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The Sounding Board by R J Lannan
RJ Lannan is the reviewer for The Sounding Board.
Other reviews from The Sounding Board by R J Lannan:
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I Heard It Was Christmas Day
By Tom Caufield
Label: Bohemian Embassy
Released 9/6/2016
I Heard It Was Christmas Day tracks
1. Joy to the World
2. Hark on High
3. Carol of the Drum
4. What Child is This?
5. I Heard it Was Christmas Day
6. Silent Night
7. God Rest You
8. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
9. Auld Lang Syne
Thanks Rebecca
I started not liking Christmas music back in 1970 when the radio station I was working for had less than twenty Christmas albums and they were all, wait for it…country music, even though it was a Top 40 rock station. I had to play them in rotation for a month.

The music changed as Fresh Aire, Siberian Railroad and of late, Pentatonix as they emerged from the plethora of holiday offerings. I would argue that New Age and instrumental music literally altered the sound of Christmas music. And the times they are a-changing, because here comes guitarsmith Tom Caufield’s singular Christmas album, I Heard It Was Christmas Day. This sparkling endeavor is brighter than the North Star with its quiet, evocative beauty, but everything has that special glimmer when you listen just right. The physical album, shaped like an old timey Victrola record, offers nine tracks of acoustic guitar with very hushed accompaniment, sort of like snow falling on cedars.

The cover art depicts Valentin del Boulogne's 'Christ and the Adulteress' and as I recalled the story, I had to agree that it represents the greatest gift one human being could give to another, forgiveness. It is truly a gift from the heart.

I have had the distinct pleasure of reviewing a number of Tom’s albums and he has always been extraordinary with his unique phrasing and subtle touch, but this album is what we would call museum quality.

Joy to the World is upbeat and uplifting. The origins of this seasonal refrain are widely contested, beginning with George Frederic Handel to Isaac Watts to Lowell Mason. What I can assure you of is Tom’s attention to detail as he plays this chestnut as it supposed to be played, is a celebration, but with an underlying reverence to the occasion.

Hark on High, or Angels We Have Heard on High, in Tom’s capable hands is a spirited rendition of the old French noel. Some of the base notes become a warm drone as the melody plays out. The Little Drummer Boy becomes Carol of the Drum, a label of which I was unaware. The music however, struck a nostalgic chord in me as I could not help but sing the refrain as I wrote.

What Child is This? is set to one of my favorite English folk tunes, namely Greensleeves. Tom’s fingers slide along the fret board, almost making a second voice to this familiar carol. The music brings to life the adoration of the shepherds in a delicately dulcet melody.

I Heard It Was Christmas Day is Tom’s original composition and it produced a lot of memories for me. It’s the music you hear when you wake up on Christmas day and glance out the window in hopes of a white Christmas. It is the sound of family pounding their shoes free of that snow on the front porch as they get back from mass. It is the attempted harmony of your favorite carol right after that incredible meal. Tom’s song has it all.

I can almost guarantee that you have never heard Silent Night performed like this. Caufield, using more than eight glorious minutes on the clock, explores the musical scales with the heart of a Magi. The music fairly spirals in the air like snowflakes drifting in the wind, raising, falling, twisting, landing. It is Tom’s best.

I didn’t know I was listening to God Rest You (God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen) until more than ten bars in. Tom’s unique runs weave the tune into a colorful gift of silver and gold with a tempo that rivals the most exciting sleigh ride. The cadence is what drives the song and I found myself tapping a toe whenever I listened to it. I could not help myself. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas offers a slow, but elegant fifties motif. Warm, but oh so refined. I actually thought of Les Paul as the music played.

The appropriate finale is Tom’s offering of Auld Lang Syne. Not many know the words, but almost everybody knows the melody. This one is soft, tender and played almost in a muted voice. Although it is customarily used to say fare thee well to the old year, I did not want to say goodbye to Tom’s music.

I Heard It Was Christmas Day is one of the few albums I have ever heard that although, its theme is seasonal, I could play anytime and receive auditory gratification. But after all, isn’t that what a gift is? For something really unconventional, but at the same time traditionally satisfying, I highly recommend this album.
Rating: Excellent   Excellent
- reviewed by RJ Lannan on 11/12/2016
 
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