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Tuesday, Dec 4, 2007

Tony Bennett is a classic, and this latest reissue of his Christmas album Snowfall does nothing to hurt, nor particularly enhance, that reputation. Originally released in 1968, Snowfall is a lovely bit of crooning, running the gamut from the joyous (“Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town”) to the reflective (“Snowfall”). The addition of a couple of those peripherally-related songs that weren’t actually meant as Christmas songs but have come to be known as such, like “My Favorite Things” and “Where is Love” add a little bit of variety, and the whole thing is over in half an hour, before Bennett’s excessive vibrato and slippery style has a chance to grate on you. This 2007 reissue adds a bonus DVD with a few selections from the long out-of-print video Tony Bennett: A Family Christmas, though generally, the visuals don’t add too much to Bennett’s distinctive stylings. The DVD could only be called essential if you’re an archivist. Still, if a previous iteration of Snowfall has never found its way into your Christmas collection, now’s as good a time as any to correct that little oversight.


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Thursday, Nov 29, 2007

Dean Martin’s voice is an instrument of liquid poetry, a nigh-flawless vessel of slight inebriation, whether his blood alcohol level matched or not. As such, his voice on Christmas with Dino is the perfect one with which to be trapped on a particularly snowy night when nobody’s going anywhere. His vaguely loopy “A Marshmallow World” provides the perfect way to look at life in just such an instance, while “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm” somehow seems like the soundtrack for every couple curled up in front of a fireplace with a giant knit blanket. His orchestral backing is peppy enough to keep you from getting depressed, though he knows when to rein in his theatrics, as on the reverent “Silent Night” and the version of “White Christmas” that closes the album. Martina McBride helps open the album with one of those posthumous duets that studios love to put together these days, though her additions to “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” are appropriately conversational and make for a duet that actually sees her turning down Dino’s come-ons as quick as he can dish them out—remarkably, the dash of modernity doesn’t hurt the disc one bit. Compiling the best bits of two Christmas albums along with a rare early Christmas single, Christmas with Dino is Martin’s definitive holiday statement, and perhaps the definitive holiday album of its style. Like an egg nog spiked with rum, nothing goes down smoother this time of year.


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Wednesday, Nov 28, 2007

Hair metal is making a comeback in a big way. Thanks to a sweeping wave of nostalgia buoyed by the children of the ‘80s, now financially coming into their own, the much mocked and maligned genre is suddenly cool again. With the recent musical success of Motley Crue’s comeback tour, and the Crue’s Nikki Sixx and Poison’s Bret Michaels jettisoning themselves into the current landscape of pop culture relevance (albeit at very different ends of the spectrum), other alumni from the pop metal scene are trying their hand at a possible second-wind. In spite of having fallen off the radar, many of these bands never really went away. Still cranking out pentatonic-punctuated albums, these bands are finally re-emerging from the Aqua Net mist. The light-hearted, yet musically solid hallmarks of hair metal lend themselves perfectly to this sort of compilation. With tracks ranging from the good, such as Winger’s “Happy Christmas (War Is Over)”, to the cheesy-fun of Danger Danger’s “Naughty, Naughty Christmas”, Monster Ballads Xmas is a well-rounded disc of re-worked holiday favorites. Its charm lies within its lack of saccharine sap and the tongue-in-cheek presentation of many of the artists on the album. Although these bands have been out of the public ear for some time, devotees of the hard rock/pop metal genre will instantly recognize the signature sounds and styles of some of their favorites. This latest disc in the Monster Ballads franchise swells with a sizeable gift of holiday cheer. Just keep your Aqua Net-ted locks away from your menorah or Yule log.


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Sunday, Nov 25, 2007
by Quentin Huff

Here’s the scene: a fully decorated Christmas tree, a crackling fireplace flickering in the reflection of a champagne glass, red and white stockings and candy canes over the mantel,  a smile from the one you love. Luther Vandross sets the mood with “Please Come Home for Christmas”, followed by Faith Evans jamming to “Santa Baby” and Marvin Gaye with “I Want to Come Home for Christmas”. Slow Jams for Christmas is a joyous, slow-cooking romance-fest that works out very much like an R&B mixtape. It’s quite a treat: 20 songs on a single disc representing five decades of music, from the ‘60s (Nancy Wilson’s “What Are You Doing For New Year’s Eve?”) and ‘70s (“This Christmas” by the Whispers) to 2005 (“Merry Christmas, Darling” by Vanessa Williams). It’s probably the type of album you’d see advertised on a late night infomercial (“Order now, and we’ll throw in this champagne bottle opener!”). But the artists are the draw, with recordings of disparate styles and voices pulled together in a “One Christmas Under a Groove” sort of way. Dianne Reeves absolutely nails “Christmas Time is Here”. Other highlights are Boyz II Men’s ever-popular “Let It Snow”, which plays well year round, as well as Babyface’s medley of “It Came Upon a Midnight/The First Noel”. Toward the middle, the soul vibe dominates, culminating in selections from Al Green, Bobby Womack, Lou Rawls, and Freddie Jackson at the back end. Sweet and marvelous.


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