e-mails came in response to “The Dish's” plea for information about Ron's Camino Real but the best one was a voicemail message from Ron himself. “I was looking at the current Alibi and you ... were wondering about Ron's Camino Real,” he said. “Well, I'm Ron Camden and that was my place for 27 years. Heck, now that I'm unemployed I could use a free meal! So if you're giving out gift certificates I'll tell you the story.” It turns out that Ron's had been struggling for years, trying to battle competition from other restaurants and chains closer to the University. Being four blocks south of Central, Ron said, was just far enough to make people want to drive but more and more he thinks folks were simply unwilling to drive to lunch and risk losing precious University area parking spots.
entirely- edible list of suggestions for your favorite foodies
Everybody loves food but only certain people are genuinely passionate about all things edible. For the chowhounds on your list, consider some of these unusual gift ideas.
Nothing makes a long car ride go by faster than reading a book out loud. For best results, I advise having at least two people in the car—one to drive, the other to read. (It's safer that way.)
Here's a bit of advice for newcomers: It isn't strictly necessary to get down on your hands and knees to crawl between participating galleries during November's ArtsCrawl gallery tour, which occurs on Friday, Nov. 21, from 5 to 9 p.m. Yes, veteran Crawlers prefer to do it properly. Many actually bring kneepads and thick gloves to the event. Beginners, however, will not be beaten or abused if they should choose to walk erect from gallery to gallery. The point is to see as much art as possible. How you manage this feat is your own affair.
Three Holiday Art Sales
Last year, right around Christmas, a local artist informed me that conventional wisdom holds that art always makes a terrible gift. Given how seldom I sip at the fountain of conventional wisdom, I'd never heard this before. I can see his point, though. Art is extremely personal. Also, because it's meant to be displayed, it isn't easy to hide in the back of a closet—like, say, that ugly sweater my aunt gave me for my birthday. When art givers come over to visit, they're going to expect to see that painting hanging over the couch, damn it!
Christmas Book-Buying Tips
If you add up all the time I've spent in bookstores in my life, it would probably equal several solid months. For this reason, I've become a very experienced book shopper. I like shopping for books. I like giving books as presents. And I love receiving books.
Twelve Angry Men, the classic play by Reginald Rose, was made into a movie starring Henry Fonda back in the late '50s. Starting this week, co-directors Mark Guest and Georgia Athearn will bring Rose's courtroom drama to the Vortex Theatre stage. Centering around a first-degree murder trial and the 12 men on the jury, the play is a remarkably complex exploration of social and racial prejudices. It'll run Thursdays thru Saturdays at 8 p.m. $10 general, $8 students/seniors. Sundays at 6 p.m. $8. 247-8600.
Sweeney Convention Center
The fifth annual Recycle Santa Fe Art Festival, which takes place Friday, Nov. 21, through Sunday, Nov. 23, is more than just a run-of-the-mill art festival. More than 50 artists who use a minimum of 75 percent recycled materials in their work will be displaying and selling their wares. There'll also be two juried competitions, lots of prizes and a return of the wildly popular "Recycled Fashion Show," all in the righteous cause of recycling. Admission is free. Call (505) 474-4737 for details.
Let our cipher wheel and decision-makers take the creative pressure off your shoulders
Don't waste a minute trying to come up with a new way to make cranberry sauce or a clever new twist on stuffing. And don't even think of enrolling in a remedial algebra class to gain the math skills neccessary to scale that gravy recipe for 13 guests. We've done all the work for you! Simply use our handy cipher wheel to calculate servings and our decision-making wheels to come up with fancy new flavor combinations. Then follow these simple recipes and voilá! Thanksgiving dinner just like Grandma used to make. Well, at least like Grandmas on TV used to make. ...
A Classical round-up
Though a shaky economy and eroding profits have left the music industry suing illegal downloaders right and left, what commitment remains to the heart-centered nature of Judeo-Christian celebration again graces us with a lovely helping of holiday recordings. Absorbing the beauties of this music can help us transcend Messianic proclamations of waging holy war against Satan and a nation of idols, inspiring us to connect with the love at the center of all great spiritual teachings.
