- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 21, 2002

The Fab Four

A Fab Four Christmas (and) Have Yourself a Fab-ulous Little Christmas

(LaserLight Records)

Q: What do you get when you cross Beatles songs with Christmas standards?

A: A terrific two-disc concept album on which a Beatles tribute band, the Fab Four, performs yuletide favorites with arrangements or more accurately, rearrangements as the original mop tops might have performed them, with mostly dead-on vocal phrasing and instrumentation.

Imagine, for example, "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" interwoven with riffs from "When I'm 64" or "The Christmas Song" recast musically as "Here, There and Everywhere." These are just two of the 20 tracks on the two discs (which can be purchased either separately or as a set), and while some of these reconfigured carols work better than others, there are lots more hits than misses here. Like Sgt. Pepper, they're guaranteed to raise a smile (again).

I say "again" because another Beatles tribute group, Rubber Band, put out a similar Beatles-meet-Christmas album, with the unlikely title "Xmas! The Beatmas," in 1996. Interestingly, on only one of the latter's 12 tracks is the song pairing "Feliz Navidad" with "And I Love Her" the same as on the new set.

Along with "Feliz Navidad/And I Love Her," the best medleys on "A Fab Four Christmas" (whose cover art parodies the recent Beatles No. 1 hits CD with a Christmas tree in lieu of the "1") are "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer"/"Since I Saw Her Standing There"; "Joy to the World"/"Please, Please Me"; and "Let it Snow! Let it Snow! Let it Snow!"/"Eight Days a Week." The fast tempo of "Help!" is a mismatch, however, for "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing."

On "Have Yourself a Fab-ulous Little Christmas" (whose cover art shows Santa crossing Abbey Road), the best pairings are "Silent Night"/"Norwegian Wood"; "What Child is This?"/"While My Guitar Gently Weeps"; "Blue Christmas"/"Revolution 1" (an alternate take of "Revolution" from the so-called "White Album"); "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree"/"Got to Get You Into My Life"; and the aforementioned "Santa Claus is Coming to Town." "Dear Santa," co-written by the real Ringo for a Christmas album he released in 1999, is the least appealing.

To hear free sound bites of any or all of the 20 tracks, go to www.thefabfour.net.

The Fab Four brings its standard non-Christmas Beatles tribute to the State Theater in Falls Church on Feb. 8.

Peter Parisi


Ann Hampton Callaway

This Christmas

(N-Coded Music/After 9 Records)

If you missed this holiday CD the first time, now is your chance to pick up Ann Hampton Callaway's "This Christmas." Originally released in 1997, this CD has been reissued on a new label.

This is one of the best holiday vocal jazz CDs that has ever been put together. It is a collection of traditional and original Christmas songs that go from soft and mellow to up-tempo to romantic and fun. Known mainly in New York, Ms. Callaway is one of the best jazz and cabaret singers to come along in awhile.

Traditional songs featured on this album are the fast-paced, fun-filled ride "Jingle Bells" takes the listener on, the wonderful medley of "Silent Night/A Child is Born," and the wistful "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." Ms. Callaway also performs "I'll Be Home for Christmas," adding some of her own lyrics. "Carol of Bells" is performed with such a unique jazz twist that it will most certainly become one of your favorites. Ms. Callaway does not forget the romance the holiday can bring and includes " A Christmas Love Song," and "Baby, It's Cold Outside" featuring Kenny Rankin, and her original song "Manhattan in December." A special highlight on this CD is the original "God Bless My Family," a song about remembering your family and friends. It is a delightful song that fits the season and is performed brilliantly with her sister Liz Callaway. This 12-track CD is a joy to the ears and will have the listener remembering the true meaning of Christmas. Let's hope with the reissue of this CD on larger label more people will get a chance to enjoy it.

Amy Baskerville


Chris Botti

December

(Sony Records)

If you're looking for a mellow and engaging jazz Christmas CD for your collection, then look no further than "December," featuring trumpeter Chris Botti.

Whether you are a pop, hip-hop or country enthusiast this jazz album will sure to excite you. Mr. Botti chose the perfect songs to compliment the trumpet. This 13-track disc includes "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," "The Christmas Song" and "First Noel." Highlights include a soothing rendition of Leonard Cohen's"Hallelujah" which is sure to please, along with "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing" featuring guitarist Heitor Pereira. Mr. Botti also shows off his vocal talent on the Richard Marx ballad "Perfect Day" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."

Although comparisons are bound to be made to saxophonist Kenny G's three Christmas CDs, this disc is in a class by itself with its smooth jazz sound and warmth. Sit back, throw a log on the fire, sip a cup of hot chocolate and enjoy.

A.B.


Barry Manilow

A Christmas Gift of Love

(Columbia Records)

Barry Manilow tosses his hat into the seasonal music ring with a CD entitled "A Christmas Gift of Love." This 11-track CD has the big band feel to it and Mr. Manilow's voice is in fine form. Songs include "My Favorite Things," "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve" and "Santa Claus is Coming to Town." Mr. Manilow does a nice cover of Joni Mitchell's "River."

While Mr. Manilow does cover a broad spectrum of songs such as "I'll Be Home for Christmas," and "The Christmas Waltz," this CD does not offer anything new or unique to the listener. It is a nice CD to listen to while baking cookies, but it is as bland as a Christmas sugar cookie without the sugar and butter.

A.B


The Brian Setzerorchestra

Boogie Woogie Christmas

(Surfdog/Universal Records)

I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I first popped this disc into my player. After all there are only so many ways you can change Christmas songs without completely ruining them. However, after listening to this disc I must say I am very pleasantly surprised. This is a great Christmas disc that will have the listener hooked immediately.

Known more for his days as the front man for The Stray Cats, Brian Setzer and his 16-piece orchestra deliver a CD that is sure to become a classic. Mr. Setzer breathes new life into some traditional holiday songs. It's fun, it's slick, it's different and it's sure to get the dancing started at your Christmas party.

Opening the CD is a lively rendition of "Jingle Bells" like you have never heard before. Other songs include "O Holy Night," "So They Say It's Christmas," and "The Amens." Mr. Setzer's signature rockabilly and crooning style shines through on "Santa Claus is Back in Town," "Boogie Woogie Santa Claus" and you would honestly believe it's Elvis that you hear on a great rendition of "Blue Christmas." Mr. Setzer's vocal and guitar skills have never been better. A real highlight is a seven-minute version of "The Nutcracker Suite" in tribute to the legendary Les Brown. This CD takes the listener on a great ride.

A.B.

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