Life is full of surprises. Some are unpleasant, such as scratching your eye on the last day of the semester. Some are pleasant, like unexpected combinations of artists or unanticipated arrangements of Christmas classics. (All are hypothetical examples). Here’s the most eclectic mix yet of unique collaborations and takes on holiday favorites. Buckle up and enjoy with open minds and ears!
COMMENTARY & MUSINGS
Starting with Scott Bradlee’s mile-a-minute piano in Sleigh Ride, with a stylistic tour-de-force vocal arrangement of “O Come, All Ye Faithful” from Pentatonix. (Fans of key changes and “acappella-sounding sections with acapella songs” will not be disappointed).
If you happen to remember, “All For You” by Sister Hazel… you are at least as old as I (and you have my sympathy) but they’re here with an acoustic rendering of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”.
One of the most surprising of the bunch is CeeLo Green’s collaboration with the Muppets. Devotees of Jim Henson’s genius will appreciate the new life breathed into “Mahna Mahna” awakened and dusted off just for the holidays. (And yes, Statler and Waldorf have something to say about the whole affair at the end). The original Brothers Snark are truly classics in and of themselves.
Let’s see, what else? A flamenco-flavored "Carol of the Bells”, a mambo-mix of “Rudolph”, and a precise but gritty blues rendition of “Jingle Bells” from James Taylor. (Those bells have never jingled so hard all the way to wherever they’re going.)
Then a few unexpected pairings worth listening to: Barenaked Ladies and Sarah McLachlan (what?), Ingrid Michaelson with Leslie Odom Jr. (hmm…), tobyMac featuring Owl City (the hardest take on the First Noel you’ve heard), and then back to BNL with… Michael Bublé? (released long before the working conditions of Amazon warehouse personnel were exposed, this hits a little different now…) Later Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart compare and contrast Christmas and Hanukkah. Perhaps the best combination of voices and sounds comes with the last cut—Pentatonix and the Manhattan Transfer taking on “White Christmas” … It is easily one of the best technical arrangements out there, jumping all over the stylistic map and featuring the unique strengths of each group, neatly complemented by the other ensembles vocals.
It’s all here, folks. Mariah providing vocals for a “whistle tone" Nutcracker? Check. Country western cats ambling through “Silent Night”? Check. A funky acappella reimagining of the night before Christmas poem? Check.
Do not let the smooth sound of Barry Manilow’s recording of “River” deceive you—while not as raw as the original, there is a poignance and honesty to it that can only be conveyed by the man who sang yearningly of “Mandy" decades ago.
Perhaps most surprising is Straight No Chaser’s choice to include Counting Crows’s “A Long December” as part of their most recent holiday album. Even more surprising? They actually pull it off. I’ve sat at many a piano and played this song literally hundreds of times over the years and not once did I ever think of it as a Christmas song, but it definitely works. Each listen evokes a sense of wonder and delight in their successful “seasonalization” of a 90s classic. The wistful ballad is made even more melancholy when adorned with the trimmings and trappings of holiday motifs.
Enjoy these stocking surprises!