Congratulations to Marc Foman who opened Marc's Guitar Center in Albuquerque back in 1978. Foman plans to mark his 25th anniversary in business with a year-long celebration, including his very own “School of Rock” program. Throughout the next year, Foman and Marc's Guitar Center staff will provide free workshops on rock, folk, classical and blues guitar to any Albuquerque Public School that has a guitar program of some sort. Additionally, Marc's Guitar Center will donate a guitar to each school that presents a workshop. “We wanted to give something back to the community in appreciation for all of the referrals we've received over the last 25 years, and we felt that the best way to do that was through the schools,” said Foman. The first workshop will be held at Manzano High School on Thursday, Dec. 4.
For whatever reason, country music artists churn out a disproportionate number of holiday related releases every year, followed closely by those groups and musicians that fall into the ever-widening Celtic genre. After that, countless new age practitioners make records with a holiday bent. Featured here are five albums that, most of which, for one reason or another, have been deemed worthy of spreading holiday joy, which isn't to say that all of them are phenomenal. But during this season of perceived happiness and a glut of albums designed to grab your cash, these are the ones that make the grade. If you already own a copy of James Brown's Santa's Got a Brand New Bag, then you're already on your way to decking the halls. If you don't, then here are a few modern alternatives.
The chart-topping Anonymous 4 women's vocal quartet returns with a lovely collection of Celtic and British songs and carols. Although carols are often considered Christian in nature, Johanna Maria Rose's liner notes point to the pagan, pre-Christian origins of music associated with the Celtic winter solstice Yuletide celebration. In fact, the word “carol” (derived from the French “carole”) originally referred to the ancient ritual circle dances and call-and-response chanting that were used in year-round magical ceremonies.
Last year's Maybe This Christmas saw artists like Bright Eyes, Ben Folds, Jimmy Eat World and a host of other hipsters contributing tracks. For this year's second volume of Nettwerk's holiday music series, Dave Matthews, Avril Lavigne (who clearly can't sing to save her life), Badly Drawn Boy and the Flaming Lips, among others, serve up the goods. As you've undoubtedly guessed, not every song included here is good, or even passable. But part of the proceeds benefit Toys for Tots, and Badly Drawn Boy's “Donna and Blitzen” and the 'Lips' creepy “White Christmas” are worth the price of admission.
The six-man, New York City-based Lionheart a cappella vocal ensemble began nine years ago when several of its members came together to sing chant. With two national tours with Anonymous 4 and a number of lauded discs under their belts, the men have become one of this country's finest male ensembles specializing in medieval and modern repertoire.
This one doesn't actually get joyous until the third track, “Angels We Have Heard on High,” which is done in such rollicking fashion that much of the rest of the record seems melancholy. Rather than rehash the drunken caroling standbys, Mattea has chosen to make a record that's pretty much all about the Baby Jesus. Unfortunately, the number of songs about labor and delivery—no matter whose—that any one person can be subjected to in a 45-minute period without sustaining some degree of brain damage is finite. Joy for Christmas Day exceeds that number by at least 35 percent.
Keeper of the Anglican musical tradition in the United States, this exceptional choir consists of 12 professional adult singers and 16 to 20 boys. The boys, blessed with beautiful voices, attend Saint Thomas Choir School, the only church-related residential choir school in the United States, situated one block from Carnegie Hall.
The historical significance contained herein nearly outweighs the music itself. About half of this 17-song set will no-doubt be familiar to most listeners. The rest—jigs, reels ballads and carols from the folk traditions of Scotland, Ireland, Wales and Brittany—shed some light on the ancient pagan traditions adopted by early Christianity in the Celtic reaches of Europe. Comfort and Joy offers shimmering variety and top-notch recordings. But more importantly, it doesn't sound like every other holiday music album you've heard. Soothing, joyous and quite magical throughout.
Though eyebrows surely raise upon learning that former President Bill Clinton narrates a wolf's tale, cynicism melts upon learning that the disc is an act of charity. Clinton, narrator of Jean-Pascal Beintus' newly commissioned Wolf Tracks, donates his royalties to the International AIDS Trust. Loren, narrator of the beloved Prokofiev, gives her money to Magic Of Music, an arts therapy program for youth sponsored by the RNO. And Gorbachev, who provides short introductions and epilogue, gives his share to the Green Cross International environmental organization.
