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Music Review: Straight No Chaser – Christmas Cheers

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Once again, Straight No Chaser, the all male acapella group formed by students from Indiana University, has come out with a CD chock full of toe tapping tunes. With fifteen selections to choose from, there is something for just about everyone. Admittedly, the title Christmas Cheers gives a good idea of the particular type of music one might expect to find. Still, not all pieces are the typical type of holiday schlock. Fans of this talented group expect no less.

"We Three Kings" is a well known tune, but the SNC arrangement is unique. I like this a lot. The opening notes are a nice combination of jazz mixed with James Bond style themes. While this is much more fast paced than the original tune, it's bouncy and fun. Soloists Ryan Ahlwardt, Charlie Mechling, and Jerome Collins stand out as each tells what gift he brings to the child in the manger. Hearing the others in the background is a nice touch.

A sweet song can be heard when one listens to "Christmastime Is Here". Most will recognize it as the song which makes watching Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, and the rest of the Peanuts gang remember a more spiritual meaning of Christmas a yearly ritual. There is not a soloist, but that actually works better for the song.

"The Christmas Can-Can" is delightful. An original piece, there is a hastiness about it which perfectly reflects how people tend to run around frantically trying to complete their holiday tasks. The guys are also quick to remind their listeners about the other holidays which take place in December.

One of my favorites is "Who Spiked the Eggnog?". Awlwardt is again a soloist, which is a delightful choice. It's easy to imagine consuming far too much of the thick drink when alcohol has been added. Hearing the question of whodunit as the guys attempt to name the culprit is a fun romp.

Elvis would enjoy hearing "Hey Santa!" as the Southern themed tune takes hearers on a ride headed home for the holidays. Bass notes ring out in well placed harmony.

"I'll Be Home for Christmas" is crooned rather than sung. Although it's recognizable, I have to wonder if perhaps the arrangement called for Straight No Chaser to sing a bit higher than they are accustomed. The strain, to my ears anyway, is problematic.

"The 12 Days of Christmas" rocks! It's more of a medley than the regular song people are familiar with. A smile comes to my face as part of the song references "Africa", the Toto tune which helped put Straight No Chaser on the map and gave them YouTube fame.

No matter what holiday you celebrate, there is something on here which is sure to become a favorite song. Even the traditional favorites have an original arrangement which makes it unlike any other version out there. Ten guys singing acappella without musical instruments to back them up are forced to get creative in how they present their music. It works.

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