Just in time for the holiday season, Sing Off: Songs of the Season comes along, offering very contemporary a capella versions of Christmas songs.
If you are not familiar with Sing Off , it is a hit series from NBC in which groups from across the country compete in a capella competitions. This CD features contestants from the third season of the show.
It is refreshing to have the emphasis placed on the voices and on harmony alone on these songs, so that even songs like “We Three Kings,” “Up on the Housetop,” and “Carol of the Bells” get new life.
To me, the first two songs, “All I Want for Christmas is You,” and “Santa Baby,” were the weakest. They are not bad, but they do not have the rich harmonies and innovative arrangements of the others, and just aren’t that different from all the other versions I’ve heard in the last few years.
I was not immediately that impressed by “We Three Kings” by Pentatonix, but the more I hear it the more it grows on me. The next song, the more obscure “Infant Lowly, Infant Holy” by Vocal Point, just stopped me in my tracks with its beauty and the purity and power of the voices.
“Christmas Time is Here” is a lovely, jazzy version of the classic from A Charlie Brown Christmas, but not particularly new. That cannot be said of the next song, the beautiful “Coventry Carol.” While preserving the haunting quality of the lyrics, this version gives an urban touch to the song along with an amazing layering of voices, almost fooling the ears into believing there are more instruments there. This is also true of the University of Rochester YellowJackets’ version of “Carol of the Bells,” which is just an amazing, breathtaking exercise in voices as orchestra.
My favorite song on the recording is “Up On the Housetop” by Dartmouth Aires. Who would have thought that anyone could do something new and different with this classic children’s Christmas song? This one is a sheer joy in the tradition of the doo-wop groups of the late 50’s and early 60’s, guaranteed to put a smile on your face. What an incredible voice that lead singer has!
The next song, “Winter Wonderland,” from North Shore,continues that great doo-wop vibe and makes this song I’ve known all my life sound bright and new. “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” also gets a fresh treatment from the University of Delaware Deltones. The lead vocal reminds me very much of Christina Aguilera, while the background vocals give a very urban sound to the familiar carol.
“In the Bleak Midwinter,” a song written in the mid-1800’s by the poet Christina Rosetti, is beautifully rendered in a suitably subtle and touching arrangement by Kinfolk. It begins simply, and builds to a powerful and complex weaving of voices before returning to simplicity at the end.
Possibly the most impressive, innovative and certainly the least familiar song on the CD is the fascinating “I Saw Three Ships” from Urban Method, which is totally different from any other version I have ever heard. What an impressive use of hip-hop and urban style!
There is a bonus track on the CD, “Jingle Bells”, By Committed, which also gives a bit of an urban edge to a light-hearted version of one of the best-loved of all Christmas songs.
Overall, this is a different, delightful Christmas CD that is sure to impress you,your friends and your guests when you add it to your collection this year!