While this one will certainly appeal to John Michael Montgomery fans, enough thought was infused into the arranging process to make the album interesting to a much broader audience. Kicking off with a big band version of “Winter Wonderland,” Mr. Snowman flirts with jazz, country and even rockabilly. And while only three of the 10 songs included here don't fall into the tried and true category, Montgomery's versions of the classics are fresh enough to actually listen to and enjoy. Inoffensive, familiar, but not overly so.
This well-recorded assemblage of traditional and original settings by Jewish composers is one of 50 CDs expected from the Milken Archive of American Jewish Music. Release of this incomparable collection is timed to celebrate 2004's 350th anniversary of the arrival of the first Jews in America. More than 600 works written by over 200 composers – nearly half of them living – have been newly recorded, most either for the first time or in new reconstructions or arrangements. The music of Kurt Weill, Darius Milhaud and Leonard Bernstein figures prominently among early releases (www.milkenarchive.org).
While some of the disc's selections, especially those in Yiddish, have an engaging old world feel, much of the new material seems harmonically unimaginative. Some works hold interest, others seem more formulaic than inspired.
What Pat Boone did for rock 'n' roll in the '50s, the similarly white-bread Ball has done for traditional Native American music, which is to say that he's generally credited with dumbing it down so as to make soccer moms and dads across the nation feel as though they're digging into a cultural experience with both hands every time they listen to one of his albums. Because of the material, Songs of Winter is better than most of Ball's other recordings—it's pretty difficult to screw up familiar holiday tunes with an instrument as beautiful as the Native American flute.
Classic Windham Hill, which means mellow mellow renditions of Christmas favorites with a nouveau sense of space and stillness. Guitarist and Windham Hill founder Alex de Grassi joins David Cullen for a guitar duet of “I Wonder as I Wander;” guitarist Steve Erquiaga strums the most laid-back “Joy to the World” imaginable; and Philip Aaberg's non-sexist “God Rest Ye Merry” evokes rolling Montana plains rather than rollicking sleigh rides. Other well-known artists include Liz Story, Barbara Higbie, Tracy Silverman, and the inevitable George Winston. Perfect background for vegan eggnog around a non-polluting fire.
Her teacher and mentor, the legendary pianist Michelangeli, called her “an eagle among pigeons—and she is simply the best.” Cellist Mstislav Rostropovich proclaimed “Absolutely unforgettable!—in a class by herself.” Though arrangements of holiday favorites are not the best way to sample a pianist's artistry, the results are unquestionably lovely. Captured distantly in an overly resonant space, Valois' sweet takes on everything from “I Wonder as I Wander” to “The Coventry Carol,” with alternate arrangements of “The Holly and the Ivy” and “Silent Night” on different discs, are sensitively and lovingly performed. http://www.eroica.com/vav-music.html.
Gorgeous, mystical music with the power to entrance. Sir John Taverner, a follower of the Greek Orthodox faith, writes simple, repetitive compositions that embody the spiritual essence of prayer. Believing that “music is liquid metaphysics,” Tavener creates a potentially mesmerizing “sense of sacred space.” Around fine contributions from baritone Tim Krol (formerly of Chanticleer), strange-voiced soprano Patricia Rozario, and sweet-toned violinist Jorja Fleezanis, the chorus intones the Greek words for Transfiguration, Eros (Divine Love), Ecstasy, and the unending song of the Angels.
Dubbed “a veritable orchestra of voices,” the Grammy award-winning men's vocal ensemble Chanticleer upholds its reputation for excellence. Under the direction of Joseph Jennings, Chanticleer joins Skip Sempé and his Capriccio Stravagante original instrument orchestra for anthems and sacred songs by Henry Purcell (1659-1695). In his short life, Purcell helped forge a musical style quintessentially English, writing stately, slow and formal compositions distinguished by intriguing counterpoint. While their beauty is undeniable, I cannot forget that their chaste piety soothed King and court while pursuing extravagant acquisition and world conquest. Regardless, the performances are superb. Sopranos Christopher Fritzche and Ian Howell weaving around each other in “O Lord, rebuke me not” is a special highlight. The last track's “My heart is inditing” provides welcome full voiced contrast.
