Music

Rockapella: Comfort & Joy

Gary Glauber

Rockapella

Comfort & Joy

Label: Amerigo
US Release Date: 2002-11-12
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon
iTunes

It's that time again (seems to happen earlier each year) and while many shop until they drop, their ears likely are assailed with holiday muzak or worse in malls and department stores and retail outlets the world over. While I remain a fan of many traditional holiday standards, a real need exists for new collections that are innovative in presenting the "same old same old" fare (how many times can we burn holiday compilations for friends without boring them to tears).

Happily, the a cappella vocal quintet has taken on this challenge admirably with Comfort & Joy, their second and perhaps best Christmas album. They deliver a collection of standards as well as originals, all presented in Rockapella's inimitably spirited fashion (due largely to Scott Leonard's arrangements). There is a purity to the production, a simplicity in using voices as instruments to make these songs seem new and appealing.

Rockapella manage to balance tempos along with mood, mixing reverence with playfulness in this 12-song collection. They open with Scott Leonard's "Little Mary Snowflake", a buoyant song that mixes dreams of holiday gifts with a promise of friendship in troubled times. Tenor Leonard also contributes a jazzy urbane new classic called "This Christmas Day", from which the CD's title is derived. This is quality song-craft, holiday song or no.

Yet most impressive all-around is the Leonard original "Snowstar". This is Rockapella doing best what makes them truly original -- tremendous tempo changes, great vocal percussion courtesy of Jeff Thacher, and superb harmonizing.

Equally impressive is the Jeff Thacher original "Peace on Earth". Here Kevin Wright's vocal lead is perfectly matched to the beautiful material. Another original composition (co-written by Kevin Wright) is the impressive "Love and the Lights", though I have to confess an odd longing for a cup of Folgers after listening to this one.

You get to realize the true beauty of a song like The Carpenters' "Merry Christmas Darling" when presented in a cappella fashion.

On the traditional side, there's "Home for the Holidays" that features a vocal instrumental middle bridge of "trombocals" (inspired by Glenn Miller), along with a verse sung by baritone Elliottt Kernan and "I'll Be Home for Christmas" featuring a solo by bass singer and newest Rockapella member George Baldi (and what a lovely voice he has). This straightforward arrangement is quite well done, as is that for a lively re-examined "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree".

Perhaps the most amusing song here is a cover of the Elvis classic "Please Come Home for Christmas", wherein Scott Leonard provides mid-song banter recounting holidays past guaranteed to bring a smile to many.

Also here is a playful rendition of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" (relying heavily on George Baldi's basslines and Jeff Thacher's percussive sounds) and a renewed version of the Disney classic "It's a Small World" that should please children of all ages.

The vocal talents of Rockapella's five members is put on fine display with Comfort & Joy, a CD that provides a good amount of both and comes in a nice package with lyrics and pics of the guys hanging around Grand Central Station. Keep this wonderful CD in mind as a last-minute holiday gift or even as a nice addition for the personal collection. You can use it for inspiration before heading out caroling, or merely as a nice way to invigorate that stack of standards you play while trimming the tree.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.

Music

Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.

Music

Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.

Music

Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.

Music

'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.

Music

Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.

Television

Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.

Film

Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.

Music

The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.

Music

Gloom Balloon Deliver an Uplifting Video for "All My Feelings For You" (premiere)

Gloom Balloon's Patrick Tape Fleming considers what making a music video during a pandemic might involve because, well, he made one. Could Fellini come up with this plot twist?

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Brian Cullman Gets Bluesy with "Someday Miss You" (premiere)

Brian Cullman's "Someday Miss You" taps into American roots music, carries it across the Atlantic and back for a sound that is both of the past and present.

Music

IDLES Have Some Words for Fans and Critics on 'Ultra Mono'

On their new album, Ultra Mono, IDLES tackle both the troubling world around them and the dissenters that want to bring them down.

Music

Napalm Death Return With Their Most Vital Album in Decades

Grindcore institution Napalm Death finally reconcile their experimental side with their ultra-harsh roots on Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism.

Film

NYFF: 'Notturno' Looks Passively at the Chaos in the Middle East

Gianfranco Rosi's expansive documentary, Notturno, is far too remote for its burningly immediate subject matter.

Music

The Avett Brothers Go Back-to-Basics with 'The Third Gleam'

For their latest EP, The Third Gleam, the Avett Brothers leave everything behind but their songs and a couple of acoustic guitars, a bass, and a banjo.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.

Books

David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors

David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.