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MUSIC | Reviews of four albums
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Miracle of Miracles: Music for Hanukkah
Chicago A Cappella
This album combines arrangements of six traditional Hanukkah selections with 14 more-or-less contemporary compositions (2005-2019), only four of which mention dreidels. And even those, Samuel E. Goldfarb’s relatively jazzy “Funky Dreidl” included, contribute to the elevated sense of gratitude and awe for which the 10-member vocal ensemble aims. The liner notes contextualize each track as well as the lyrics (reproduced in full). And what context the notes don’t provide, the recent attacks on Israel by Hamas just might.
Hits and Misses: The Singles
Eli Paperboy Reed
Eli “Paperboy” Reed is an R&B-shouting marvel, his vocal intensity a constant threat to boil over. And on these “rarities, originals, and covers” going back over a dozen years, the material, the soul-revue musicianship, or both prove a fitting cauldron. The originals are fine. But it’s the covers that will get most of the attention, as well they should: Motörhead, Steely Dan, Dylan, Haggard, Lattimore—and an “I Don’t Know (What This World Is Coming To)” as relevant now as it was when the Soul Children performed it at Wattstax in 1972.
A Winter Breviary: Choral Works for Christmas
St Martin’s Voices, Andrew Earis
Not to slight the altos, tenors, or basses, but the vocal tone of this nine-member choir’s sopranos shimmers, gathers strength, and recedes like shafts of light through stained-glass windows. So even the two not-quite-adequately enunciated suites whose texts the booklet omits get by on sound. The rest you’ll enjoy reading along to until the sound and the melodies take on lives of their own. You want reverent, contemporary Christmas music that totally bypasses the familiar? Start here.
Christmas and jazz have been going together like holly and ivy for over 60 years now, so it might be hard to believe that the pianist Christian Sands and his supporting sextet have anything new to contribute. But they do. The cha-cha rhythms that transport “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” to Cuba are the most obvious example, but the stretching out on the other well-known favorites (especially the 7½ minute “Silent Night”) avoids well-worn paths as well. The highlight, however, is the energetic Sands original “Snow Dayz,” which captures perfectly the exhilaration students feel upon learning that winter weather has shut down the schools.
Dwight Twilley, who died in October at the age of 72, was a power-pop legend, blending at his freshest the jittery energy of early rock ’n’ roll with the expansive pop craft of the British Invasion. Had he and his partner in the short-lived Dwight Twilley Band, Phil Seymour, not been burdened with the albatross of being signed to the doomed Shelter Records just as they were achieving liftoff with their magical debut album Sincerely in 1976, the proverbial sky might have been the limit.
But burdened they were. Sincerely managed to yield one hit, the propulsive “I’m on Fire.” Eight years later, the super catchy “Girls” returned Twilley to the Top 20 and made him a medium-rotation presence on MTV. The accurately named The Great Lost Dwight Twilley Album (1993) testified to his talent and productivity. That it appeared on the niche label DCC Compact Classics testified to the cult-like status that he could never quite escape. —A.O.
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