Just Wright For Christmas
WH Sound Studio (2012)
Pianist Danny Wright just recently re-acquired the rights to his back catalogue and he has set about re-mastering and re-releasing all of them. That includes two holiday classics (see my next review, too). First up is Just Wright For Christmas, which is my favorite of the two. Mixing secular tunes, religious carols, and originals, Wright infuses a lot of emotion in his playing and for the most part keeps things low key, which I for one usually prefer. Silver Bells opens the album and Wright gives it a sensitive treatment while retaining the usual feel of the song. Wright is joined on some tracks by other artists on English horn, oboe, violin, and vocals, but despite this, this is first and foremost a piano music release. White Christmas gets a short prelude, then Wright settles in and does the Irving Berlin piece proud. Likewise, Wright's take on I'll Be Home For Christmas is spot on and begs to be heard in front of a fireplace with loved ones near.
WH Sound Studio (2012)
Danny Wright's other holiday CD, titled Merry Christmas, has the pianist heading a very different direction from Just Wright. On this CD, Wright is joined by the Dallas Brass and the Texas Boys Choir, as well as Johnnie Marshall on Synclavier (electronic keyboard). Wright uses the word "grandeur" in describing the album in the liner notes and that is an accurate descriptor for this mixture of sixteen secular and religious carols. The album is impeccably produced and exceedingly well recorded and I can't imagine anyone not enjoying this recording if they are a traditionalist, unless they don’t enjoy choir singing. Some standouts include a medley of Canon in D and The Holly and the Ivy,"\ as well as a wonderful take on We Wish You A Merry Christmas, a vocal version of In the Bleak Midwinter (featuring a great vocal by one of the boys), and a tender, nostalgic The Christmas Song.
CleanCuts Music (2010)
Originally released as The Heart of Winter way back in 1997, guitarist Wall Matthews re-released this disc in 2010 under the title Christmas Guitar and I just got it this year. The CD is proof that holiday music is timeless, as there is no way to tell that the original recording is fifteen years old (I would guess Matthews re-mastered it when he re-released it). Twelve of the fourteen tunes are religious carols with only two being secular in nature (Carol of the Bells and Jingle Bells). I have made the mistake in the past of stating in reviews that a guitarist is multi-tracking his/her playing and have been wrong, so all I'll say is that Matthews' playing is soulful, adroit, and enchanting, however he accomplished the sound on this wonderful disc. I love his version of Greensleeves and he takes Carol of the Bells into some interesting territory, playing it in a near-frenetic tempo, thereby showcasing his jaw-dropping skill with his instrument. Obviously, with only acoustic guitar present on the album, there is a decided "folksy" feel to the music, something that I found refreshingly unique.
Dreamworld Productions (2008)
Doug Hammer's Noël was released in 2008 and I sure wish I had owned a copy for the last four years because this album by pianist Hammer is a real keeper. The CD's seventeen selections feature one of the best mixtures of the secular and the religious, along with one original composition. There are some relatively rare tracks here, such as the opening When Christmas Comes to Town (from the film The Polar Express) and The Secret of Christmas penned by the estimable Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen (written for Bing Crosby), as well as many familiar stand-bys and my all-time hands-down seasonal favorite, Vince Guaraldi's Christmas Time Is Here on which Hammer does a splendid job, wringing all the nostalgic feelings from the almost 50-year old number. Hammer ends this delightful disc with a late-night jazzy take on Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas with just the right amount of improvisation without taking away any of the seasonal charm usually associated with the tune. Other standouts on this exceptional album include a sedate, somber In the Bleak Midwinter, and a remarkably restrained version of Do You Hear What I Hear?