The gorgeous polyphony of Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525/6-1594) is considered the epitome of high Renaissance Roman Catholic music. This assortment of Palestrina's music for advent and Christmas is sung by the choir of the 100 year old Westminster Cathedral. With a recording tradition dating from 1908, the choir has even garnered a Gramophone Record of the Year award. Master of Music Martin Baker's current crop of boy sopranos produce a slightly cloying sound—the voices of New York's Saint Thomas Choir seem far more rounded—but the music remains well-served.
In my modest pile of Bach Christmas season cantatas I find at least ten, some of major length. This wonderfully recorded multi-channel SACD, whose potentially superior sound can be heard even in two-channel with a good (i.e., more than entry level) SACD player, offers five cantatas composed in Leipzig. Herreweghe's early instrument performances are characterized by a captivating sense of space and mellowness. John Eliot Gardiner recorded BWV 63, 121, and 133 a few years ago with authentic instruments and equally excellent soloists. Comparing BMV 121 finds Gardiner's rhythms more pointed, the conception sharper. It's a question of aesthetics. What remains indisputable is the sheer beauty of Bach's music and Herreweghe's realizations.
From the first astounding strokes of the timpani, the sound of this multi-channel SACD triumphs. So does the extravagant packaging, whose CD box includes a hard cover booklet with numerous art reproductions from Utrecht's Museum Catharijneconvent. This labor of love performance of Bach's glorious extended Christmas cantata is lovely, the chorus exhibiting a slightly naïve sound. John Eliot Gardiner's Monteverdi Choir and world-class, major name soloists offer an even more impressive, sharply delineated performance, but that disc's early digital sonics show their one-dimensional age. For music loving graduates of the boom box/rack system/Bose speaker syndrome that replaces musical truth with splash and splatz, this makes a perfect gift.
This winning compilation of 20 familiar Christmas carols features four different church choirs and ensembles, chief among them the Worcester Cathedral Choir and the Choir of Tewkesbury Abbey. Everything is sincerely and lovingly performed, The Elora Festival Singers' “Silent Night” exceedingly tender. As is often the case with this bargain label, the sound is not demonstration class. Regardless, for holiday festivities or dining background, this collection is near ideal.
Slovenia, a country of two million, lies in the heart of Europe nestled between Austria, Hungary, Croatia and Italy. With singing their primary form of musical expression, the Slovenes have managed to preserve much of their traditional heritage. Songs, usually written for three or more voices, are in major keys and for most part sung loudly without changes of dynamics or tempo. While the familiar harmonies are less engaging than those of Bulgaria and the Balkans, this is a rare opportunity to hear authentic performances recorded as early as 1962 and preserved by the Institute of Ethnomusicology of the Slovene Acaademy of Sciences and Arts.
This two-disc collection features The Tallis Scholars, an exceptionally smooth, angelic sounding a cappella mixed voice ensemble specializing in medieval and Renaissance vocal music. This assemblage of chants, carols, chorales, hymns, motets and masses brings together for the first time Christmas music the group has previously featured on a number of discs. The first CD offers an all-English program from their Christmas Carols and Motets recording, and includes medieval carols and polyphony by Josquin, Verdelot, Victoria, Praetorius, and Clemens. The second disc is devoted to plainchant and music based on chant, culminating in a major mass by Tallis. A beautiful and holy offering.
This haunting disc contains vocal music written by Estonian composer Arvo Pärt between 1996 and 2002. Although not specifically created for the Christmas season, the eight works' religious nature and spiritual impact reflects the depth of Pärt's Christian faith. Settings of Biblical texts, sermons and hymns, some in English, transport the listener to a unique and holy universe. Some pieces are highly energized, others slow and transcendent. The singing is superb, the acoustic of London's Temple Church and Christopher Bowers-Broadbent's organ expertly captured. Highly recommended.